Traditional Ritual as Christian Worship

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Selected as one of  TEN OUTSTANDING BOOKS IN MISSION AND WORLD CHRISTIANITY 2018 by the International Bulletin of Mission Research

A necessary task of missionaries in recent decades has been to help local Christians “inculturate” or “contextualize” their faith, although the criteria for doing so often came from outside the context in which new believers developed their understanding of Christianity.

Highlighting the voices of non-Western scholars, this work recognizes the importance of ritual and ceremony in the life of communities that seek to worship God in ways that reflect culturally appropriate responses to Scripture. The contributors—some of missiology’s leading lights—discuss rituals, beliefs, and practices of diverse peoples,  supporting the conclusion that orthodox Christianity is hybrid Christianity.

Daniel Shaw is professor of anthropology and translation at the Fuller Graduate School of World Mission/Intercultural Studies. 

William R. Burrows was managing editor of Orbis Books for twenty years and is now research professor of missiology in the World Christianity program at New York Theological Seminary.  A past president of the American Society of Missiology, he received that society's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

Book Details

Traditional Ritual as Christian Worship
Dangerous Syncretism or Necessary Hybridity?
American Society of Missiology
R. Daniel Shaw
William R. Burrows

Traditional Ritual as Christian Worship Table of Contents (978-1-62698-262-8_toc.pdf, 86 Kb) [Download]

I cannot recommend this book highly enough for students of missiology who are wrestling with the topic of contextualization, as well as for pastors of churches struggling with stagnation in their worship practice.
A text for the challenges facing twenty-first-century Christianity as it moves beyond its Western roots. The text succeeds because its editors have recognized that the living tradition of the church has met such challenges before. Drawing on modern scholarship in anthropology and ritual theory, they have organized their project in such a way that it is accessible to scholar and student alike.
Could it be that some religious conceptions, concerns, and modes of expression present before the arrival of missionaries could appropriately find their way into those people's ways of thinking about Jesus the Christ and their ways of expressing their worship of him? "Traditional Ritual as Christian Worship" offers a strong case for the affirmative.
Poignant accounts of global Christians reconciling their traditional spiritual backgrounds with their Christian faith give rich testimony to the crucial role of religious hybridity. Shaw and Burrows have collected an excellent set of examples of the effectiveness of the Gospel and Christian worship when the Incarnation is manifest in recognizable cultural spiritual expressions. This is a resource we’ve been waiting for!
Brilliantly drawing upon the concept of religious hybridity, Shaw and Burrows assert that the future of world Christianity ought to be shaped by people making sense of how God was already active among them before the missionaries arrived—in the rituals and ceremonies that enabled them to connect with the divine. I believe this book will change the way we talk about mission.
Traditional Ritual as Christian Worship points to a way beyond the impasse of a common understanding of syncretism by introducing a fresh approach through the concept of hybridity. This edited volume represents an engaging interplay between solid cultural, historical, theological, and biblical principles, and a rich set of concrete practices from peoples and communities of diverse contexts striving to use traditional rituals as a means for Christian worship. This break-through approach provides a means for honoring both traditional indigenous spirituality and traditional Christian beliefs.
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