Nathan Keller describes ways in which Andy Smith’s approach in “Presenting the Good News as a Blessing” can be applied to his own ministry situation in Taiwan where people also desire to be blessed. But whether people seek blessing or something else, gospel messengers need to understand their cultural context, identify things that are highly valued, and make use of them in their gospel presentations. He rightly reminds us that although blessing is a biblical theme, it is closely linked with suffering for the person who follows Jesus.

Nathan Keller (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) and his wife, Tina, have served among the Taiwanese working class since 2010. He is a ministry team leader and also a Daniel Facilitator (Language Supervisor) for the Taiwan Field. He is the father of three primary school sons.

Sharing the Gospel as a Blessing in Taiwan: A Response to “Presenting the Good News as a Blessing”

Mission Round Table 14:2 (May-Aug 2019): 40-42

One of my great joys in ministry is being able to help Taiwanese Christians learn how to share the gospel with others. Every time I do so, I begin by sharing what the gospel is. I tell people that the gospel has four crucial elements. If one of these elements is excluded, then the gospel message is diluted. The four elements of the gospel message are the biblical explanations of the following: who God is, sin and its consequences, God’s plan of salvation through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, and the response of faith. I am aware that some who read this article may define the gospel message in slightly different ways, but we would all agree that these four elements are essential.

When I saw the subtitle of Andy Smith’s article, “Presenting the Good News as a Blessing,” my mind at first wondered if I was about to read about a diluted gospel message that focused on believing in God only because of the benefits that it would bring to the believer. On the contrary, in his article, Andy presents a robust gospel message, and he uses the cultural value of “blessing” as a relatable theme in order to make the gospel message meaningful to those to whom it is proclaimed.

It is important to note that our role as evangelists is to faithfully proclaim the gospel. We cannot save anybody’s soul. As highlighted by John Stott, “To ‘evangelize’ in the New Testament usage does not mean to win converts, as it usually does when we use the word. Evangelism is the announcement of the good news, irrespective of the results.”[1] We could add that as we announce the gospel message, we must do so in a way that is meaningful for our audience.

In this short article I plan to briefly review Andy’s paper and then show how using the theme of “blessing” can be a useful evangelistic tool in Taiwan. I will end with a few concluding remarks.

Reflections on “Presenting the Good News as a Blessing”

Andy knows the audience of his gospel proclamation very well. He begins the paper by explaining who the Bikolano people are and why the theme of “blessing” is a rich and deep cultural value. He then explains how so many of the Bikolano people have a high respect and awareness of Catholicism but do not have a proper understanding of the gospel message and how it relates to them personally and can bring them true blessing.

Andy then explains two fruitful methods of pre-evangelism that he has effectively used in his ministry, both of which focus on the highly-valued cultural theme of “blessing.” The first method is talking about Mary. Using this method, the evangelist opens a simple discussion that seeks common ground with a person, bridges to a theological discussion, and then moves to a personal conversation. This then leads to an invitation to study more about what Jesus says makes a person blessed: hearing and doing the word of God (Luke 11:28).

The second pre-evangelistic method is the Three Story Method. In this method, the evangelist first encourages the non-Christian to share his or her own life story. Then, the evangelist shares his or her own life story. In the third story, the evangelist shares God’s story, which is also called the “Creation to Christ” story. The sample “Creation to Christ” story that Andy shares in this paper is itself a robust gospel presentation. I have noted the essential gospel elements in this story. In Andy’s sample, God is mentioned sixteen times. Sin (seeking blessing apart from God) is mentioned seven times. Salvation (here shared in terms of “blessing”) is mentioned twelve times. That a response of faith is necessary for blessing to be experienced is mentioned four times, including an invitation to receive this blessing from God.

It is important for us to remember that God can use our initial conversations with people (pre-evangelism) to spark an interest in the story of his salvation. Once a heart is opened to learn more, a simple Bible study can lay a foundation of truth upon which faith is built.

Andy then shares how, in going through a simple Bible study series, people can learn from God’s word about the source, content, and recipients of blessing. As Andy illustrates, this study material has been simplified over time as a previous version was found to be too complex. This is a reminder that we always need to reflect on the effectiveness of what we do and that we need the courage and wisdom to make necessary adaptions, changes, and corrections along the way. This is always best done in honest and humble consultation with the local people we serve.

The passages chosen in the suggested Bible study series contain many references to the theme of “blessing.” By taking the time to develop what “blessing” means from both the Old and New Testaments, God’s salvation history can be understood more clearly. Therefore, since blessing is a high value of Bikolano culture, using it as a theme to understand the gospel message is appropriate.

Many of us work in a culture where “blessing” is highly valued. For us, Andy’s presentation of the good news through the theme of “blessing” can be very helpful. It may even challenge or enhance our own evangelistic methods, as it has already done to mine.

Presenting the gospel as a blessing in Taiwan

In Taiwan, where my wife and I have served for nearly ten years, blessing is one of the desired values among the people. One place that this can be seen very frequently is on the front doors of homes throughout Taiwan. During the Chinese New Year celebration, many people place the character for blessing, 福 (Mandarin: Fu, Taiwanese: Hok), on the front door. Frequently, the character is turned upside down, representing a wish for blessing to come to the household as the character for upside down is a homonym of the character for “to arrive”.

The inverted 福 (Mandarin: Fu, Taiwanese: Hok) character on the front of a door in author’s apartment complex.

Since reading Andy’s article, I have started using the theme of “blessing” as a pre-evangelistic topic of conversation in central Taiwan. I often bring up the topic of blessing, saying that I see the character on many front doors. I then ask a simple question: “In Taiwanese culture, what kind of person is blessed?” There is no one single response, but I often get one of these three answers: “People who are healthy are blessed.” “People who have money are blessed.” “People who have a good family are blessed.”

It is here that I share with people that Jesus tells us what kind of person is blessed. I then refer to the verse that Andy highlighted from Luke 11:28 where Jesus says that those who hear the word of God and keep it are blessed. From here, I ask if I can share with them the basic story of the Bible so that they can hear about God’s salvation. It is this salvation that brings true blessing. After all, the Chinese word for “gospel” is “福音 (Mandarin: Fu-yin, Taiwanese: Hok-im),” which can literally be translated as “the blessed sound!” Understanding that blessing is part of the Chinese word for “gospel,” it only makes sense that presenting the gospel as a blessing should be one of our evangelistic strategies in Taiwan.

I know that folk-religious Taiwanese don’t regard Jesus as highly as the folk-Catholic Bikolanos that Andy has worked with in the Philippines. Yet, there is a high regard for famous teachers, among whom Jesus is included. As we share the blessing of the gospel with people in Taiwan, we also want them to learn about Jesus the great teacher who taught about God’s blessing and became God’s blessing for us. This is where sharing stories about Jesus’ teaching and life can be a great help for people as they understand what true blessing is. As John Stott reminds us, “In a single word, God’s good news is Jesus.”[2] Likewise, Stott tells us that

Our responsibility in evangelism is neither to create a Christ of our own who is not in Scripture, nor to embroider or manipulate the Christ who is in Scripture, but to bear faithful witness to the one and only Christ there is as God has presented him to the world in the remarkably unified testimony of both the Old and New Testament Scriptures.[3]

Concluding remarks

My first concluding remark is that many readers of Mission Round Table live and minister in cultures where “blessing” is not culturally valued to the extent that it is in the Bikolano or Taiwanese cultures.

Frank Tucker reminds us that we always need to take into consideration the social and cultural context of the person to whom we minister.[4] When we understand the cultural values of the people that we minister to, we can more effectively proclaim the truth of the gospel that speaks directly to them.

In his paper, Andy encourages readers to think about how they can more effectively share the good news of the gospel within their own ministry contexts. As an example of a different ministry context with a different theme for God’s salvation, Andy leaves us with an example of a “Creation to Christ” story that can be shared in Japan. In this story, the theme of “blessing” is replaced with the theme of “restoration.”

It is our duty (and joy) as ministers of the gospel to understand how we can utilize the values of the cultures in which we serve to present the good news in ways that are both cognitively and emotionally relevant to those who hear. We trust God for the salvation of the people we share with as we do everything we can to faithfully plant and water the gospel seeds that we and others have sown.

The second remark with which I wish to conclude concerns using the theme of blessing to proclaim the gospel when following Jesus also involves suffering.

Becoming a Christian and following Jesus is the most blessed life that any human can experience. Christians experience the blessings of having a restored relationship with the God who created them, the true hope of eternal salvation, the indwelling Holy Spirit who continues to transform them, and fellowship with other brothers and sisters in Christ, only to mention a few.

Yet being a Christian in a sinful, broken world that is at enmity with God can bring hardship. Disappointment, persecution, and suffering are common in the Christian life and may come as the result of a person’s decision to follow Jesus. As The Cape Town Commitment states,

Many Christians living in comfort and prosperity need to hear again the call of Christ to be willing to suffer for him. For many other believers live in the midst of such suffering as the cost of bearing witness to Jesus Christ in a hostile religious culture. They may have seen loved ones martyred, or endured torture or persecution because of their faithful obedience, yet continue to love those who have so harmed them.[5]

Many of the non-Christian Taiwanese men that I know would potentially face persecution from family members if they became Christians and stopped participating in the folk-religious practice of ancestor veneration. To stop this generational practice would be viewed as rejecting filial piety and neglecting family obligations.

Everyone who seeks to experience the blessings of the gospel needs to understand that these hardships are part of the blessed life as well. Jesus tells us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, ESV). Understanding the gospel message also means understanding this call to total discipleship. We must not forget to include this in our gospel proclamation as we share about God’s blessing with others.

May God make us more useful for his kingdom as we share the good news of Jesus Christ in meaningful ways in our ministry contexts so that others can hear, understand, and experience God’s blessing as they call out in faith to him.

[1] John Stott and Christopher J. H. Wright, Christian Mission in the Modern World: Updated and Expanded (Downers Grove: IVP, 2015), 60.

[2] Stott, Christian Mission, 65.

[3] Stott, Christian Mission, 70.

[4] Frank Tucker, Intercultural Communication for Christian Ministry (Adelaide: Frank Tucker, 2013), 53.

[5] The Lausanne Movement, The Cape Town Commitment, https://www.lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment#p2-3-2 (accessed 4 July 2019).

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