Gospel & Culture

  • In last 25 years, cultural anthropology has become important-indeed essential-to the missiological enterprise. No one would be considered adequately trained for cross-cultural missions now without some understanding of cultural anthropology. The growing awareness of the fundamental differences between cultures as raised a host of new questions about cross-cultural communication, incarnational ministries, contextualization, and the relationship between theology and socio-cultural contexts. (Robert J.Schreiter, 1991 cited in Hiebert, 2002 page. 9)
  • Culture is a unique human reality. It emanates from the unity of mankind in nature, but it situates itself as a meta-natural reality. It is manifested in technological, mental, moral, social, aesthetic and spiritual achievements of humankind. Culture gives meaning to our relationship with the other, as also forms our subjective identity. Culture, therefore, enters into the processes of social change in many forms at various levels. It defines the quality of social change as its indicator. By selective adaptations to out side cultural forces, it has a large measure of resilience. With all its institutional pervasiveness, it has a core which acts as a filter or a moderator to the outside forces of cultural contact and change. This also explains why in each mainstream culture one may find existence of sub-cultures and counter-cultures. (Singh,Y.,2000, Page 25)
  • If cultures are the ways different people think, feel, and act, where does the gospel fit in? Is it not itself part of a specific culture? if we say yes, what culture must we adopt to become Christians? Obviously not European or North American cultures, for these came late in history and certainly are not essentially Christian. The answer must be the Jewish culture of the time of Christ. But here is the question raised by Gentile converts in the Book of Acts. Must they become Jews in order to become Christians?
  • The early church struggled with this question. The answer they gave was no. Althouth the gospel was given within the context of Jewish culture from Abraham to Christ and must be understood within that context, the Good News was God's message given within that culture. It is not limited to that cultural frame.
  • Although the Gospel is distinct from human cultures, it must always be expressed in cultural forms. Humans cannot receive it apart from their languages, symbols, and rituals. The Gospel must become incarnate in cultural forms if the people are to hear and believe.
  • On the cognitive level, the people must understand the truth of the Gospel.On the emotional level; they must experience the awe and mystery of God. And on the evaluative level, the gospel must challenge them to respond in faith. We refer to this process of translating the gospel into a culture, so that the people understand and respond to it, as 'indigenization', or 'contextualization'.
  • The whole Bible is an eloquent witness of God's meeting humans and conversing with them in their own cultural contexts. God walked with Adam and eve in the Garden in the cool of the day, He spoke to Abraham, Moses, David and other Israelites within a changing Hebrew Culture. And He became Word who lived in time and space as a member of the Jewish society. Gospels and Epistles likewise address people in different cultures in different ways. All authentic communication of the gospel in missions should be patterned and seek to make the Good News understandable to people within their own cultures.
  • All cultures can adequately serve as vehicles for the communication of the Gospel. If this were not so, people would have to change cultures to become Christians.This does not mean that the Gospel is fully understood in any one culture, but that all people can learn enough to be saved and to grow in faith within the context of their own culture.
  • But because of human sinfulness, all cultures also have structures and practices that are evil. Among these are slavery, apartheid, oppression, exploitation, and war. The gospel condemns these, just as it judges the sins of individuals. A truly indigenous theology must not only affirm the positive values of the culture in which it is being formulated, but it must also challenge those aspects which express the demonic and dehumanizing forces of evil.
  • The gospel calls all cultures to change. It serves a prophetic function, showing us the way God intended us to live as human beings and judging our lives and our cultures by those norms. All Christians and all churches must continually wrestle with the questions of what is the gospel and what is the culture-and what is the relationship between them. If we fail to do so, we are in danger of losing the gospel truths.(Hiebert,1985, pages 29-58)
  • Conversion to Christ must encompass all three levels: behavior, beliefs, and the worldview that underlies these. Christians should live differently because they are Christians. However, if their behavior is based on traditional rather than Christian beliefs it becomes a pagan ritual. Conversion must involve a transformation of beliefs, but if it is a change only of beliefs and not of behavior, it is false faith (James 2).Conversion may include a change in beliefs and behavior but if the worldview is not transformed, in the long run the gospel is subverted and the result is a syncretistic Christo-paganism, which has the form of Christianity but not its essence. Christianity becomes a new magic and a new, subtler form of idolatry. If behavioral change was the focus of the mission movement in the nineteenth century, and changed beliefs its focus in the twentieth century, then transforming worldviews must be its central task in the twenty-first century.(Hiebert,2008; pages 9-10)