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By Jeff Gross
Thai Buddhism is a mix of pure
Buddhism and local animistic beliefs
in spirits, omens, relics, sacred
objects, fortune telling, astrology,
and sorcery. This syncretism forms
an important part of the worldview
and belief system of Thai people. It
is this understanding of spiritual
reality that Thai people bring to the
table when they come to church for
the first time, go to an evangelistic
rally, or hear a Gospel presentation.
This article will look at the Sinner’s
Prayer from a fundamentally
animistic worldview. While the
Sinner’s Prayer is designed to help
people become Christians, here in
Thailand (as in other similar places)
it many times has the opposite effect.
At its core, animism believes it can use religious rituals and
ceremonies to manipulate the spirit world into doing what
the animist wants it to do, whether that be warding off evil
or inviting blessing. Animism is not a heart religion where
it is important that one really believes something from
the depth of his being. Animism is not about devotion or
love for a particular deity or spirit. Animism is not about
a relationship with his Creator. Animism is not about
conforming one’s life to a moral standard that has come
down from heaven through God’s Word. Animism does
not require one to repent of his sins (critical for salvation).
All it requires is the performance of some religious rituals
in order to cause the spiritual powers that be to bring about
the desired blessings in one’s life. It is about external things
done in order to get what one wants.
However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about a change in
heart that recognizes that one not only does sin but that one
is sin. It is a change of priorities from one’s own priorities
to God’s priorities. It is about God’s plan for what one’s
life should be like, not about using religious ceremonies
to manipulate a god into helping accomplish one’s own
ideas of what a happy life should be like. Animism at its
core is all about self. Whatever gets the job done to help the
animist achieve his idea of the good life is what he will do.
What happens when Thai folk Buddhists
are invited to say the Sinner’s Prayer?
How would people from a primarily animistic worldview,
such as Thai folk Buddhists, understand an invitation to
say the Sinner’s Prayer? Why does the Sinner’s Prayer, as
commonly practiced, fail to bring about understanding
and conversion among Thai Buddhists and other animistic
Number 1, 2019