What is 'Coconut' Christianity?

'Coconut' Christianity is brown on the outside but white on the inside.

What is 'Coconut' Christianity?

One of the questions I have received the most in discussions around fostering indigenous Christianity in India is what do I mean by 'coconut' Christianity. Well, first of all, I want to admit that it is a word I did not come up with on my own. It is found already in missiological literature.

As we all know, coconuts are brown on the outside and white on the inside. Utilizing this imagery, 'Coconut' Christianity is thus a monicker used by many missiologists to speak of the phenomenon of acquired ethnocentrism displayed by many Indians who have received Western education.

Most Indians who go to the West for higher education in theology and ministry do not return to India. The few that do, usually come with a sense of cultural superiority. They either end up in highly Westernized ministries supposedly aimed at reaching urban youth, or they cave into a hypocritical cultural appropriation where they put on Indian clothes and use Indian names for their ministries, but all the while maintaining Western values like extreme individualism and privacy in all their relationships. Either way they often cannot share the gospel to a poor street-side vendor owing to their cultural, linguistic, and theological sophistication. Hence to that degree they are of no use to the wider missionary needs of India - a country where 50% of the global poor lives.

To go indigenous, therefore, means doing the hard work of avoiding merely aping and importing the West. It involves contextualizing the kerygma or the proclamation of the gospel for India so that Christ speaks in the vernacular - both linguistically and culturally.