Sunday, June 06, 2004

T. L. Osborn

Church-going people in Oklahoma (and much of the world) know of Dr. T.L. Osborn, the Tulsa-based evangelist that has spent most of his life evangelizing to the Third World and beyond. People driving through Tulsa in the 1970s and 80s on I-44 saw his modernistic world headquarters near Peoria. As a highschool student I stopped in one time with some fellow skeptics and checked it out. The only thing I remember of the visit was a film that showed a horrifying slaughter and beheading of a goat in some faraway place. Some years ago Osborn sold his distinctive HQ building to Victory Christian Center for $1 and it is now used as a Bible school.

Decades later I heard the now octogenarian (but younger looking) T.L. Osborn speak in person. He's an interesting, though sometimes rambling, speaker with lots of unique insights on how to evangelize in the Third World. He takes a very pragmatic approach to persuading people in other cultures. The most salient point he made was that the hardest thing an evangelist does is to reach unbelievers without offending the believers. While he stated that there was not much difference between Shintoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc - a surprisingly uninformed statement given his long experience in Asia - he pointed out how hard it was to reach Buddhists in Thailand with a message about the need to be "born again". To Buddhists who believe in reincarnation and strive to end the "endless" cycle of rebirth (by achieving enlightenment) - to be "born again" is not something they necessarily desire. So Osborn changed his phraseology in order to reach Thais in a way they could understand what he was trying to say. Other evangelists insist on sticking with Christian terms that mean nothing to non-Christians.

T.L. Osborn wants more than anything to get into China. He said he wants to ask the Chinese leadership why they believe so strongly in Christianity. As the audience puzzles over this assertion Osborn explains that the Communist leaders must believe in Jesus, otherwise why would they try so hard to keep their citizens from being exposed to him.

Still going strong at 83, T.L. Osborn will soon be off for Japan (which has remained stubbornly resistant to his efforts), Central America and Eastern Europe. You have to respect that, even if you don't see eye-to-eye with him.

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