Connecting Faith and Life

Arthur Jeyakumar: History of Christianity in India

120712222542o86SfY8UArthur D. Jeyakumar in this small book has selected seven key issues from the Indian Church history and discussed each of them in seven separate chapters. The first chapter analyses the traditions related to the origins of Christianity in India.In brief, the author has  summed up major traditions pertaining to St. Thomas and St. Bartholomew, and their coming to India in the first century A.D. He arrives at a conclusion similar to C. B. Firth, which neither denies nor fully endorses the apostalate of St.Thomas in India.

The second chapter gives an historical account of the relationship that existed between the government and missions during the periods of Portuguese, Dutch, Danish and British. To the disappointment of the reader, the author does not really get into any sort of meaningful discussion in this chapter. He merely presents a narrative account. In the third and fourth chapters, Jeyakumar highlights from history the contributions of Christian missions in India in the fields of education and medical facility. The truth that modern India owes a lot to the pioneering efforts of sacrificial involvement of missionaries is clearly brought out by the author in this segment. To his credit, Jeyakumar does not hesitate to spell out the motives of missionaries. He writes more than once that the missionaries were involving in giving education and medical facilities with a hidden agenda of spreading the gospel.

The fifth chapter deals with the sensitive issue of caste practice within Christianity. There is a systematic and clear portrayal of how various missions of the past have either condemned or accepted caste within their ministry. The author is successful in bringing out the struggle and tension the missionaries had in handling this problem. This issue has much relevance even today. Since the problem is deeply rooted within the Indian society, it cannot be easily eradicated. As Jeyakumar points out from history, like some missionaries of the past, the Church today has to educate the people about the evil and expect God to change their hearts. There is no easy answer nor an easy solution. History only gives us good pointers.

The sixth chapter focusses on the emancipation of women and children thanks to the work of Christian missions. The story of Pandita Ramabhai and her work at Kedgaon is the highlight of this chapter. Some events and people discussed earlier in chapters three and four do appear here again. Therefore, it would have been good if the author had clubbed together the material of these three chapters under one title, for e.g. “The contribution of Christian missions to Indian Society.” The last chapter discusses the involvement of Christians in the national freedom movement. In a befitting manner, Jeyakumar presents the inspiring story of missionaries and lay men who stood against the British Raj. More interesting and heart warming is the account of missionaries like C. F. Andrews who in spite of their foreign citizenship worked towards the welfare of Indian people. The author has done a commendable job in this section.

Overall, this small book has many positives. First, the author has been able to place the history of Christianity in India within India’s general history and social heritage. For instance, before stating the origin of Christianity in India, Jeyakumar gives a brief account of Indian history leading unto the first century A.D. This adds a new dimension and gives additional insights. Second, the book is well written. The narrative flows freely and emphatically. Third, the author has scanned the Indian Church History effectively to cul out material for the selected themes. Fourth, Jeyakumar deserves appreciation for his courage in writing certain issues with professional integrity. He does not gloss over the mistakes of missionaries and hide their hidden agendas.

Nevertheless, the book also possesses some weaknesses. First, the author has not mentioned any where in the book why he selected these seven issues to be dealt in the book. Is it because he considered these as important than others ? or are these the only issues in history of Christianity in India ? or is it because of the Protestant focus of the book? It would help the readers if the author specifies the criterion for the choice of these selected themes. Second, the author has relied much on C. B. Firth. For someone who has read Firth already, this book would look like a repetition in many ways. The reviewer felt so. Third, the author has not been consistent in making his personal comments. In some chapters, he gives his comments and interpretations of events but in others he merely narrates. Fourth, there is a lack of consistency in giving headings too. There are sub-headings in some chapters and others don’t have them. Chapters which do not have sub-headings are relatively tedious to read and comprehend. Sub-headings in all chapters would have been helpful. Overall, this little book serves its purpose of introducing some of the major issues in history of Christianity in India. The author deserves appreciation for this effort.

Published by ISPCK, Delhi, 2002. Pp 1- 72.

Reviewed by Sam K John

Comments are closed.