Thursday, July 11, 2013

An Encounter with Alan Tippett (Part 2)

In my last post I addressed Tippett’s first of six problems that the evangelist of ‘animistic’ peoples needs to deal with. He has five more and taken together I think his case for treating primal peoples in a category of their own is seriously problematic.

Tippett’s second problem is the issue of motivation: “Animists may be interested in Christianity for many and varied reasons – some good, others bad”. However, this problem is universal wherever commitment to Christ is seen as a path to material gain, so it does not apply as a peculiar issue for the evangelization of primalists.

Tippett’s third problem is the issue of meaning: the message being proclaimed may be misunderstood by the hearers because of the worldview through which it is heard and received leading to all sorts of problems as Paul and Barnabas had (Acts 14:8-18). This, surely, is also universal – misunderstandings happen wherever the gospel is preached and no matter how sophisticated the community being evangelized.

Tippett’s fourth problem, social structure, likewise, is an issue in many types of society, not just those typically identified as animistic. In fact, even in complex urban societies social structure is an issue. At its most basic level family relations, marriage etc can be either an obstacle or a bridge to the spread of the message.

The issue of incorporation into the church (Tippett’s fifth problem) is linked with the issue of social structure and is certainly shared with other societies. Tippett is concerned that the proclamation of the gospel to animists is not carried on individualistically. Churches must be formed, not just isolated disciples, a given in the New Testament and one that Tippett rightly addresses, but not one that is unique to primal contexts.

Tippett’s sixth problem is the issue of cultural void. If churches are to thrive in animistic contexts they must be taught to value features of their culture that are positive rather than rejecting them all as necessarily evil. This, too, is clearly an issue in any situation where the gospel call is misunderstood as a call to abandon valid cultural activity.

So, of Tippett’s six problems I can’t recognize any that are peculiar to the evangelization of primal peoples. All this goes to demonstrate the difficulty of trying to isolate tribal peoples, or animists, or whatever we may call them as a distinct type of religion. When we look around at the peoples of the world and their religious experiences we have to recognize that we are all subject to one degree or another to primal tendencies – even missiologists! Nor are they all negative. Tippett’s six problems, then, apply to the evangelization of people of all kinds. Yet again the comparative religion project is found to be wanting.

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