Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve had a kind of love affair with India for most of my adult life.
Nevertheless my admiration for Indian scholar Vishal Mangalwadi is anything but sentimental. I am genuinely impacted every time I hear him speak. It’s the same kind of impact I felt when I first read the works of Francis Schaeffer.
Somewhat guided by his notes (!), but also peppered with stunning digressions and off-the-cuff insights, his teaching energises me every single time.
He is currently working on a book about the central influence of the Bible in the development of the Western World, which, coming from an Eastern perspective, is intriguing.
This message is part of his material for that book. To be honest, I could have chosen any one of these messages but I thought the title alone might grab your interest.
We’ve already seen how the first major contribution William Carey made to India was to teach that reform was not only necessary but possible.
Indian intellectual, Vishal Mangalwadi argues that the process of Indian Modernisation began with Carey’s rejection of Karma in favour of the Christian concept of a personal God who is the Creator:
‘The idea of Karma is that an impersonal law rules our destiny and automatically gives us the consequences of our actions.
‘According to the Bible, sin is breaking the laws of a Person – our loving heavenly Father. Therefore it is possible to find forgiveness and to be delivered from sin and its consequences.’ (Mangalwadi, William Carey and the Regeneration of India, Good Books, Mussouri, 1997)
Access to knowledge for all
Following the example of the Protestant Reformers of the 16th Century, Carey knew that in order to achieve spiritual and social liberation, the Bible must be translated into the languages in common use (vernacular).
Mangalwadi argues that this was the first step towards modernisation – the availability of knowledge in the language of the people.
This meant the possibility of education for the masses as well as their protection from exploitation through ignorance. To Carey it was obvious that the most important text to translate was the Bible.
Mangalwadi writes: ‘A key factor in modernisation which Carey tried to popularise is that the spoken language of the people should also be the language of learning, the language of industry, of marketing, and of governing.
‘A feature of a medieval society is its use of an elitist language as a means of discriminating, and also as a method of granting to an aristocracy unearned privileges.
The preservation of indigenous languages – what Carey’s work enabled
‘It became possible for India to make the transition from Persian as the court language, to Urdu, and then to the regional languages (at least in the lower courts) because of Carey’s labour and leadership in turning the vernaculars into literary languages through Bible translation.’ (ibid p.79-80)
The promotion of indigenous languages
Carey became utterly consumed with the need to record, write and understand the local languages – in order that he might deliver the Bible to the people.
He translated and published the Bible into nearly 40 different languages. He started more than 100 schools and began the first college in Asia to teach in an Asian language (Bengali).
Hear the voice of a modern Indian scholar: ‘Their passion for reforming India by making the Bible available in the vernaculars motivated the missionaries to develop grammar for many Indian dialects, and eventually, to develop Hindi as a literary language for the majority of the citizens of India.’ (ibid p.80)
We know that mistakes were made, but the next time you hear the legacy of self-sacrificing, good-hearted missionaries slandered in the lecture hall, or classroom, in conversation or on TV, remember the work of William Carey and Vishal Mangalwadi’s assessment of his contribution to India.
For the first part of the William Carey story click here
William Carey is known among evangelicals because of his missionary initiative – and his subsequent impact on 19th century missions to all parts of the globe.
His actual work in India has received less attention. This may be, in part, because it took Carey and his workers a full seven years before they saw their first Indian profess faith in Christ. That doesn’t fit too well into a modern exhortation leave all and go into the world with the gospel!
William Carey and the Regeneration of India
But Indian author and speaker Vishal Mangalwadi has done us a great service by publishing on Carey. Vishal himself deserves a wide audience and his books deserve careful consideration. As an Indian observing the West his insights are piercing.
In the book, ‘William Carey and the Regeneration of India’ Vishal and his wife Ruth outline for us the incredible impact Carey had on the modernisation and freedom of modern India.
The British view of India during Carey’s time was not particularly benevolent. Historian Lord Macaulay described the British East India Company as ‘a gang of public robbers’.
Mangalwadi says that even British humanitarians visiting India tended to romanticise ‘the customs and wisdom of the natives’ rather than rebuke the greed of the Company.
Their desire to establish an Indian elite seemed an attempt to replicate class distinctions rather than benefit the people.
Changes did eventually come, when Wilberforce, Charles Grant and others were able to form an ‘evangelical’ core within the governors of the Company.
But before that time Carey stands out as a true servant of India and her people.
Serving India with the Bible
The first impulse in Carey’s understanding was, of course, that men and women should repent of their sin and come to Christ for forgiveness and personal transformation. Only then could families and society be impacted by the gospel.
In order to advance this cause Carey set about translating the Bible into local languages.
Mangalwadi writes, ‘Carey spent enormous energy in translating and promoting the Bible, because, as a modern man, he believed that God’s revelation alone could remove superstition and inculcate a confidence in human rationality – a prerequisite for the modernisation of India.’ (Ruth and Vishal Mangalwadi, William Carey and the Regeneration of India, Nivedit Good Books, Mussouri, p. 67)
Influencing the Culture
But Bible translation, for which Carey is famous, was by no means his only work. He became involved in a vast array of technological improvements and innovations that would be impressive were we dealing with a whole denomination of men and women, and not just one man.
As the year 2000 rolled by, western social historians were reflecting that the greatest invention of the previous thousand years was surely the printing press.
And there is little doubt that the printing press inaugurated a new era of learning that birthed modern western civilisation. The invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the early 15th century has had an almost unfathomable impact on the modern world.
Gutenberg’s Bible, the first book to be printed from the modern press, is described by the British Library as ‘a work of exceedingly high quality which set standards for book production which in many ways are still unsurpassed today.’
An Earlier Printing Press
But interestingly the British Library’s Online gallery also has an exhibit from China, printed in 868. This ancient document was the Buddhist work, ‘The Diamond Sutra’ (see here for both exhibits).
In other words, Chinese technological brilliance had already produced a printing press centuries before Gutenberg’s, during the first millennium. So why did Gutenberg’s press have such wide-ranging impact, and why didn’t the earlier one?
With characteristic insight and authority, Indian scholar and author Vishal Mangalwadi makes the point:
‘One fundamental difference between the West and the East is whether words have meaning or not. Your social historians were saying…that the greatest invention of the last millennium was the printing press…they were all wrong. The Chinese had invented printing 800 years before Gutenberg. Koreans had invented movable metal fonts 500 years earlier. [But] printing had not brought about a Renaissance or Reformation in Asia.
At the end of the first millennium Chinese, Koreans, Tibetans had developed the concept of salvation through rotation…we had great universities, great literature, Buddhist literature,…but what these professors and these monks in the monasteries were doing, they put these books on these rotating shelves and they were sitting and rotating those shelves, not reading those books.
Why? Because [they believed] words have nothing to do with truth. Ultimate reality is silence…‘shunya’, void, emptiness, nothingness. Words or sounds become mantra. When you separate sense from sound. You meditate on sound.
And when you’ve been rotating these shelves for two or three hours your mind begins to go in circles and becomes empty, content-less, void, ‘shunya’, and you have the mystical experience of an altered state of consciousness .
So printing, books [and] literature ceased to have any meaning, great universities disappeared, time froze in Asia.
Words have Meaning
The reason [Gutenberg’s] press began to create the modern world was because behind the printing press, behind those books was an idea that the ultimate reality was not ‘shunya’ or emptiness, nothingness, but ‘logos’, ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.’ (John 1:1)
Words are real because there is a personal God who exists.’ (from a lecture entitled, ‘Time and Eternity’ from his series ‘The Book of the Millennium’. To hear the lecture go here )
The Rediscovery of Truth
In other words, it wasn’t the invention of the technology itself that ushered in the new era of reform – it was the truth that the technology conveyed. It wasn’t the press itself, but the gospel of grace that was published on it.
Jesus said, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32 NASB)
As the Scriptures were printed, as Reformers began to make their message known, scholars and preachers had an authoritative standard by which to measure the church, and they had a living word to preach. Great change was on its way, freedom from centuries of superstition – indeed a Reformation and the birth of the modern era.