Intercultural Perspectives on Missiology

About the Author

Dr. Elaine YIP, is a graduate of Professional Doctorate in Practical Theology in Anglia Ruskin University in 2019. Her research interest was feminist theology and her thesis was entitled “Exploring the Journey towards Women’s Empowerment in a Chinese Congregation in Hong Kong”. She is a deaconess in a Baptist church in Hong Kong and has deep concerns for women’s rights in the church. She is also a founding member of “Asia Academy of Practical Theology HK”, which aims at promoting practical theology in Hong Kong and Asia.

Article

Human beings are shaped by the culture in which they live. The culture is concerned with the material, intellectual and spiritual world of human beings. I want to particularly focus on the spiritual world of each culture.

As mentioned in the “Book of Acts”, the apostles started doing the missionary work across cultures. Jesus told the apostles to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” With the command of Jesus, the apostles went beyond Jerusalem to preach the gospel.

Philip preached the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch as mentioned in chapter 8 of the Book of Acts. The eunuch then believed in Christ and was baptized. In verse 26 of the Book of Acts, it says “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Philip thus went beyond Jerusalem to meet an Ethiopian eunuch from another nationality and culture. Missionary work has been an intercultural work from the very beginning.

Although the culture shapes our way of thinking and our value judgement, history has shown us that missionary work seeks to break this cultural barrier all the time. Paul the great Apostle had the mission to bring the gospel to gentiles, and he had established churches in Asia Minor and Europe. The missionary movement originating from Jerusalem thus changed the culture in Europe. Many people became Christians and Christianity has defined European culture since then. 

In the 19th century, missionary work was the by-product of colonization. Missionaries went to the colonized countries to preach the gospel and did missionary work. Like some famous missionaries James Morrison[1] and Matteo Ricci[2], they came to China to do missionary work. They themselves also learnt Chinese and did translation work as well. Not only did they bring foreign culture to China, they also brought the Chinese culture to the western world through translation. The way they did missionary work was through interculturation, they also immersed in the culture and integrated with the culture. In this way, they created a space for conducting dialogues between western and eastern cultures.

In early 21st century, with the influx of refugees to Europe from the middle east countries, like Syria, this has also provided a chance for these people to encounter Christianity in European countries. When these refugees fled their homes for freedom, losing their identities and living in a totally alien culture, they also experienced the intercultural dynamic particularly in terms of religion. In a culture that is open to Christianity, the central message of Christianity-the love of Jesus and the hope and promises He offered bring light to these refugees living in darkness. Also with the decline of Christianity in Europe, these people have transformed the religious climate there. Statistics are showing that thousands of Muslims fleeing to Europe are getting converted to Christianity. This could revive a declining Christianity in Europe.

As can be seen, Muslims have a greater chance to shift their religious belief when they migrate to a culture that is open to Christianity. A good Moroccan friend of mine is a devout Muslim. I always have interfaith dialogues with him, yet he still declines in believing that Jesus is the Lord and the savior. He even rejected going inside churches. However, when he went to Italy last year for a short stay, he sometimes visited churches under the strong Catholic influence. He said he found peace in churches. He even bought some icons as souvenirs. He was so touched by the love shown by church people that he started reading a book on Mother Teresa. From his personal story and experience, we can see the impact cultures bring to one’s religious faith.

Another friend of mine is a missionary based in Cambridge. He and his wife have served in Cambridge for over 20 years. He mainly serves senior Chinese officials from China. He provides courses for them to learn about English language and culture. He also shows them around in museums where they can appreciate Christian arts. With the immersion in these cultures, gospel has been spread in this subtle way. Some of them have turned from atheism to Christianity, and they continue practicing Christianity when get back to China.

Religion and culture are interconnected. Religions shape the culture of a place, and at the same time, the culture of the place also shapes the religious belief of people. They are an interactive dynamic. Mission has been fulfilled through intercultural exchange, starting from the apostolic age till now. Spreading Christianity to different cultures hinges on interfaith and intercultural dialogues as well as the integration of cultures. 


[1] James Morrison was a Scottish missionary, and the first Protestant missionary in China and in 1807 he was sent to China by the London Missionary Society. During his 27 years of service, he baptized only ten converts, but each one remained loyal. Morrison produced a Chinese translation of the New Testament in 1813, and with his collaborator Dr. Milne, a translation of the entire Bible in 1821. As the London Missionary Society’s first missionary to China, Robert Morrison is regarded as the father of Protestant mission work there. He became an important influence in the modernization of China, and helped to build a cultural understanding between the East and the West.

[2] Matteo Ricci was an Italian Jesuit priest and one of the founding figures of the Jesuit China missions.. Ricci arrived at the Portuguese settlement of Macau in 1582 where he began his missionary work in China. He became the first European to enter the Forbidden City of Beijing in 1601. He converted several prominent Chinese officials to Catholicism, such as Xu Guangqi, who aided in translating Euclid’s Elements into Chinese as well as the Confucian classics into Latin for the first time.

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