Introducing the Unknown God: The Role of Culture in Communicating the Gospel

Liberty University

INTRODUCING THE UNKNOWN GOD: THE ROLE OF CULTURE IN COMMUNICATING THE GOSPEL

A paper submitted to Dr. Kaleli Jones

In partial fulfillment of the requirements for

the course GLST 650

Liberty Theological Seminary

By

William McPherson

Lynchburg, Virginia

Friday, May 10, 2013

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I PERCEIVE THAT YOU ARE VERY…………………………………………………………………………….1

THE PATH OF CULTURE……………………………………………………………………………………………..2

OUT OF THE DARKNESS AND INTO THE LIGHT……………………………………………………….5

BECOMING ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN………………………………………………………………………9

TEACH THIS TO FAITHFUL MEN WHO WILL TEACH OTHERS………………………………..14

DECIDING TO KNOW NOTHING BUT CHRIST CRUCIFIED……………………………………….18

BIBLIOGRAPHY………………………………………………………………………………………………………….19

 

I PERCEIVE THAT YOU ARE VERY…

            The Apostle Paul was the greatest missionary of all time; his zeal, theology, and methodology established strong, thriving churches in cities that were foreign to Paul’s own culture. Though Paul was definitely Greek educated, his background was decidedly Jewish. When Paul arrived in the city of Athens, Acts 17 records that he was grieved at the city’s idolatry and that he began to debate with some of the philosophers in the marketplace. After causing some interest, Paul is invited to the Aeropagus, the court of all the ideas that move and shake Athens, on top of Mars Hill. Paul accepted the invitation seeing it as a means to introduce Christ to the pagan Greeks.

Paul began his defense of the Gospel in this manner, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious…” (Acts 17:22)  He takes the idolatry that affected him negatively and uses it to create a positive bridge for the Gospel to their culture. At first glance, and from a numerical perspective, it appears that it was a dismal failure. However, there were some believers, “But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” (Acts 17:34) For all intensive purposes a church was started, and the Gospel began to make inroads into a very pagan culture.

It would not have done Paul or his hearers any good if he had started to quote Scripture; the Greeks of Athens had little, if any, knowledge of the Hebrew Old Testament. Paul, like every culture-savvy missionary after him, realized that culture plays an integral part of Gospel communication. The Gospel can be likened to passenger in a vehicle (the messenger) that is traveling down the road (culture) toward its destination (the recipients of the message). For the Gospel to be communicated effectively the vehicle needs to maintained (personal holiness and witness) and the road needs to successfully navigated. Some cultures present smooth roads with easy exits for ease of travel, other cultures are much jarring with potholes and gravel paths that that lead to their hearers. In either case, it is the responsibility of the missionary to navigate these cultural roads so that the Gospel gets to its destination with as few roadblocks as possible. The role of culture in Gospel communication is providing  opposing contrasts, contextual mediums, and replicating structures for the spread of the Gospel throughout the culture.

 

THE PATH OF CULTURE

            To understand how culture affects the communication of the Gospel, one must know the definition of culture. In his book, Culture Making, Andy Crouch binds culture to language, “A baby born without hearing may never experience sound or understand the significance of the sounds he produces by chance with his own vocal tract. But he can survive and even thrive in the world if he is taught language…and thus inducted into culture.”[1] Crouch goes on to define culture very simply as, “what human beings make of the world,” this accords well with his connection between participation in culture, and language.[2] Therefore, the need for a linguistic anchor becomes vital if one is to participate in one’s own culture, much less in a foreign culture.

Duane Elmer in his work, Cross-Cultural Servanthood, uses a story about a monkey rescuing a fish to illustrate how an inability to connect with the culture can lead to misunderstandings when serving in a foreign culture; then he writes, “The fish likely saw the arrogance of the monkey’s assumption that what was good for monkeys would also be good for fish. This arrogance, hidden behind the monkey’s consciousness, far overshadowed his kindness in trying to help the fish.”[3] One may object that it was the monkey’s intentions that ultimately matter, and this is true in relation to God, but not in relation to the fish. Understanding a culture’s language (not necessarily spoken, though that is an asset) allows one to understand how that culture sees service, and thus clears and smoothes roads for Gospel communication.

In the Western world, culture has shifted in a Postmodern (e.g. all truth becomes subjective to the individuals objectivity; the fruit of the hyper-individualism of the modern world) direction; the Gospel becomes one truth among a sea of others that are mutually satisfying, and often mutually exclusive. This has led to religious and philosophical pluralism; Lesslie Newbigin in his work, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, explains it in this manner, “Pluralism is conceived to be a proper characteristic of the secular society, a society in which there is no officially approved pattern of belief or conduct. It is therefore conceived to be a free society, a society not controlled by accepted dogma…but rather by the critical spirit which is ready to subject all dogmas to critical…examination.”[4] Newbigin does not buy into this idea, and anyone who believes in the true freedom and security given by the Gospel rejects this fantastical society.

But the situation is not so lucid in the two-thirds world; while the West seems to be in the twilight of truth and reason, these societies are charting their own cultural courses. Mercy Amba Oduyoye and Hendrik M. Vroom in their introduction to the work, One Gospel–Many Cultures, discuss how the Gospel must be manifested culturally, “Contextual understanding of the Gospel is always a culturally conditioned understanding. Cultures are patterns of meaning, value and normativity: ways in which their social life is structured, both in respect to freedom and lack of freedom, communion and hierarchy,” they continue, “Culture encompasses such things as lifestyle, music, the appreciation of economic success and methods of rearing children. Such values lie at the basis of practical life. Because all Christian values are compatible with the values of any give culture…the church may assimilate certain values but try to change others.”[5] The Lausanne Covenant of 1974 has this to say about world missions and culture, “The gospel does not presuppose the superiority of any culture to another, but evaluates all cultures according to its own criteria of truth and righteousness, and insists on moral absolutes in every culture.”[6] It is important to understand that culture affects one’s understanding of the Gospel, and even its application; it is equally important to realize that the Gospel is the same for all peoples in all times, it is not changed by culture.

How does culture affect communicating Gospel; what are the boundary lines that need to be drawn to ensure that one is not drifting into syncretism? It is helpful to realize that Gospel always causes conflict with the culture it finds itself in; there are always elements of culture that refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ. One instance of this in the Scriptures is the infamous Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, the unifying purpose of culture was rebellion against God, “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’” (v. 4) Why was this rebellion against God? God had commanded Adam and Eve in the beginning to, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen. 1:28) After the Flood of Genesis 7-8, God commanded Noah and his descendants to, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Gen. 9:1) basically rebooting the Creation mandate from Genesis 1. The defiance of the culture of Babel was found in their pride: they desired to reach the heavens in order to make a name for themselves. To do this, they had to defy the Creation mandate and cluster in one enormous mass of humanity in order to build the tower. God dealt with this rebellion peacefully, but deliberately by confusing their language; it is at Babel that the human race is scattered, and it is at Pentecost that it is brought back together in the Holy Spirit. The Gospel provides the kind of unity that goes across cultural lines; it calls for salvation and judgment on every tribe and people without favoritism. It is culture that gives the Gospel its contrast; it is through culture that God exposes the unrighteousness of man, and the righteousness of Jesus the Christ.

 

OUT OF DARKNESS AND INTO THE LIGHT

            It is the Apostle Peter who writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (I Pt. 2:9) In many ways, culture is a main culprit in this enslaving darkness; the Apostle Paul writes to Ephesians, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) When one encounters the Gospel, one’s allegiance to the false gods of one’s culture is called into question.  One is called out of the enslaving darkness into the light of Christ through the Gospel, ” For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Cor. 4:6)

Returning to Paul’s apology on Mars Hill, it is clear that while there are positive connections Paul is using to speak to the Athenians, the result is rather negative toward the culture. This ending reflects more of Paul’s grief over the idolatry in the earlier part of Acts 17, ” Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (v. 29-30) Paul’s argument is very clear: 1) if we are God’s offspring, it is ridiculous to worship gods we have made, and 2) this was an ignorance that God is no longer willing to overlook with the arrival of Christ.  Paul bases this on the surety that Christ is resurrected and in charge, “because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (v. 31) This idea did not appeal to Greek culture, “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.'” The Gospel, which included the resurrection of the dead, aroused derision in a Greek culture that was heavily influenced by platonic ideas about the corruption of the body; why would the incorruptible soul be reunited with the prison it had just escaped? However, notice that some were intrigued and wanted to hear more at another time; Paul had successfully used the Athenian culture to infect Athens with the Gospel.

Gregory Boyd in his essay, “God At War,” talks of how the kingdom of God, proclaimed by the Gospel, renders the evil powers over culture impotent, “The kingdom of God, therefore, is something that the New Testament authors pray for, not something they consider already accomplished…They understand that the only way the kingdom of God will be brought about is by the overthrowing of the illegitimate kingdom now in place.”[7] However, lest one fall into liberation theology, C. Peter Wagner in his essay, “On the Cutting Edge of Mission Strategy,” writes, “Jesus came to seek and to save the lost…, and we move out in Jesus’ name to do the same. While we must not neglect our Christian social responsibility, in my opinion, it must never get in the way of soul-winning evangelism.”[8] The Gospel does not just provide a contrast to the social conditions of a society; it provides a contrasting critique of the culture that allows one to see the futility of any sort of human society without Christ. If the Gospel does not force a spiritual contrast to the host culture, then what good is it? Jesus posed a similar question to his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Mt. 5:13)

The only way to see the contrast is for the Gospel to use the culture to reveal its need for Christ. Ed Stetzer and David Putman in their book, Breaking the Missional Code, explain the origin of the contrasts, “Scripture sets the agenda and shape of the message, but every message needs the question, ‘Why is this important to me/us?'”[9] The two components of Scripture and the context of the hearers are inseparable; how else will they discover the idols of their culture, repent, and worship Christ? Yet, it is also clear that an overemphasis on personal salvation could actually lead to a society, like in the West, that is only Christian in name. David Watson in his essay, “Christ All in All,” talks of the distinction between the ‘Gospel about Jesus’ and the ‘Gospel of Jesus.’ He warns that while the heart of the Gospel is the message of salvation and reconciliation, the Gospel is also about the kingdom of God bringing justice to the oppressed, freedom to captives, and healing to the sick. He writes, “If…the only aspect of the gospel with which we evangelize is the invitation to personal forgiveness and reconciliation, our message can easily become personalized to the point of gnosticism,” he continues, “The promises of Jesus announcing God’s coming shalom are then proclaimed not as good news for the world here and now but as projections for the hereafter.”[10]

Thus, the culture becomes not just a spiritual contrast to the Gospel, but also a social, political, economical, and physical contrast to it as well. This biblical balance is explained by N.T. Wright in his work, Surprised by Hope, “Heaven’s rule, God’s rule, is thus to be put into practice in the world, resulting in salvation in both the present and the future, a salvation that is both for humans and, through saved humans, for the wider world.”[11] Later, Wright comments on evangelism, “evangelism…will flourish best if the church is giving itself to works of justice and works of beauty: evangelism will always come as a surprise.”[12] H. Richard Niebuhr in his work, Christ and Culture, echoes this sentiment in taking the view that culture’s sinful structures, not just its personal sins, must be contrasted. Niebuhr writes, “In their understanding of sin…they note that is deeply rooted in the human soul, that it pervades all of men’s work…all cultural work in which men promote their own glory, whether individualistically or socially,…lies under the judgment of God–who does not seek his own profit.”[13]
The Gospel must be communicated in contrast to the evil in culture, but how does it do this without jettisoning the culture? Culture as a contrast is only one effect that culture has on the Gospel; if that were all, then how could it ever be communicated? Returning to the need for language to be able to communicate to a given culture, it would be impossible to communicate the Gospel to a culture one has completely rejected. In Jesus’ prayer in John 17, he asks the Father, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.(v. 15) This follows from Jesus’ earlier statement in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God is not interested in destroying the world; the Gospel is good news. Culture’s redeemable qualities are used by savvy missionaries to communicate the Gospel cross-culturally.

BECOMING ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN

 

The Apostle Paul needed to find some way to bridge the Jewish-born Gospel into the pagan Greek mindset; in Acts 17 he tells the audience, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (v. 22-23)  It is clear from previous verses in this chapter that Paul is grieved by the idolatry of the city, yet even in this pagan city Paul is able to grab a cultural connection that is appropriate. C. Norman Kraus in his work, An Intrusive Gospel?, confirms the need to stick to truth in contextualization, “We must…recognize that the resultant contextualized picture cannot be substituted for the original biblical pictures as we cross cultures.”[14]

The Apostle Paul demonstrated this masterfully. He not only was able to make connections with the culture, but later in chapter, he is able to use the Gospel as a contrast to the culture. David Hesselgrave in his work, Planting Churches Cross Culturally, critiques contextualization methodology that does not stay sound of its Gospel moorings, “in the final analysis God has already set the agenda , chosen the themes, and provided the analogies that must be heard, understood, and embraced if sinners are to repent and believe, and saints are to mature and serve.”[15] Hesselgrave seems to be taking a rather rigid position, but his heart is in the right place when wanting to be sure the analogies match the core teachings of Scripture.

There is a need to find the parts of the Gospel message that win a hearing with the target audience, and then let the Holy Spirit finish to work. In his work, Mission Shaped Evangelism, Steve Hollinghurst writes, “Cross-cultural evangelism is not about changing the cultural clothing of an explanation of Jesus’ death, but finding which parts of the whole story are ‘good news’ within each culture and starting from these to explore the rest.”[16] Going back to Acts 17, the Apostle Paul did not begin with Jesus as the crucified Messiah, but with the Father as the unknown God. It should be noted, however, that Paul does eventually arrive at the death and resurrection of Jesus, which brings him scorn from much of the Greek audience. Contextualization is not finding what the culture ‘likes’ about the Gospel, but rather what parts of the Gospel make the most impact on the listeners.

There are dangers with contextualization, as Bruce Nicholls points out in his book, Contextualization, “Throughout the history of Western Christian theology the truth of the gospel has suffered from an unconscious assimilation of conflicting tenets and practices…In a synthesis of Christian faith and other faiths the biblical message is progressively replaced by non-Christian assumptions and dogmas.”[17] It is tempting to back away from contextualization to preserve biblical fidelity but this is a mistaken assumption, as Charles Kraft points out in his essay, “Culture, Worldview, and Contextualization,” “Though the risk of syncretism is always present when Christians attempt to inculturate Christianity, it is a risk that needs to be taken in order that people experience New Testament Christianity.”[18] How does this look? Kraft explains, “the essential message will be the same and the central doctrines of the faith will be in clear focus, since they are based on the same Bible. The formulation of that message and the relative prominence of many of the issues addressed will differ from society to society.”[19] The perils of syncretism must be weighed against the perils of being unable to communicate the Gospel effectively; this calls for careful, but innovative missionaries.

Contextualization cannot stand alone, there must be mediums available to communicate any sort of Gospel message. The most prevalent mediums used throughout the history of Scripture have been oral communication and written word; the former spans most of the Old Testament, the latter most of the New Testament and beyond. Different branches of Christianity have chosen different mediums to communicate the message of the Gospel in the cultures they have found themselves in; this has met with a mixed and controversial amount of success. The Roman Catholic Church was fond of using story and images to convey the truths of Scripture; this was acceptable when they could be trusted to convey the proper meaning. Since the masses were illiterate and they could not read archaic Latin, the Roman Catholic Church could make Scripture say whatever it wished. With the advent of the Renaissance, some theologians began to study the Scriptures for themselves, and were surprised by what they found. Led by humanist Desiderious Erasmus, these men began to challenge the Roman Catholic Church dogma based on their understanding of the text in the original Greek and Hebrew. The Reformers, which included prominently Martin Luther, and later John Calvin, used Guttenberg’s printing press to mass distribute the teachings of the Reformation, and began the process of teaching the masses how to read. The Protestant Reformation was the catalyst for the codex becoming the primary means of conveying the Gospel; this form has dominated the Western church for centuries, but is now being undermined by Postmodernism’s preference for narratives and images.

What about the Apostle Paul in Acts 17, what cultural mediums did he use to contextualize the Gospel into the language of the Athenians? According to the text, Paul: 1) appealed to one of their altars (their religion) and 2) he quoted two of their poet philosophers (their literature). Paul appealed to the religious, yet enlightened nature of the Athenians; he used their pride in their education to show them their own unconscious recognition of the God the creator. Paul used this to complete their revelation by telling them about the judgment of God and the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Without these two mediums, Paul’s efforts at contextualization would have fallen on deaf ears.

Gospel communication in the West has come mostly through the medium of special, empowered individuals. In his essay, “The Future of the Apostolic Imperative,” Carl Braaten critiques this pattern, “The evangelistic enterprise has been carried by big-name evangelists…Its overall effect has been reductionistic, individualistic, emotionalistic, revivalistic, and manipulative. Its engagement with the deeper issues of contemporary culture has been superficial.”[20] Perhaps some new mediums for Gospel communication need to explored? Lesslie Newbigin expresses his belief that Christians are responsible for exploring as many mediums as possible. In his work, Foolishness to the Greeks, he writes, “the church today cannot without guilt absolve itself from the responsibility, where it sees the possibility, of seeking to shape the public life of nations and the global ordering of industry and commerce in light of the Christian faith,” he continues, “Even where the church is a tiny minority with no political power, it has the duty to address the governing authority of the civil community with the word of God.”[21] This means more than being involved in the political process; it means that Christians are responsible for using all cultural mediums for being witness both of Christ crucified (his atonement) and Christ raised (his kingdom).

Are there any limitations to the mediums one can use to communicate the Gospel? Are all cultural avenues, that do not violate Scripture, appropriate to use? Many would say that Christians should use all means at their disposal, especially in the area of technology. However, Shane Hipps in his book, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture, seeks to instill caution, “It may feel like it’s not all that complicated to be the church, to just live like Jesus. Yet understanding the church as the medium and the message is essential to maintaining our integrity as God’s people, particularly as the church falls under the sway of our consumer culture.”[22] Hipps goes on to discuss how megachurches have become large because of their improper use of the medium of consumerism; in his viewpoint consumerism is a terrible medium for communicating the truth of the Gospel. Finally, he concludes, “As a result, those who attend these churches gain a personal relationship with Jesus but are left with an impoverished theology of both community and the church.”[23]

Are there some mediums that are unwise to use? Perhaps, the larger question is are there some mediums that Christians believe are acceptable to use, but are in reality detriments to a true understanding of the Gospel? If the medium is the message as Hipps proposes, then it is important that the church does not haphazardly pursue every medium that could be used to spread the Gospel. While it may be obvious that using a casino or a strip club are not acceptable mediums, the more subtle power of selfishness and hyper-individualism may go unnoticed by many well-meaning missionaries. It may work in economic theory to use self-interest as a means to raise capital, and satisfy customers; but consumerism becomes a liability in communicating a Gospel that is all about self-denial and cross-bearing.

It should now be apparent that contrast and contextualization are two significant ways that culture impacts contextualization. There would be no need for a Gospel if the culture were not different from what the Gospel calls it to: repentance and faith in Christ that transforms the believer and seeks to transform the believer’s culture. Culture also provides the contextual mediums by which to carry the message of the Gospel; there are dangers of syncretism and not all mediums are created equal. There is one more way in which culture affects Gospel communication: replication of the Gospel throughout the institutions of the host culture.

 

TEACH THIS TO FAITHFUL MEN WHO WILL TEACH OTHERS

            In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Here Jesus identifies the contrast to the Gospel (literally the dominion of hell) and the ultimate medium to deliver the Gospel (the church). No matter what the Gospel needs to be communicated through the church; this is sound biblical doctrine that needs to be embraced by all Christians. But there is another aspect that is missing; we have the ‘what’ and the ‘who,” but we still lack the ‘how’. While culture provides the ultimate medium with many sub-mediums for Gospel communication, there still remains the final way in which culture acts in Gospel delivery, the replicating structures that make perpetuating the Gospel possible.

Think of the Gospel as a vaccine that must be passed through the world in order for it to work, the virus of course being sin and unrighteousness. The ultimate medium, the church, should be seen as the heart that pumps the Gospel through sub-medium blood vessels throughout the world. However, if these were the only two operations in effect, the Gospel would soon die out because the potency of the Gospel would decline. What culture provides are blueprints for replicating structure cells that code the Gospel flowing for the church into other cells so that they can replicate the Gospel’s effectiveness. This process is what is known as discipleship.

Revisiting Acts 17 once more, the Apostle Paul does not present the Gospel and then leave, he leaves men to empower a core group of believers, “But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” (v. 34) Paul was not in Athens long, but he would not have moved on if he was not sure that there was a new church established that would replicate his work. It is important to note however, that Paul did himself establish this church.[24] However, establishing a replicating church was the Paul’s pattern; this he made to fall on the shoulders of his leaders. Paul writes to Timothy in II Timothy, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (v. 2) The local church’s responsibility is to be a replicating structure for disciples in the host culture.

Francis Chan in his book, Multiply, admonishes the reader, “If your church is not actively blessing the surrounding community, then you are ignoring God’s mission. We can never forget that we have a role to play in God’s plan of redemption.”[25] It should be added that if one’s church is not attempting to match the cultural patterns of their community, then it is also ignoring God’s mission. Alan Hirsch in his work, The Forgotten Ways, talks about the Gospel’s replicating power in a missional church, “the gospel…travels like a virus. It is ‘sneezed’ and then passed on through further sneezing from one person to the other…with the dawn of the network and the age of new technology and media, we have the great opportunity to relearn how to do mission organically.”[26] The Gospel is only able to act in a viral fashion if it is genetically capable attaching itself to the host culture; in order to do this it has to be somehow linked to the host culture. Stetzer explains it with the term ‘indigenization,’ “The idea behind indigenization is that a church should spring forth out of the soil in which it is planted. It is indigenous in that its leadership, expressions, forms, and functions reflect that of the context. At the same time it serves as a transforming agent in the very culture that sustains it.”[27]

What are some examples of this idea of indigenization? Blayne Waltrip in his essay, “Fresh Expressions of Missional Church in French Speaking Europe” describes some indigenizing strategies in France. One particular church, Brie Church, conducts on a “Bi-Dieu-Dul” service, which is a French play on words, “the word bidule is slang for ‘thingy’ or ‘what do you call it.’ It is a catch-all word for stuff…when ‘Dieu’ (God) is put in the middle of the word, a word is created that means ‘God-thing’ for children.”[28] Waltrip then explains the significance of the service, “It is a similar concept to Disneyland. Parents and children have fun together, but the stories and themes of the drama and games have a distinct (in their case Christian) message.”[29] Another example comes from in a church in Hereford, England; Hollinghurst writes, “A Baptist church in Hereford, situated among clubs and pubs, found that it was suffering from a litter problem on Sunday mornings. They formed a team of litter-pickers, members who began to clear up the mess on Saturday nights and who found they chatted with clubbers in the process,” he continues, “Now the church open its foyer in the evening to those out on the town and has become an integral part of Hereford life. Around 200 people visit the church every Saturday night between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. for the warmth of the foyer, a free hot drink, and a place to talk.”[30] In the United States, one’s vocation is a major factor in one’s identity; in his book Center Church, Tim Keller talks of Redeemer Presbyterian’s strategy for reaching vocations. He writes, “At Redeemer, working accountability takes the form of what we call ‘vocational fellowships,” made up of Christians in the same vocation who band together to minister to one another…not only do vocation-specific groups provide accountability and encouragement; they can have an interesting evangelistic edge,” he continues, “Often members of a profession who don’t profess to be believers will be attracted toward thoughtful and supportive fellowships of Christians whose work they respect.”[31]

All of the above examples demonstrate how the church uses the culture it grows from to impact the culture. There are hundreds of thousands of other examples that can be presented on how the church is replicating the Gospel by making the disciples using the indigenous soil of culture. Acts 2 describes the result of the Gospel’s use of Jewish culture right after the resurrection of Jesus:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

DECIDING TO KNOW NOTHING BUT CHRIST CRUCIFIED

            In conclusion, none of the above discussion matters without the Gospel; there must always be a declaration and demonstration of the crucified and resurrected Christ. The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 15, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (v. 19) Everything rises and falls upon the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, without them none of this matters. The Gospel however is powerful, providing a further witness that Christ was not only crucified for one’s justification, but also raised of one’s sanctification. This is the hope for all of the world; it is the duty of the church to use the culture to reach culture, not by any means, but by as many means as is possible.

How does culture impact Gospel communication? It has been demonstrated that culture provides a bleak contrast to the promise of the Gospel; without this contrast there would be no need for the Gospel. Culture also provides the mediums in which the Gospel message can be contextualized; without the work of contextualization the message remains ethnocentric babble in the ears of a foreign culture. Finally, culture gives shape to the church structures that replicate the Gospel; culture infects itself with the Gospel truth and allows the replication of the Gospel to continue. When a church refuses to utilize culture, that church condemns the Gospel to a slow, but sure decline into irrelevance and indifference.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bolger, Ryan K., ed. The Gospel After Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New       Expressions. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012.

 

Chan, Francis and Mark Beuving. Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples. Colorado Springs,            Colorado: David C. Cook, 2012.

Crouch, Andy. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2008.

 

Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 2006.

 

Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2000.

 

Hipps, Shane. The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church. El Cajon, CA: Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 2006.

 

Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. Grand Rapids, Mich.:        Brazos Press, 2009.

Hollinghurst, Steve. Mission Shaped Evangelism: the Gospel in Contemporary Culture. Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2009.

 

Hunsberger, George R., ed. The Church between Gospel and Culture: the Emerging Mission in North America. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997.

 

Hunt, Robert A. The Gospel Among the Nations: a Documentary History of Inculturation. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2010.

 

Jenson, Mr. Robert W. and Mr. Carl E. Braaten, eds. The Strange New Word of the Gospel: Re-Evangelizing in the Postmodern World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002.

 

Keller, Timothy. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

 

Kraus, C. Norman An Intrusive Gospel? Christian Mission in the Postmodern World. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

 

Newbigin, Lesslie. Foolishness to the Greeks: the Gospel and Western Culture. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986.

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans                                        Publishing Co., 1989.

 

Nicholls, Bruce J. Contextualization: a Theology of Gospel and Culture. Vancouver: Regent          College Publishing, 2003

Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York, N.Y.: Harper & Row, 1975.

Oduyoye, Mercy Amba, and Hendrik M. Vroom, eds. One Gospel – Many Cultures: Case Studies and Reflections On Cross-Cultural Theology. Rodopi, 2003.

 

Stetzer, Ed. and David Putman. Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community. Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2006.

 

Winter, Dr. Ralph D., and Steve Hawthorne, eds. Perspectives On the World Christian Movement: a Reader. 4th ed. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

 

Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: HarperOne, 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


                [1] Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2008), 26.

[2] Ibid., 37.

                [3] Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 2006), 28.

 

[4] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989), 1.

                [5] Mercy Amba Oduyoye and Hendrik M. Vroom, eds., One Gospel – Many Cultures: Case Studies and Reflections On Cross-Cultural Theology (Rodopi, 2003), 4.

 

[6] Robert A. Hunt, The Gospel Among the Nations: a Documentary History of Inculturation (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2010), 263.

                [7] Ralph D. Winter and Steve Hawthorne, eds., Perspectives On the World Christian Movement: a Reader, 4th ed. (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 104.

                [8] Ibid., 575.

[9] Ed Stetzer & David Putman, Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2006), 95.

                [10] George R. Hunsberger, ed., The Church between Gospel and Culture: the Emerging Mission in North America (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 189-190.

 

[11] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (NewYork:HarperOne, 2008), 205.

 

[12] Ibid., 232.

 

[13] H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York, N.Y.: Harper & Row, 1975), 191.

 

                [14] C. Norman Kraus, An Intrusive Gospel? Christian Mission in the Postmodern World (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 28.

                [15] David J. Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2000), 152.

 

                [16] Steve Hollinghurst, Mission Shaped Evangelism: the Gospel in Contemporary Culture (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2009), 168.

 

[17] Bruce J. Nicholls, Contextualization: a Theology of Gospel and Culture (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2003), 30, 34.

                [18] Winter and Hawthorne, 405.

 

[19] Ibid., 404.

                [20] Robert W. Jenson and Carl E. Braaten, eds., The Strange New Word of the Gospel: Re-Evangelizing in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 165.

                [21] Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: the Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 129.

 

[22] Shane Hipps, The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church (El Cajon, CA: Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 2006), 99.

 

[23] Ibid., 100.

                [24] Hesselgrave, 48.

 

[25] Francis Chan with Mark Beuving, Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples (Colorado Springs, Colorado: David C. Cook, 2012), 74.

                [26]  Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2009), 211-212.

 

[27] Stetzer and Putman, 91-92.

 

[28] Ryan K. Bolger, ed., The Gospel After Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 79.

                [29] Ibid.

[30] Hollinghurst, 227-228.

[31] Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 333.

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