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Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Boundless" (Bryan Bishop)

TITLE: Boundless: What Global Expressions of Faith Teach Us about Following Jesus
AUTHOR: Bryan Bishop
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (240 pages).

It is no secret that the Church in the West is losing her appeal. Statistics year on year show a general decline in Church attendance, especially among the young. Many long time Church members are disillusioned and divided by many factions, with one of the most polarizing being the gay marriage and ordination of gay bishops and ministers. Church people in America are not having a good time. If there is any one group needing a "faith-lift," it would be the Western Church at large. What if this bout of encouragement comes from fresh believers outside of the West? What if excitement about the faith comes not from within generations of Church goers but from people who were transformed from their non-Christian religions and backgrounds? What about God using amazing ways to touch people from all over the world in the most challenging situations? This book shows us that hope may very well be visible out there. While religions in the West are often perceived negatively, it is not that true in other parts of the world. Many believers in richer societies are preoccupied with first world problems. It takes an encounter with people struggling with real issues that bring a whole new perspective about faith and the cost of following Jesus. Using the C1-C6 (C-Scale Spectrum) first developed by John Travis, author Bryan Bishop hopes to shake up the complacency of Western believers by letting the testimonies of people from other cultures touch their hearts. In brief, the C-Spectrum are:

  1. C1 - Traditional Church using Outsider Language
  2. C2 - Traditional Church using Insider Language
  3. C3 - Christ-Centered Communities Using Insider Language and Religiously Neutral Cultural Forms
  4. C4 - Christ-Centered Communities Using Insider Language and Biblically Permissible Cultural  and Religious Forms
  5. C5 - Christ-Centered Communities of Muslims Who Have Accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior Yet Remain a Part of the Muslim Community
  6. C6 - Small Christ-Centered Communities of Secret/Underground Believers
Bishop summarizes his approach using three categories: 1) Insiders; 2) Boundary Breakers; 3) Living Beyond Borders. For the Insiders, we learn from the Hindu Satsang community on how perceptive they were with regards to knowing the Divine instead of just knowing about the Divine. Charan embraced Christianity despite the objections of his Hindu parents. We read about Arun, Pradip, and others who while living in steep Hindu culture in India, managed to practice Christianity very much like Western Christians. In Bangladesh, where it was reported as having the most number of Muslims becoming Christians, many converts testify that when compared to their native religion, the God of the Bible is closer to them. Many are able to recite the Qur'an in Arabic but lack the understanding. Those who convert face persecutions from mobs and societal pressures. A consistent picture emerges when these testimonies are shared. When compared to the Bible, the God of the Bible is a more personal and relatable. Over in Thailand, the land of Buddhism, people often question how Christianity can fit with the Buddhist lifestyles. Learning from the where the Nestorian churches reached out to China, believers navigate their beliefs carefully without overtly offending Buddhist sensitivities. In the North American backyard, native American Indians incorporate Christian ideas and concepts into their native practices, like in a powwow worship service. The second group are more aggressive and assertive choosing to be Boundary Breakers. Four principles form the basis of such boundary breaking movements. The first principle is how the Bible forms the starting point of belief, especially when contrasted to other religious books. In contrast to American churches where Bible literacy is declining, Bangladeshi Christians on their weekly services gather around the Bible for an in-depth Bible study. Outreach to people in Thailand involves telling of stories. The second principle is a movement of growth TOWARD Christ. The author becomes more open to "Centered-Set Perspective" in contrast to the "Bounded-set perspectives" that Westerners are familiar with. In short, Centered-set is about closing on the essentials in order to be considered believers while Bounded-set (sometimes called institionalized sets) insist on believing in all central tenets as criteria for entry into the faith. In doing so, we learn how to nuance our levels of faith as follows:
  • Exploring Christ: Believing in God but not sure about Christ (Elementary Stage)
  • Growing in Christ: Believing in God and working to know Christ (Growing Stage)
  • Close to Christ: Believing in God and feeling close to Christ (Coming Stage)
  • Christ-centered: Believing in God and living for Christ (Christ-Centered Stage)
The key differentiator is the degree of closeness to Jesus. Bishop tells us that outreach is about walking next to the various people according to their various stages of faith. The third principle is about moving from paganism to Christianity gradually but surely. The story of Navin shows how a Christian try to glorify Christ in a Hindu cremation ceremony, by letting the love of Christ in their heart guide their external practices. It is a careful living out of faith by conducting non-Christian rituals without compromising the Christian faith. The fourth principle is learning to seek the whole truth and not just the peripherals or the externals that focus on the common pursuits of truth and light.

By the time we reach the third group, those "Living Beyond Borders," we are ready to experience what it means to be boundless. One of the modern symbols of globalization is the way American cultural symbols have been exported to the rest of the world. At the same time, there are also foreign imports that are repackaged in familiar American packages and symbols. Some catchy phrases include "Think Outside the Bun" which challenges us to use new words, reach out in new places, forming new partnerships, and praying not just with words and mouths, but with our bodies. Bishop offers three convictions as his stories come back full circle back to where he started. First, readers are exhorted to "maintain a high regard for Christianity" especially in a climate of skepticism and hostility. Highlight the many good Christians had done instead of succumbing to criticisms that only show up the negatives. Second, learn to be bold and "experiment courageously." Just as Christians in the developing world have incorporated the faith into their cultures, Christians in the West need to look at creative ways to reach the young. Third, use many forms of "incarnational witness." This means learning to remain faithful to the gospel without dumbing down the essence of the faith. By living in a Christlike manner, our witnessing will be boundless.

Bryan Bishop has been with Youth With a Mission for over 20 years. He travels widely and teaches communications and missions to an international audience. Based in Colorado Springs, he is passionate about empowering the Western Church to reach out to the young not only in the West but also in other parts of the world. This book highlights the heart of his ministry to learn to reach people from all walks of life and all kinds of religious backgrounds. Never say never to even the most impossible situations. For where the heart is, there the desire to reach will be also. A book of this nature is necessary to wake the Western Church up from its slumber. It also injects new hope into outreach efforts that if believers are able to face daily persecutions in their home countries and remain faithful to Christ, we too can do the same, if not more. The title of this book is rather apt as far as the gospel is concerned. True to the spirit of Matthew 28:18-20, disciples of Christ are called to share the gospel by making disciples of all nations, not just Jerusalem, Judea, or Samaria, but to the outermost parts of the earth. Bishop has given us another fuel injection for believers to gain additional traction in the ministry of Christ to this end.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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