National Geographic Meets Operation World

Author, Bryan Bishop set out to find answers in his travels through North American and Asia.
What he found instead was a lot more questions.
Based on reports of a Muslim who had a vision of Jesus as the living God and Savior — who then began to read the Bible and evangelize his friends, Bryan began doing research in 1998 to verify the truth of the story.  He learned that there are networks of Muslims who believingly follow Jesus without taking the name “Christian” or leaving their cultural roots.  Known as “insiders” (because they choose to stay inside their own culture to live out their faith), the majority of them believe the core theological tenants of the Bible.  Traveling to India, Bangladesh and Thailand to investigate these claims, Bryan discovered not only Muslim, but also Hindu and Buddhist communities of truth.

Boundless is the record of his research, and it is strong on the compelling details of foreign lands:  fascinating descriptions of unfamiliar lifestyles and world views set against the backdrop of a cloud strewn sky and the scent of water hyacinths; an aching, stiff morning after a night of sleeping on a Bengali-style bed; a trip to a mysterious destination on the back of a motorcycle traveling on dirt roads that traversed watery fields.  Another strength is its discussion of the brow-furrowing questions that pervade Bryan’s research.  Who’s in and who’s out?  Adapted from John Travis’s C1 to C6 spectrum, Bryan provides a continuum for describing a Christ-centered community in terms of its use of recognizable Western “church” culture and the degree to which it incorporates local and even non-religious culture. (To read more about the C1 to C6 spectrum in the field of missiology, click here.)

The author wisely allows John Stott to voice the question that hangs in the air:

“Is it possible to conceive of converts becoming followers of Jesus without so forsaking their Islamic culture that they are regarded as traitors?  Can we even contemplate Jesus mosques instead of churches and Jesus Muslims instead of Christians?”

With our view of the Christian life as the only eternal safe zone, the question of who’s in and who’s out becomes monumental for missiology and evangelism.  Boundless does not attempt to shoe-horn this controversy into a yes/no, black/white box, but certainly provides an abundance of evidence for consideration.

I found myself mentally squinting to discern the point where the incorporation of elements from another faith into Christianity moves beyond “thinking outside the bun” and becomes syncretism.  We react negatively to the term “walls” in our culture, but few of us live in a one-room shack.  A wall that comes between the gospel and a heart that is seeking God is harmful and should be torn down.  However, the walls that mark boundaries which distinguish truth from error are right and necessary, for they define the narrow way that leads to life.  In light of this important distinction, Bishop’s Boundary Breaking Principles provide important clarification, because true Christ followers the world over:

  1. Put the Book in its place — Stories, memorized truth from Scripture, are the basis for group gatherings and discussions.
  2. Move toward Jesus — They are centered in a relationship with Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit.
  3. Turn pagan into holy — They utilize elements of popular culture to enhance worship and understanding of God.
  4. Seek the whole truth — They exercise curiosity to access the spectrum of creation and thought to demonstrate the concept that “all truth is God’s truth.”

Reader, beware, for the spotlight of truth shines 360 degrees, and if you are not careful, you may find yourself in its circumference pondering the questions that its light illuminates:

  • Am I being led by the Spirit in the same measure as these isolated communities of believers who rely solely on Scripture and prayer in the absence of other leadership?
  • Is my over-arching trajectory toward Jesus and His Kingdom, or am I enamored with peripheral issues and traditions?
  • Is the Bible central to my theology, or am I following more closely the words of authors and popular personalities?
  • How well am I able to quote from memory the Words that I consider to be my Holy Book?

Regardless of ethnic context or whether or not we call it “Christianity,” Jesus is pursuing relationships that transcend strategy, methods, and even culture.  He is at work on this fallen planet, and His grace and mercy are, indeed, boundless.

This book was provided by BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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15 thoughts on “National Geographic Meets Operation World”

  1. Looks like a fascinating book, Michele! These are hot, controversial topics in my corner of the world. Only one group here works with mslm “insiders,” and most Trksh blvrs do not agree with this approach. Interesting though. I saw let’s get as many as possible into the Kingdom! Good to be challenged to think outside the box.


    1. Betsy, you’re just the kind of person I’d be happy to discuss this book with over tea. I certainly found that it challenged me and made me think. Thanks for weighing in!


  2. Michele, I am visiting because we are neighbors at Faith Barista today (I’m in #12). I enjoy outside the box – there’s more than one way to skin a cat (Lord, that is an awful expression) but only ONE WAY into the Kingdom. Paul said “he is all things to all people.” Great book review.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow… This is fascinating. I have been wrestling with the idea of Christians who feel no need to be part of a “church” and this seems to take those ideas even farther…. Thank you for sharing this with The Cozy Reading Spot


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Another great review and once again another interesting book. Thanks for sharing this with us at Good Morning Mondays. Blessings


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