By Barbara Helen Burns
Read Part 1 here.
II. The Need for Consensus
A. About the Nature of the Scriptures
The first essential foundational issue concerns the nature of the Bible. Is it a case-book of mere examples, a collection of testimonies about religious experiences, or a supernatural, completely trustworthy and normative revelation of God’s truth? This is an issue that has defined the direction of theological movements, churches and denominations for over a century. People either grow in the direction of Biblical comprehension and commitment, or away from it. Post-modern relativism, personalized epistemology, ethnology, the “New Hermeneutic” and now “ethnohermeneutics” have influenced areas of Biblical studies and consequently missiology. It is impossible to extensively defend historical evangelical views of the Bible in this paper, but I cannot resist citing at least a few supporting texts.
The Bible itself explains its relevance and authority for all of history and for all cultures. Its words are inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), it presents salvation for all (Acts 4:12), it is eternal (1 Pet. 1:25; 1 Cor. 16:15; Ex. 31:16), it is for all peoples (Acts 17:30), even those who are far away (Acts 2:39; Ef 2:11f). Jesus said that it will not pass away (Matt. 5:18 and 24:35), it will not be annulled (John 10:35), and all will be fulfilled (Luke 19:3; John 13:18). Second Peter 1:19-21 says the reader needs to pay attention to the sure word, for it is a lamp shining in a dark place, and this up to the return of Christ.
The entire New Testament rests firmly on the teaching of the Old, clearly seen in Jesus’ teaching as well as in the other New Testament writers. Jesus constantly cited the Scriptures in His teaching (ex. Luke 20:41-47, etc.) 1and declared that all was truth (Jo 17:17). He strongly warned against putting the precepts of men above the Scriptures (Matt 15:1-9). At the end He summed up everything from the Scriptures when talking to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. “Did not their hearts burn when listening?” (Luke 24:26). Later he expounded the Scriptures to His disciples, saying, “’that all things which are written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, . . .” (Luke 24:26, 44-47). The Gospel was clearly presented in the Old Testament. The disciples must hold fast to Jesus’ teaching, so they could know the truth and the truth would make them free (Luke 8:31-32).
Jesus’ disciples continued in their conviction of the Bible’s continuing and all-inclusive authority and effectiveness. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Peter writes that “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Pet. 1:20-21).
Contrary to the New Hermeneutic, Jesus and the other writers said, “God spoke” or “Abraham said.” They did not say “Moses (or “J”) said God said!” After Peter and John’s release they explained that the Lord Himself had spoken through David by the Holy Spirit.
And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “Oh Lord, it is thou who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, “Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ” (citing Psalm 2, NASB).
The New Testament figures and writers understood that the Scriptures were true and completely relevant for their own day and culture.
Peter includes Paul’s letters with the rest of the infallible Scripture when he says,
Just as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Because of this danger, the readers should be on their guard and not carried away by error.(2 Peter 3:15-18)
Peter is also unafraid to cite and apply, after 1500 years, the words to Moses in Exodus 19:5-6 in 1 Peter 2:9:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (NASB).
Paul based his teaching on the Scriptures as well, just as Jesus had done. Texts like Acts 9:22 (using “proofs” from the Old Testament for the Jews in Damascus) and Acts 13:26-29, 38-41 in the Antioch synagogue. In Acts 24:14, Paul said to Felix, “I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything that is taught in the Law or is written in the prophets.” Before Agrippa (Acts 26:22) he said that he taught nothing new, only what the prophets and Moses predicted. In Romans 15:4 Paul writes that “All that was written of old has been written for our instruction, that with steadfastness and the comfort derived from the Scriptures we may sustain our hope.”
In his recommendations to Timothy regarding the Scriptures, Paul shows their extremely high importance for missionaries and the church.
But do you cling to the truths which you have learnt and of which you are convinced, knowing who your teachers were, and that from infancy you have known the sacred writings which are able to make you wise to obtain salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in right doing; so that the man of God may be complete, perfectly equipped for every good work.
(2 Tim. 3:14-17 Weymouth)
Timothy knew the Old Testament, an ancient manuscript totally relevant and essential for his present life and context, the story of truth fulfilled and the basis for deep understanding of the Gospel of the redemptive Lamb of God! He was to faithfully teach its truths to others who could continue the process (2 Tim. 2:2 and 4:2; 1 Tim. 4:13). Ronaldo Lidório says,
“The Word is supracultural, viable and communicable for all men, in every culture for every generation. The Word defines man, and not the other way around. To contextualize is not to rewrite the Word, or mold the Word in light of Anthropology, but to translate it linguistically and culturally 2 for each distinct situation so that every man can comprehend the Biblical and historical Christ” 3
Paul Hiebert’s well known concept of “Critical Contextualization” puts the Bible on the most holy level of judge in regard to culture and contextualization. The Bible defines the limits of cultural identification. For Hiebert, theology is mainly supracultural, held in common among Christians of all cultures, with only a few differences in emphasis and understanding. Certainly Theology cannot be invented from scratch, but of necessity is based on Biblical revelation and therefore shared. We could not be here today, worshipping and studying together if this were not true. Matthew 28:18-20 sends the Church into the whole world—to every people—with the same message and the same baptism. We are to teach peoples to obey everything that Jesus taught—a common knowledge passed down through the centuries in the revealed and preserved Sacred Text.
Hiebert also emphasizes that the Bible itself was not “culturally conditioned.” It is trustworthy, in spite of our often culturally conditioned interpretations. (We actually always have a tendency toward “ethnohermeneutics,” interpretations colored by our own cultures, but we need to reduce this as we learn more about original meanings and intentions, not encourage it as some are doing.) But the closer we get to the true meaning of the Scriptures through study, through archeological and textual discoveries, the closer we come to one another.
David Hesselgrave 4 criticizes recent ideas that the Bible is a text written by men who are “Illuminated,” or a text that is a potential revelation, but not necessarily so in every culture. According to this view, the Bible is pretty much on the same level as the Qur’an or the Vedas.
Harvey Conn was one of the most coherent and loving voices in this debate. In his book Eternal Word and Changing Worlds, he put on paper a series of lectures at Fuller School of World Missions. For Conn, contextualization involved “decontextualization,” where God speaks and transforms culture. This interaction is not a dynamic praxis, but a monologue with us listening to God and, as Jesus repeatedly stated in John 14-15, obeying Him.
Without a solid foundation in Biblical truth, we have a huge epistemological problem. We cannot know truth by beginning with culture, or our own ideas of our “mission” in the world. Otherwise “how do we really know what the Christian mission actually is? Or even that we Christians have a mission at all?” 5
The Great Commission of our Lord includes teaching obedience to ALL He taught, and this to ALL peoples and for ALL time. We dare not dilute this all and should, in our seminaries and missionary preparation, make sure that out-going missionaries are equipped with tools so that they can increasingly do just that.
René Padilla summarizes the evangelical position on the Scriptures when he writes that “the interpreter’s initial task is to let the text speak, whether they agree with it or not, and this demands that they understand what the text meant in its original situation . . . . No interpreters, regardless of their culture, are free to make the text say whatever they want it to say” 6
Contextualization has to be based on the Bible and not on culture. Acts 15 shows that even though an earthquake of change was taking place, it was really Biblically based (Amos 9:11-12) and a foreseen and fore planned event from the beginning. The gentiles were always included in the Lord’s plan.
B. About Hermeneutics
Contextualization and hermeneutics walk hand in hand. To be able to discuss meanings and strategies, participants need essential agreement as to hermeneutic methods and keys, at least on major issues.
At Lausanne I, René Padilla defended the need for leaders who can “do theology.” By this he did not mean invent theology, but in a dynamic spiral apply truths to context. To do this one must be deeply rooted in God’s Word and in culture so as to discover and rightly apply the intention and meaning of the original Biblical writers.
Dean Flemming, in his 2005 book Lessons About Contextualization From the New Testament, cautions against what Larry Caldwell calls ethnohermeneutics, an extreme application of cultural control over hermeneutics. Flemming writes, “One problem is that methods of interpretation . . . often reflect worldviews, values and religious beliefs operating within that culture, some of which may not be compatible with reading Scripture as the Word of God” 7.
Even though our own culture and presuppositions render a perfect hermeneutic impossible, we can approach truth, and as we do, grow closer to Christian unity. Thankfully we have more and more tools for a better understanding and confidence with the help of people like Kenneth Bailey, Flemming, William Larkin, Jr. and others, plus textual and archeological discoveries that clarify and confirm.
C. About Israel and the Old Testament
Much can be learned about contextualization from the history of Israel. Besides lessons from the lives of some faithful Hebrews who lived cross-culturally, like Joseph and Daniel, we can see how over-contextualization 8with surrounding cultures frequently led Israel to syncretism, disobedience to Covenant and Law and consequently to severe but loving punishment to bring them back to God. They were often on a roller coaster, accepting the surrounding idolatrous religious rites and practices and then coming to repentance through prophetic condemnation and suffering. 9Stephen declared that the Israelites had “received the Law, given through angels, and yet have not obeyed it” (Acts 7:53). They had clear guidelines against adopting graven images or religious rites; they were to detest all that had to do with pagan religions (Deut. 4:1-20; 7:25-26; 12:1-3; 18:9-13; Jer. 7:21-34; Is 44:6-20). They were the “natural branches of the olive tree” and all others are unnatural—grafted in (Rom. 11:19-24).
Jesus grew up and participated in Jewish life. He taught the O.T. as truth, inviolable and capable of bringing salvation. He came not to change or delete, but to fulfill. Israel was to faithfully follow the revealed Scriptures and worship the One God. Revelation about this God is absolute truth. Today we can go to a synagogue where the Scriptures are expounded and hear truth, although incomplete.
The unique importance of Israel seems clear when Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman in John 4. He said, “You worship that of which you know nothing (referring to their syncretistic belief system). We worship that which we know (based on the truth of the Scriptures); for salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22). Eventually, however, a different worship will develop –not dependent on a physical space, but in Spirit and truth (v. 23). The quality and content of the Jews and Samaritans was marked – it was the difference between truth and non-truth. A little further on He tells the Jews that the Scriptures yield life, but they reject it. “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. But if you do not believe his writing, how will you believe My words” (John 5:46-47 NIV).
Some are trying to compare Israel with Islam and the Old Testament with the Qur’an. If there can be “messianic synagogues”, we can also have “messianic mosques.” This seems to make up for past paternalistic mistakes. For those of us who live in majority-world countries, this is not so easy. In Brazil we could not conceive of having “messianic umbanda centers” or “Messianic Alan Kardec sessions.” UBB—Umbanda Background Believers are everywhere in Brazil, and the vast majority would never consent to creating ambiance similar to the ambiance of the centers or rituals in which they were involved. Many were delivered from demonic oppression, gifting them with high sensitivity to satanic activity and the wonder of the power of the Holy Spirit to deliver and transform. Most Christians do not even want the music of samba in their churches because of meaning. It is not an empty form for them, but integral to demonic manifestations in the spiritist centers.
In the same mode we can think of the impossibility of having “Messianic Mormon Temples” or “Believer’s Christian Science Centers.” If you are a Mormon or a Christian Scientist you have a certain set of beliefs that are very different [from biblical truth] (although appearances can be very similar). When we bring some idealistic notions closer to home, where there is less romanticism and more daily contact, the image changes.
Phil Parshall 10 questions the radical position of contextualization in comparing Messianic Muslims to Messianic Jews. He refutes the argument that since the converted Jews continued in the Temple, the Muslims should do the same, going to the mosques regularly. The Scriptures were read in the Temple and the Christians had the liberty to preach the Gospel there, showing that He was the fulfillment of all the prophets and the Scriptures had said. Mohammed was NOT one of the prophets of God, and the Qur’an is not inspired revelation from God which foresees the coming of the Divine Son.
Parshall also shows the importance of preserving the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, not just a “sent one”. His conclusion, after a study that discovered that 45% of the C-5 followers do not believe in the Trinity and that 96% believe that the Qur’an is one of the “heavenly books” and 66% that the Qur’an is higher, is that radical contextualization is syncretism. In light of recent publications, the question of translation of Jesus as God’s Son, has become highly explosive.
One allegation that needs to be clarified is that the Bible was given to a people who were greatly influenced by the surrounding cultures. But it seems clear that God created a new culture (Ex. 19:4-6; 33:16; Lev. 18:1-4; Deut. 4:5-8, 32-40; 12: 2 Kgs. 17:13); they were to be very different, a royal priesthood and holy nation. Israelite sacrifices were not Babylonian copies, but true images, and filled with perfect meaning. They were God’s way of building meaning which would come in fullness in the sacrificial Lamb of all times, His own Son who died on the cursed cross. All the symbols, rites and teaching of the Old Testament come together in Him.
The Scriptures were, at the same time, culturally relevant and totally unique. Through familiar poetic styles and rhythms, the Hebrews worshipped the one true God, One unable to be manipulated through rites or words, One who is totally loving and just at the same time. Richard Hess says, “The poets of Israel did not praise God in a vacuum. They took the cultural forms of their place and time, and infused them with the distinctive theology of the God of Israel to worship God. Indeed, they used whatever they could of the music of their age to enable the people of God to understand and honor their Lord.” 11
D. About History and Biblical Content—Contextualization and Lying
A foundational idea of many differing concepts of contextualization are based on Eugene Nida’s “Dynamic Equivalence.” His use of this term was exclusively in the linguistic realm, but later was expanded to include all missionary identification. That meant that no form was sacred, only the underlying meaning. Jesus died on a cross, but that could be put into cultural terms known to the receptor peoples, such as drowning, taking poison or being hanged or beheaded. If the culture had no sheep, he could become “the seal of God” or the “pig of God.” Baptism could be lying down in a coffin and then coming out, or having dirt thrown on your head. Or it could be eliminated altogether.
Nida’s response to these applications of Dynamic Equivalence was a book written in 1981 12 where he establishes limits in an attempt to avoid syncretism or a relativized theology. To paraphrase his idea I have said that contextualization is not lying. We cannot change history at our leisure, or out of a misguided paternalistic idea that the people hearing the history have no capability of understanding different forms than their own. So Nida’s conclusion is that we must not change or fabricate history, or symbols connected to history, especially religious symbols.
E. About Definitions of culture and its relationship to “World,” “Darkness,” “Prince of this World,” “Present Age,” “Sin” and “Idolatry”
Richard Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture made us aware of five possible attitudes towards culture. Christ can be against culture, of culture, above culture, in paradox with culture and the transformer of culture. David Hesselgrave choses 3-5 as central, with type five being the most important. He cites the Lausanne Covenant, which declares that culture should be tested and judged by the Scriptures. Created by God, human cultures has that which is good and beautiful, but because it is fallen, all culture is contaminated with sin and Satan’s influence. No culture without God is superior to the other. For Hesselgrave contextualization should be “apostolic”— in a non-Christian context, and using didactic methods (Matt. 28:20), the missionary is an instrument for transformation for those who repent and believe. 13
Cultural descriptions in the Old Testament are rather bleak. In spite of being created in God’s image, we see the development of groups who chose their own ways and gods, always leading to increasing chaos and moral disaster. At one point God destroyed everyone but Noah and his family in the flood and later divided their rebellious descendants into language groups. Eulogies for the nations are far and few between, but in spite of that God repeats His love and His purposes for them.
The New testament picture is no different. Jesus’ descriptions of Israel and their religious leaders are shocking. He calls the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 12:34-35) and hypocrites who teach “precepts of men” instead of the truth, leading people to a pit. The disciples then came to him and said, “Do You know that the Pharisees where offended when they heard this statement?” (Matt. 15:7-9, 12). Jesus was never afraid to offend the majority or the powerful.
In the end, the Jews killed Jesus, but life would not be easy for the disciples either. Jesus said, “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue; but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. And these things they will do, because they have not known the Father, or Me” (John 16:1-3 NASB). He did not tell them to escape suffering.
Even though we should be [extremely careful not to impose] our own (also sinful) culture on others, we should not fear teaching to obey what Jesus taught and what His disciples continued to teach in the New Testament. Much of their teaching is countercultural, which Jesus and others called “world,” “darkness,” “course of this world.” All idolatry in any form, disobedience to what Jesus taught, lack of love, or humility and respect in human relationships are utterly condemned. The shock between Christian life and the “world” is described in the New Testament in no uncertain terms. Jesus’ disciples are IN this world as light and salt against darkness and depravity, but do not belong TO the world (John 17:14). The call to the world is for repentance, not adaptation, but it is a call made by disciples willing to give their lives, just as Jesus did, for the world. Jesus said the world hated Him because He said it was evil (John 7:7-8) and it will hate the disciples because they do not belong to it (John 17:14). The disciples would be excluded from the synagogues and killed by those who would think they are doing God a favor. This would happen because they have not known the Father or Jesus (John 16:1-3). The Sermon on the Mount calls for disciples to be different (Mt 6:8). John Stott emphasizes the counter-cultural nature of the Sermon throughout his book on the subject. 14
Paul constantly warned his listeners and readers against the influences of this “world” and their own sinful natures.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world [culture], according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ by grace, you have been saved
Eph. 2:1-5 NASB
In Ephesians 5:8-17, Paul continues his admonition by warning against the “darkness” of their former lives. They are now light, and should refrain from even speaking of what is done in darkness. “The days are evil,” and they should not identify or collaborate with them.
Romans 1:18-25 is the foundation for Paul’s conclusion that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). God has revealed Himself, but no one cared, no one took heed, no one thanked or glorified God, which led to futility and foolish, darkened hearts. “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (v. 25).
Satan and his hosts are a clear reality in the Scriptures. They fool, capture, imprison and kill all they can. They influence culture, philosophy, politics and worldview which are passed from generation to generation (John 1:3-11, 17; John 17:13-26; Eph. 5:8s; Rom. 12:1-2; Gal. 1:4. (Luke 13:35, Acts 17:30, etc.), Rom. 1:18f; Psalms 2; 33:10; Heb. 2:14-15; Eph. 1:1-3; Gal. 4:3; Col. 2:8, 9; Col. 2:8, 20; 1 Tim. 1:4; 4:1-3, 7; Titus 1:14; 2 Pet. 1:26; Jer. 10:1-16). A disciple of Jesus must not follow or serve God and the Enemy or the “world” at the same time (Matt. 6:24; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). In Romans 12:9 the Christians should “turn in horror from what is wrong” (Williams).
The Scriptures teach rejection of Satan and his hosts and influences (Is. 40, 43:8-13; Jer. 10:1-16, 14:22, 16:9-21). Cultural worldview does not necessarily have to control culture (Is. 31:6; Jer. 3:11-14; Acts 26:18). The church need not follow the world (1 Cor. 5:1-8) unless it is of value (1 Lk 10:38-41). We cannot be friends with the world (1 Jo 2:15-17; James 4:4; Matt 6:24; 1 Cor 7:31) We are strangers and pilgrims, distinct or even against our own cultures (1 Pet. 1:17; 2 Cor. 11; 4:4; Heb. 11:9, 13; Eph 2; John 15:18-19; Matt. 24:9; 1 John 4:5-6; 1 Cor. 1:18-25, 4:9,13).
Idolatry is soundly prohibited in both testaments. Israel has one God and is to worship and serve Him alone. There are hundreds of admonitions, punishments, and prohibitions about idolatry. Israel was banished into Assyrian captivity because of idolatry (2 Kings 17:16-18, 33) and Judah to Babylon for 70 years (Jer. 11:9-13). Zephaniah 1:5 says the Jews bowed down to the Lord and also to Moloch. In Deuteronomy 12:1-4 the admonition is unrelenting:
These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess – as long as you live in the land. Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places. You must not worship the Lord your God in their way.
A notable example of idolatry and idolatrous objects is the burning of a wealth of artifacts in Ephesus. “Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of all; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing” (Acts 19:18-20). When the people came to know the true God, they no longer could continue with their other acts of loyalty and dependence. The idol makers soon became so desperate with the lack of commerce that they called the population together to complain.
Down through the ages faithful followers of the one God have been persecuted and killed, from Daniel and his friends, Jeremiah, Stephen, Jesus, and all of the Apostles and Christian followers since, with record numbers in China, Japan, Russia, and in other countries in the 20th Century. In spite of this, some missiologists recently have latched on to 2 Kings 5:1-19 to justify allowing idolatrous rites for Christians. One dubious example, which to me can be explained when Naaman says his master will be “leaning on his arm.” If you have someone who needs to lean on your arm who wants to bow down, you just have to lower yourself as well. Naaman wanted to make sure Elisha knew he was NOT doing it as honor to the god Rimmon. This along with other somewhat twisted interpretations are becoming the foundation for permission in cases where normally people would see idolatry or acquiescence to idolatry.
Ricci, in China, and Nóbili in India are known as outstanding examples in the history of missions for their contextualization. Ricci followed much Confucian teaching and allowed the ancestor rites for Christians. Nobili dressed, ate, lived as an Indian, even following some rituals where he changed the language only. Neither were able to leave a viable church for various reasons. Ricci has especially been praised or criticized for his position, but in studying the Confucian ideas of ancestors, it is clear that the rites were done not just to honor, but to accompany, to appease, to make sure the ancestor would bless and not harm. A large amount of discussion today surrounds how far we can go in imitating and accepting traditional idolatrous worship forms.
Johannes Triebel 15, a Lutheran missionary in Tanzania doubts many allegations about allowing ancestral rites when he says, “This view does not take into consideration the FEAR of the ancestors (emphasis the author’s). (…) The ancestors are the object of prayers, not God, who is absent. (…) This act is the most central aspect of African religiosity.”
Byang Kato, in the first evangelical use of the word contextualization 16 was deeply concerned that there should be a “radical discontinuity between the Gospel and traditional African religions, or any non-Christian religion.” 17 To him the Gospel was a radical opposite to religions, and worthy to die for if necessary, as he cited the Christians in Chad who had recently given their lives because they refused to return to native rituals.
Philippians 2:15-16 states the case clearly: “that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life. . .”
I am afraid that in this area we are still guilty of excluding Paul Hiebert’s “middle” in not taking powerful forces seriously. In 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, Paul said to take care because in participating in idolatrous rites, you could be dining with Satan—a true and dangerous reality. Alan Tippet made a huge contribution to this discussion by showing the importance of “power-encounter” and warned that new churches which did not experience radical transformation on world-view and religious levels would eventually become syncretistic in “re-vitalization” movements.
F. About the Nature of the Gospel
When the angel appeared to Joseph to announce Jesus, he said “She will give birth to a Son, and you shall call Him Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21 Weymouth). Saving, forgiving, redeeming, ransoming are all words used to describe Jesus’ mission on earth. The Gospel of necessity includes the truth that we are sinners, in need of grace and mercy and salvation. In Jesus, God loved the world so that all who believe have eternal life and not eternal death. He is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).
Jesus summed up the message of the Gospel in Luke 24:47, “and that proclamation would be made, in His name, of repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” In this He complements what He said in John 6:40: “For this is the will of My Father, that every one who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (NASB). Jesus is the resurrection and life and all who believe have life (John 11:25-26).
If man is not a sinner and under the judgment of a perfectly just God, then there is no such thing as a gospel. Man is not just ignorant and in need of light and guidance, but he is rightly condemned because of disobedience and falling short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). God confronts and transforms on the deepest levels of culture. Paul goes against the false teachers in Galatia when he wrote:
Grace to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins in order to rescue us from the present wicked world in accordance with the will of our God and Father. To Him be the glory for ever and ever! Amen. I am amazed that you are so readily deserting for a different gospel Him who called you by the grace of Christ. For other gospel there is none.”Gal. 1:3-7, Weymouth
Here is the true Gospel and a vivid description of culture. It allows for no form of idolatry, competition from other gods or division of loyalties (to Him only be glory). Paul’s strong admonition is that the Galatians were going back to their old religion—salvation by works and empty forms of worship. Man is justified only through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:15) and he must reject the old law as a means of grace and any ritual which has been done away with, as Peter was guilty of in Galatians 2:11-14.
The New Testament is replete with similar confrontations. Before one can understand “salvation,” he or she must see a need – something to be saved from. From the beginning it was clear that this need was an inherited sinful nature and acts that separate us from God but in Jesus this need is fully met (Titus 3:3-8; Gal. 1:7; Col. 1:13-17, 2:13-15; 1 Tim. 1:15-17; Heb. 7:26-28, 9:11-14, 26, 10:19-21).
An early and important textbook on missiology was written by a Dutch theologian and missionary Herman Bavinck. In this book he emphasizes what he called “elentics.” By it he means that the missionary’s task in explaining the Gospel includes the necessity to help people see that they are sinners. The Gospel has no meaning otherwise. Jesus came as savior. Savior from what? Savior from sin, and from condemnation, death, curse and separation from God—all results of sin. If people have no concept of their sin, their falling short of God’s glory, the Gospel is an empty message of goodwill and “comradism.” This is never an easy task and requires understanding of how the people themselves view sin.
Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel (Rm 1:16-17), but spoke continually that ALL men, Jews and Gentiles, who repent and believe have forgiveness of sin. He knew people had to hear and believer in Jesus before the Gospel could take effect (Eph. 1:13, etc.).
We have a tendency to be too accepting, too relativistic, too non-confrontational to be really biblical. It would be so much easier to think those who believe that conversion is really unnecessary are correct. How simple if God just automatically accepts everyone and will usher them into the Kingdom using their own belief systems and ways of life.
Other issues are important and relevant for further study, especially definitions of who is man and what is the church. We must leave these for another time.
Watch for Part 3 coming soon!
- J.M. Price said Jesus cited 20 Old Testament books during His ministry (p. 18). ↩
- Author’s note: Biblical principles need to be understood and applied in culturally relevant terms. For example, “Vanity” or “modesty” are conditions of the heart which are expressed culturally. ↩
- Lidório, Ronaldo, “Teologia Bíblica da Contextualização,” 3, quoted in Burns (2007). ↩
- David Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen. Contextualization. Baker Book House, 1989:110-111. ↩
- Hesselgrave (2007), 95. Brian McLaren is one of a growing group of post-modern theologians who question most basic tenets of Scriptural inerrancy. He says he is “missional” in the sense that the church should reflect on its mission in the world and then allow its theology to flow from that. ↩
- Padilla, René, quoted in Van Rheenen, Contextualization and Syncretism: Navigating Cultural Currents in the Evangelical Missiological Society Series No. 13 (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2006), 102. ↩
- Flemming, Dean. Lessons About Contextualization From the New Testament (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005), 162 ↩
- Psalm 106:35; 1 Samuel 8:5, 19-20; Ezekiel 20:32 ↩
- Jeremiah 10:1-2; Ezekiel 5:7; 11:12; 20:7; 2 Kings 17:7-9 ↩
- Phil Parshall. “Danger! New Directions in Contextualization” In Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Oct 1998:405-406 ↩
- Hess, Richard S. “The Bible and Its World: The Word of God in Context.” Denver Seminary Magazine, Spring 2007, 6. ↩
- Nida and Reyburn, Meaning Across Culture, 1981 ↩
- David Hesselgrave. Dynamic Religio8us Movements. Baker Book House, 1978:99-119. ↩
- Stott, John. Christian Counter-Culture, InterVarsity Press. England. 1978. ↩
- Triebel, Johannes. “Living Together with the Ancestors: Ancestor Veneration in Africa as a Challenge for Missiology” em Missiology:an International Review. Abril 2002:187-197. ↩
- Lausanne, 1974 ↩
- Fernando, Keith. “The Legacy of Byang Kato” em International Bulletin of Missionary Research, October 2004,169-173. ↩