Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Christian Mission in Contemporary Asia

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Christian Mission in Contemporary Asia

Article excerpt


Asia is a vast continent, stretching from Turkey in the West to Japan in the East, from the Indian sub-continent in the South to the Asian part of Russia in the North. Even Australia and New Zealand are seen to come under the sphere of Asian influence. Much of Asia was under Western colonial power until after the Second World War. The contemporary history of Asia is that of the past fifty years.

In this period Asia has seen rapid changes in much of its life. Japan recovered from the devastation of defeat to emerge as a global economic power. China totally rearranged its 5000 year old systems and culture and continues its transformation sometimes violently but apparently with no outside influence. Most commentators concede that China will be the super-power of the early 21st century, both economically and politically. South-East Asia transformed its economies once the upheavals of the Vietnam war subsided with the withdrawal of the American military. South Asia is now liberating its economies, bringing great economic wealth to some but leaving nearly half its population in poverty. West Asia continues to give priority to Islamicising its society and is marked by internal and external struggles.

Overall, Asia is a region of rapid transitions with strong forces resisting change and stronger forces directing it. In most of Asia religion continues to have a central role in all of life. There is a reluctance to construct a society which does not have religion as a driving force. A majority of the poor of the world live in Asia, and for them, survival is a daily struggle. In contrast, Asia is the continent of economic tigers who have consistently shown growth rates that have attracted significant investments from all over the world.

Some of the highest investment in military hardware is also characteristic of the region. Tensions exist between some nations, such as between India and Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, China and Taiwan, and so on, and these sometimes erupt into border skirmishes. All Asian nations have ethnic and/or religious minorities whose status and rights become matters of dispute and a source of instability and sometimes violence.

The 21st century will see Asia play a central role in global affairs. While the Christian faith has its origins in Asia, the minority number of Christians make the church a marginal institution on the continent. Christianity, through Christian missions, has always had a far greater influence on Asia than is reflected by its numbers, while Christian influence in Japan is far greater than its size would suggest. Christian influence is dominant in South Korea, and is increasing in Taiwan. In spite of its marginal size in the rest of Asia (except The Philippines) Christianity continues to be a significant source of social influence in those areas of Asia. The church continues to be a pioneer in work among the disadvantaged peoples, while its perseverance in activities of social transformation make it a unique instrument of civil society in Asia.

I. Exegeting the Contemporary Context

I wish to approach a study of the context by looking at driving forces and trends that shape the context rather than at institutions, systems and structures. This is a cultural analysis of the context rather than a socio-economic and political one. However, the socio-economic and political issues continue to have an important place.

A. Driving Forces

I suggest that dominant driving forces in the shaping of contemporary Asian societies are modernization and the striving for identity.

1. Modernization: The modern world of the mid-twentieth century into which most Asian nations emerged as independent states was shaped by the forces that shaped Europe since the 15th century. Economic, political and educational systems, warfare, international relations, nation-states, markets, financial and communication systems, among others, are all products of modernity that originated in Europe and now influence all societies. …

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