The Gospel & Culture

“…there are features of every culture which are not incompatible with the lordship of Christ, and which therefore need not be threatened or discarded but rather preserved and transformed. Messenger of the gospel need to develop  deep understanding of the local culture, and a genuine appreciation of it. Only then will they be able to perceive whether the resistance is to some unavoidable challenge of Jesus Christ or to some threat to the culture which, whether imaginary or real, is not necessary.” – The Lausanne Committe, The Willowbank Report

If you read my blog regularly, or talk to me about missions work and the apologetic behind it, you know that I often talk about it’s relationship with cultures. Specifically, I think it’s amazingly important to recognize two facts (that are hinted in the previous quote) regarding the Gospel’s interaction with any culture. The Gospel (not necessarily the people bringing the message, but the Gospel itself) will do two things:

  1. Affirm some things in that culture.
  2. Oppose and condemn other things in that culture.

The Gospel is a respecter of cultures, but not blindly. The Gospel may affirm our American ideal of charity, openness and honesty, but it opposes our desire for comfort, utter safety and self-sufficiency. Much ink has been spilled and electrons inconvenienced on the topic of missionaries historic insensitivity, utter disdain for and destruction of cultures – particularly those of peoples who were lower on whatever socio-political structure the current empire was enforcing; but they were overwhelmingly wrong and destroyed and distorted cultures that many would say echoed the creativity of their mutual Creator.

We Are Missionaries

After being on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ for 6 years now and thinking through different views on missiology.

Missionaries are those who bring the Gospel to a cultural or sub-cultural context which they are not natural members of.

John Piper would not essentially agree, saying that the real missionary spirit is bringing the Gospel to places where it has not yet been. Ever. I’ve heard similar sentiments from others (though, in a much more mean-hearted way) while I was raising support.

The difficulty in this view is that the number of places and peoples that the Gospel has never found a home is extraordinarily small. While we look at most of South America, Asia or Africa and see a very dark place that seems like the Gospel has never found a home there; this is not the reality. Before the 10th century the largest populations of Christians where in Africa and Asia – especially in Persia, India and China. Most of the modern peoples in these lands have ancestors who were Christians.

Jesus was the essential missionary.

The faith that was true to who God really is had been on the earth before him. There were people who were faithful to God in heart and truth before Jesus came.

Jesus’ culture is not here. Jesus’ home culture is the community of the Trinity. He made himself perfectly relevant to our culture and stepped into it.