Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Message and the Messengers

I wrote this in April 2010 after Jordan and I were part of a filming documentary on Pearl Buck. I was thinking about this challenge again today while writing The Difference, and decided to share it here…

What is the Good News that we are presenting, and how are we presenting it?

Last weekend Jordan and I had the opportunity to travel to Lu Shan in Jiangxi province to take part in the filming of a TV documentary on Pearl Buck. We learned that Pearl Buck grew up in China after her parents came to share the Good News in the late 1800’s, and that her father preached the gospel in a way that seemed very foreign and was not well received by the Chinese at that time. Pearl Buck later criticized her father for actually having a negative impact on the people he was trying to convert, and for neglecting his family while he absorbed himself completely in “his work.” As an adult, Pearl seems to have turned away from the Christian faith that had been poorly modeled in her life.

Pearl Buck wrote The Good Earth based on her experiences of living among the common Chinese people. Her only reference to Christianity in the book is how the Chinese would have seen it: a strange-looking white man presenting a piece of paper to an illiterate Chinese farmer, whose impression of the half-naked man hanging on the cross was that he must have been a very evil man.

Learning about Pearl Buck’s story and acting as her in this documentary has been an eye-opening and sobering experience for me. It has caused me to think about Christians throughout history all over the world, and wonder how the Good News has been portrayed. What has been their view of God, their view of themselves, and their view of the people they are ministering to? Each one of those views is extremely critical to the end result. The gospel of Christ has the power to cross all cultural lines and to bring new life to people of all nations through complete life transformation. How have Christians hindered the movement of the gospel because of their ignorance and/or pride?

Our friend was one of the directors for this TV documentary, and invited Jordan and me to participate. I asked him how he thought Western Christians were being portrayed in this 12 part documentary on the history of Lu Shan. He said that he thought there was a real difference in the two generations (that of Pearl Buck’s parents and that of Pearl Buck’s). While the Chinese now view her father as a good man who had good intentions, the people did not receive his message as good news at that time. (The documentary shows him preaching while a Chinese peasant leaves the church in anger, and in another scene, a farmer refuses his offer of a Bible). The next generation of Western Christians, however, better understood and respected the Chinese people and were able to present the gospel in a way that was more well-received.

At breakfast one morning during the filming, I asked the woman who was in charge of our hair and makeup, what her impression was of Christianity. She told me that she has some friends who say that they believe in Jesus, but she hasn’t seen any real change in their lives. She thinks it would be better for these friends to raise their children well than to spend so much time going to church meetings (which causes them to neglect their families). That conversation was also humbling to me. Without life transformation, what do Christians have to offer non-believers? Christianity becomes just another religion, and even one that puts people’s focus in the wrong place (on religion instead of on relationship).

As Christ’s ambassadors, may we live lives worthy of the gospel and share the Good News in a way that those in darkness can see the true light and the life of Jesus through us!

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