No Culture Untouched by the Gospel; No Culture Unfit for the Gospel
Christians in the US have enjoyed a long spell during which our remarkably homogeneous churches have been lulled into complacent one-cultural witness. Many would say that's because our US culture and the culture of Christianity neatly overlap.
No longer, if ever.
We live in an increasingly diverse US, a change made all the more obvious by immigrants with cultures and religions strikingly varying from the "US Standard Culture." We are becoming (thankfully) more racially diverse and even traditional racial dividers are breaking down through multi-racial marriages. Our elementary, middle and senior high schools have active Buddhist, Muslim, and other religious faith holders, alongside those content with total isolation from any faith practice.
The post-Christian influence is pandemic. If we really understood how marginalized Christianity is, we might be shocked. In a recent Presbyterian Outlook interview
I described an example from the heart of secular America. A Christian friend of mine was in a jewelry store, and overheard the clerk showing a customer some crosses. "There are two different kinds," the clerk explained. "One thatís plain, and one that has a little guy on it." Christ has disappeared in the secular mindset and in his place is a non-iconic figurine.
I say we rise to the challenge, and figure out how to speak to this new set of diverse cultures around us. We aren't the first generation to face the challenge of speaking to a non-believing world around us. And Christians in young churches around the world these days face this fact daily.
Fortunately, we have an extensive and wonderfully developed body of knowledge at our disposal to equip
us for encountering cultures different from our own. It's called missiology. And it's what missionaries learn to use.
Learning to think as missionaries do will equip us all to be prepared to de-westernize the gospel when it needs to leap over these barriers. Not all those we want to touch with love and the good news of Jesus Christ will feel welcome in our local church - but that doesn't mean that Christ isn't for them. Christ wants to get inside every culture.
The concept that faith is tied to a particular culture is unbiblical to the core. We are Christians because the gospel (through bold witnesses) dared to leap beyond the middle- and near-Eastern forms of early Christendom. I's the same lesson the Apostle Peter learned (Acts 15) - that new believers did not have to act like (conform to the culture of) Jews in order to become followers of Christ. All cultural elements that are not contrary to the following after Christ and the life of discipleship are quite neutral. No culture is unfit for the gospel; all cultures are fit vessels for the good news to florish.
There's a flip side to this: All cultures are also under the judgment of the gospel. All cultures (including our own, of course) have elemental practices and beliefs that need redemption. Both natives and sojourners among all cultures are under biblical imperative to call cultures to step beyond those destructive patterns even as they embrace the non-destructive cultural elements.
My colleague Harold Kurtz offers excellent thoughts on these twin propositions - that all cultures are fit vessels and that all cultures need redemption - in a new opinion article on De-Westernizing the Gospel in the Presbyterian Outlook's Nov 24 issue, which has not yet been posted online. Harold has written a companion booklet called "The Word of God in the Mother Tongue; The Life of Faith in the Mother Culture
. With insight, Harold advances the radical belief that the Christian faith is to be born completely into the culture it enters, a "De-Westernized Gospel" for every people.
-- Dave Hackett