Former Missionary Says When Witnessing to Buddhists, Turn to the Old Testament, Especially Ecclesiastes

Old Testament books and passages are important when attempting to witness to Buddhists, especially those following traditional Asian Buddhism, according to a former missionary who helped plant churches in Japan.

Harold A. Netland, professor of Philosophy of Religion and Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, spent nine years as a missionary educator in Japan.

On an episode of the Dallas Theological Seminary podcast The Table that was posted online last week, Netland explained that Buddhism does not have a “creator god” like Christianity.

“Classical Buddhism into the 19th century was unequivocal; there is no creator god. There could not be a creator god. If everything is impermanent and coming in and passing out of existence, the idea of an eternal creator god just doesn’t fit there,” noted Netland.

“So, the more modern notion is well, Buddhism isn’t really atheistic, it’s just agnostic. And this is a modern way of thinking. Classical Buddhism is very clear; there is no god.”

Netland later outlined how to engage in a conversation with a traditional Asian Buddhist, noting that one had to start at the beginning.

“Traditional Asian Buddhist, it takes a long time. You start a Bible study, Genesis 1, or pick a New Testament text. In the beginning God,” said Netland.

“You have to stop right there and talk. What do you mean by God? Who is God? And the Japanese pastors are very, very good. Very, patient. They just keep coming back to this. Until you really appreciate the idea of a creator god, none of the rest of this is going to make sense.”

The Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, which emphasizes the meaninglessness of earthly pursuits, is a popular one among Japanese Buddhists, according to Netland.

“I have found certainly Japanese have an appreciation for the book of Ecclesiastes that many Americans don’t. We don’t know what to do with this book. They like it. The language is something they resonate with,” Netland explained.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski