“Harmony, relationality or reciprocal relationships, and circularity, these are the three core Asian values,” said Dr. Chansamone Saiyasak, president of Mekong Evangelical Mission. “Can we penetrate the Asian cultural heartlands? Yes, but not without dealing with those three cultural values that stem from the religion.”
In the sixth plenary talk of the 2022 Asia Congress which gathered 600 Christian leaders from more than 40 countries in Thailand in mid-October, themed “Penetrating Asia's cultural heartlands with the Gospel”, Dr. Saiyasak responded to Dr. Nishioka’s speech on the gospel communication contextualized in the Asian context as the respondent.
Dr. Yoshiyuki Nishioka, research director at the Tokyo Mission Research Institute, contrasted the current two types of gospel transmission—propositional approach and social service approach, and presented the new approach, witnessing, that is to say, presenting a new way of life while living in the culture.
In his response, Dr. Saiyasak analyzed how the propositional approach presented by the verbal proclamation of the gospel should be processed in an Asian context and gave his own opinion on spreading the gospel in the heartlands of Asia. He emphasized the importance of the three core values, urging Christian leaders to deal with them carefully.
For the verbal proclamation of the gospel, Saiyasak believes that these three things are important to consider: how the gospel is being packaged and delivered; how the gospel is being received by the Asians; and how they are going to take the gospel received and live it out in their own context.
Different from the current verbal proclamation of the gospel, which has been shaped by Western culture and more appropriate for Western ways of thinking and cognition, Saiyasak suggested a new method should be adopted to proclaim the gospel in Asia.
First of all, most Asians follow their religion based on their emotional experiences, not on logic.
Secondly, in line with Asian epistemology, the credibility of truth is based on action and experience, not words. Saiyasak explained that most people in East Asia were influenced by Buddhism which holds that language is completely incompetent in describing reality, that logic should be discarded, and that language and logical reasoning segment the holistic nature of reality.
Thus, “Christian messengers should package the gospel in more of a narrative storytelling form, traditional form... allowing the Asian recipient to effectively experience the gospel as a meaningful conversion,” he said. “After the initial conversion experience, then the work of discipleship, the cognitive thinking reasoning process can proceed... effectively preventing syncretism which the West tends to fear when it comes to contextualization or indigenization.”
Thirdly, the Asian cultural value of collectivism streaming from the three core Asian values —harmony, relationality or reciprocity, and circularity—requires the gospel presentation framework to consider following group or collectivist decision-making, not individualistic decision-making, which means the whole family should be collectively witnessed to and persuaded to follow Christ. Moreover, the post-conversion growth in faith should also be experienced collectively as well.
"So, what do harmony, relationality, and circularity mean?"
Saiyasak stated that harmony is achieved among one another, with nature and all life. While Westerners desire to command and control the situation, this core Asian value dictates that they achieve a harmonious relationship with them. So this value discourages converting to another religion due to the perception that it will result in this harmony.
Relationality or reciprocity means everything that occurs is related. We exist not as independent individuals, but as independent and interrelated beings, and the Asian sense of self is more deeply rooted in the web of human relationships.
Circularity refers to the transcendence in space and time, providing a sense of relatedness to the present, the present to the past and the future, a sense of relatedness and life of this world to the whole of creation. We exist between our past ancestors and our future children.
To counter the severe impact that Christian conversion has on the three core Asian values—the negative balance of the value of the gospel relative to the value of harmony, the disruptive impact on the value of relationality, and the total eradication of the value of circularity, Saiyasak suggested that Christian leaders in Asia should dialogue and reflect together to come up with an Asian contextual communication approach. He thought Moore's Strategic Triangle should be helpful in this case, which is to build legitimacy and support, public value, and operational capacity.
“The Asian cultural heartlands have experienced loss because of the gospel. This is not to say that Asia has not benefited from the gospel, overall against its core values, Asia has faced more loss than gain,” he explained.
Christianity in Asia has lacked legitimacy and support since the forced conversion in the period of colonization era. Christianity is still being perceived in Southeast Asia, particularly Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia, areas that have been formally colonized, as destruction to family, ethnicity, communities, national disharmony, and reciprocal relationships. Meanwhile, Christianity presented through mission condemned the circularity value.
"How should we build the public and social value of the gospel? How should we build the operational capacity for Asia messengers of the gospel?" Saiyasak’s organization, the Evangelical Mission, uses the strategic triangle of education, business, and churches to demonstrate change, building capacity, skill sets, and mindsets.
He described in detail the things that missionaries should do. “They just want to be loved. They want to be embraced. They want us to stand with them...... They want to us be there when they are sick and have demons over them. That's what they understand. That's the gospel.”
Saiyasak ended with the “12 mountains” listed in the global think-tank form of the World Evangelical Alliance convened in September in Austria, a way to build capacity, which includes arts, business, education, family, media, politics, technology, and others, things form the foundations of culture.
“As you continued to do those two things (build values of the gospel and build the capacity of churches in Asia), Asia will lend legitimacy and support for Christianity to grow and thrive in Asia,” he concluded.