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19 August 2019

Presenting the Good News as a Blessing: A Case Study among Filipino Folk Catholics

Synopsis:

This paper examines the way the gospel answers the ardent longings Filipino folk Catholics have for blessing. By examining the way his preunderstandings interfaced with the ideas of those with whom he worked, Andy Smith helps us see the importance of cultural exegesis of oneself and one’s target culture so that the gospel can be presented in an understandable manner. His narrative approach is biblically-based, flexible, and reminds the audience of their need to become part of a larger story.

Andy Smith

Andy Smith is OMF’s International Coordinator for Evangelization. He completed an MA in missions at Columbia International University. His most recent book, The Majesty of Jesus, explores what the Gospel of John says about Jesus and about belief.

Presenting the Good News as a Blessing: A Case Study among Filipino Folk Catholics

Mission Round Table 14:2 (May-Aug 2019): 33-39

Bikolanos’ background

On a short visit to the Bikol Region of the Philippines, a person would notice its beauty. The six provinces abound in beaches, coconut trees, rolling hills, and rice fields. However, those who stay longer would almost certainly experience a natural disaster since the region is home to three active volcanoes and twenty typhoons blow through it during a typical year. The blessings of its geography cannot be separated from the curses of the same.

General histories of the Philippines state that peoples of the islands have long sought leaders who could protect and provide for them. Because of their location, the Bikolanos almost certainly did so. They looked for leaders who could help them maximize the blessings and neutralize the curses. They also looked for similar assistance from the spirit world. Long ago, they believed in a chief god who lived in heaven. They trusted in this good and just being to defend them against the head evil spirit.

A historian reports that “The ancient Bikols believed … in the protective power of the anitos or spirits of dead ancestors. As intercessors and guardians, they were represented in statuettes called lagdong, larawan or tagno and placed in grottoes or moog or in a public place most frequently visited in a village, according to the social rank of the deceased.”[1] The Bikolanos believed that the chief god and the spirits would bless those who honored them. It should also be noted that they worked hard and lived in a fertile location. As a result, their “industriousness and nature’s bounty enabled them to become one of the wealthiest inhabitants of precolonial Philippines.”[2]

However, the research of the same Bikolano historian found “various Bikol oral accounts focusing on a curse allegedly cast against the Bikol people.”[3] They indeed lived in a world of blessings and curses.

In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan visited the islands. In 1565, Spain began colonizing them. The foreigners introduced Roman Catholicism and encouraged the people to move to certain locations where they could more easily teach and govern them. Although most of the population converted, their hope of protection and provision merely shifted, in visible and public rituals, from spirits of dead ancestors to Catholic saints. Mary, the mother of Jesus, became the first choice of many as the mediator through whom to send requests to God.

The Bikolanos continued practicing their traditional religion, though in a more hidden way. Some Catholic researchers claim that this syncretism was the result of a lack of priests. One study concluded that since “the number of [Roman Catholic] missionaries dealing with the widely scattered settlements of Filipinos was small, it was difficult to root out pagan practices and beliefs. The so-called ‘folk religion’ has thus persistently troubled the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines.”[4]

Disarmament added to the Bikolanos’ challenges. Spanish officials confiscated their weapons and promised to protect them. However, they lacked the resources to keep their word. Being defenseless, the Bikolanos were occasionally attacked and raided by other peoples. Furthermore, “The Franciscan missionaries taught the people humility and self-abnegation. Poverty, a cherished virtue of the order, must have been impressed on the people as a blessed thing.”[5]

Over time, “It seems . . . that for the rural folk in the remote Bikol barrios the security that Christianity promised to bring them has not been met, that the Christian faith has not at all given them the strength or ability to endure life.”[6]

Time did not reverse the situation. Neither did the service of the Catholic priests. Rather, “By the mid-17th century the quality of friars coming into the region had greatly deteriorated… Among the complaints were the charging of exorbitant fees, the compulsory service by young ladies in the convents, and the friars’ involvement in business transactions.”[7] Instead of leading their flocks to abundant life in Christ, some priests oppressed and impoverished them.

In recent decades, the Roman Catholic Church has analyzed what it could have done better. In 1991, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines concluded “that the Philippines had been Christianized, but not evangelized, at least not enough.”[8] Rebecca Cacho, a Filipina Catholic professor of theology, adds: “Since Christianity has been received without an intelligible grasp of the faith, one may wonder whether the faith has been fully accepted.”[9]

My experience echoes their conclusions. Although some Filipino Catholics understand and treasure the good news of Jesus, many have never been evangelized in a meaningful way. Few of the Bikolanos I served knew that Jesus’ death makes it possible for them to be forgiven. Rather, they believed that their baptism had washed away their original sin and that their time in purgatory will pay for the further sins they commit. To them, Jesus is an example to follow, not the Redeemer, Savior, Mediator, or Lord.

My introduction to Catholics

I grew up a Protestant. While a few of my friends were Roman Catholic, we never discussed our beliefs, partly because our fathers’ faith had not yet become ours. It was also because we assumed our beliefs were basically the same. I came to faith in my final year in high school. Over the next ten years, I learned more and more about sharing the good news with others.

It was not until I arrived in the Philippines in 1989, however, that I gained significant experience in sharing the gospel with Catholics. I lived in a Tagalog area during my first two years and among Bikolanos for eight years. The great majority of both peoples are folk Catholics.

When people first meet in the Philippines, they often ask each other a set of questions. One of them is, “What’s your religion?” The people I met usually replied, “I’m Catholic. What’s your religion?” I initially answered “Protestant.” Then I learned that most Catholics interpret this label either as a false religion which opposes Catholics or as a religion whose male members smoke, drink, gamble, and keep mistresses. Senior missionaries encouraged me to answer “Born-again Christian” instead. This label led to fewer negative reactions. Nevertheless, either answer often prodded them to ask a follow-up question: “What do you think about Mary and the saints?”

I had never been asked such questions before. My gut sense was that the “wrong” answer might end our conversation right there. I struggled for several years to know what to do.

I first experimented with a theological answer. “Actually, Paul calls all disciples of Jesus saints. Even the church in Corinth, many of whom were leading carnal lives, he greeted as saints.” This answer never satisfied them, which showed me there was something behind their question that I did not fully understand.

While learning language and culture, I discovered that Filipinos love humor. In fact, a funny statement can remove the tension in an awkward situation. It can turn a potential argument into a positive conversation. With this in mind, I tested a humorous answer to their question about saints: “I think the saints are fine people. Why, I’m Saint Andrew.” Although this comment sparked laughter, it rarely led to a quality conversation.

A few years later, I tried a practical approach. I first ensured that the folk Catholic agrees with me that Mary, in heaven, is a person; she did not become something more. I then asked, “If twenty people were standing around you and making requests of you at the same time, how many of them would you hear clearly and understand?” They usually replied, “Probably none of them.” I continued, “At any minute, there could be a million Catholics seeking to get their requests to God through Mary. Although in heaven, she’s still a person. How many of those million would she hear clearly and understand?” This question made them think, but it never led to a deeper discussion.

Eventually, the Holy Spirit led me to a constructive answer. This tact helped me enter into many meaningful conversations. It also allowed me to start Bible studies with dozens of them and their households. I have taught it to others who now do the same thing.

Following is an example of what these conversations often sound like.

Talking about Mary

Witness (W): “What’s your religion?”

Folk Catholic (FC): “Catholic. What’s yours?”

W: “I’m also a Christian. Wonderful. Say, what do you think about Mary? Wasn’t she blessed?”

FC: “Yes, indeed. Everyone knows she was blessed.”

W: “Surely millions of Jewish women had longed to be the mother of the Messiah. But only one could be his mother. And Mary was that one.”

The folk Catholic agrees and then mentions another way in which Mary was blessed. The two continue to exchange such statements. Some folk Catholics make extra-biblical or even heretical statements about Mary. The witness ignores these comments in order to avoid entering into a debate so early in the discussion.

Eventually, the two have no additional statements to make about Mary. The witness then makes the conversation personal.

W: “Mary was indeed blessed. How about you? Are you and your household blessed?”

FC: “No, we are not.”

W: “Why do you think that is?”

Most do not answer. The look upon their faces, however, communicates that they wish they knew why they are not blessed and what they can do to reverse their situation. The witness opens a Bible to Luke 11:27–28 and asks them to read it. If not carrying one, he/she recites the verses to them.

FC: “As Jesus said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’”[10]

W: “What did the woman shout?”

FC: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!”

W: “To whom was she referring?”

FC: “Mary.”

W: “Yes, as we were just discussing, Mary was blessed to be the mother of the Savior. Did Jesus agree with the woman in the crowd and say something like, ‘Yes, ma’am, my mother is blessed’?”

FC: “No, he didn’t say that.”

W: “Well then, according to Jesus, who is blessed?”

FC: “Those who hear the word of God and keep it. In fact, it sounds like Jesus said that such people are more blessed than Mary.”

W: “Do you and your household hear the word of God on a regular basis?”

Their heads usually drop towards their chests, a confession that they do not.

W: “Do you and your household keep the word of God? Do you obey it on a daily basis?”

They usually shake their head, admitting that they fail to follow it.

W: “Could that explain why your household is not blessed?”

FC: “Yes.”

W: “I would be happy to visit your household once a week so that you can listen to the word of God regularly and learn to obey it. Is this something you would be interested in?”

Many people respond positively. The witness then leads them in a weekly Bible study using the set of stories and questions below. Before we look at those, I will first describe a second method used to start household Bible studies.

Three Story Method

I wish I had known the Three Story Method during my church planting years. I now teach it to others. In it, the witness aims to share three stories. This is done by engaging a folk Catholic in a discussion and asking the person to tell some of his or her life story—story 1. The witness listens carefully, hoping to spot evidence that God is already at work in the person’s life. Then the witness shares a bit about him/herself—story 2. This story describes what the witness was like before coming to faith in Jesus, what he/she discovered that led to a decision to follow Jesus, and the difference knowing Jesus makes in his/her life. In a context of freedom, the witness talks openly about Jesus. In a restricted context, he/she talks about him more vaguely.

Next, the witness asks, “Would you like to hear the story of God?” This question often gets a positive reply. The witness then recites story 3, which is called a Creation to Christ or Creation to Church story. A sample follows.

A long time ago, God made the universe. Of all that he created, people were the most special. He blessed them, placing them in a beautiful garden and relating to them personally.

One day, people were tempted to think that God had withheld a blessing from them. They shamelessly tried to get it. As a result, God sent them out of the garden. They became separated from him.

More and more people were born. They, too, lived apart from God. So he chose a man[11] and promised him, “I will bless you, and I will bless all families of the earth through you.” That man believed God. As a result, God blessed him.

In the following years, people sought blessings apart from God. So, he sent them messengers[12] to call them back to him. Occasionally, those messengers announced that God would send a Savior who would bring the greatest blessing.

At just the right time, God sent that Savior. His name is Jesus. He performed miracles, healed the sick, and taught with authority. Some believed in him. God blessed them by helping them see the error of their ways and giving them new life.

Others rejected Jesus and had him put to death. Unknown to them, God was working out his plan. Jesus paid the penalty for our seeking blessings apart from God.

Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his followers. He told them that they would receive the Spirit of God who would further bless them. He then returned to heaven. As promised, his followers received the Spirit of God who related to them personally and helped them live the new life.

The same is happening today. God removes the guilt and shame of those who repent of seeking blessings apart from God and believe that Jesus died for them. He also gives them his Spirit who helps them see the error of their ways and live the new life.

I’m one of those people, and I enjoy helping others receive this blessing too. Is this something you and your family would be interested in?

Material for the Bible studies

Whether talking about Mary or using the Three Story Method, the witness’s desire is to start Bible studies with entire households. We want them to acknowledge their need and then to discover what the Bible teaches about being blessed. Doing so aligns well with Os Guinness’s statement that “It is when the human heart is most fully aware of its longings, dilemmas and sorrows that it can see the profundity and awe of the answers that Jesus offers, and that Jesus is.”[13]

Once a household agrees to a weekly Bible study, the witness leads them through a three-month series. Each study lasts about one hour. Listed below are the thirteen lessons I initially used (only portions of most of the chapters were studied). In each, we especially looked for the sins that people committed, evidence of God’s righteousness, teaching about judgment, and promises or prophecies about a coming Savior.

  1. Creation Blessings and the Curse of Sin (Genesis 1–5; Hebrews 11:1–6)
  2. God Wiped Out the Evil (Genesis 6–9; 11; Hebrews 11:7)
  3. God will Bless All Peoples through the Offspring of Abraham (Genesis 12; 18–19; 21–22; Hebrews 11:8–19)
  4. God will Bless All Peoples through the Offspring of Isaac, Jacob, and Judah (Genesis 25–28; 49; Hebrews 11:20–22)
  5. Israel was Redeemed by the Blood of Lambs (Exodus 1–3; 12; 14; Hebrews 11:23–29)
  6. People Need a Mediator between Them and God (Exodus 20; 28; 32; Leviticus 10; Hebrews 5:1–4)
  7. Blood Must be Shed for People to be Forgiven (Leviticus 16; 23; Deuteronomy 18:15–20; Hebrews 9:16–22)
  8. People Do What They Want to Do (Joshua 2; 6; Judges 2; 21:25; 1 Samuel 1; Hebrews 11:30–31)
  9. An Offspring of David will Reign Forever (1 Samuel 17:12; 2 Samuel 7; 1 Kings 6; 8:41–43; 11; Hebrews 11:32–34)
  10. In the New Covenant, God will Forgive His People (Jeremiah 1; 31:31–34; Ezra 1; Hebrews 8:7–13)
  11. Is Jesus the Fulfillment of the Promises of God? (Luke 1; 3; 4; 8; 22–23)
  12. Jesus Is Indeed the Fulfillment of the Promises of God (Luke 24; Acts 2; 2 Corinthians 1:19–20; Hebrews 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18–20; Revelation 5:1–10)
  13. Blessed are Those who Believe in Jesus (Matthew 16:13–17; Luke 11:27–28; Acts 3:11–26; Romans 4:1–8; Galatians 3:6–9; Hebrews 2:1–4; James 1:22–25; Revelation 22:14–16)

Revised material for the Bible studies

God mightily used the inductive Bible study series described above. However, I was only able to equip a handful of young believers to use it with their friends. Others told me it was too complicated for them to lead, which started me on a search for a more reproducible way to cover similar material. After several experiments, I settled on the following. The group discusses one passage at each of their gatherings. They read it a few times. Then the facilitator leads a discussion of it using the questions below. A few of the passages lack answers for one or more of these questions. Where that is the case, the facilitator skips those questions during that discussion.

Questions

  1. In this narrative, what is said about God?
  2. What is said about people?
  3. What did or will God do to punish those who sinned?
  4. What did or will God do to save people from their sins?
  5. Who did or will God bless? Why them?

Passages

  1. Creation (Genesis 1:1–31)
  2. Adam and Eve’s Sin (Genesis 2:15–17; 3:1–24)
  3. Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1–16)
  4. Noah and the Flood (Genesis 6:9–22; 7:6–12, 17–24; 8:20–22; 9:1–7, 18–27)
  5. Abram’s Call (Genesis 12:1–20)
  6. Isaac and His Sons, Esau, and Jacob (Genesis 25:19–26; 26:1–5; 28:10–17)
  7. The Israelites’ Exit from Egypt (Exodus 12:21–38 and 14:1–31)
  8. God’s Promise to David (2 Samuel 7:1–17 and 23:1–7)
  9. Jesus’ Birth (Luke 1:26–38; 2:1–7, 25–38)
  10. Jesus’ Death (Luke 22:1–6 and 23:32–46)
  11. Jesus’ Resurrection (Luke 24:1–7, 36–49)
  12. Those Who Believe (Galatians 3:6–10 and Matthew 16:13–17)
  13. Those Who Have Turned from Their Wicked Ways (Acts 3:1–26)

The broader questions allow participants to answer from their heart rather than from the passage alone. Such answers help the witness further diagnose where the people are spiritually. As a result, they might compel him/her to add a passage to the series or to emphasize a point in an upcoming study. Or they might urge him/her to review with the group a passage they already discussed which suggests that the person’s answer was incorrect.

Bless and blessed

Victor P. Hamilton explains that “There are two verbs in Hebrew meaning ‘to bless.’ One is bārak and the other ’āshar.”[14] The passages in the Bible study material described above only use the first which John N. Oswalt defines as “to kneel, bless, praise, salute, curse (used euphemistically).”[15] It carries the idea of a lesser person kneeling before a greater person to receive a blessing from that greater person. Oswalt continues: “To bless in the OT means ‘to endue with power for success, prosperity, fecundity,[16] longevity, etc.’”[17]

Josef Scharbert adds an important point: “But it is particularly clear that the barukh-formula, when it is not reduced to empty talk as in Zec. 11:5, is always a manifestation of an intimate relationship with the one for whom it is intended, or an acknowledgement of communion with him; thus it has to do with God’s relationship to his people and his worshippers, but especially with Israel’s relationship to her God.”[18]

Discussing the passages in the Bible study material above, Filipino folk Catholics learn about those whom God blessed. Entire groups, such as creatures in the water (Gen 1:22), birds (Gen 1:22), and humanity (Gen 1:28) were blessed. So were clans, including Noah’s (Gen 9:1) and the Levites (Exod 32:29). Key individuals in God’s plan, especially Abraham (Gen 12:2; 22:17), received special blessings.

Participants note the repetition of the blessing about being fruitful and multiplying (Gen 1:22, 28; 9:1, 7; 22:17). The responsibilities given to humanity reminded them of our unique place in God’s plan (Gen 1:26–29; 9:2–6). They also learn that God put enmity between the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring (Gen 3:15), which helps them understand why the world is no longer a peaceful paradise. God’s promises to Noah after the flood about providing and protecting (Gen 8:21–22) give them hope.

Then they hear about God’s interaction with Abraham. They discover that “the blessing, as God’s gift to Israel and to all nations (who are viewed as intimately associated with Israel), predominates over the curse. The turning point … is the promise to Abraham in Gen. 12:2f., by means of which the power of the curse brought about by sin is broken.”[19] Clearly, “The final clause is the most comprehensive: ‘All tribes of the earth can obtain blessing in you’ (alternate trans. of 12:3b; cf. 18:18; 28:14). … It [a history of blessing] includes liberation from vain toil (3:17), wandering (4:11–12), base servitude (9:25), and the destructive chaos of the nations (11:1–9). Thus, Gen. 12:1–3 spans the histories of patriarchs, nation, and humanity with a promise of blessing.”[20]

Participants also find several promises or prophecies about a coming Savior. Elderly Jacob announced that “the scepter shall not depart from Judah,… and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Gen 49:10). Moses declared that God would raise up a prophet like him and would put his words in that prophet’s mouth (Deut 18:15, 18). Through Nathan, God promised David: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16).

Throughout the stories, participants learn about a God who is righteous and compassionate. They notice that some people were punished, that some were saved, and that there often seemed to be no works-based reason for the distinction. As a result, they grow in their desire to have a relationship with this gracious God and to be endued with power by him.

The final passages in the Bible study material come from the New Testament. Hermann Beyer observes that “The NT takes over much of the OT concept of blessing.”[21] The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words notes that “Compared with the fundamental significance of blessing in the OT, the NT gives less prominence to both the concept and the act. The group of words associated with the root eulog– occurs 67x in the NT.”[22] Allen C. Myers notes that a form of this word “is used to indicate the universal application of Abraham’s blessing (Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:8; cf. LXX Gen. 12:3; 18:18).”[23]

The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words explains that, “Of NT writers Paul uses the concept of blessing most deliberately and gives it its new Christological form. (i) In Gal. 3:8 he cites Gen. 12:3b: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ The fulfillment of the blessing promised to Abraham is now seen as God’s redeeming act in Christ.”[24]

The Bible study material described above includes portions of Acts 3 and Galatians 3. In an early sermon, Peter quoted the final phrase of Genesis 12:3 and then taught that God wants to bless the listeners by turning each of them from their wickedness (Acts 3:26). Paul declared that “God … preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’” Then he clarified who enters into this blessing: “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal 3:8–9).

The New Testament passages in the material described above also use the second Greek word for bless. Myers summarizes its meaning: “Gk. makários occur[s] primarily with the sense ‘happy, fortunate,’ illustrating the joy of life unmarred by care, labor, or death. Generally found in the blessing formulas, these expressions indicate the subject’s having fulfilled certain obligations or stipulations.”[25]

Friedrich Hauck helpfully adds that “The special feature of the group μακάριος, μακαρίζειν, μακαρισμός in the NT is that it refers overwhelmingly to the distinctive religious joy which accrues to man from his share in the salvation of the kingdom of God.”[26] He continues: “A clear difference from the Gk. beatitudes is that all secular goods and values are now completely subsidiary to the one supreme good, the kingdom of God, whether it be that the righteous man may hope for this, is certain of it, has a title to it, or already has a part in it. The predominating estimation of the kingdom of God carries with it a reversal of all customary evaluations.”[27]

A form of makár- is used in several passages of the Bible study material. After Peter replied that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus declared him blessed (Matt 16:16–17). Paul quoted David’s statements that blessed are those whose sins are forgiven (Rom 4:7–8). James taught that the doer of the word “will be blessed in his doing” (Jas 1:25). Similar to Paul, John noted that blessed are those who wash their robes (Rev 22:14).

As Filipino folk Catholics study the set of Bible passages, their concept of blessing gets challenged. First, the passages correct their belief about the source of blessing. Several of the Old Testament passages point to Jesus. Some of the New Testament passages reveal how those promises and prophecies were fulfilled. By doing so, the material communicates Jesus’ central role in God’s plan of salvation. Through him, God’s ultimate blessings are available. The following story illustrates this kind of impact.

My co-worker and I had held an evangelistic Bible study with a family for three years with little fruit. Then I led them in the Bible study material described above. We eventually reached lesson 9. While discussing God’s promise to David, the matriarch shouted out, “Now I see! Now I see! It’s all about Jesus!” The first eight lessons cover key Old Testament passages but do not mention Jesus by name. They do, however, include promises and prophecies about the coming Savior. During lesson 9, the weight and singular focus of these statements convinced the matriarch that neither Mary nor the Roman Catholic Church is at the center of God’s plan of salvation. Instead, Jesus is. God’s greatest blessings are available through him alone. The matriarch came to faith that night.

Second, by studying these passages, Filipino folk Catholics gain a fuller understanding of the content of these blessings. Formerly, they believed that security and adequate provisions indicated a family’s good standing with the spirits. Lacking them suggested that a clan had offended the spirits and, therefore, were under a curse. The Bible passages show them the bigger story: a cosmic battle rages. As a result, while some blessed people enjoy a relatively comfortable life, others lead a nomadic life, are ridiculed, are oppressed, or suffer in other ways. Nevertheless, they are counted among God’s people. Their sins have been forgiven, and he is now working to make them holy.

Third, they learn who the recipients of these blessings are. It shocks most that God blessed certain unworthy Bible characters. This reality teaches them that the gaining of blessings has nothing to do with ancestry, religion, or works. Instead, “those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal 3:9). The ultimate happiness is reserved for those who, by faith, turn to Jesus Christ.

It encourages me that some Filipino Catholics are seeking better ways to present the good news to their own people and are coming to conclusions similar to mine. Dr. Cacho is among them. She believes that the starting point is to recognize that life is difficult, full of hardships and suffering. She therefore suggests that salvation be described as ginhawa, “total well being of a person.” By it, she means relief from physical suffering and relief from inner suffering, which includes forgiveness and reconciliation.[28] She emphasizes “that salvation in the context of ginhawa is a blessing from a loving God who has come to us in Jesus to gift us with salvation by the power of the Spirit.”[29]

Conclusion

When I arrived in the Philippines, I thought I knew the gospel well. But the new context forced a broadening of my understanding. I was no longer sharing it with cultural Protestants in the West but with folk Catholics in the Philippines. With the former, the consequence of sin which I had addressed was guilt. The God-given salvation which I had highlighted was forgiveness. With the latter, the consequence of sin which I usually address is separation from God. The aspect of salvation which I emphasize is reconciliation. The change in audience required that I shift from explaining the good news as the way of righteousness to describing it as the way of blessing.

Further, I needed to change from presenting abstract doctrine from the epistles to facilitating discussions of biblical narratives. As Walter Brueggmann argues, “evangelism means inviting people into these stories as the definitional story of our life, and thereby authorizing people to give up, abandon, and renounce other stories that have shaped their lives in false or distorting ways.”[30]

The methods and materials described above invite Filipino folk Catholics into these biblical stories and present them with a new metanarrative. They urge them to turn from the stories of their ancestors and to take hold of these biblical stories. They call them to new life, that is, to enter into the blessing made available to all families of the earth by Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ.

Therefore, above all, these methods and materials exalt Jesus. They point to the One who can redeem sinners from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13). They emphasize the One in whom sinners can be blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3). Praise God for using them to draw many folk Catholics to himself.

Your context

I hope this paper stirs you to reflect on your sharing of the good news. Perhaps it will cause you to think about what else you can do to share it more clearly and meaningfully in your setting. Following is an example of what the results might look like.

Several years ago, I was asked to facilitate a training event in Japan. Since I knew little about the Japanese, I contacted a handful of people whose efforts had borne fruit among the Japanese. I asked how they share the good news in that context. Based on their replies, I wrote the following Creation to Christ story.

The world is messed up. Relationships are broken. The environment is damaged. Many are suffering. Nearly everyone longs for a better world.

Christians believe that God created a good, wonderful world. He designed it to take care of us, and us to take care of it. Plus, people were made to live together harmoniously and to live harmoniously with God.

But people wanted to be in charge. So, they did a shameful thing: they disobeyed God. As a result, their relationship with him was broken. They started doing mean things and hurting one another which made them feel ashamed. In addition, droughts, earthquakes, famines, and floods began threatening their existence.

God sent messengers to remind them about his way. Occasionally, those messengers announced that he would send a Savior who would make it possible for things to be restored.

At just the right time, God sent him. His name is Jesus. He performed miracles, healed the sick, and taught with authority. As a result, many believed in him and became his followers.

Others rejected Jesus and had him put to death. Unknown to them, God was working out his plan. He put on Jesus the shame of all people. Jesus died on their behalf.

Then, God honored Jesus by raising him from the dead. Jesus appeared to his followers. He told them that they would receive the Spirit of God. This Spirit would change them from the inside out, enabling things to be restored. Jesus then returned to heaven. As promised, his followers received the Spirit.

The same is happening today. God removes the shame of those who believe that Jesus died for them. He honors them by giving them his Spirit who changes them from the inside out. As a result, they again live harmoniously with God. They start learning to live harmoniously with one another again. They begin to take care of the world again. Many things are restored.

I’m one of those people, and I enjoy helping others understand this solution to the world’s situation too. Is this something you and your family would be interested in?

I suggested that interested families be led in a study of a set of Bible passages similar to the second (revised) version above. I changed the discussion questions to make them align better with the themes of brokenness and restoration.

Questions

  1. According to this story, what is God’s design and desire for the world?
  2. What does it say is messed up about the world?
  3. What did, is, or will God do(ing) to make it possible for things to be restored?
  4. What element of this story speaks most powerfully to you? What would it look like for you to live according to it?

The possible variations are endless as we seek to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world that needs him desperately. What will work best in your context?

[1] Maria Lilia F. Realubit, Bikols of the Philippines (Naga City: A.M.S., 1983), 11.

[2] Luis Camara Dery, From Ibalon to Sorsogon: A Historical Survey of Sorsogon Province to 1905 (Quezon City: New Day, 1991), 26.

[3] Dery, From Ibalon to Sorsogon, 6.

[4] Christl Kessler and Jürgen Rüland, Give Jesus a Hand! Charismatic Christians: Populist Religion and Politics in the Philippines (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University, 2008), 32.

[5] Realubit, Bikols of the Philippines, 66.

[6] Realubit, Bikols of the Philippines, 85.

[7] Danilo M. Gerona, “The Franciscan Evangelization and the Bicolano Response, 1578–1700, Kinaadman (Wisdom): A Journal of the Southern Philippines 12, no. 2 (1990): 108.

[8] Kessler and Rüland, Give Jesus a Hand, 83.

[9] Rebecca R. Cacho,  “Re-articulating Soteriology Using Ginhawa (Total Well Being of Persons) as a Model of an Inculturated Theology of Salvation for Filipinos,” in The Bible in the 21st Century Philippine Context: A Compendium of Papers Presented During the 1st Philippine Bible Forum, ed. E. B. Ebojo, D. C. Monera, and R. U. Yu (Manila: Philippine Bible Society, 2008), 179.

[10] This and all following Scripture quotations are from the ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[11] If the witness thinks the person knows about Abraham, he/she uses the name. However, if he/she thinks the name could get them sidetracked, its use is avoided.

[12] If the witness thinks the person has a biblical concept of prophets, he/she calls these messengers prophets. However, if he/she thinks the term prophet could be misunderstood, he/she uses messengers. I call them messengers because the first prophet that comes to the mind of many folk Catholics I talk to in the Philippines is Nostradamus.

[13] Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (Downers Grove: IVP, 2015), 164.

[14] Victor P. Hamilton, “183 אָשַׁר (’āshar),” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 1, ed. R. Laird Harris (Chicago: Moody, 1980), 80.

[15] John N. Oswalt, “285 בָּרַךְ (bārak),” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 1, 132. Emphasis is in the original text.

[16] Fecundity means fertility.

[17] Oswalt, “285 בָּרַךְ (bārak),” 132.

[18] Josef Scharbert, “ברך brk; בְּרָכָה berākhāh,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. 2, revised edition, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, trans. John T. Willis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 288.

[19] Scharbert, “ברך brk; בְּרָכָה berākhāh,” 306–07.

[20] Verlyn D. Verbrugge, ed., The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 493.

[21]Hermann W. Beyer, “εύλογέω, εύλογητός, εύλογία, ένευλογέω,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 2, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 761.

[22] Verbrugge, ed., The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words, 494.

[23] Allen C. Myers, “Bless,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 524.

[24] Verbrugge, ed., The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words, 495.

[25] Myers, “Bless,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, 524.

[26] Friedrich Hauck, “μακάριος, μακαρίζω, μακαρισμός,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 4, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1967), 367.

[27] Hauck, “μακάριος, μακαρίζω, μακαρισμός,” 368.

[28] Cacho, “Re-articulating Soteriology,” 189–90.

[29] Cacho, “Re-articulating Soteriology,” 182.

[30] Walter Brueggmann, Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Stories Universe (Nashville: Abingdon, 1993), 10.