ManLega  02-12-140



A Model for the Transformation of a Culture


Vishal & Ruth Mangalwadi

Crossway Books, 1993, 1999, 159 pp.

ISBN 1-58134-112-1

 Vishal is one of India’s Christian intellectuals.  He and his wife are continuing Carey’s work in India.  The book originated from lectures about the transformation of Indian culture as a result of the ministry and influence of William Carey, who arrived in India in 1793.  Even though I have known Carey as the “father of modern missions,” I was astounded to discover the breadth and depth of his impact over the past 200 years.  The authors suggest that India’s future hinges directly on the nation’s response to Carey’s reformation.

In the midst of America’s “culture wars,” the authors hope that the American reader will see implications for us today. 

“Are all aspects of all cultures equally valid, deserving equal respect?”  The relativists assert that no objective criterion exists to judge a culture or a moral choice.  Carey disagreed.  The book illustrates the central thesis that basic New Testament themes have transforming power. (Preface) 

Carey made major, even foundational, contributions in botany, industry, economy, medical humanitarianism, print technology, agriculture, translation, education, astronomy, libraries, forest conservation, women’s rights, public service, moral reform, and cultural transformation.  “Carey was an evangelist who used every available medium to illumine every dark facet of Indian life with the light of truth.  As such, he is the central character in the story of India’s modernization.”  (25)

“William Carey’s contributions to India’s modernization have not been adequately appreciated.  Sadly, some scholars even undermine them.  The process of India’s reform has already been halted, and in some important respects Indian society seems to be reverting to its old evils.”  (71)

“All the great social reformers in nineteenth century India accepted Carey’s belief that, in many cases, conversion—or the change of one’s character and false beliefs—was the only effective means of social reform.”  (77)

Three Presuppositions of Carey’s Reforms:

  1. Salvation is God’s work.  A reformer’s primary duty is to pray.
  2. Creation is rational, not magical or mystical.  “Some Indian intellectuals are espousing postmodernism because it seems to vindicate the traditional Hindu rejection of rational order….”  “(Carey) believed that God’s revelation alone could remove superstition and inculcate a confidence in human rationality—a prerequisite for the modernization of India.”  (81)
  3. Moral rebellion is at the root of our human problems.  “Human misery…is a result of human refusal to live under the moral authority of our heavenly Father.”  (81)

“What they had hoped to achieve in India is, two centuries later, still incomplete, substantially because secular humanism has undermined what the Christians were seeking to do.”  (83)

“A state that hinders conversion is uncivilized because it restricts the human quest for truth and reform.”  (85)

“The primary presupposition of any reform…is that…we have to admit that it is degenerate.  The second presupposition is that fundamental change is, in fact, possible—even if the majority is against the change.”  [Seems pertinent to the U.S. condition. dlm]

“The opposition to Carey was phenomenal.  It came from the British Parliament, from the Company, from the military, from the Oriental scholars, from his own mission board, and also from the very people he was seeking to serve—the Indians themselves.”  (89)

The fatalistic premise that reform is not possible had ruled Indian civilization and ruined India for two thousand years.  “Today, however, it seems certain that we cannot take it for granted that this optimistic idea will continue to be the mainstream belief.  “Western postmodernism has already rejected the idea of ‘progress’ and ‘development’ as mythical ‘metanarratives.’  The stage is set for the older Indian pessimism and fatalism to win over the earlier optimism in the twenty-first century, undoing much of what Carey and the reformers who followed him had achieved.”  (90)

“William Carey believed in the possibility of reform because the Bible taught that the Creator did not intend life to be suffering.  God created Adam and Eve to live in Eden—in bliss.  Suffering came later, as a result of sin.  Suffering is thus not a normal fact, not a metaphysical truism—which means it can be and should be resisted.”  (90-1)

“The violent movements and the human rights violations of the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s raise serious doubts about whether or not human rights and freedoms will last for long in India.  They cannot last if India chooses to forget the faith and spirit of her modernizers.”  (102)

Carey’s theological assumptions—his worldview—were most relevant for modernization.  God created the cosmos with his Logos, i.e. his Wisdom or Reason.  Therefore the universe is a stable system run by rational laws.  It is a book of God’s revelation which can be read by us so that we can learn about God’s wisdom and govern the earth.  This “religious” theory of gaining knowledge was the opposite of mystical, magical, and esoteric ideas of knowledge then prevalent in India.  (105)

“The result of seeing the Creator and creation as one, is to fall into the bondage of idolatry or mysticism.  If creation is divine then we can fear it, worship it, absolutize it, or seek to become one with it, but we cannot assume the responsibility of understanding, managing, or changing it.”  (107)

“Today, there is a naïve and mistaken notion in the West that our environmental crisis is a result of the human desire to have dominion over creation.  The fact, on the contrary, is that we cannot manage the environment unless we see ourselves both as an integral part of creation, therefore dependent on it, but also as being over creation, and therefore being responsible for it.”  “Worship of nature damages creation more than do out attempts to manage it.”  (108) 

“Today, ironically, the Western world, in a self-destructive mood, seems to be turning away from (the) truth that, if God is the author of a universe that exists objectively (independent from our experience of it) then reality—whether natural, social, or moral—has a given meaning and definition.  This meaning is independent from how we perceive the universe around us.”  (108)

The significance of this principle can be illustrated with Carey’s battle against sati.  “The objective fact, as far as Carey was concerned, was that a woman’s life was neither her own nor her husband’s.  It was God’s.  And the Creator had not given us the right to violate His gift of life.  Suicide is sin because it considers a life valueless which is, in fact, precious to the Creator; it sees a situation to be hopeless where God expects faith and patience.” (109) This is counter to “the current ‘New Age’ belief that an individual is totally free to define his or her own reality.”  (110)

The pro-Sati lobby was defeated in London in the 1830s because the British mind then shared Carey’s theological assumption that the final source of law is the Law-giver, the Creator.  (111)

“For the sake of the future of human civilization it is immensely important to recover, in our day, the truth that an objective physical and moral universe exists (independently of our perception); that God is its Author; that He, untimely, defines it and gives it value and meaning; and that we have to abide by His Word irrespective of how we feel.”  (111)

“Human life is precious because men and women are neither machines, nor animals, but persons created in Gods’ image.  The Bible prohibited murder precisely on this premise.”  (112)

“Undoubtedly the spiritual bankruptcy of many Christians in our time is closely related to the bankruptcy of godly imagination.”  (inability to ‘see’ what God can do) (115)

“What made Carey so confident that the oppressive social and political structures of this world could be reformed?  One cause was the obvious cultural impact of the Wesleyan revivals, already becoming apparent in this own generation.  But a more important reason was his understanding that the Lord Himself had promised that darkness would not overcome the light, and that the Gospel was like the small amount of leaven, put into a batch of flour, that gradually transformed the whole dough.”  “His mind was motivated by a theological optimism.”  Carey’s confidence was in the Gospel.  (121)

“A missionary is a ‘called one’ who waits on the Lord to be commissioned by Him.  A missionary is thus a reformer because he is a person of destiny.”  (125)

“Carey understood that nothing but the Gospel could dispel the social darkness of India.  Carey knew the Gospel to be the only effective antidote to social evils.”  (129)

“Some who believe the Gospel look upon it merely as a means of private salvation, for going to heaven.  They do not seem to realize that the gospel is the God-given ‘public truth’—the means of organizing a decent society.  Therefore, their faith becomes privately engaging but publicly irrelevant.”  (129)

“Carey…believed that the real battle is in the mind.  False beliefs lead to wrong behavior and harmful culture.  Therefore, Carey strove to fill the Indian mind with the truth of God’s Word.  That, he understood, was conversion—the cornerstone in the task of civilizing.”  (130)