Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Ecclesial Identities in a Multi-Faith Context: Jesus Truth-Gatherings (Yeshu Satsangs) among Hindus and Sikhs in Northwest India

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Ecclesial Identities in a Multi-Faith Context: Jesus Truth-Gatherings (Yeshu Satsangs) among Hindus and Sikhs in Northwest India

Article excerpt

Ecclesial Identities in a Multi-Faith Context: Jesus Truth-Gatherings (Yeshu Satsangs) among Hindus and Sikhs in Northwest India. By Darren Todd Duerksen. Foreword by William A. Dymess. American Society of Missiology Monograph Series. Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick Publications, 2015. xxiii + 292 pp. $37.00 (paper).

The study of world Christianity introduces us to, or broadens our understanding of, indigenous Christianity in its diverse forms and contexts. But what are we to make of individuals who have come to be Jesus-followers but refuse to wear the label "Christian," of Jesus-following congregations that eschew the label "church"? Darren Todd Duerksen's Ecclesial Identities in a Multi-Faith Context addresses this dilemma in this report on his study of six such congregations in the Indian states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Chandigarh, where Yeshu Bhakta (Jesus devotees) have organized themselves into Yeshu satsangs (Jesus "truth-gatherings"). These devout followers of Jesus often continue to call themselves Sikh or Hindu and their piety looks and sounds Hindu or Sikh. They practice baptism and communion, but may prefer other names for these rites (such as "water initiation" and mahaprasad); and whereas northwest India's Christian churches often "use baptism as a ritual indicating a change of religious community," giving pride of place to a "socio-structural interpretation of baptism," for Yeshu satsang leaders baptism is primarily "an indication of commitment to God" (p. 135). Members of these Yeshu satsangs are serious students of Christian scripture, but they may not call it "the Bible"; they are clear about the gospel's salvific message, but retain openness to the value of the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, or the Guru Granth Sahib (pp. 130-131).

In an effort to further understand the Yeshu satsang phenomenon and fruitful engagement of its adherents, Duerksen delineates "a social theory and a biblical theology of ecclesial identity formation appropriate for Hindu and Sikh insider movements in particular, and contextual church movements in general" (p. xxi). To that end, he provides information on northwest India's religious demography generally and its Christian presence specifically, plus necessary background on the Yeshu satsang broadly and on the examples of it that are at the heart of his project. Central to his ethnographic method is an "Emergentist theory of identity formation" (p. …

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