Cross-cultural church planting requires a lot of theological thinking. Our own theology has to be clear, and as we interact with other cultures, many new ideas and world views are brought to our attention. We struggle with how the gospel can answer the spiritual questions posed by other religions. The Jabalpur conference in India in 1964 decided that the person of Jesus could not be explained “by one or several standard formulae,…” “And faithfulness to the Bible and the church Fathers was defined, not as ‘adherence’ to a dogma with its given terms, giving the Indian church only the task of ‘translation’ to the situation in theology, but ‘continuity’ with their living core and spirit, releasing the Indian church to consider theology as a creative endeavor, to bring out new facets of the truth and meaning of the person of Jesus Christ and his salvation.” (M.M. Thomas in Asian Voices in Christian Theology, p.29.)
Doing this kind of theology can mean changing some ingrained non-biblical ideas. This can happen in many ways. The Rev. I.W. Mastra has changed the Christian Protestant Church In Bali by first eliminating the false theology of poverty that had taken root in that church. Early believers had been taught that the poor enter heaven before the rich and their material poverty was not something to overcome but rather to embrace. Mastra began formulating a theology of blessing from the Scriptures that could raise the hopes and aspirations of the people. As this theology took hold in the leadership of the church, the entire church began to change and grow in spiritual life and interaction with their Hindu society. Mastra’s initiative has struck a chord in theology that has also resonated with Hindu believers so that the church is now engaged in society by being a blessing.
In his epic poem, “The Present Crisis“, James Russell Lowell writes this:
They must upward still, and onward, Who would keep abreast of Truth.
Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,
The first line is familiar to many of us in the hymn, “Once to Every Man and Nation.” Lowell is reminding us that climbing higher is required in all enterprises that involve truth. If we are not engaging our audience with our theology, it probably means they do not understand us. We must present biblical theology in another way so that the elements most important to them are clearly stated.
Biblical missiology is based on biblical theology. This has to be done carefully and in concert with indigenous believers. Rarely do indigenous believers deliberately promote changing biblical theology or minimizing it so as to be palatable to those from other faith systems. However, there are some missionaries who are doing this in regards to other faith systems, non-biblical customs, or theological ideas about God. They have failed to understand what evangelism really means. The thrust of biblical scholars should not be to change biblical theology but to interpret it in terms that draw peoples’ attention to it. The gospel can be presented clearly in any language but not all aspects of the gospel will appeal to every cultural group. We shouldn’t adapt the gospel to other religions but rather find what it is in the gospel that draws people to the person of Jesus because Jesus is the gospel.