As I look through Augustine’s reasoning in the City of God, I wonder if his arguments could give me insight into how to speak to those in Japan about Christ. However, his arguments are very Western: methodical and logical. He examines every possible option (the cause of evil is either greater, equal to, or less than the first being turned evil. If greater, then… if less, then… if equal, then… etc). He is very thorough.
However, Japanese people just don’t think like that. Even if I could prove to them, in a convincing way, that their gods were false and it was bad to worship them, they would not change their ways. Because when with the family at New Years, the social harmony would take over, and that value is far more important than truth, so they would worship at the shrines. Most of the time, Japanese don’t even think along the lines of logic. To Japanese, it’s a normal part of life to believe logically contradictory truths.
So, how do you get God’s truth into such a context? Well, we Westerners want to go in guns blazing. Because, heck, if they believe two contradictory truths when it’s socially useful, how can they become Christians? So, here’s one approach: argue to change their presuppositions. It takes a lot of energy, will be offensive, and might work with a minority of the population. But I think a better approach is to use those presuppositions (i.e. lack of absolute truth), even if they are bad ones, to bring them into the Kingdom.
Here’s my idea: create a warm environment where Japanese can express themselves, receive love, and get truth. The fun part about them not caring about absolute truth is that you don’t have to argue why Christianity is true. Just put them in an environment where they will see the beauty of Christian love, passionate and satisfying worship of God, and feel at home. They need that, because Japanese usually come from broken families. When they revile and say, “This can’t be true,” don’t argue with them, because you’ll just offend them. Just nod and warmly affirm their questions, give a quiet answer, and pray a lot, and let God fix that doubt. Love will argue for the truth of the gospel.
Japan is a group-oriented society, and morals and truth are determined situation-by-situation by the group. Is this wrong? From a truth-standpoint, yes. However, rather than fording the moat and battering down the gate of the castle, why not sneak in the back door? Give them a group that believes that God is, and let God do the redeeming work in their heart and ultimately change their presuppositions (which will be a long process, trust me). All we can do is give the seed a good environment to grow in (plowing, planting, watering), but God makes it grow. My geuss is that the most powerful witness to group-oriented Japanese is that they be warmly accepted by a Christian group.
There is a place for “defending the faith,” but it is much later. That time comes when serious seekers or believers experience doubts. Some old-fashoined truth can come in handy in such a case.
If we could get used to it, perhaps this non-truth-oriented culture would be easy to minister in (aside from all the other factors that make this nation tough). But it requires a church worth longing to be a part of, and that’s what’s hard to build in Japan.