Peter Pikkert on The Great Experiment

This is also from the most recent issue of St Francis Magazine, which has some tantalizing articles. The Great Experiment was the primary missionary effort to the Muslim world for over two centuries and in this book review its main idea is outlined. I have read the book and it is quite good. If you don't feel like reading the entire book at least check out the book review over at SFM.

Anyway, a quote from Miller's review of Pikkert's book "Protestant Missionaries in the Middle East":

His main target is the so-called Great Experiment. When Protestant missionaries arrived in the area in the early 1800’s they soon decided that direct evangelization of local Muslims was too dangerous and difficult; thus was born the Great Experiment, whereby missionaries would revive what they saw as the moribund churches of the land—whether Maronite, Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Coptic, or what have you. These churches would be resurrected in the image of Western Protestant evangelicalism with all its iconoclastic and individualistic trappings. In other words, they were largely ambassadors of their culture—even to the other Christians. So schools, orphanages, clinics, printing presses and hospitals were all established, mostly with the aim of reviving the Christian communities. Pikkert argues that this behavior was suspicious to the local rulers, making their communities highly visible when they had managed to survive over the centuries largely by not being auspicious. Consequentially the various genocides and mass emigrations from the Middle East and Asia Minor over the centuries can be attributed, at least in part, to this misguided Great Experiment.

Not only that, the Great Experiment quite clearly did not work. While it did result eventually in the founding of Protestant churches composed mostly of OBP’s (Orthodox-background Protestants), it should not be surprising to anyone that even these Westernized Christians had little interest after centuries of mistrust and isolation in suddenly flinging wide the gates of the churches to Turkish and Arab Muslims converts.


akhter said…
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Rob said…
-In other words, they were largely ambassadors of their culture-

(The following not meant to offend, but hey, who knows what's going to happen :-) )

This was my experience with Protestantism in Mexico and Honduras. I basically saw American culture, via the Health and Propserity Gospel, being taught to the masses who were turning away from the Catholic Church.

I know that some will reply, "But at least Christ was being preached to them..." I just don't see it that way. I don't think my Honduran evangelical in-laws (my father-in-law boasts proudly of having lost track of how many times he has been baptized in rivers, lakes, pools, etc) are Christians. And it's not just because we don't get along! LOL I sat many a night and listened to their preacher (a former Catholic "delegate of the word", a laymn commissioned by a bishop to fill in where priests are not available) howl and scream under a tent and shake a bible in the air. It is impossible for me to view that and just say, with an ecumenical shrug, "That's different but okay". It was just heresy coming out of the man's mouth. It wasn't Christianity.

Now I am ignorant concerning things Protestant, and I imagine (I hope) that there is much more to the Reformation than revival tent preachers, but I also think that this kind of thing is pretty well tolerated and even admired in Protestant circles.

I bring this up because the quoted passage from your post reminded me of a comment I made some time ago about "different gospels". I took a lot of heat for it (It's okay, though, I'm a big boy! :-) ), but that comment was basically borne out of my experiences with "ambassadors of culture" such as you mentioned here (only in Latin America and not the Middle East).

When I think of missionaries converting Orthodox and Catholics in the Middle East, I don't see them as "bringing Christ", but rather they preach a different Christ. When I think of Christ, I cannot think of Him without thinking of the Eucharist. And, from a Catholic point of view, this is not just an idiosyncrasy of ours, but rather The Way, The Truth and the Life. And when I see these missionaries performing their work, I see people being robbed of the Eucharist, and therefore robbed of Christ. There is no other way for me to see it.

I suppose the usual complaint about poor catechesis and preaching in catholic and Orthodox cultures might be brought up, but I think that complaint is a product of the culture from which the missionaries come, and not necessarily a true observation. I have had the "ignorant masses going forward for a Jesus-cookie" spiel trotted out before me many a time, but I no longer have the Catholic knee-jerk shame reaction. I don't buy that these masses are ignorant, and I don't think that giving them their "Jesus-cookie" is a bad thing. They may be ignorant of what the missionaries in question want them to know, but that does not actually make them ignorant of anything important. They may, in their hearts, know much about Christ.

Until a deceiver comes....

Not trying to make a splash, just reflecting, in as friendly a fashion as possible, on your post!
Abu Daoud said…
Hi Rob,

Yes, I think that is what both Pikkert and Miller are saying. But recent developments in evangelical missiology have actually moved away from this (a little) towards a very flexible (perhaps too flexible?) contextualization.

RE your point about the Gospel: ultimately there is no pure Gospel. I mean, the Gospel is always the clothed Gospel, there is not naked Gospel and any time it is taken somewhere it is taken in the form of a certain contextualization.

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