Wednesday, September 19, 2012

2nd Most Popular: Don Richardson, Eternity in Their Hearts

"Read it!  Give it to friends!"


(152 + / 5 -)

We continue our countdown of my most popular and unpopular reviews on Amazon.  I think I warned you, already, that my counting may be a little off.  I may try to sneak a few extra reviews in.  But for now, Eternity in Their Hearts is my second most-popular review on Amazon.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.  For the moment. 

The thesis of this book is that God has prepared the cultures of the world for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This idea may sound bizarre to many people. But since I first read the book about seventeen years ago, I have found confirmation on three levels. First, Scriptural. Richardson's idea of "redemptive analogies" indirectly echoes the teaching of Jesus that he came "to fulfill" rather than to "do away with" the (Jewish) Law, and, more directly, the approach the apostles John and Paul in speaking to Greeks about the divine "Logos," or about altars "to an unknown God." Second, historical. In Augustine's City of God, Christ was preached as a fulfillment of the truest elements in Greco-Roman culture in the early church. This is in fact a large part of "How the West Was Won" to Christ, and a large part of the East, as well.

Altar of Heaven, Beijing
The third form of confirmation was psychological, from the mouths of skeptics. The kindly pluralist Huston Smith complains of Christianity that "If God is a God of love, it seems most unlikely that he would not have revealed himself to his other children as well." Buddhist Thich Naht Hanh agrees: "Sharing does not mean wanting others to abandon their spiritual roots. . . People cannot be happy if they are rootless." Both are quite right, as far as they go. But Richardson shows that God has revealed himself to "all his children" by planting a root for the Gospel within each culture, so when we call people to Christ, we call them to the deepest truths within their own cultures. I remember the first time I visited the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China, 28 years ago. Who was this "Heaven" whom the Chinese worshiped? Why did the emperor come once a year, just like the high priest in Israel, to sacrifice for the sins of the people? As I stood in the most sacred spot in China, it seemed as if a Voice spoke to my heart. "Do you think I just came to China with the missionaries? No. I have been here all along. I made China."  Many years of research in China confirmed this to me. Among the tribal cultures of southern China and Taiwan, the Polynesians, and China itself, I came across many examples that confirmed Richardson's thesis. Later, I wrote a book called True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture, and spoke around the Pacific Rim on the subject. People in the audience often pointed out further examples of this thesis.  Eternity in Their Hearts has been tremendously influential among missionaries. But I think it is a book that everyone should read, including non-Christians who ask questions like those of Smith and Hahn. Read the book, and pass it on to a friend.  If you are interested in a more philosophical approach to the issue, try Chesterton's Everlasting Man and Orthodoxy. "Redemptive analogies" are also a latent theme of many of C.S.Lewis' books: Surprised by Joy, Mere Christianity, Pilgrims Regress, and most intriguing of all, Till We Have Faces.
I've also just finished (note -- in 2000) writing a book called Jesus and the Religions of Man. The book is not exclusively about redemptive analogies; mainly, it is a general argument for the Christian faith. But if you're interested in learning more about how persistent and coherent the idea of God is in the pagan cultures of the world, you'll find some interesting examples in there. I also give more examples of redemptive analogies that center on the person of Jesus and on his work on the cross. Many of these come from the more civilized cultures of Asia, and also Marxist, psychologist, feminist, and tribal sub-cultures of Western civilization.

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