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THE ROLE OF CULTURE IN GOSPEL COMMUNICATION
A PAPER SUBMITTED TO DR. JONES KALELI IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR
THE COURSE ICST 650
LIBERTY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
BY ELKE SPELIOPOULOS
DOWNINGTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA SATURDAY, MARCH 10, 2012
INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................................................... 1 KEY COMPONENTS OF COMMUNICATION .......................................................................... 1 THE NEED FOR AN CONTEXTUALIZED GOSPEL COMMUNICATION............................. 2 GOSPEL COMMUNICATION AND THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST ................................. 4 CULTURE AND COMMUNICATION......................................................................................... 5 CONDITIONS FOR CULTURAL ADAPTATION .................................................................. 6 CULTURAL ADAPTION IN AFRICA ..................................................................................... 6 CULTURAL ADAPTATION IN ASIA ..................................................................................... 8 CULTURAL ADAPTAION IN SOUTH AMERICA .............................................................. 11 PRINCIPLES OF CONTEXUALIZATION LEADING TO KNOWING GOD ......................... 12 ISSUES AROUND CONTEXTUALIZATION OF THE GOSPEL MESSAGE ........................ 14 CONCLUSION ............................................................................................................................. 16 BIBLIOGRAPHY ......................................................................................................................... 17
“He who has never traveled thinks that his mother is the only good cook in the world. “ – African proverb
INTRODUCTION Communicating the Gospel is simple – or so most believers have been taught in church. While this may be true in a North American context, in particular in like levels of socioeconomic strata, it is not as simple when taken to another context. This differing context may be as close as an ethnically different neighborhood or even one that is similar, but placed at another stratum of society. Very quickly it becomes clear that the message of the Gospel, while in and of itself unchangeable, does require adaptation for a particular target audience. In Eugene A. Nida‟s words, “in order for communication to take place it is necessary for the communicator to establish an effective relationship between the message and the total cultural context.”1 Taking the Gospel to the nations requires yet another layer of contextualization as cultural values vary to an even greater extent. From different values to dissimilar mores to unfamiliar facial expressions to unaccustomed body language, communicating a simple message suddenly becomes complex. Yet missionaries can overcome these boundaries to Gospel communication by learning and understanding a number of critical elements, which – if unobserved - can facilitate or hinder sharing the good news of Jesus Christ significantly. KEY COMPONENTS OF COMMUNICATION When discussing contextualization of the Gospel, it is a good start to look at what some key components of communication are. Moreau, Corwin and McGee can help the reader with their review of five key components of communication. First, everything a person does toward
C René Padilla, “The Contextualization of the Gospel,” Journal Of Theology For Southern Africa 24 ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed 28 February 2012), 18.
another person is communication. This includes seemingly trivial personal elements such as sighs and yawns, gestures and any other action that may be seen by someone else as having meaning. Second, communication is always more than about imparting information. Behind communication lies persuasion or influence. Third, there is a great degree of complexity in communication. Communication happens via multiple channels, such as voice, tone, or body language, which can – in a worst case scenario – conflict with or even contradict each other. Fourth, communication is not static, but dynamic. This means that the context, such as the message recipient‟s worldview, need to be integrated into how communication occurs. Fifth, communication patterns ultimately need to lead to trust. A missionary will need to recognize what instills trust in his or her audience.2 Nida writes that a message is received via features of the nonverbal message such as linguistic and extralinguistic features, level of language (e.g. frozen, formal, informal, casual, and intimate), sensitivity to feedback (e.g. making sure the feedback from an audience is incorporated into a message), order of communication (e.g.not providing foregone conclusions before a meeting to understand each other was held), location of communication (e.g. finding a physical place that lowers barriers, such as someone‟s house), level of voice (e.g. being aware of the level of loudness and pitch), eye contact, body language, and distance (e.g. understanding varying need for personal distance).3 THE NEED FOR AN CONTEXTUALIZED GOSPEL COMMUNICATION God‟s plan, as expressed in the Abrahamic Covenant, is that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3, ESV) As Christopher J. H. Wright states, “there can be no
A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 266-67. Eugene A. Nida, “The Other Message,” Occasional Bulletin Of Missionary Research 3, no. 3 (July 1, 1979): 110-112. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 9, 110-12.
doubt about the extent of God‟s intention – „all peoples‟. The word varies between „all kinship groups‟(mišpeHot) and „all nations‟ (goyim), but the intention is clear and empathic.”4 Yet when mission was first undertaken, diversity encountered was simply absorbed under the concept of civilization. Christianity was automatically aligned and thus equated to the ways of the West. The Gospel was presented in other cultures without paying attention to the foreignness introduced as cultural practices were rejected when pagan practices were substituted by Western Christian practices. Those who converted often completely abandoned their traditions and rather emulated the customs of the missionaries.5 However, two primary forces shifted this perception and its outcomes: first, the reemergence of nationalism and local identities around the globe, and second, the growing intensity and depth of the encounters between missionaries and the people groups they were sent to. As a result, the concept of civilization was replaced by a new concept of culture.6 Underlining the shift in terminology was a shift in thinking that essentially all cultures were good, and that they were worthy of preservation. All cultures were capable of receiving the Gospel. With this renewed understanding, it became clear that contextualization of the Gospel had to occur. Rather than calling on new converts to abandon their cultural beliefs and practices, they were now encouraged to “live and witness authentically in their context.”7 Hiebert describes how in reality this contextualization could also be seen in European church growth where preChristian sacred sites were repurposed for church construction and the divinities, which were
Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God's People: A Biblical Theology of the Church's Mission, ed. Jonathan Lunde (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 71. Paul G. Hiebert, “Gospel and Culture: The WCC Project,” Missiology 25, no. 2 (April 1, 1997): 199-207. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 9, 2012), 201.
6 7 5 4
Ibid., 199. Hiebert, “Gospel and Culture,” 202.
part of a pagan belief system, were turned into Christian saints once most people claimed to be Christians. The old religious practices were pushed underground.8 While contextualization has occurred from the early days of Christianity, it is nevertheless important to understand that apart from the difficulties of simply translating the Good News from one language to another, the greater complexity arrives when one culture‟s “thought patterns and standards of conduct, its own cognitive process and manner of learning”9 need to be conveyed into another culture‟s set of cultural distinctives. Yet this contextualization will bring about not just adoption of the Gospel, but as John Mbiti beautifully summarizes, it encapsulates the importance of culture in the proclaiming of the Gospel to all nations: God gave us the Gospel. Man gave us culture. When the Gospel and culture meet, and if the Christian Faith is generated, then Christianity is the result…. The Gospel is a stranger in every culture – a stranger who settles down, when it is so accepted by the Faith, and yet a stranger who continues to wander on from culture to culture, from generation to generation, calling all people to a newness of life in Christ. The Gospel is greater than any single culture and all cultures put together.10 GOSPEL COMMUNICATION AND THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST Contextualization is greater than the need for the communication of the Gospel. It is indeed, as Hiebert writes, “an expression of the approach God has taken in dealing with humans – as an expression of the Incarnation of God becoming a human, born in history in a particular culture to bring salvation.11 C. René Padilla points out that Jesus‟ coming as a man “demonstrates God‟s intention to make himself known from within the human situation.”12
Hiebert, “Gospel and Culture,” 202. Padilla, “The Contextualization of the Gospel, 18.
John S. Mbiti, “Christianity and African Culture,” Journal Of Theology For Southern Africa, no. 20 (September 1, 1977): 26-40. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28), 27.
Hiebert, “Gospel and Culture”, 202. Padilla, “The Contextualization of the Gospel, 12.
Based on the realization that God used the cultural context for the incarnation, it is safe to assume that God intends to allow man to understand Him. According to Padilla, separating cultural context from the Gospel will make it “impossible either to understand or to communicate the Gospel.”13 CULTURE AND COMMUNICATION When the concept of communication is mentioned, many people think of verbal or written communication. Yet communication is exceedingly more than just words expressed by speaking or writing. Karl Franklin even warns that “if we know only the linguistic rules we may still speak inappropriately by not being aware of the rules for cultural communication.”14 He adds that if communicators are unaware of the cultural aspects of communication, they may inadvertently express meaning that to the recipient of the communication is deemed to be “humorous, flattering, argumentative, or insulting.”15 Louis Luzbetak summarizes why contextualization is of utmost importance, whether in one‟s own culture or in a culture very different from one‟s culture of origin: “The preacher must be „heard‟, that is, he must speak in such a manner as to be understood. Despite its supernatural aspect and despite the inherent Power of the Word, evangelization presupposes effective „preaching‟ and „hearing‟. To preach in any other way, as implied in St. Paul's words, would be tantamount to not preaching at all.”16
Karl J. Franklin, “Interpreting Values Cross-culturally,” with special reference to insulting people." Missiology 7, no. 3 (July 1, 1979): 355-364. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28, 355.
Louis J. Luzbetak, “Unity in Diversity: Ethnotheological Sensitivity in Cross-cultural Evangelism,” Missiology 4, no. 2 (April 1, 1976): 207-216. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28, 208.
CONDITIONS FOR CULTURAL ADAPTATION Padilla elaborates on several factors that impact the understanding of the Word of God. An interpreter‟s attitude toward God will decisively impact his understanding. He will find it difficult to loosen himself from the bonds of his own ecclesiastical tradition in understanding of Scripture. His understanding is also deeply influenced and conditioned by his culture of origin. As Padilla points out, “the understanding of the Word of God is always relative to the culture of the interpreter, theology in any culture always runs the risk of being, to some extent, a reduction of the Gospel.”17 CULTURAL ADAPTION IN AFRICA Lois Howat writes of work done in Ethiopia to communicate the Gospel to illiterates via audio cassette teaching. Very quickly it became clear that such biblical terms as “pearl of great price”, while being of great significance to a Western audience, were lost on the Galla tribe of Ethiopia. A pearl is simply not known in the highlands of rural Ethiopia, and so the question quickly arose whether something else should be substituted in the teaching materials being developed. An answer needed to be found whether it would it be more advisable to try to teach the listeners what a pearl was and why it was valuable, or whether the parable should be simply omitted altogether. In another example, Howat and her team found that there was much confusion about the Holy Spirit, in particular since in this animistic society, spirits were a constant element. After developing eighteen recordings on some key biblical concepts and testing them, it became clear that a baseline understanding was missing. What was needed was a dramatization of major stories from Scripture, which started with creation and were sequenced chronologically. Howart writes that the recordings were “predictably very popular, since the dramatic art form is
Padilla, “The Contextualization of the Gospel, 16.
indigenous to the country.”18 Another interesting observation for Howart was that, in order to gain sufficient attention, recordings had to be created that sounded “like something that could have happened last week in a neighboring village.”19 To bring this about, the team used language that followed a similar form as “dynamic equivalence” Bible translation, i.e. that was able to convey the “excitement and power of Christ‟s life and teachings in culturally relevant idioms of everyday speech.”20 Based on these insights, Bonnie Holcomb, who had done extensive anthropological research among the Galla people, joined the team and created a fictional series about a Galla farmer, who comes in contact with the Gospel, but first questions it, then rejects animistic beliefs, and finally turns “timidly, but resolutely” to Christ.21 This technique has proven to be a superior form of teaching biblical truths among the Galla people. John Mbiti adds observations about an African understanding of the Gospel message and the need for contextualization, when he poetically describes that Africa has a thousand languages, three thousand musical instruments and exuberant rhythms to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet he laments that Africans were told both in word and example that they needed to be “culturally circumcised” before they could become Christians.22 He reflects on the fact that the Gospel never throws out culture but rather embraces it by declaring within the cultural construct that God wants to love the people and calls them to repentance. God wants His people to also use this cultural background to worship Him. While “a Christianity which is
Lois Howat, “The Talking Bible: Communicating the Gospel to Illiterates in Ethiopia,” Missiology 2, no. 4 (October 1, 1974): 437-453. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28, 441.
19 20 21 22 18
Ibid., 442. Ibid. Ibid., 446. Mbiti, “Christianity and African culture,” 29.
heavily intertwined with an imported culture may indeed be very impressive, …it cannot be a sufficient substitute for this kind of Christianity that should grow out of the spontaneous free impregnation of the Gospel in the fertile womb of African culture.”23 CULTURAL ADAPTATION IN ASIA In an example from Japan, William P. Woodard writes that “the first major obstacle to the gospel in Japan is the cultural and religious orientation of the Japanese mind – an orientation which encompasses relativism, syncretism and a strong sense of social obligation.”24 As he points out, in Japan there is little awareness of sin, and Japan‟s religions offer no concept of original sin. On the other hand, the impact of humanism has brought a desire to achieve and pursue excellence, at the expense of adhering to principles. The Western character of the Christian church has raised an additional obstacle to the adoption of the Good News. Christianity is seen as a Western religion. It has not enriched the spiritual life of Japanese in the way their religions have done – it simply seeks to displace them. Rather than offering a Gospel adapted to the Orient, it brings “institutions, theology, social and political ideas and behavior patterns, which the church generally identifies as the gospel itself.”25 The view of the Christian West, as brought to Japan in foreign visitors, is largely negative. Japanese ask, “Why do you think Christianity will do so much more for my country and people than it has done for yours?”26 Woodard suggests four approaches: first, Western Christians need to deeply understand Japan‟s indigenous religion and culture in order not to become a cult in the eyes of the Japanese.
William P. Woodard, “Japan: Three Obstacles to the Gospel,” Christian Century 79, no. 10 (March 7, 1962): 287-290. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28, 2012), 287.
Ibid., 288. Ibid., 289.
Second, missions organizations need to stop portraying Christianity as being less than a universal faith by eliminating anything that might lead Japanese to view it as a Western religion only. This includes eliminating evangelistic endeavors solely staffed by Westerners. Eugene A. Nida quotes an old adage, “What you are speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say.”27 Woodard rightly sees the need for the evangelization of Japan as the responsibility of Japanese Christians. Third, Japanese Christian laymen will have a greater impact in Japan through their witness than professional religious workers. This can include Western Christian laymen working in Japan. Fourth, Christians in their Western homelands can greatly impact missions in Japan by being a true witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ by engaging with Japanese visitors, inviting them into their churches and witnessing through their lives dedicated to Him. Woodard writes, “The front door of every Christian home in the West is a battleline of Christendom and a gateway to the evangelization of Japan.”28 The situation of cultural adaptation in Japan itself has the churches face the issue that they are being asked to own the faith that they have been asked to share with others, i.e. to communicate what the Bible story means. Emerito Nacpil questions, Can we say in our witness that we believe that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world not because of the testimony of the missionary movement and of missionaries and of the conviction of the churches that initiated this movement and sent these missionaries to us, but because we ourselves as Asian Christians have heard him and we know that he is really the Saviour of the world? What does hearing him and knowing him ourselves as really the Saviour of the world mean to us as Asian Christians?... Put differently, can we at this point really say that we now believe the Gospel because we as Asian Christians have experienced it to be true and that we can now share it with others with the verdict of our own convictions and not merely rely on the certification of other convictions?29
27 28 29
Nida, “The other message, 110. Woodard, “Japan: Three Obstacles to the Gospel”, 290.
Nacpil, Emerito, “Communicating the Gospel in Missionary Situations,” International Review Of Mission 70, no. 280 (October 1, 1981): 292-303. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28, 293.
Nacpil sees two major obstacles to understanding the Gospel in the context in which it is proclaimed. First, there is a sense in Japan that the Gospel is simply one faith options among others and competes with these. He writes, “But when one takes the language of a culture or the issues with which it is deeply concerned, one is led inevitably to the perception that language is more than a tool of communication.”30 Secondly, the Gospel has to validate itself in its ability to transform, order and illuminate human behavior. Other religions in Asia are not just faith options; they are cultural transitions and deeply embedded into the life of Asians. Addressing this cultural context need, Nacpil writes, “If the Gospel does not engage its context at this formative and decisive and far-reaching level, then I would say that Christian faith would remain without sense and consequence to the peoples of Asia.”31 As an answer to the challenges described, Nacpil proposes the use of the symbol of the kingdom of God. First, it serves as a religious symbol that cannot be exhausted or adequately expressed. This can allow it to serve as an illuminating perspective. Second, the Gospel itself is encapsulated in the Gospel accounts, and they speak often of the kingdom of God. Jesus‟ message is the kingdom of God. It “precedes every theology and every christology [sic] and every qualification of human existence and Christian history.”32 Third, the concept of the kingdom of God also encapsulates the horizon of missions. It “reveals the reality of God as active in his kingly rule.”33 This alternative reality described uses a language of proclamation that is reflective of the progress toward the coming of the kingdom.
30 31 32 33
Ibid., 295. Ibid., 296. Ibid., 299. Ibid.
CULTURAL ADAPTAION IN SOUTH AMERICA William D. and Marie F. Reyburn worked among the Toba Indians of the Argentine Chaco. Each of their settlements was typically led by a cacique, or headman. There had been cultural influences by Roman Catholic missions, Spanish troops and Chaco colonists. Especially the contact with Jesuits in the sixteenth century had results, albeit negative ones. The seminnomadic people were encouraged to become sedentary, but in return were reduced in population size by about sixty percent when smallpox and other communicable diseases were introduced inadvertently through the Jesuits and later Franciscans. In addition, the introduction of horses allowed both more rapid conflicts with other settler groups and a poaching of the available game for food. However, some of the Toba came into contact with the Gospel through Pentecostals along the Paraguay River. Early preaching by Toba preachers, however, was aimed at prohibiting behaviors stemming from the long-standing conflicts, e.g. stealing, drinking, fighting, and unwillingness to work.34 The Bible had also become a legal document and the final court of appeal. Rather than understanding God‟s message of reconciliation, Scripture was a book that impersonally expressed God‟s love couched in prohibitions the Toba received “in a highly non-coercive and impersonal manner.”35 Their Shamans simply cast aside the healing paraphernalia they had used since ancient times and instead packed the new Bible charm. While only ten percent of the men and less than one percent of the women could read, the Bible became the panacea for the ills of Toban society, such as laying Bibles around a sick person.
William D. Reyburn and Marie Fetzer Reyburn, “Toba Caciqueship and the Gospel,” International Review Of Mission 45, no. 178 (April 1, 1956): 194-203. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28, 199.
Pentecostalism allowed the Toba to incorporate a need of their culture: healing. Since early times, the Toba had been concerned with illness and health. The cause was seen in spirit powers. Pentecostalism and its focus on healing allowed the Toba to incorporate their cultural concern for health to address “the excluded middle” that Hiebert describes.36 In addition, Pentecostalism‟s view of the Holy Spirit‟s expression through loud praying and shouting fit seamlessly with what the Toba had seen in their Shaman‟s demonstrations of success in spirit quests.37 From these early integrations of culturally important topics, the Toba have made a great effort to reduce literacy levels and to understand the Spanish Scriptures. Literate Toba preachers take the Gospel forward and lead the Toban church to responsible growth. The cacique still plays a critical role in church growth, further showing cultural integration: in communities where the cacique is not actively involved in the church, it is typically not well attended. One serious issue the Toban believers have to address is the continuation of the church through the younger generations. Since the problems of the past have largely gone away, the younger generation no longer sees the role of the Gospel in peace-making and interprets church as belonging to the older generation. The Reyburns express hope that the Toba churches will cooperate with outside groups to “achieve a responsible Christianity and develop a Christian education relevant to Toba needs.”38 PRINCIPLES OF CONTEXUALIZATION LEADING TO KNOWING GOD Several factors are involved in the knowledge of God, according to Padilla. First, knowledge of God is a personal experience and cannot be separated from life in community.
Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawtorne, eds., “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, fourth ed. (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009).
37 38 36
Reyburn and Marie Fetzer Reyburn, “Toba Caciqueship and the Gospel,” 201. Ibid., 203.
Without the inclusion of people from every nation and every culture, Christianity‟s understanding of the Gospel cannot be complete, since knowing Christ is not reduced to one segment of His Church, but rather to the Church in its totality. Second, since the knowledge of God is personal, it has to also take place within the context of our physical existence. God chose the incarnation to “put himself within man‟s reach and to participate in all the contingencies of every-day life.”39 Third, with knowledge of God in the personal experience realm, knowing God will involve emotions and reason, neither to the exclusion of the other. Being made in the image of God includes the emotional make-up of a person. There can be neither knowledge of God exclusively in the area of reason nor in the area of emotions. Yet, as Padilla writes, “too often Western theology is reduced to a cold, scientific, impersonal analysis of the truth of God; it lacks the emotional note that shows that man's love for God must be with his whole heart. The theological contribution from other cultures in which the dispassionate scientist has not been so idealized may provide the necessary corrective.”40 Padilla also proposes three other reasons for the relevance of awareness for the role culture plays in communication. First, since the incarnation is such an elementary aspect of the Gospel, i.e. Word becoming man in a particular cultural context, any contextualization needs to bring the Gospel into the reach of cultural beings. Padilla writes, “Any attempt to communicate the Gospel without a previous profound identification of the communicator with the receiving culture is sub-Christian.”41 While these are strong words, they encapsulate the critical need to understand how God interacts with man, depicted in Scripture as “walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” (Genesis 3:8, ESV)
39 40 41
Padilla, “The Contextualization of the Gospel, 17. Ibid. Padilla, “The Contextualization of the Gospel, 19.
Second, a translation needs to break through from mere words to the “raw material of life”42 in the culture it is addressing if it is to address the specific needs and problems of its hearers in a particular cultural setting in order for them to experience the lordship of Christ. This can lead to the message not addressing the people of a particular culture on anything more than a tangential level, and thereby becoming irrelevant to the receptor culture. Some of this is experienced in missionaries‟ work who saw conversions in one generation, but whose followers in missions service find the following generations turning their back on this faith. Third, a successful transmission of the contextualized Gospel will require effective communication, in particular one that takes into account the point of contact between the Gospel and the receiving culture. David Hesselgrave writes, “Intercultural communication is as complex as the sum total of human differences.”43 ISSUES AROUND CONTEXTUALIZATION OF THE GOSPEL MESSAGE Padilla states that because “the understanding of the Word of God is always relative to the culture of the interpreter, theology in any culture always runs the risk of being, to some extent, a reduction of the Gospel.”44 Yet as interpretation takes place within the context of a particular culture, it is critical that elements that are incongruent with the Gospel are not introduced, as this would undoubtedly lead to syncretism. As Padilla further points out, this type of accommodation typically happens from the desire to make the Gospel relevant to the culture into which it is being introduced.45 Luzbetak raises this issue when he writes, “God cannot tell one nation to love and another that there are many gods. The essential message must be one for
42 43 44 45
Ibid. Ibid, 20. Ibid., 17. Ibid., 18.
all times and places.”46 Just as not everything in Jewish culture was approved or tolerated by Jesus, so missionaries need to find which elements of culture can be fitted for accommodation in the translation and conveying of the Gospel. Accommodation of cultural traditions has to have natural boundaries, but these are somewhat difficult to establish. Hiebert asks, If theologies are inextricably tied to their contexts, how can we speak of one gospel, one faith, and one church? …In dealing with cultural differences, how concerned should we be if churches in one culture understand the gospel differently from those in another? What are the limits of diversity? When can we say that a particular understanding is so far from the traditions of the church that it no longer stands in that tradition?47 Theology is also at the core of the discussion over issues in Gospel contextualization. At an international congress on the communication of the Gospel in Latin America, a speaker made the observation that “without theology evangelism becomes proselitism and faith becomes an ideology.”48 The response he received from a well-known evangelist was enlightening as to the conflict between theology and “mere” evangelism: the evangelist denied the need for an expense of time and energy on developing a theology, if the real pressing need was instead preaching the Gospel. Yet this highlights a great difficulty, as Padilla points out, in that “there is no hope that this situation will change as long as the missions‟ theological responsibility is conceived of as the exportation of theologies elaborated in the West.”49 This in turn will inevitably lead to retardation in growth for indigenous churches, which, while rooted in their own cultures, are fully capable of formulating theological understandings of their own.
Louis J. Luzbetak, “Unity in Diversity: Ethnotheological Sensitivity in Cross-cultural Evangelism,” Missiology 4, no. 2 (April 1, 1976): 207-216. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28, 210. Paul G. Hiebert, “Gospel and Culture: The WCC Project,” Missiology 25, no. 2 (April 1, 1997): 199-207. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 9, 2012), 203.
48 49 47 46
Padilla, “The Contextualization of the Gospel, 20. Ibid., 22.
CONCLUSION Taking the Gospel to all nations requires more than a simple understanding of the language and a rudimentary knowledge of the culture into which the Good News is taken. As such, the Gospel has to be conveyed in a culturally relevant manner with an understanding that unity does not necessitate uniformity. How very important the contextualization of the Gospel message is in cultures, which are being introduced to it, is encapsulated in Padilla‟s summary: “Those who object to the contextualization of the Gospel out of fear of syncretism must take into account a greater danger: precisely when there is no conscious reflection as to the form that obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ must take in a given situation, conduct is most likely to be determined by the culture instead of by the Gospel.” 50 The contextualization of the Gospel cannot successfully happen unless a missionary becomes deeply engrained into the culture he or she enters. It is not enough to understand the language of the people, but intimate knowledge is required of what drives the people encountered, their mores, their expressions, their body language, their cultural rules and regulations – all these and many other aspects shape an approach to contextualizing the Gospel message. Yet in all these efforts, all learning about culture and all techniques employed in conveying the Good News is irrelevant if the approach to another culture is not embedded in deep and sustained prayer and the allowing of the leading of the Holy Spirit in all things. God still is in control and will direct the building of his Church. To let Paul speak: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:7, ESV)
BIBLIOGRAPHY Franklin, Karl J. “Interpreting Values Cross-culturally.” with special reference to insulting people." Missiology 7, no. 3 (July 1, 1979): 355-364. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28. Hiebert, Paul G. “Gospel and Culture: The WCC Project.” Missiology 25, no. 2 (April 1, 1997): 199-207. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 9, 2012). Howat, Lois. “The Talking Bible: Communicating the Gospel to Illiterates in Ethiopia.” Missiology 2, no. 4 (October 1, 1974): 437-453. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28. Luzbetak, Louis J. “Unity in Diversity: Ethnotheological Sensitivity in Cross-cultural Evangelism.” Missiology 4, no. 2 (April 1, 1976): 207-216. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28. Mbiti, John S. “Christianity and African Culture.” Journal Of Theology For Southern Africa, no. 20 (September 1, 1977): 26-40. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28. Moreau, A. Scott, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004. Nacpil, Emerito. “Communicating the Gospel in Missionary Situations.” International Review Of Mission 70, no. 280 (October 1, 1981): 292-303. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28. Nida, Eugene A. “The Other Message.” Occasional Bulletin Of Missionary Research 3, no. 3 (July 1, 1979): 110-112. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 9. Padilla, C René. “The Contextualization of the Gospel.” Journal Of Theology For Southern Africa 24, 12-30. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost, (accessed 28 February 2012). Reyburn, William D., and Marie Fetzer Reyburn. “Toba Caciqueship and the Gospel.” International Review Of Mission 45, no. 178 (April 1, 1956): 194-203. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28. Whiteman, Darrell L. “Effective Communication of the Gospel amid Cultural Diversity.” Missiology 12, no. 3 (July 1984): 275-85. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28, 2012). Winter, Ralph D., and Steven C. Hawtorne, eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. Fourth ed. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009.
18 Woodard, William P. “Japan: Three Obstacles to the Gospel.” Christian Century 79, no. 10 (March 7, 1962): 287-290. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed February 28. Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God's People: A Biblical Theology of the Church's Mission. Edited by Jonathan Lunde. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.
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