Our friend and church planting coach, Rob, loaned me a book called Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent J. Donovan. I have been picking through it just a few pages at a time before I go to sleep at night. Donovan is a Catholic priest who was a missionary to the Masai tribe in the country of Tanzania in East Africa. He became disillusioned with the seeming ineffectiveness of many of the traditional missions tactics (schools, hospitals, etc.) that had not yielded one adult believer after seven years of work. He got permission from a bishop over him to pull free from those activities and “just go and talk to them about God and the Christian message.” In the book, he shares many of his experiences with evangelizing and discipling the Masai, and he offers reflections on what he learned about God, missions, and the Church through it all.
I have found Donovan’s book both interesting and challenging. It has stretched me and caused me to reflect. I’m realizing lately how much you learn about Christianity when viewing it through the lense of a different culture, and that was Donovan’s experience, too. I think his book is a little more off the beaten path of popular books with Western missionaries, and I recommend it for precisely that reason. He offers a somewhat unique perspective. I thought I would share an excerpt I read a couple of days ago, where Donovan reflects on inward versus outward turned Christianity:
“How does one prevent a distorted meaning of Christianity from creeping into a community right at the start? It is only in the imparting of an outward-turned Christianity that we have any hope of achieving Christianity. An inward turned Christianity is a dangerous counterfeit, an alluring masquerade. It is no Christianity at all.
The salvation of one’s own soul, or self-sanctification, or self-perfection, or self-fulfillment may well be the goal of Buddhism or Greek philosophy or modern psychology. But it is not the goal of Christianity. For someone to embrace Christianity for the purpose of self-fulfillment or self-salvation is, I think, to betray or to misunderstand Christianity at its deepest level.
The temptation to look inward is one that affects not only individuals, but also whole communities, parishes, dioceses. In such cases the physical or spiritual well-being of the Christian community becomes the very goal of the community, the whole reason for its existence. Any ulterior motive for the community’s existence is completely forgotten. Indeed the only valid reason for the community’s existence is forgotten.
Christianity must be a force that moves outward, and a Christian community is basically in existence ‘for others’. That is the whole meaning of a Christian community. A Christian community which spends all its resources on a building campaign for its own needs has long ago left Christianity high and dry on the banks. Or all its resources on an education program or youth program for that matter. A Christian community is in existence ‘for others’ not for ‘its own.'”
What thoughts do you have as you read what Donovan says?