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LAUSANNE OCCASIONAL PAPER 2: THE WILLOWBANK REPORT: CONSULTATION ON GOSPEL AND CULTURE A JOURNAL RESPONSE
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 SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2012
INTRODUCTION ...................................................................................................................... 1 THE KEY ELEMENTS OF THE WILLOWBANK REPORT .................................................... 1 REFLECTION ............................................................................................................................ 5 CONCLUSION .......................................................................................................................... 6 BIBLIOGRAPHY ....................................................................................................................... 7
INTRODUCTION The Lausanne Occasional Paper 2 on the Willowbank Report: Consultation on Gospel and Culture takes a look at how the communication of the gospel needs to be addressed in a cultural context. The Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in July 1974 was focused on this topic of how human culture plays into evangelization, and as a result the Lausanne¶s Committee¶s Theology and Education Group met in January 1978. It brought 33 theologians, linguists, missionaries, anthropologists, and pastors together to create a framework around the topic of ³Gospel and Culture´.1 The ideas and concepts discussed led to several recommendations on how to deal with issues of culture, church, and communication of the gospel. THE KEY ELEMENTS OF THE WILLOWBANK REPORT The introduction explains that the goal set by the group was as follows: 1. To develop our understanding of the interrelation of the gospel and culture with special reference to God's revelation, to our interpretation and communication of it, and to the response of the hearers in their conversion, their churches and their life style. 2. To reflect critically on the implications of the communication of the gospel crossculturally. 3. To identify the tools required for more adequate communication of the gospel. 4. To share the fruits of the consultation with Christian leaders in Church and mission.2 After this introduction, the Willowbank Report is divided into nine subsections, representing the key areas of consideration for the group. In the first chapter, the topic of ³The Biblical Basis of Culture´ is discussed. Based on the Lausanne Covenant¶ statement about
The Lausanne Movement, Lausanne Occasional Papers (LOPS): OP2: The Willowbank Report: Consultation on Gospel and Culture, http://www.lausanne.org/all-documents/lop-2.html (accessed February 19, 2012). The Lausanne Movement, Lausanne Occasional Papers (LOPS): OP2: The Willowbank Report, Introduction.
cultures¶ beauty and richness, yet its being tainted by man¶s sin, the report concludes, ³At the heart of every culture ± whether we identify this heart as religion or world-view ± is an element of self-centredness, of man¶s worship of himself.´3 Nevertheless, the group affirms human dignity and cultural achievement and that human creativity is a reflection of their Creator. The second chapter focuses on ³The Definition of Culture.´ One of the key statements in this chapter is that culture ³implies a measure of homogeneity.´4 Yet within this homogeneity, there may be a number of subcultures and subcultures of subcultures, even to the degree of counter-cultures arising within a culture. An accepted culture encompasses all of human life. ³Culture in the Biblical Revelation´ is the topic of the third chapter. The focus is on how God disclosed Himself in the pages of Scripture through the use of culturally accepted and appropriate terms. In light of this, communication of the gospel needs to take into account that God promotes the context of culture. The authors of the paper explain the difference between formal and dynamic equivalence in Bible translation. Their preference is to have a dynamic equivalence in translation that honors the cultural context of the culture into which the Bible is being translated while maintaining the normative and essential meaning of the original text. Likewise, cultural traditions, such as washing feet, may not translate one to one and may need to be accounted for. In the fourth chapter, ³Understanding God¶s Word Today´ is analyzed. Traditional approaches have sought to come to the biblical text straightforward, without consideration of the cultural context. The risk with this approach is that the translator may miss what God truly means in a passage. Another approach looks at the historical and cultural context, yet this approach may miss the modern application. A contextual approach, which the group
The Lausanne Movement, Lausanne Occasional Papers (LOPS): OP2: The Willowbank Report, Ch. 1. The Lausanne Movement, Lausanne Occasional Papers (LOPS): OP2: The Willowbank Report, Ch. 2.
recommends, combines these two elements. As they write, the benefit of this approach is, ³The more we come to know him, the greater our responsibility becomes to obey him in our own situation, and the more we respond obediently, the more he makes himself known.´5 ³The Content and Communication of the Gospel´ make up the fifth chapter. The group advises that while it is important to contextualize the message and remove unnecessary offense, it cannot be allowed to adapt to human pride or prejudice. One of the issues at hand is that people may reject the gospel not for its message, but for what it will mean in the changes it will impose on their culture. As the authors say, ³Jesus Christ is a disturber as well as a peacemaker.´6 A particular concern to the group is the ministry to the Islamic world. The authors admonish that the new realities of the Islamic world, especially in the Middle East, need to be taken into careful consideration, and that evangelization in the Islamic world may also mean giving up traditional forms of church. In the sixth chapter, ³Wanted: Humble Messengers of the Gospel´, a closer look is taken at the conveyors of the gospel message in a cultural context. The group summarizes five areas of humility a Christian missionary will need to consider: acknowledgement of the problem presented by culture, the taking the trouble of learning, understanding, and appreciating another culture, the meeting people where they are, the recognition that even very gifted missionaries cannot always cross cultural boundaries, and the trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit to convince hearts of the truth of the gospel. The incarnation of Christ needs to serve as a model for Christian service in other cultures. He renounced His status, independence, and immunity, and He identified with those He came to save, yet He didn¶t lose His identity.
The Lausanne Movement, Lausanne Occasional Papers (LOPS): OP2: The Willowbank Report: Ch. 4. The Lausanne Movement, Lausanne Occasional Papers (LOPS):OP2: The Willowbank Report: Ch. 5.
The seventh chapter, ³Conversion and Culture´, deals with the conversion of the believer and the impact on his cultural surroundings. This conversion may involve a break with the past and it will ultimately lead to a reevaluation of all aspects of life and especially the believer¶s worldview, behavior and relationships. This conversion experience should not de-culturize the believer, rather it should serve to remind him that there has been a rupture from the status quo, yet there is continuity as well. In particular in those countries, where spirit influence is strong, the power of Christ has to be taught clearly. Also, conversions may not happen in an individual manner in some cultures, but may rather be group conversions. In addition, conversions may be gradual as converts realize the complexity of and the changes needed with their new worldview. Chapter eight, ³Church and Culture´, looks at whether cultural norms and traditions regarding worship need to or should be applied to other cultures. While it appears easier to simply ³import´ forms of worship to other cultures, this is not recommended. Rather a similar approach as in Bible translation should be taken here, that of ³dynamic equivalence´ in defining new forms of worship in other cultures. Each church should be freely allowed to express itself. Syncretism, however, has to be avoided in order not to dilute the message of the gospel. Likewise, provincialism should also be averted, as it isolates a local church from the universal body of believers and denies the cultural diversity depicted in the nature of God. In chapter nine, ³Culture, Christian Ethics and Life Style´, a reflection is taken of topics in the realm of ethics in Western vs. other cultures. The suggestions by the group were to differentiate between four different categories: first, practices which will need to be renounced immediately, such as idolatry or witchcraft, as they stand in direct opposition to the Christian gospel. Second is a category of behaviors that can be tolerated for a while, but then need to disappear, such as polygamy. Third, behaviors relating to marriage traditions, where churches themselves might be divided, such as consanguinity, and fourth, customs or morals, which can be
preserved without compromise, can be categorized. No culture should be viewed as superior to another; however moral absolutes are relevant and must be insisted upon. Cultural change will happen when people decide to change, when cross-cultural workers demonstrate great respect for societal change, and when customs are remembered as playing an important role within culture. Finally, when a culture¶s theology changes, some of the desired behavior changes will as well, as they were tied to prior theological convictions, e.g. widows being killed when their husbands die in order for the husband to enter the next world. REFLECTION The Willowbank Report encompasses a large treasure trove of cultural insights as the group was made up of contributors from many cultures. This is clear in the reading. At the same time, these contributors came from a strong background of faith, which allowed the recommendations to stay true to Scripture and not become ³watered down´. Important is the connection drawn in chapter two: it relates culture as seen in ³the threefold dimension of people, land, and history, on which the Old Testament focuses attention.´7 A profound statement made in the report is also that while cultures are not static, a rebel to an existing culture may be punished by exclusion from the social community. This will have a direct impact on the individual, as can be seen in many brothers and sisters in Christ who come to faith in the Islamic world. In chapter eight, the authors write that ³every theological tradition both contains elements which are biblically questionable and have been ecclesiastically divisive and omits elements which, while they might be of no great consequence in the country where it originated, may be of immense importance in other contexts.´8 This sentence gives a broad framework of allowing
The Lausanne Movement, Lausanne Occasional Papers (LOPS): OP2: The Willowbank Report, Ch. 2. The Lausanne Movement, Lausanne Occasional Papers (LOPS): OP2: The Willowbank Report, Ch. 8.
cultural contextualization of Scripture, while maintaining the orthodoxy of the message. There need not be fights over the minors, when the involved parties can commit to driving the major, life-giving elements of the gospel message. What may not particularly fit in one cultural context may make a huge difference in how the gospel message is received and understood in another cultural context. A rather forceful observation is also the scrutiny applied to comparing evils from one cultural context to the next: In the 20th century West, often more sophisticated but no less horrible examples of the evils which were opposed in 19th century Fiji exist. Parallel to cannibalism is social injustice which "eats" the poor; to widow-strangling, the oppression of women; to infanticide, abortion; to patricide, a criminal neglect of senior citizens; to tribal wars, World Wars I and II; and to ritual prostitution, sexual promiscuity. In considering this parallelism, it is necessary to remember both the added guilt adhering to the nominally Christian nations, and also the courageous Christian protest against such evils, and the immense (though incomplete) successes which have been won in mitigating these evils. Evil takes many forms, but it is universal, and wherever it appears Christians must confront and repudiate it. The group has pointed out with great success that one cultural norm can be just as good or bad as another culture¶s norms. This is extremely important when working in other cultures that may be very foreign to the worker. CONCLUSION The Lausanne Occasional Paper 2 (The Willowbank Report: Consultation on Gospel and Culture) is a thoughtful and reflective look at how believers can maintain the integrity of the gospel message in a cultural context that is foreign to them. Based on the recommendations given, it is clear that cultural understandings should not be taken in a one-to-one fashion from one culture to the next, but neither should a cultural understanding impact the truth of the gospel. This document outlines how this goal can be achieved in a culturally sensitive, yet God- (and gospel-) honoring way.
BIBLIOGRAPHY The Lausanne Movement. Lausanne Occasional Papers (LOPS): OP2: The Willowbank Report: Consultation on Gospel and Culture. http://www.lausanne.org/all-documents/lop-2.html (accessed February 19, 2012).
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