pragmatism and mission - lessons from "The Samurai"

I’ve had several friends recommend novels by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. Earlier in the year I read Silence and currently I’m reading The Samurai. Both books interact with the history of Christianity in Japan - attempts to propagate the faith that saw very little impact or influence on the Japanese people. Themes of colonialism and evangelism run throughout the two books.

In Endo’s depiction of Christianity, particularly in The Samurai, characters are constantly wrestling with the call to share their faith and the means to which achieve this call. Endo skillfully, and at times quite graphically, depicts the dark of side of cross-cultural mission - the tendency to justify injustice in the pragmatic drive for success.

This comment from one of Endo’s characters - a Franciscan missionary in Japan - illustrates it well:
Missionary work is like diplomacy. Indeed it resembles the conquest of a foreign land. In missionary work, as in diplomacy, one must have recourse to subterfuge and strategy, threatening at times, compromising at others - if such tactics serve to advance the spreading of God’s word, I do not regard them as despicable or loathsome. At times one has to close one’s eyes to certain things for the sake of sharing the gospel.
The desire for success, even at the compromise of values and beliefs, has me thinking about Christianity today. North American and European culture is often referred to as “post-Christian” - in many ways a cross-cultural mission field itself. All Christians are missionaries. If even partially true, I think we need to heed the warnings of history and past mistakes, such as those illustrated in Endo’s novels. And while our temptations may not be as explicit as missionary colonialism of centuries past, perhaps our problems are more subtle - thus just as important to avoid. Important questions still need to be asked:
  • What drives our mission?
  • Are we aware of how the desire for success can compromise the very core of our message?
  • Do we recognize that the medium (how we share the gospel) impacts our message (the gospel itself)?
  • Where is the pragmatism of “the end justifies the means” influencing our attempts to love our neighbors?

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