Thursday, June 13, 2013

Revolution in World Missions (Part 1)

Revolution in World Missions (Carollton, Tex.: GFA, 2004;

K. P. Yohannan tells the story of his upbringing and call to ministry in India as a young man, his life on OM teams in the late 60s and early 70s, his move to the USA to study in seminary, his marriage to Gisela from Germany, the development of his vision to support ‘native missionary movements’ across Asia, and the founding of his organization, Gospel for Asia (GFA). As he tells his story he sets out his theology and philosophy of mission.

Yohannan calls the ‘native missionary movement’ the third wave of missions in history, the first being that of the NT, and the second that of the modern missionary movement that began with Carey.

Using broad brush strokes, Yohannan criticises Western churches for abandoning the gospel for a somewhat Christianized form of social welfare. He argues that the emphasis of the Bible is on evangelism and church planting rather than on feeding the hungry and providing for the poor. He also affirms the Bible’s teaching on hell and judgment in a day when this is not trendy to do so.

The book for the most part is a polemic in favour of supporting ‘native missionaries’ for gospel work in Asia. He recognizes that there are many unreached nations in the world, the majority in Asia, and states that the “native missionary movement [is] the only hope for these unreached nations...” (143). The book has gone through several printings and has been revised (as he states in his acknowledgments, though not in the publisher’s page) to soften some of Yohannan’s most strident rhetoric and in answer to friendly critique by colleagues.

I think that Yohannan makes some very good points. However, I think equally that Yohannan’s case is full of holes. In short Revolution in World Missions is naive, overstated, and unbalanced.

Yohannan tells us that there are only two religions in the world:

Mature Christians realize the Bible teaches there are only two religions in this world. There is the worship of the one true God, and there is a false system invented in ancient Persia. From there, Persian armies and priests spread their faith to India, where it took root. Its missionaries in turn spread it throughout the rest of Asia. Animism and all other Asian religions have a common heritage in this one religious system. (138)

No references are given. No indication is given as to how the false system spread to Europe, Australia, Africa or the Americas. The Bible does in fact teach that there are only two religions, if one must talk in such terms, but the divide happened way further back than ancient Persia. Rather it was in the Garden of Eden when our first parents decided to go their own way rather than God’s. That fundamental divide is in the heart of every person and does not need to diffuse through the human race. Such a naive handling of history does not inspire confidence in Yohannan’s case.

“In Asia,” we are told, “baptism and the taking of a Christian name symbolize a complete break with the past” (143). But does it really? When Krishna becomes Chris or Radha becomes Rachel do they stop eating Indian food, wearing Indian dress, speaking their Indian language? Of course not, Yohannan would reply. Then it is not a complete break, is it? No, it is a selective break. And that selectivity is a sensitive process. Is it really necessary for Krishna to become Chris? After all, Hermes and Phoebe didn't change their names (Rom 16:14, cf. Acts 14:12; Rom 16:1). So no one makes a complete break. The question is, do the changes I make in my life reflect the work of the Spirit in me and communicate to my family that I still love them. Baptism, if done sensitively, does not have to lead to a disruption of family ties. But many unnecessary actions advocated by well-meaning, but muddle-headed Western and Indian Christians, and presumably (going by the above opinion) affirmed by Yohannan, cause dire hardship to new believers and untold confusion to their families. 

Here is the second and final part of this review.


  1. Great post, Mark! I especially appreciate you word about the "selective break". I would add that for many there is not even a significant theological break with the past.

    1. Indeed, it is the same for all of us, isn't it? My theology, my worldview, my devotion, still leave much to be desired. So we look to the Lord for his gracious work.