Communication was a crucial element of E. Stanley Jones’s effectiveness as a missionary, spokesman, and advocate in India and across the world. From friendship with Mahatma Gandhi, his influence on Martin Luther King Jr., to his founding of the worldwide Christian Ashram movement and Round Table conferences, Jones demonstrated that interconnectedness is a necessary aspect of effective interfaith and inter-race communication. This article examines the communication practices of E. Stanley Jones, through the lens of Actor-Network Theory (ANT), using its view of interconnectedness to explain the effectiveness of Jones’s impact. However, due to ANT’s limitations, the Actor in God’s Network Theory (AGNT) is introduced, providing prescriptive advice from Jones for practical Christian communication today. Nathan Crissman is a pastor in Western Pennsylvania, an adjunct English professor at Colorado Technical University, and a doctoral student studying communication at Regent University.
Connection was a crucial aspect of Christian faith in the early Church. Obedience to Jesus was understood through the lens of interconnectedness, strengthening connections within the Church body, and building connections through intentional communication with those outside the Church. Paul called the Church of Corinth to view themselves as a single body, connected to one another. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’”1 Jesus’ Great Commission further compelled the early Church to engage in meaningful conversations that connected the hope of the gospel to the others, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching.2 Church gatherings were filled with fellowship, “day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.”3 Together, they heeded the command from Hebrews 10, to not neglect meeting together, as had become the habits of other believers. They learned to “rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep,”4 taking seriously the instruction of Jesus to gather together in His name, “for where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”5 This focus on building and maintaining connections stemmed from Jesus’ intentional instruction to extend an invitation for many guests to the heavenly feast, an attitude Jesus further exemplified through his interfaith engagement with a Samaritan woman,6 a Syrophoenician woman,7 a Roman centurion,8 as well as tax collectors and sinners.9 Making communion the highest act of worship,10 members of the early Church were clearly marked by their connection to one another, to God, and to the outside world.
Unfortunately, the modern Church’s approach has failed to continue this biblical call. Professors of Youth Ministry, Malan Nel and Kenneth Moser argue that the Church in North America is failing to build meaningful connections with young people in the Church because of its “style of programming that has created a division between evangelism and discipleship,”11 even as the Great Commission enjoins them. Communication with those outside the Church has also suffered from this deficit. Though standing on the shoulders of missionaries, itinerate preachers, Great Awakening evangelism tents, and weekly outreach activities, the Church in America today has failed to demonstrate a meaningful connection to the postmodern generations, creating de- bates rather than meaningful conversations. In The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context, philosopher Myron Penner emphasized that there is “no rational hope of resolving [debates through to] a single point of view” in the contemporary context, nullifying the modern approach of evangelistic debate.12
In the face of all this, Christians still deeply desire to connect with one
another as well as the outside world. The 2021 Evangelism Explosion study by Lifeway Research found that 66% of self-identified Christians claim that they are open or very open to having a conversation about faith with a friend. Furthermore, 51% claim they are open or very open about having a conversation about faith with a stranger.13 Scott McConnell, the executive director of Lifeway Research, explains that many “need encouragement and to be shown how to share the good news about Jesus Christ with others.”14 Sadly, attempts to carry conversations across racial and faith lines are often met with rejection and hostility.
The modern Church must learn to communicate biblically with a postmodern world if it hopes to build the connections emphasized by Jesus. But how to reclaim this biblical mandate? As a path forward to find peaceable conversations and common ground, I examine the communication practices of E. Stanley Jones, the globally acclaimed 20th century missionary who, by building connections in and outside the Church, was welcomed across faith and racial boundaries across India and America. Few individuals have achieved the level of inter-faith and interracial dialogue that Jones did, directly influencing the thinking of both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Along with being a close friend of Gandhi, he was nominated for the Nobel peace prize twice, founded the Christian Ashram movement, and was a member of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality).15 Yet his legacy is not in his personal achievements but in a methodology of interconnected communication that transformed the Church’s ability to build connections inside and outside its walls and offers valuable insight into communication practice today, especially on behalf of the Christian faith. In contrast to the modern Church’s “us vs. them” hostile argument, which discourages meaningful connections, Jones’s work offers a theory of interconnection that extends a respectful invitation to differing opinions across different faith and race boundaries.
By utilizing Actor-Network Theory (ANT)16 to describe Jones’s ministry, I present an alternative to current church communication practices. ANT’s foundational principles are used as a framework to interpret Jones’s work. However, Jones’s method of communication must be stretched beyond the descriptive ANT to offer transformative advice to the modern Church by evolving ANT’s principles into a more prescriptive Actor in God’s Network (AGNT) framework. To accomplish this, I first review Jones’s evangelistic approach and examine the practice of Jones’s ministry to understand the extent interconnectedness can transform communication. Then, I explain ANT in terms of its ability to transform communication through its interconnected lens. Finally, I explain how Jones’s reliance on God to build interconnectedness through AGNT can be applied to modern church connections.
Jones’s Effectiveness Through the Lens of Interconnectivity
Understanding the Christian tenet that “the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it,”17 Jones saw his role as a communicator in God’s much larger interconnected plan for the kingdom of God and thus developed a novel approach to understanding connectivity, transforming how he received communication from others, how he communicated Christian hope, and how he understood his goals in communication. As Theologian Samuel Matthew explains, “unlike other missionaries of his age, Jones treated other religions with much sympathy and respect.”18 This sympathy and respect did not emerge from a lack of urgency or dedication toward his message but from an intentional surrender to his humble role as only one of the connected elements in the kingdom of God. Jones’s interconnected communication allowed for an unwavering focus on Jesus that would translate into effectively sharing hope in India, America, and around the world.
Ministry in India
Jones is best known for his ministry in India in the early decades of the twentieth century, where his communication depended heavily on surrendering to God to open doors. While most other mission agencies focused on the poor and disadvantaged, Jones was able to communicate hope to the influential and culturally elite. Although Jones first assumed, like the rest of the missionaries of his day, that the untouchables and lower castes would be the natural focus of his communication efforts, God challenged this premise by opening the door to a much more extensive network. A local leader brought this network to Jones’s attention when Jones explained that the upper castes would not be willing to hear the gospel, “He replied: ‘It is a mistake. We want you if you will come in the right way.’”19 Suddenly, Jones saw God opening a new door for Christian communication and he was eager to walk through it. He concluded, “Almost every moment since then, I have been in eager quest for that right way. I have come to the conclusion that the right way was just to be a Christian with all the fearless implications of that term.”20
Jones learned to depend on God’s preparation, even when human agency
failed. In A Song of Ascents, Jones’s spiritual autobiography, he recalls that the mission agency did not adequately prepare him for ministry in India, “No one from the mission board came to see me off. I was given no orientation, no briefing on what to do as a missionary, no manual of instruction on how to travel. I was given a Hindustani grammar, forty pounds in British gold, and a ticket to Bombay via Britain, a handshake, and sent off.”21 However, Jones discovered effective communication opportunities as he humbly surrendered to being a part of God’s interconnected network that was already prepared for his arrival. However, surrendering as an actor of God’s prepared network was much more costly and difficult than it first appeared. As Jones wrote, “It is possible to cross the seas and leave your home and your friends and give up your salary and everything else and yet not give up the final thing—the surrender of oneself. Yet some of us have realized what that means, and in that extreme moment, we have said, ‘Lord, that last thing…take it. I surrender myself to you.’”22
Jones found another open door in India through Mahatma Gandhi who would become a close friend. He first met Gandhi in 1919 at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. This one-on-one encounter proved to be a valuable indication of how God was planning on using Jones along with Gandhi in God’s kingdom work in India. In this meeting, Gandhi advised Jones to, “live more like Jesus; emphasize love, making love the driving force of your life; study other non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good in them but never ever adulterate or attempt to tone down your own religion.”23 To integrate Jesus into the Indian culture, Gandhi recommended a clear, inoffensive defense of the faith that assumed God’s interconnected involvement in the role of communication.
Jones’s relationship with Gandhi revealed the effectiveness that interconnectedness can have on developing two-way, quality communication. Rather than arguing, interconnected communication allows for individual growth, a goal of feminist scholars Sonja Foss and Cindy Griffin’s invitational rhetoric’s absolute listening. However, invitational rhetoric vehemently rejects any type of persuasion.24 In contrast, Jones and Gandhi communicated with an interconnected mindset, feeling free to persuade and learn from one another gently. Consider the invitational yet challenging tone in Jones’s January 1926 letter to Gandhi, which illustrates the opportunity afforded by an interconnected ANT mentality.
I desire greatly to come to your Ashram and spend at least six months. You know of my respect and affection for you. I have tried to interpret you and your message to the Western world and have been somewhat responsible for the interest that the West has in you and what you are doing. I therefore write what I wanted to talk with you about. I think the ideas that underlie the Sermon on the Mount have gripped you and have, in a great measure, molded you, but the Gospel lies in His Person. He himself is the good news. Now, if the principles of Jesus, especially those underlying the Sermon on the Mount, were all or even the greater part of Christianity I would find it difficult to be as devoted to it as I find myself at present. You suggested in Calcutta that you did not turn to the Sermon on the Mount for consolation; nor do I. I turn to the Person. Now, Mahatmaji, I may be wrong; I hope I am. But I cannot help feeling that it is just here that you are weakest in your grasp. You have caught the principles but missed the Person. Again, I say I hope I am wrong. I hope to hear from you saying that it is not so.25
The tone of the letter between friends was an invitational and humble surrender to challenging growth. The relationship was not between mentor and mentee, nor leader and follower, but companions who helped one another grow. Gandhi was the one who first convinced Jones of the importance of nonviolent protests, not only as a possible concept but as a practical goal for both social and political change. As he wrote in his weekly newspaper, The Harijan in 1938:
‘Intellectually, of course, even many people of the West have come to recognize the futility of violence and have begun to ask if nonviolence may not after all be worth a trial. Dr. Stanley Jones has sent me a copy of his recent article, Gandhian Solution of the Chinese Trouble, and he has seriously discussed various forms of non-co-operation that may be successfully adopted. There was a time when Dr. Jones had not much belief in non-co-operation, but like now seriously suggests it as a nonviolent solution and has pressed me to go to Europe to preach peace.26
Gandhi had greatly minimized his initial doubts concerning nonviolent persuasion. Initially, he had no confidence in the nonviolent approach, but gradually, the facts conquered him.27 Jones’s willingness to learn and grow emerged from interconnectivity communication. Just as nonviolent protest depended on communication rather than violence, he learned to eschew violence and disagreement, even across faith and racial boundaries. For Jones, not only did nonviolent protests assume God’s methodology was different from humans, but nonviolent unconformity assumed that God was at work in the lives of everyone, even in the hearts of the aggressors.
Christ of the Indian Road
Jones’s understanding of God’s incarnation led him to focus on communicating a disentangled Jesus,28 separated from the bindings of culture. Theologian James Logan estimates that Jones preached this disentangled Jesus in over 60,000 sermons in his life, speaking in every city with over 50,000 people in India.29 Jones presented a Jesus not bound in crystal cathedrals nor carrying the British banner of war and oppression, but a Christ who walks down the Indian road, sits around the village campfire, and rescues the oppressed in India. This Jesus had been previously unpreached in India, and now He was greatly welcomed. This led to Jones in 1928 to write his most famous and influential book, The Christ of the Indian Road, which he characterized as “an attempt to describe how Christ is becoming naturalized upon the Indian Road.”30 Where mentioning the name of Jesus only nine years earlier had thrown into chaos the entire government assembly, now government officials and leaders found themselves sitting and listening to Jones tell his personal testimony about his experiences with Jesus. Jones preached this disentangled Jesus at just the right moment, as evidenced by the vast crowds of differing religious leaders drawn to his speeches, and mass conversions, which garnered Jones the Gandhi Peace Prize in 1962. At the ceremony, a top spokesman for the Indian government called Jones “the greatest interpreter of Indian affairs in our time.”31
Round Table Conferences
But where could Indians go to be introduced to Christ? While Jones believed participation in the Church was a biblical mandate, he was not convinced that the 20th-century Church knew how to bear the full witness of Christ without trapping Him in their cultural bindings. Instead, Jones realized God was preparing a new opportunity for leaders to encounter Jesus. By obediently listening to the voice of God, he found himself inviting leaders of different faiths to gather around a round table in a conference conversation in every town in which he preached. Jones describes these encounters in Christ and the Round Table.
As we sit around in a circle, we suggest to them that we take a new approach to religion—new when we think of the ordinary approaches in common use. We suggest that we have had the controversial, the comparative, and the dogmatic approaches to religion. There is another approach possible. Let us come at it by the method more closely akin to the scientific method—a method so gripping to the mind of the world today. This method has three outstanding things in it: Experimentation, Verification, and Sharing of Results.32
These Round Tables became places to gather and share experiences rather than argue or debate positions. Jones, on principle, refused to even engage in conversations that compared one religion to another.
I have made it a policy and a principle never to attack another man’s faith in public address. I present what I have and leave him to come to his own conclusions. Again and again, I am pressed by Hindus to show the differences between the faiths; I always refuse. For the moment I call attention to differences; there is controversy. And Christianity cannot be seen in a controversy.33
The Round Table conversations allowed others to meet Jesus in a way that “over- heard” the person of Jesus and the hope of Christianity.34 Rather than relying on Jones’s ability to persuade, his communication methodology relied heavily on an interconnectedness already present among the listeners, himself, and Christ. As Jones biographer Robert Tuttle explains,
The Round Table was never a place for idle chatter or even for plotting future strategy. It was a way of allowing different perspectives to find common ground, and to know and appreciate each other. Many participants were drawn to Stanley’s larger meetings and were soundly converted. This was even more evidence of Stanley’s genius.35
Christian Ashram Movement
However, what about connecting to those in India who were not spiritual leaders? Where could the ordinary Indian go to encounter Christ? The ideal place for ongoing conversations was not found in the busyness of the city but in a forest retreat in the lower Himalayans of northern India known as the Sat Tal Ashram. Founded by Jones in 1930, it was a place to gather in the hottest months of the year, to live simply, and to share life in hopes of experiencing God through Jesus. There were no castes or nationalities there. Since some lower castes were known for their rough hands from labor, everyone chose to work together at a certain part of the day. Led by Jones, Hindu convert and Indian preacher Yunas Sinha, and Western missionary Ethel Turner, its goal was “to produce the type of Christianity more in touch with the soul of India.”36 Jones recalled, “We determined to live in simplicity, wearing Indian dress and eating Indian food. We attempted to be as Indian as possible . . . for India, and her genius will be exceeded only by our reverence for Christ, His way, and His truth.”37 This simplicity emphasized an interconnectedness not only between the individuals but between the individuals and a simple revelation from God. This concept of interconnectedness, central to the Indian Christian Ashrams, soon spread worldwide.
American Ashrams and the Civil Rights Movement
Jones founded the American Ashram movement while living in America during WWII.38 In America, Jones’s Ashram gatherings differed from other gatherings of Christians. Jones was not alone in this battle of building connections during a time of racial strife. Oral Roberts, while allowing segregation during his 1950s tent crusade sermons, integrated his altar calls, and Billy Graham intentionally fought against segregation during his crusades in the 1950s.39 However, Jones took the battle to connect a step further and held Christian Ashram meetings in America that intentionally focused on integrating people of different races and backgrounds. The racial divide was eliminated in these Ashram retreats where folks met each other as brothers and sisters. Understanding the necessity of interconnectivity as a necessary part of the Church’s witness, Jones’s 1958 address to Asbury College harshly urged them to embrace these connections between races intentionally. Historian David Swartz recounts Jones’s passion,
E. Stanley Jones addressed a thousand students and faculty members. Jones’s indelicate sermon on racial integration shocked the lily-white campus. In starkly corporeal terms, he described holding hands with his black brethren—and of lifting their hands to his lips—while praying together. He pronounced civil rights “a God-touched movement.” He thundered against segregationists, arguing that their recalcitrance on civil rights was hurting the cause of Christ and democracy.40
Jones went on to serve on the Advisory Committee for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which organized the Freedom rides in the early 1960s. He was passionate about the peace and unity that emerged through knowing a disentangled Jesus. Jones preached, wrote, spoke, petitioned, and pleaded with Americans to work together and find unity and peace in Jesus Christ, especially across the racial divide.
The writings of Jones also had a significant impact on the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. was adamant that although he had studied Gandhi before, nonviolent unconformity did not make sense to him until reading Jones’s book, Gandhi: Portrayal of a Friend,41 where he presented Gandhi’s methodology for peace.42 Jones’s understanding of kingdom interconnectedness made nonviolent unconformity a practical possibility for Martin Luther King Jr.
Jones’s interconnected ministry can be examined through Actor-Network Theory (ANT), a sociological approach to the world that emphasizes interconnectedness by treating social phenomena as network effects.43 While ANT is oftentimes treated as a theory, Sociologist and ANT co-developer John Law explains that ANT is not a theory because “theories usually try to explain why something happens, but actor-network theory is descriptive rather than foundational in explanatory terms, which means that it is a disappointment for those seeking strong accounts.”44 Furthermore, Law wrote that though it is possible to describe ANT in the abstract, this misses the point. The focus of ANT is to describe the relationship within the network instead of explaining the motivations of the individual actants. Social theorist Bruno Latour, another co-developer, explains that ANT emerged as “the result of a collection of things that I was doing in Africa and with Laboratory Life—a matrix of semiotics, ethnomethodology, science studies—all with the idea of comparing the truth conditions in different regimes.”45 In short, ANT aims to describe how “non-human and human actors are co-constitutive in performing social activity.”46 ANT’s focus beyond the human elements sees a performance into reality “through complex gatherings of social and material relations. For example, a textbook can be seen as a gathering of text fonts, curricula, publishers, editors, deadlines, laptops, and so on.”47 Rather than emphasizing social agency, ANT attempts to decentralize all actors, including human actors, by including a variety of other objects that have an essential relational role in processes.
In ANT, an actor (or actant) is examined by its connections to other ac- tors. Sociologist Michael Callon, the third co-developer of ANT, explains that “the actor-world is the context which gives each entity its significance and defines its limitations. It does this by associating the entity with others within a network. There is thus a double process: that of simplification and juxtaposition.”48 Social scientist Jennifer Scoles writes that actors have influence only through the different connections among them.49 As Law elaborates, “An entity in an actor-world (i.e., a simplified entity) only exists in a context that is in juxtaposition with other entities to which it is linked.”50 For example, theologian Levi Checketts notes that “scientific discovery and technological innovation cannot be understood as independent of outside variables.”51 Introducing a new actor to the network has the potential to change or alter the network, its direction, and its focus. This change is called a translation. During these times of change (or controversies), the network is more easily observed. In ANT, infra-language52 is used, which “allows for the exchange of ideas and comparison of interpretations while letting the actors they are studying develop their own range of concepts.”53 ANT scholars Ignacio Farias and Anders Blok emphasize that “ANT can arguably be used to study and analyze almost any sociomaterial arrangements.”54 Management professors Sunday Chinedu, Yanging Duan, and Hsin Chen used ANT to examine information and communication technologies adoption in small and medium enterprises.55
The process of translation in ANT covers four moments: problematisation, interessement, enrolment, and mobilization. Actants form values and determine the problem during the problematisation stage, attempting to understand which actors are required within the network. It is a time of introduction, identification, and understanding. Next, interessement is the process of recruitment as actants convince others that they will achieve their goals by joining the network, which may require compromise from both sides.56 Third, enrolment comprises a group of tactics such as translating interests and showing others that the actant has the truth desired, used to enlist individuals into the project so that actants accept the aims of the network and their roles, choosing to enroll in the network. Lastly, mobilization occurs when external allies move to support the network.
The goal of ANT, according to Latour, is to trace the entities that come together to create an existence which happens when the observers follow the actors in a careful, methodical approach. Observations in ANT may help lead to an understanding of “regimes of truth production” that provide insight into the accepted “hard cores of our culture.”57 The web of activity is observed and understood by examining the relationships (not necessarily the intentions) among actants. Media scholar Victor Wiard notes that “ANT is agnostic in nature; that is, its methodological situational approach focuses on controversies and moments of uncertainty.”58 This makes ANT specifically effective at examining unsettled groups.
The main criticism of ANT is found in its inability to effectively track and categorically measure the influence each of the actants has on one another. Management scholars John Law and Vicky Singleton emphasize the difficulty of keeping “the condition in focus through the course of the study” since there was an ever-observable growing number of complex connections or “messy objects.”59 Latour affirms this, explaining that ANT “was very good at giving freedom of movement but very bad at defining differences.”60 However, these objections do not negate the opportunity afforded by ANT to recognize and monitor networks that other communication methodologies often overlook. A secondary criticism is the lack of practical application that emerges from ANT. In its truest form, ANT does not offer prescription, only description. Its intentional observer status affords it the opportunity to track connections not seen by other systems, but it limits its ability to advise or correct these systems. As philosophers Katinka Waelbers and Philipp Dotewitz explain,
Although Latour’s approach is rich in that it enables scholars to interrelate many complex factors in their studies, the approach is poor from an ethical perspective: it focuses only on behavior, and the doings of people are viewed merely as functions within a technological environment. Desires, ideas, and beliefs are commonly neglected in Latourian studies and so are the moral motives behind routines and transactions. ANT offers a powerful descriptive stance, but it fails to provide a normative viewpoint that would be able to address questions of responsibility in techno-social networks. As a result, many PhD theses and scientific reports have been published that provide scientists, engineers and policy makers with detailed insights on social and technological developments, but they offer no help in analyzing and evaluating moral aspects of these processes.61
Jones’s Ministry Analyzed through Actor-Network Theory
Jones was not aware of ANT having died in 1973, about a decade before it was beginning to be developed and debated in the scientific community. However, his approach to missions, preaching, and evangelism can be readily understood by the interconnected basis found in ANT, especially when considering his focus on the individual, emphasis on relationships, and obsession with introducing a specific actant—Jesus, uncluttered, unbound and disentangled.
Jones understood that the network and actants were often unobserved (one of the unique aspects of ANT). He realized that both human and nonhuman elements played a role as actants in the network and attributed Gandhi’s success in championing freedom for India from British rule to multiple factors beyond his powerful presence. The people of India were prepared; Gandhi was ready; a new labor party was rising in Briton, among other things. As described by ANT, Jones saw a broader, unseen network.
In the same way that ANT focuses on the interconnectivity of actants, Jones also focused on relationships. He understood the need for Jesus alone, so he translated a disentangled Jesus. Jones often spoke about his relationship with Jesus rather than his religious beliefs, and he used the Christian Ashrams and Round Table Conferences in India to emphasize the need for relationships. His deep involvement in the Civil Rights movement pushed African Americans and Caucasian Americans to see each other as connected both as brothers and sisters and to Jesus.
Finally, Jones was also highly interested in the transformational change that introducing a specific actant in society might create. However, instead of introducing technology or healthcare advances, Jones introduced Jesus. English professor Walter Ong, in his seminal work Orality and Literacy, explains that writing is technology because it drastically changed society.62 Following this, Jesus can be seen as technology that Jones introduced apart from the cultural trappings of the Western world. This focus on Jesus’s influence as an actant is not unknown to ANT. Latour showed great respect for biblical exegesis’s “streams of transformation and reinvention,”63 and anthropologist Michael Chambon argues effectively that God can be an actor in ANT as he develops the role Christian church buildings have on the network in Nanping, China, writing, “as local Christians enjoy repeating, ‘God is the real power, the only God able to do something.’ For them, the strength of the building points to the action of God, another central actor in this story.”64 Furthermore, Checketts argues that the network provided in ANT offers useful observations into understanding and resolving issues for Christians such as the transhumanist debate.65 Since Jones understood that Jesus was the answer for everything, his goal was to introduce Jesus in a way that the people of India (and later in America) might be transformed individually and in their networks through Him.
But is Jones’s view of ministry an appropriate case study for ANT? Latour offers three criteria for this determination. First, non-humans can be seen as ac- tors. With this, Jones recognized multiple other non-human actors, such as God, racism, religion, and the British empire. Secondly, social force cannot be used to explain away the progression. Jones considered the power of God, not social force, as the key to viewing change. The third criterion judges if a study aims “at reassembling the social or still insists on dispersion and deconstruction.”66 With this, the ultimate aim of Jones’s ministry focused on a country transformed by Jesus, rather than deconstructionism and analysis. Given these criteria, examining Jones’s ministry through ANT’s four key movements is appropriate.
Jones understood that the introductory phrase was crucial for any opportunity for controversy and translation. Jones identified the problem to “come in the right way” to the influential in society who had been affected by the Western World’s image of Jesus. Therefore, some relevant actants before Jones included Jesus, the cultural elite, Jones’s lack of education, a foreign country, political strife across India, Gandhi, and the Western world’s perception. Jones introduced the new actants of Christian Ashrams and Round Table Conferences.67
Jones assumed a connection between the uncluttered Jesus and the culturally elite. His communication methodology sought to communicate Jesus without criticism or argument, especially in round table engagements where he included various faith leaders of each community. Relying on the power of interconnectivity, he allowed changes in the system to occur naturally, allowing introductions to be a movement rather than a forced encounter.
Jones sought out assistance from the faith leaders in each community. When he arrived in a town, he sent messages to the Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindi leaders, asking them to come to a round table discussion. Knowing that the step often required compromise, Jones was quick to negotiate everything except Jesus, believing Jesus was the answer to all questions, anchoring him during the unstable recruitment movement. In meetings, Jones presented Jesus simply and directly, which caused the other faith leaders to become curious. They often attended his evening preaching and teaching events held in the city that week, where Jones presented Jesus without cultural tethers. However, Jones’s preaching was not one-sided communication. Similar to ANT’s assumption that interactions hold influence against each other, Jones always ended his sermons with time for questions and answers.
Rather than enrolling individuals in his own network, Jones allowed Jesus to do the enrolling into the kingdom network. Jones sought to communicate a pure, uncluttered Jesus that would transform society, writing, “But Jesus is universal. He can stand the shock of transplantation. He appeals to the universal heart.”68 Perhaps this was best illustrated by Jones’s intentional refusal to include Western Christianity elements in his invitations. To the chagrin of other missionaries, Jones refused to advise individuals to join a local church or declare a change in their legal, religious citizenship. Instead, Jones introduced Jesus as encountered of the Indian road.
(1) Be absolutely frank—there should be no camouflage in hiding one’s meaning or purpose by noncommittal subjects. The audience must know exactly what it is coming to hear. (2) Announce beforehand that there is to be no attack upon anyone’s religion. If there is any attack in it, it must be by the positive presentation of Christ. He himself must be the attack. That would mean that that kind of an attack may turn in two directions—upon us as well as upon them. He would judge both of us. This would tend to save us from feelings and attitudes of superiority, so ruinous to Christian work. (3) Allow them to ask questions at the close—face everything and dodge no difficulties. (4) Get the leading non-Christians of the city where the meetings are held to become chairmen of our meetings. (5) Christianity must be defined as Christ, not the Old Testament, not Western civilization, not even the system built around him in the West, but Christ himself, and to be a Christian is to follow him. (6) Christ must be interpreted in terms of the Christian experience rather than through mere argument.69
Jones found that God’s network expanded from outside sources as he continued his ministry. He understood that the natural result of network change was meant to conclude in a new transformed identity, not just for the individual who had encountered Jesus but for the country in which Jesus was introduced. This realization of mobilized change guided his writing and speaking. Consider Jones’s first question when meeting Gandhi,
“How can we make Christianity naturalized in India, not a foreign tiling, identified with a foreign government and a foreign people, but a part of the national life of India and contributing its power to India’s uplift? What would you, as one of the Hindu leaders of India, tell me, a Christian, to do in order to make this possible?”70
Jones grasped that Jesus was meant to be introduced, integrated, and, in turn mobilize society within God’s network.
Actor in God’s Network Theory
Although ANT’s emphasis on interconnectedness offers an engaging analysis of Jones’s ministry, its methodology intentionally focuses only on describing connections and processes. While ANT can help us understand Jones’s interconnected view, it cannot proffer the substantial changes necessary for the Church to benefit from Jones’s ministry. Subsequently, ANT must be expanded into a new variation, which I call the Actor in God’s Network Theory (AGNT). AGNT builds on the foundation of Christian ANT scholars to provide practical advice that emerges from ANT networked observations. It allows Jones’s view of interconnectedness to provide practical advice to the modern Church beyond the description of problematisation, interessement, enrolment, and mobilization. AGNT is characterized by three main principles emphasized by Jones: A view of God that aligns with the notion of a “great, preexisting actant,” an emphasis on God’s incarnational nature, and a humble extension beyond the network.
Although ANT recognizes God as a single actant, it naturally reduces God’s network influence because each relevant actant must be included in the analysis. However, this can neglect God’s tremendous impact on each aspect of the network. Not only does AGNT recognize that God influences every aspect of the network, even when it is unseen to the observer, but God’s attributes must be understood even apart from the network, something that ANT cannot allow. His preexisting nature, justice, faithfulness, and invitation create aspects of the network that ANT might classify as external influences, which ANT attempts to disregard. God’s network abides by a different set of roles than other comparable networks. Jesus alludes to this far-reaching influence of God when He teaches His disciples, “the coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, “Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”71 The network belonging to God was something Jones depended on for his gospel communication. Jones assumed God owned the network, so Jones felt free to play a limited servant role. Surrendering to God’s active hand in defining the network and its interconnectivity, Jones felt free to introduce a disentangled Christ because Jones trusted God to induce the net- work change according to His preexisting Actant nature.
Management professors Andrea Whittle and Andre Spicer argue that for organizational scholars, ANT “is limited to the description of surface-level power relations” and that these relations are “without the ammunition both to construct other possibilities and empower actors to pursue them.”72 However, Jones, even in his limited actor role, was empowered because God’s power overwhelmed the network, which makes AGNT a better descriptor of his ministry than ANT. Instead of driving his perspective, Jones surrendered to the interconnectivity driven by God’s power, even while acting within the network. As noted by Jones scholar Anne Matthew-Younes, “Jones, with no advanced degree and without a real seminary education, now worked diligently . . . to prepare himself for this new task of preaching Christ to the educated of India.”73 Despite his lack of credentials, Jones could better facilitate change without persuading others to enroll in the system because of his understanding of God’s involvement.
Secondly, AGNT describes Jones’s understanding of an incarnational God who was not a deity reigning from afar but the Jesus who walked with him down the Indian road. This intentional incarnation drastically changes the nature of the network. As God incarnates in the network and miraculously alters the network, observations from ANT can become skewed. God prepares the heart, builds opportunities for change, and protects actants.74 AGNT recognizes that God’s influence is present in each actant’s interaction with another in the network. While a failure of a single actant might cause the network to function differently under ANT, AGNT recognizes that God’s miraculous intervention maintains networks even when actants fail.
Incarnation is at the core of the Christian faith not only because Jesus “be- came human and made his home among us,”75 but also because we are called to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means” we might save some, through the example of Paul.76 AGNT explains this gentle persuasion practiced by Jones, who sought to be part of the lives and culture of others around him even while trusting the incarnation and miraculous intervention of God, who he trusted to answer his prayers. As he incarnated into the Indian culture, irregular channels opened for Holy Spirit-led ministry. Much to the dismay of some of his fellow missionaries, this allowed even Gandhi to become a representative of this irregular channel of Christianity.77
This possibility of incarnational persuasion is why AGNT can readily be used to trace the expansion of Jones’s influence from Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. While noting the 117-page file the FBI kept on Jones, because of his relationships with Gandhi and King,78 Swartz explains the difficulty that the FBI had in making sense of their observations of him. While they could not grasp the type of persuasive influence that would allow Jones to connect Gandhi and King, incarnational ministry readily opened these irregular connections.
Finally, AGNT emphasizes a humble extension beyond the network.79 ANT is limited to the actants in the network, but AGNT recognizes that God often changes the network during observation. Although God is all-powerful, He invites cooperation with His disciples to extend networks, “I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”80 This appeal of humble action drew Gandhi to Jesus in the first place. Elaborating on the teachings of Jesus, Gandhi wrote, “the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the sermon on the mount which went straight to my heart.”81 Jones furthered Gandhi’s draw to the Sermon on the Mount by showing that the humble person of Jesus could be embraced even within the Indian culture. When Gandhi died, he was referred to as “that Christ-like man” across India, as they could find no better way to describe the humble man whom they greatly revered.82
Implications for Evangelism
Because of God’s nature, incarnation, and humble extension of networks, AGNT, as modeled by Jones, is a prescription for modern church communication and connections. By examining Jones’s view of interconnectivity, a new approach is possible for evangelism today. In a world framed by postmodern argument, structured around negative images of Christianity, and filled with YouTube and podcast preachers who build a burdensome connection between the gospel and religion, the atmosphere today is similar to what Jones faced. As Christians embrace their roles as actors in God’s network, they have new options for being faithful to the message they hold close, even as others of different religions and backgrounds hear their communication. AGNT’s three crucial elements, the presentation of Jesus, reliance on the incarnate God in order to avoid arguments, and the call for humble cooperation, can enhance connections within and outside the church and apply to modern missions.
Despite Jones’s emphasis on humbly learning through interconnectedness and interdependence, the stability of his Christian message never wavered. He understood Jesus as the great guru, the answer to everything. This singularly fixed answer served as an anchor, allowing him to explore all the other possibilities of how God could be working in unseen ways. Jones’s confidence in the person and message of the Biblical Jesus allowed for complete flexibility to investigate, imagine, and bend in theological and philosophical ways unavailable to similarly positioned colleagues.
Jones trusted God’s intentional involvement and realized that a Jesus separated from modern cultural trappings was the best opportunity to transform lives. Jones removed the outer influences on Jesus, even to the disgruntlement of fellow missionaries, so that he could present an uncluttered Jesus. If Christians want to engage with the world meaningfully today, they must also offer a Jesus who can unite the Church and give a gospel hope that extends beyond the bickering and arguments of religion.
In this reliance on God, Jones sought to avoid unnecessary arguments. While he preached boldly on the Biblical Jesus who had changed his life, he avoided comparisons, debates, and arguments that would detract from his singular message. AGNT encourages actors to submit to their network-defying roles rather than advancing stagnated positions. When actors incarnate into the network, they find God is already at work in each situation. Allowing God to coordinate their actions, irregular connections can be made inside and outside the Church.
Understanding that God could transform any network, Jones’s life was marked by humility which often allowed for boldness and confidence in God’s power. He frequently asked others if they had a better answer and listened carefully while they thought and responded. God extended His use of Jones across various systems because he humbly surrendered to God’s plan, just like the Master in Matthew 25:14–30 gave the extra bags of gold to the servant who was found faithful with little. When our connections with others depend on God’s power in His network, we are best able to accomplish His work.
Effective Christian connections remain a priority for the Church. As it invests in presenting a global Jesus, incarnating without arguments and living in humility, Christians can learn from the AGNT lessons provided by Jones, even in a world increasingly filled with bigotry, hate, pride, cheap grace, and impractical application. Divorcing themselves from the religion of modern Christianity because they entrust themselves to becoming an Actor in God’s Network provides the Church a tool to extend the disentangled Jesus into meaningful connections in today’s cultural landscape.
Cite this article
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