Along the Indian Road was first published in 1939. It was written at a different time from our own, marked by the conveniently overlooked historical currents of a colonial age. There were many roads in the subcontinent then. These roads linked the now-independent countries of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh; yet it was not India’s Road. The British Empire was still policing and collecting taxes on those roads. Masses of nationalists were learning the art of community mobilization to disrupt those colonially over-regulated roads. Christian missionaries from across the world has just concluded their International Missionary Council in Madras (December 12-29, 1938) with a pronouncement that all religious roads must ultimately recognize Jesus Christ as The Way. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was walking on those dusty roads persuading his compatriots to renounce the Empire’s decision to enter the global highway of violence (World War II) and instead embrace non-violent pathways (ahimsa) to gain national freedom. It was during such a ripe time that E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973) circulated nuggets of embedded theology from walking alongside other Indians (Hindus, Muslims, and Christians) as a witness to Jesus Christ.
Let me share with you what I (an Indian hyphenated Naturalized US Citizen teaching systematic theology, world religions, and Christian mission at a Methodist seminary) have learned from a pilgrim on the Jesus Way who came to my people in the land of my birth. In this engaging, edifying, and challenging book, Jones offers rich insights on three themes that are most relevant to our own times: the modality of theology, the marks of evangelism, and “master word” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jones speaks to us about the art of theology. In our age, which tends to think of Christian theology as a science in the business of proving facts, this book instructs humility for human beings and injects mystery into God. Theology, for Jones, is about the art of telling stories about God. It is deeply personal and movingly confessional. Jones’ story about God is fuelled by a “heart strangely warmed” by Spirit-gifted love for the person of Jesus Christ. No wonder then that Jones longs for Gandhi to take the deep dive from knowing Christ’s principles to embracing the living person of Jesus Christ. But theology, for Jones, is also about the art of listening to stories about God from others. In this theological mode of telling and listening to stories about God, Jones prays for transformation of hearts, expects surprises concerning who is testifying to what, and pins his hope on a universal God working through and among all God’s children. In an encounter along the Indian road, Jones reports that a Muslim man shared with him that he “never understood Christianity” until he “saw it in Mahatma Gandhi.” Commenting on this strange declaration from a Muslim, Jones appears least surprised. Reflecting on the testimony, he says, “A Muslim saw Christianity in a Hindu! Mixed? Very, but very revealing.” (p. 65). Theology on the road, for Jones, was reflection upon the telling and listening of stories about God in the hope of blessed transformation.
Jones also speaks to us about Christian evangelism from journeying observantly on a religiously crowded road. His border crossing was not just geographical but also intensely interreligious. India was a-mazing road (a fascinating maze!) for this American Evangelist. Yet he walked upon it with a sense of adventure. “THE Indian Road!” Jones notes, is “the most fascinating Road of all the world. Every other Road seems tame alongside of this Road. There is no sameness here; and hence no tameness. A surprise awaits you at every turn.” (p. 8) A couple of marks of evangelism keeps him authentic on this religiously crowded maze teeming with Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Zoroastrians/Parsis, Buddhists, Jains, and Marxists. The first mark of evangelism, for Jones, entailed embodying a spirit of neighborliness. Jones manifests a remarkable willingness to forge friendship with other religious neighbors united by a commitment to truth. “Perhaps one of the best things that could happen to Christian missions in India would be for the missionaries” he suggests,” [to pursue] a relationship of friends, stimulators, and helpers of an indigenous movement. They would become partners instead of overlords.” (p. 29) In a historical context steeped in the pathology of external and internal colonial power relationships, practicing friendship as Godly practice is countercultural. This alone proclaims The Jesus way on the religiously crowded Indian road steeped in domineering British colonial rule of law and seeped in oppressive Indian rules of caste.
Such interreligious friendship was not the fluffy “I’m okay-You’re okay” kind that insulates from mutual transformation. This leads to detecting the second mark of evangelism on his journey of religious border crossing. For Jones, evangelists were bound together with other co-religionist in a common quest for truth. Evangelists crossing religious borders must be ambidextrous: one hand respectfully receives truth whenever it is offered, even if it appears in the oddest of shapes and sizes; and the other hand boldly dispenses truth whenever it is appropriate, even if truth appears to disturb the conventions of the discriminatory status quo. Although firm in his conviction that truth would be “gathered up” and fulfilled” in Christ, Jones was never unsettled by the bounteous scattering of truth. “I was,” he admits, “the friend of any truth found anywhere in India’s faith, culture, and life.” So, loving one’s neighbor comprised being “at home and no longer a stranger” to truth that emanates from others not within the fold. (p. 27) In a strident defense of the soon-to-be first Prime Minister of India, which borders on self-admitted heresy, he writes: “I rejoice that Jawahar Lal [Nehru] has come so far along the Christian way that he is insisting on social justice to the underprivileged. But this does not make me blind to the fact that he is far short of an acceptance of Christ. But let me say this, however, that I see far more allegiance to Christ in Jawahar Lal with his demand for social justice than in those who have an allegiance to Christ, but have no social passion. Heresy? So be it!” (p. 69)
The other side of being bound together with co-religionists in a quest for truth is courage to tender prophetic criticism. Jones adamantly insists in conversations with Gandhi that the Hindu hierarchical system of caste needs to be dismantled if the internally colonized so-called low caste and outcaste masses can enjoy freedom (swaraj). This book demonstrates Jones’ solidarity with the iconic Dalit leader Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956) on this matter. As a witness to a historic conversation between these two Indian leaders, Jones is critical of Gandhi’s lack of commitment to use Ambedkar’s truth to dismantle his own religious dogma. After describing the whole argument between these two larger-than-life nationalist figures, Jones records his own strong criticism: “He [Gandhi] refused to advocate the eradication of caste. It was a reply that deeply disappointed many of his friends and gave point to my contention that, having chosen Hinduism, he has encased himself in a system from which he cannot lead the rest of us.” (p. 99)
Finally, Jones speaks to us of the “master word” of the Christian Gospel, which must no longer be hidden in seeking the welfare of India: the kingdom of God. In the Christian mission’s enterprise to win souls for Christ so as to swell the Church, there was little attention paid to the social dimension of transformation that God intended for human collective. Jones would have none of this truncated Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was a preacher of the full Gospel for this indeed was the teaching of his Master. In his words, “He [Jesus] proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Jesus went about ‘preaching the gospel of the Kingdom.’ It was the center around which everything revolved. This Kingdom seemed to be a new Order standing at the door of the lower order ready to replace it both in the individual and in the collective will with God’s way of life.” (p. 79) Jones’ bemoans the fact that the good news of such a new Order that was the marrow of Jesus’ message to the world was concealed by the historical Ecumenical Creeds, neglected by the 1938 International Missionary Council in Madras, and overlooked by the Indian Churches. Yet he concludes that “the kingdom of God” is what India desperately hungers for as it moves toward independence. He says it best: “For, if the future of India demands a new order, and it is right now demanding a new social and economic order, we have a new Order to offer, the Kingdom of God.” (p. 184) Social holiness was intricately woven into personal piety in Jones’ proclamation of the kingdom of God. Yes, he infused a Methodist flavor to “the aroma of Christianity” (Gandhi). But, for Jones, the kingdom of God discloses the uniqueness of the gospel of Jesus Christ for India, for the United States of America, and for the whole world.
E. Stanley Jones walked by faith, hope, and love in the far-from-home winding roads of the Indian subcontinent as a Christian theologian, evangelist, and kingdom-agent. Born in 1884, he arrived in India when he was just 23 three years old. He did not dwell on philosophical matters such as the singularity or multiplicity of ways to God. Jones after all was not an argumentative lawyer but a passionate witness to the person of Jesus Christ and his message of the kingdom of God. “I will not discuss the question of whether there is any other Way to find the kingdom except through Christ,” he writes. Yet in love and with deep friendship for those who want to join him Along the Indian Road he confesses, “I know this Way and I know no other. This Way works.” (p. 33) You have in your hands Jones’ lived wisdom from 32 years of mindful and purposive journeying The Jesus Way on that less travelled and often misrepresented eastern road. While reading, be stirred, be stretched, be schooled, be provoked, but, most of all, be blessed!
Wesley Theological Seminary