Journal Review: Gospel and Culture

This is my journal review of Lausanne Occasional Paper 2: The Willowbank Report: Consultation on Gospel and Culture.  Please click here to read the paper for yourself.  This is a great collection of research that would be useful to anyone that desires to be strategic in reaching people for Christ.

In reading Lausanne Occasional Paper 2: The Willowbank Report: Consultation on Gospel and Culture, it is quite evident that one of the main hurdles for the gospel to be carried to the nations is often the people that carry it! In our quest to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ, our zealousness for our own culture and traditions can often turn people off to being open to hearing it. The report is divided into nine sections dealing with the Gospel and it’s impact on culture as well as culture’s impact on the Gospel.

The first area they dealt with in the consultation had to do with the biblical basis of culture. I was reminded of what we just read in Duane Elmer’s Cross-Cultural Servanthood about the fact that Western Christians are notorious for going into another culture and trying to turn those people into Westerners like us. Nowhere in the Bible does it say to try to convert people to be like us, it says for us to make Christ known in such a way that will cause others to want to know Him to. Christians need to be reminded that people were not made in the image of Americans; they were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and that is the approach we should take when encountering other cultures with the goal of sharing the gospel with them. We must respect other cultures in order to have permission to share Christ with them.

Before going too much further, the group dedicates the next section to defining culture. All of our reading for this class tells us that culture is the glue that holds people together. It is the mix of their traditions, history, and values all combined into what is known as their worldview. Worldview is simply the lens from which you view the world. This section points out that, “Participation in a culture is one of the factors which provide [men and women] with a sense of belonging.” (p. 3) To gain access to the people, you must demonstrate respect and a genuine desire to get to know more about their culture. Once you have built that bridge, they will want to hear what you have to say.

The next section of the report is of particular interest to me because it demonstrates how biblical revelation recognizes cultural distinctives. The authors point out the presence of Hebrew, Greek, and Jewish culture being woven throughout the New Testament. In an effort to reach the people he was speaking to, Paul had to make a connection with their culture and their frame of reference before he could gain access to a relationship with them. These biblical revelations are carried out in parables, metaphors, and other ways that draw people in because of the appreciation shown for their native culture.

Once a person has gained access to be able to share God’s word in a particular culture, it is important for them to have an understanding of the best way to present God’s truths. The report urges the missionary to consider the traditional and contextual approaches, the learning community, and the silences of Scripture. I believe that the last one is one of the most urgent lessons.

We have to understand that it is not our place to create words for God in areas where the Scriptures are silent. The Lausanne group says, “We believe it is right for the church guided by the Holy Spirit to search the Scriptures for precedents and principles which will enable it to develop the mind of the Lord Christ and so be able to make authentically Christian decisions.” (p. 6) There are often things in Scripture that will very clearly guide us to an understanding of the mind of Christ. However, in situations that we cannot be so certain of, we must remember the words of Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” If God chooses to be silent on a subject, far be it from me to make a bold stand other than to pray for the Lord’s direction. I would rather be quiet than to lead someone astray and be a stumbling block in his or her pursuit of the knowledge of the Holy.

The fifth section deals with the content and communication of the gospel focusing primarily on the Bible, the heart of the Gospel, cultural barriers as well as sensitivity in communication, discussion of the Gospel in the Islamic world, and the expectation of results. Because the Gospel is presented from at least four perspectives; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it is quite obvious that God designed the Gospel message to reach people from a variety of traditions and levels of understanding. God’s story is the greatest message ever told and it is exciting to think about the audience that He intended to hear it. Our expectation for results comes from the memory of our own life change and the desire to share that experience with others.

The committee is quick to mention the points that we all need to agree on as being the heart of the gospel including, “God as Creator, the universality of sin, Jesus Christ as Son of God, Lord of all, and Saviour through his atoning death and risen life, the necessity of conversion, the coming of the Holy Spirit and his transforming power, the fellowship and mission of the Christian church, and the hope of Christ’s return.” (p. 7) The last portion about hope is the reason that we have to share the Gospel. All around us people are hurting and need to hear the message of hope found only in Christ. The committee also points out that now, more than ever, the Islamic World is showing signs of being open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Are we ready for that? How well do we know the Islamic culture so that we can gain access to relationships that will allow us to share Christ with them?

Next we have to consider the attitude with which we carry the gospel to other cultures. No matter what the message, if people cannot accept us, they will never want to hear what we have to say. We must live our lives in such a way that people will trust us, understand our care and concern for them, and then want to know what we have to say. It is ideal to be able to partner with a ministry already taking place in the area you are going to share the Gospel in. The reputation of a local Christian will carry you farther than you will be able to go if you are just arriving on the field. Being a true carrier of the Gospel message means meeting people where they are and helping them move to where God wants them to be.

Jesus himself was the perfect model of what it means to be a humble servant. He put aside the fact that He was God Himself and served others. He left the perfection of heaven to come to this earth to encounter sorrow, pain, and hurt all so that we could have forgiveness and be redeemed to a right relationship with God. Philippians 2 is mentioned in our reading and is worth committing to memory for those times that our sinful flesh decides we want to be more like Jesus the Savior than Jesus the Servant.

The last three sections deal with conversion, culture, and lifestyle. Conversion is the ultimate goal of anyone who shares the Gospel. It is not our responsibility to convert a person, but rather to share the Gospel in such a way that the seed is planted in the person’s heart. Often the person who shares will be able to lead a person to Christ. The way that looks is different in every culture. Some cultures will lead to quick conversions and others will take longer. Some people groups will have heard the Gospel and be ready to accept Christ. Others will be more skeptical and need more time to think and discuss before they will be open to that possibility.

Syncretism is one of the biggest dangers for missionaries dealing with different cultures. Syncretism allows people to accept Christ and maintain their current cultural identity even if that includes things that are in direct opposition to biblical truths. Some missionaries fall into the trap of syncretism because they feel that it is their role to share the gospel and for someone else to handle the discipleship process that leads to changes in lifestyle and maybe even some counter-cultural steps needing to be taken.

As new converts grow in their faith and become assimilated into local churches, we can’t lose sight of the fact that they still need to be able to express their cultural differences through worship. Most people from around the world would be bored out of their minds in our White Anglo-Saxon Protestant worship services that tend to be pretty similar each week. God created us in His image and we should embrace that and find ways to appreciate our cultural differences in worship. This is the only way that people of different traditions will ever feel comfortable to grow in their faith and invite other like-minded people to come and hear the Gospel for themselves. The committee went so far as to remind us that we “worship the God of cultural diversity.” (p. 17)

The final thought we are left with comes from paragraph ten of the Lausanne Covenant which reads, “The Gospel does not presuppose the superiority of any culture to another, but evaluates all cultures according to its own criteria of truth and righteousness, and insists on moral absolutes in every culture.” (p. 21) Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” My prayer is that we would accept the challenge to share the greatest story every told with everyone we come in contact with. May the Lord grant us access to people around the world through the commonality of our Creator.

1 Comment

  1. Just wanted to say thank you for publishing this summary! I assum you did this as a requirement at Liberty U? I am reading LOP 2 now and needed to step back and get a summary perspective, so your page here was refreshing and much needed. Thanks for sharing and I pray God’s blessings over you and your ministry!
    Thanks,
    Myke H. From Middle Georgia

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