Monday, July 26, 2010

Book Review: Holy Ground: A New Approach to the Mission of the Church in India

I just finished reading Holy Ground: A New Approach to the Mission of the Church in India, a survey of contextualized church architecture in India by Jyoti Sahi. 

Sahi adds his own insights, as well as background information regarding the historical context of the architectural styles.  The text is accompanied by scores of black and white photos.  The first four chapters deal with the historical background of how colonialism has affected the church in India and its image among Hindus.  The other six chapters deal with indigenous architectural styles, as grouped under specific themes: ashrams, prayer rooms, the church as a teaching aid, etc.

The premise for Sahi's survey is that church architecture is an outward expression of the church's theology.  He begins by affirming that inculturation is based on the Incarnation itself, and as a result, church architecture can “[intensify] the senses of the worshipper, so that ultimately God is experienced as incarnated into the life and physical being of the worshipper” (16).  He also stresses that artistic creation is “itself our way of of worshipping God – what in Indian spiritual tradition is called the individual's sadhana (devotional path or search)” (17).  Sadly, however, Sahi concludes that “enthusiasm for an Indian type of Church... has changed a great deal [since its height in the 1960's] and is apparently a spent force.  There seems to have been a growing sense within the Indian church over the past fourteen years that other concerns [poverty, etc.] have a priority” (13). 

Sahi believes that the Church in India needs to embrace contextualized architecture for a couple of deeper reasons, reasons which I’d love to hear input about from anyone reading this blog (especially if you’re familiar with Sahi and his writings). One is that “the universal church needs the truth to be found in other religions, in order to discover its own truth. We need the other in order to reveal our own inner identity, in the same way that we need a mirror in order to see what we look like in the eyes of others” (196). I think what Sahi may be saying is that Christians need to search out those fragments of general revelation-- God’s general truths-- that are to be found in other religions, so that we might see them more clearly in the Bible and embrace and express them in our own faith walks and specific contexts. At least that’s what I hope he’s saying. If so, I heartily agree.

Secondly, Sahi believes that the church should be about mission, just as the Trinity embodies mission by having entered into creation to reach out to us. Sahi states: “This process of sending forth creative life into creation is the dynamism behind what we are calling mission. Creation is mission. The artist or architect is a part of that creative mission” (187). Therefore, embracing local architectural styles is one way the church can be involved in mission, by declaring that God has come among the local population, while His body (the church/congregation) seek to participate personally in His mission among their peers. I definitely endorse and embrace this sense of mission for artists in the church, whether or not their form of art is contextualized or not. Either way, by expressing their creativity in ways that somehow connect with the deeper truths of the Bible, artists can have a role to play in God’s creative plan for reaching all peoples with his Gospel of grace and love.  


  1. I like very much that last quote, "...Creation is mission."

    But you go on to imply that artists can be on mission whether or not their art is contextualized. Is it really possible for an artist to create missionally (regardless of message) without some level of contextualization?

    Perhaps the strength of the visual arts is that so much of it is trans-cultural.

  2. You're right about all art being contextualized to some degree, because we automatically contextualize to an audience like ourselves, if nothing else. As pastor Tim Keller puts it, “to over-contextualize to a new generation [i.e., culture] means you can make an idol out of their culture, but to under-contextualize to a new generation means you can make an idol out of the culture you come from. So there’s no avoiding it.” (

    And yes, much art is trans-cultural and can definitely get conversations started. Contextualized art, on the other hand, is more about either (a) expressing one's faith visually in a way that honors the God who made them (by His choosing where/when/what culture they'd be born into), or (b) as a means of communicating the Gospel to others of that same culture, so that it is more comprehensible to them and resonates with their "heart cries."