Monday, February 28, 2011

Infinite Translatability of the Christian Faith

From Andrew Walls’ The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith, pgs. 22-23:

Each phase of Christian history has seen a transformation of Christianity as it has entered and penetrated another culture.  There is no such thing as “Christian culture” or “Christian civilization” in the sense that there is an Islamic culture, and an Islamic civilization.  There have been several different Christian civilizations already; there may yet be many more.  The reason for this lies in the infinite translatability of the Christian faith.  Islam, the only other faith hitherto to make comparable impact in such global terms, can produce a single recognizable culture (recognizable despite local assimilations and variations) across its huge geographical spread.  This has surely something to do with the ultimate untranslatability of its charter document, the Qur’an.  The Christian Scriptures, by contrast, are open to translation; nay, the great Act on which Christian faith rests, the Word becoming flesh and pitching tent among us, is itself an act of translation.  And this principle brings Christ to the heart of each culture where he finds acceptance; to the burning questions within that culture, to the points of reference within it by which people know themselves.  That is why each phase of Christian history has produced new themes: themes which the points of reference of that culture have made inescapable for those who share that framework.  The same themes may be beyond the conception of Christians of an earlier or another framework of thought.  They will have their own commanding heights to be conquered by Christ.

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