Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners


“Is There a Case for Foreign Missions?”

Pearl Buck received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1938.

“Is There A Case for Foreign Missions?”  That was the title of a speech delivered by the writer, Pearl Buck, for a packed gathering organized by the Presbyterian Church in November 1932.  Buck, in summarizing four decades of experience as a missionary kid, wife and teacher in China, was grappling with the deeply problematic inheritance she had received- namely, the notion that Christian missionaries were righteous purveyors of civilization, charged with enlightening a backwards Chinese people.

Pearl bore witness to what she had seen: “I have seen the missionary narrow, uncharitable, unappreciative, ignorant.  I have seen missionaries…so lacking in sympathy for the people they were supposed to be saving, so scornful of any civilization but their own, so harsh in their judgments upon one another, so coarse and insensitive among a sensitive and cultivated people, that my heart has fairly bled with shame.  I can never have done with my apologies to the Chinese people that in the name of a gentle Christ we have sent such people to them.”

Years earlier, when Pearl had been asked to give a talk to missionary trainees in Nanjing, China, she had given advice that remains deeply relevant for the missional church in our time: “‘Don’t mistake a psychological complex for religious emotion or divine leadership…Don’t mistake a wish of your own for the will of God, nor hurt vanity…for a call of duty to persist in your own way.'”

Instead, Pearl advised her students, in the words of biographer Hilary Spurling, “to cultivate a sense of humor and proportion; to recognize the notion of a single, fixed, unalterable truth as superstitious absurdity; and never to be deluded into operating on anything less than an absolute equality: ‘We simply cannot express the Gospel with any force if we have hidden within us a sense of racial superiority…We are no better than anyone else, any of us.'”

We are no better than anyone else, any of us.

Pearl’s cautionary words here are a helpful antidote to the most subtle displays of religious chauvinism, whatever the “mission field” (be it a faraway land or right here at home). The whole “proud-to-be-a-Christian” mantra that can accompany more aggressive displays of evangelicalism in my own country is deeply suspicious.  One need not be ashamed of one’s faith in order to recognize the slippery slope here.

In an article four years later, titled “Is There a Place for the Foreign Missionary?,” Pearl concluded that missionaries’ often summary dismissal of Chinese philosophy and culture made their position “untenable” (Spurling’s term): “More insidious in its pessimism is…the question of whether anyone has the right to impress upon another the forms of his own civilization, whether these forms are religious or not.”

Wise and prescient words from someone qualified to deliver them.



Previous Posts

Lessons from the Valley of the Shadow of Death
Just over six months ago, a member of our congregation announced he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer: Steve Hayner, the outgoing president of Columbia Theological Seminary, and his wife Sharol, have come to be most associated in my mind with joy; yet Steve's announcement could not have been

posted 6:16:41pm Nov. 12, 2014 | read full post »

The Prodigal God—Inspirations from Tim Keller's Book
I've missed you! The challenge of writing for a full-time job is that it can relegate recreational writing to a distant backseat. But I want to keep coming back to this intersection, because I find that when I'm away from it, my capacity to carve out space for reflection and find spiritual breathing

posted 10:04:03am Nov. 01, 2014 | read full post »

The Neuroscience of Temptation
It's been too long. I hope you're enjoying God and life. That next book I'm working on is now evolving into a book about addiction and mental illness—and how churches can and must learn to love and wel

posted 1:52:23am Oct. 14, 2014 | read full post »

Brokenness—as Creative Tension?
This morning a meditation from Paula Ripple's Growing Strong at Broken Places sparks some thoughts about embracing brokenness as the very site where God seeks to form us, like a master po

posted 10:13:15am Oct. 03, 2014 | read full post »

Mental Health Break—The Worship Service To End All Worship Services
It's been a while since we've had a mental health break. As a little bit of comic relief at the start of another work week, this clip from a worship service somewhere in America comes from saint and sinner Paul. The comments from readers are just about as funny as the weird break dancing routine in

posted 2:12:30am Sep. 30, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.