Full of hearty warmth, Blumhardt's words radiate a fatherly care, even as they voice a prophetic battle cry for authentic Christian witness. The thread that runs through these selections is Blumhardt's unwavering belief in the living Christ as Lord over all. As Blumhardt saw it, Jesus claims the whole world for his own, not just the Christian world. No one is separated from Christ's love – neither the "unchurched" nor the "pagan," and especially not the oppressed. On the contrary, the will and purpose of the common person who thirsts for meaning and strives for justice, and the insights and longings of non-Christian peoples, originate in the will of God himself.
What then was Wilhelm's task as a missionary, and the Christian's broader task in the world as Christ's witness? It was to carry into the world, particularly the non-Christian world, "the gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel of the Christians."
In Everyone Belongs to God, the reader will discover more precisely the difference between these two gospels. Suffice it to say that the "gospel of the Christians" has little or nothing to do with the revolutionary message of Christ itself. Jesus did not come to found churches, defined by doctrine or ritual, but to set in motion a movement of the Spirit that would encompass nations and lead to inner freedom, peace, and social justice. For Blumhardt, the "gospel of Jesus Christ" has nothing to do with Christianity, Buddhism, or any other religion. "No longer religion against religion, but justice against sin, life against death."
The reader will see that Blumhardt was quite critical of various missionary efforts precisely because they concerned themselves with spreading Christianity on a Western pattern, instead of representing the reality of God's reign. Blumhardt's understanding of Christian witness flew in the face of the concept of mission held by typical mission societies. It still flies in the face of so many missionary and evangelistic efforts today. For Blumhardt, new ways to demonstrate God's love must always be sought; the thoughts printed here are a direct expression of that search for fresh paths.
Influenced by Blumhardt's down-to-earth message, Richard Wilhelm focused his efforts on improving the standard of living of those he worked with. This included establishing schools and hospitals, quite daring and novel at the time. Conflicts with the Missionary Society were inevitable. Unlike his peers, Wilhelm was simply not interested in propagating the Christian religion among pagans. Like Blumhardt, he viewed the noble manifestations of other religions without prejudice, even with reverence for God's work.
Admittedly, this sounds like the perfect recipe for syncretism or religious relativism, with Jesus' truth reduced to just one of many manifestations of truth. It is clear from these selections, however, that Blumhardt emphasizes the gospel of the kingdom – the revelation of God – as the supreme truth that fulfills humankind's deepest religious longings.
Blumhardt's thoughts and concerns are amazingly prescient. Long before terms like indigenization and contextualization became vogue, Blumhardt grasped that God's living Word always incarnates itself in earthly ways. In this sense, Blumhardt was a pioneer of a new kind of mission. And so his words speak directly to our time, where we see so much Christian missionizing yet so little of God's transforming power.
As in Blumhardt's time, our world is in the throes of much ferment, and in the West in particular there is increasing cynicism and skepticism towards anything Christian. Elsewhere in the world, Christianity, with its many sects and denominations, is flourishing and, according to some, having a healthy liberalizing effect. But for Blumhardt, and for an increasing number of Christians today, such a phenomenon is not necessarily a good thing. Under the guise of religion, the gospel has not only become adulterated, but God's power to effect a radical change here on earth has been stifled.
The question today for those who seek to represent the gospel more authentically is: How do we bring the gospel of Christ to a world that is in the grip of capitalistic materialism, increasingly secular, and resentful of religious façades that perpetuate injustice, without spreading a Christianity that is little more than a pie-in-the-sky religion among a world of religions? How do we demonstrate the good news of Christ's victory over suffering and sin and demonic powers in this world where masses of people are imprisoned in urban wastelands of poverty and despair? How can followers of Christ genuinely proclaim the new creation he promised when words, especially religious verbiage, have become cheap and when our lives and churches have so little to show?