I once took an extended ethnographic research trip to the Ryukyuan Island, a collection of islands between Japan proper and Taiwan with Okinawa island being the most well known. I had the privilege of visiting all of the Ryukyuan islands. However, one island still stands out in my mind, a small island known as Ishigaki. While there, I discovered that the people celebrate a festival that is shrouded with myth and legend. Moreover, the myth and legend appears to be a redemptive analogy.
Redemptive analogies are truths which God has embedded in culture. They are elements or fossils within a culture that anticipate aspects of the Gospel and are how God has placed within each society the remnants of His presence. They paint a vivid picture of what Christ has done, by using a common object in the host people’s own culture.
Don Richardson developed and expounded the idea of redemptive cultural analogies — traditions, prophecies, or customs in a culture that correspond in some way to Biblical ideas or symbols, and so help the people of that culture to grasp the Biblical Message. Richardson ventures that God has prepared these “bridges” between Gospel and culture in every culture on earth. Somewhere in each culture is a custom or legend that is like some Biblical story or symbol of God’s Message. Richardson writes:
Some redemptive analogies stand out in the legends and records of the past: Olenos the Sinbearer; Balder the Innocent, hounded to his death, yet destined to rule the new world; Socrates’ Righteous Man; the unknown god of the Athenians, an analogy appropriated by the apostle Paul; The Logos, appropriated by the apostle John; the sacrificial lamb of the Hebrews, appropriated by both John the Baptist and Paul. Other redemptive analogies have been found hidden away in the cultures of the present — dormant, residual, waiting: the Sawi tarop [Peace] child and the words of remon [regeneration]; nabelan-kabelan, the Dani tribe’s deep-seated hope of immortality; the Asmat new birth ceremony. Still others are the places of refuge and the legends of the fall of man, of the Deluge, and of a “ladder” connecting earth and heaven. (In Don Richardson’s Peace Child, 1979, page 288)
Redemptive analogies are often found in myths and legends. Myths and legends are similar to children’s fairy tales. Children’s fairy tales often begin with the phrase “once upon a time” to emphasize an event that happened at a certain time in the past. Such a phrase usually gives the impression that the event never happened. However, this is not always the case. In Asia Pacific, there are many “once upon a time” stories that inform culture and how the people celebrate their festivals. See the blog post entitled “Once Upon a Time . . .” for one such example.
A question I often wonder is, “What if I entered a cross-cultural setting and failed to learn, know, understand, or even appreciate how God has already gone before me and left a witness for the people?”
Acts 14:17 states, “Yet he has not left himself without testimony.” So, as you enter a cross-cultural setting take time to learn, know, understand, and even appreciate how God has already gone before you and left a witness for the people.