on the plane on the way to australia i finally read john taylor's book the primal vision. it was written 45 years ago in 1963 and is his attempt to map and respond to the tribal/primal cultures he encountered spending time travelling in africa. tim dakin, general secretary of cms in britain has been recommending it to me for several years! john taylor was a former general secretary of cms - i have referenced his book the go between god before now. well it turns out it is another wonderful mission text to fund the imagination albeit in very different contexts.
on monday i was invited to give three different presentations to people from the uniting church, many of whom were church leaders. so i decided to do one on the primal vision and see how it went down. i lifted a number of themes from the book and then asked what they might imply in our own contexts...
here are the ten points and accompanying quotes:
[the quotes are lifted directly from the book, so they sound of their era particularly in talking about 'mankind' and so on... i chose to just leave them as they are as they are quotes. the whole point of what i am then trying to do is to replay them for a new situation which would include making them inclusive. i have added this comment since making the post in relation to the first comment on the post below. i did explain this in te presentation]
1. western civilisation and gospel confused as the same gift
It has to be admitted quite frankly that during these centuries the missionaries of the Christian Church have commonly assumed that Western civilisation and Christianity were two aspects of the same gift which they were commissioned to offer to the rest of mankind.
2. risk letting go of control and trust god
Are we of the West prepared to trust the Holy Spirit to lead the Christians of Asia and Africa or must the controlling Western hand be permanently resting on the ark of God?
3. holy ground of another culture
When we approach a man of another faith than our own it will be in a spirit of expectancy to find how God has been speaking to him and what new understandings of the grace and love of God we may ourselves discover in this encounter. Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on men's dreams. More serious still we may forget that God was here before our arrival.
[he also suggests we need a deep humility and to focus on listening deeply, friendship and presence]
4. adventure of the imagination
Any attempt to look upon the world through African eyes must involve this adventure of the imagination.
[this one sounds easy but it is clear that the kind of imagination that taylor is able to undertake enables him to really be prepared to let go of his own constructs in order to really try and get inside the culture]
5. waiting for the redemptive gift
The world church is impoverished and incomplete without the insights that the logos has been preparing for it in Africa.
6. failure of only meeting people in their best clothes
This might well be a terrible failure of the whole church in Africa that it meets people only in their best clothes... Such Christianity becomes something to put on at certain times and in particular cicumstance and has nothing to do with other areas of life.
7. necessity of local poets articulating grief and amazement
More and more necessary to Africa are the spokesmen be they poets, prophets or statesmen who can articulate this hidden rejection of the West and more positively give voice to the passionate affirmations which Africa needs to make.
8. radical identification - do it from the inside
Either we must think of christian mission in terms of bringing the muslim, hindu, the animist into christendom or we must go with christ as he stands in the midst of Islam, of Hinduism, of the primal worldview, and watch with him fearfully and wonderingly as he becomes dare we sy it? Muslim, or Hindu, or Animist, as once he became man and a Jew.
[he is aware that the depth of imagining and change required is way beyond what we western christians would recognise and goes on to ask whether we would even recognise it as christian?!...]
If Christ came into the world of African cosmology to redeem man as Africans understand him would he be recognizable to the rest of the church universal?
9. eschew the foreigner's language
Recognising that we have to do with a spiritual religion we shall eschew much of the foreigner's terminology -'evil spirits', 'witch doctor', 'devil possession'
[taylor shows his willingness to really engage with this challenge - for example in talking about leadership he suggest the two primal categories are mediator and medium and it would make sense to talk of a christian medium]
10. never call another's light darkness - sin is the last truth to be told
Be constantly careful never to call another's light darkness.
The evangelism that proceeds by listening and learning, entering into another man's vision in order to see Christ in it, does not astart with assertions about sin but waits to be told about it. And usually the truth about sin is almost the last truth to be told.
good stuff eh?... it is a good exercise to replace the references to africa with 'postmodern' or make equivalent moves to see how this feels spoken about the cultural context we find ourselves in.
you can download the presentation primalvision as a pdf file which mainly uses photos i took in melbourne to try and make the local connection...