Are There Fingerprints of God in Buddhism?

Mission Frontiers — a respected magazine published by the US Center for World Mission in Pasadena, CA — created a stir when they wrote that biblical truth found in Buddhism is a means of leading Bhuddists to Jesus. A portion of the Mission Frontiers article is below:

Do we actually believe what Paul wrote that God’s “eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen” (Rom 1:20, NIV)? How does this apply to Buddhism? Can we find eternal and divine fingerprints in Buddhism? Instead of dismissing everything Buddhist as untruth, let us try the opposite, finding some truth within Buddhism. Such a new approach might actually hold the key to breakthroughs among Buddhists.

Many Buddhist concepts are so biblical that it is possible to think they are straight from the Bible. 

Once we understand Buddhism better, how it highlights the truth, we see God at work everywhere. He prepared a path to walk on. We don’t need to fight Buddhists for “wrong beliefs,” engaging in defensive apologetics because we feel threatened by their beliefs. We can explore new ways of engaging with our Buddhists friends, because God’s fingerprints do exist in Buddhism. 

The full article can be found here: The Fingerprints of God in Buddhism: Could a New Approach to the Way We Look at Buddhism be a Key to Breakthrough?

OMF leaders in Thailand spoke out very strongly in opposition to the ideas presented by Mission Frontiers. A section from the OMF leaders response includes the assertion that the ideas presented in the Mission Frontiers article are syncretistic:

OMF Thailand would like to commend Mission Frontiers for dedicating an issue to address the challenges of missions in the context of folk Theravada Buddhism. The various writers in this issue attempted to find an answer to the question, “What is it going to take to see large number of Buddhists turn to Christ?” The missionaries of OMF Thailand affirm this longing. We also appreciate the contributors who stimulated critical reflection, discussion and prayer for the Buddhist world. We agree that various mistakes were made by both Western and non-Western missions. There is still a great need to discover ways to communicate the gospel meaningfully to the Buddhist mindset. What then are the problems with some suggestions presented in this issue? While there are some good proposals by a few writers, there are also serious concerns regarding a naïve and unbiblical approach towards Buddhism, a disconnection with on-the-ground reality, a distancing from the growing national church, and a dangerous promotion of syncretism.

The full article can be found here: A Response to Mission Frontiers: The Fingerprints of God in Buddhism (Nov/Dec 2014) from OMF Thailand

Do you think there is merit in the approach that Mission Frontiers advocates? If not, why not? (Please don’t respond to this question unless you take the time to read the original Mission Frontiers post and the OMF response to it).



2 thoughts on “Are There Fingerprints of God in Buddhism?

  1. Thanks Jesse for your comment. You are correct that the OMF response was to several articles. Thanks! I am glad you read all of the material.

    The issues raised by both sides — the Mission Frontier folks and the OMF leaders in Thailand— are complex. Which makes it impossible to simply point out who is “right” and who is “wrong.” My perspective is that both the OMF leaders in Thailand and the Mission Frontier leaders in California have a lot to contribute to the discussion. It would be very positive to get both parties together in one room to discuss the issues at length. If this was done in a spirit of cooperation, with the goal of arriving at positions that move forward the cause of the Gospel in Thailand, progress cold be made and much good could be accomplished.

    Sadly, it is human nature to label something we don’t understand in the most negative terms. In this case, the OMF leaders label the Mission Frontier position, “syncretistic.” That frightful label shuts down the opportunity to learn and grow or engage in meaningful dialogue. The OMF leaders seem to be reacting out of fear. Fear of syncretism. Fear of change. I have seen the same thing happen in Japan with the DVD God’s Fingerprints in Japan produced by Daniel Kikawa. Prominent evangelical mission leadership labeled that sincere attempt at contextualizing the gospel for Japan as “syncretistic.” For most people, the discussion was over. It was perceived to be a bad DVD with nothing to offer anyone. It was so sad to see that happen. It would have been beneficial if weaknesses (there are some) as well as strengths (there are many) had been pointed out with the goal of learning and improving on the approach taken by Kikawa.

    How can we respond to the charge of “syncretism!” in a way that moves the discussion in a positive direction of learning and positive change?

  2. No offense, but the OMF response was much more comprehensive against several of the articles in the issue mentioned, not just the one. That being said, I agree with OMF’s response that the article goes beyond a simple recognition that Buddhism is a (flawed) reaction to God’s general revelation, and advocates connecting biblical concepts to similar concepts within Buddhism in an attempt to let Buddhists retain their religio-cultural identity while “converting.” This is basically the same concept as the Muslim insider movement, which has been a cause of much discussion. The bottom line is that part of the gospel is the call to move from an old identity to a new one, and none of the old can remain. That isn’t to say everything has to look exactly like western expressions of Christianity, but there will need to be a clear distinction in practice as well as in belief as expressions of a new identity of belonging to Christ’s family.

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