March 15, 2010
I think you are right. We should at all times remove as much cultural baggage as possible when sharing the gospel. I think that is the point of Paul's "Be all things to all people, so that some might be saved" comment. That doesn't mean that we don't share a complete gospel, as many will charge, but that we attempt to removed the cultural baggage that we usually put on top of it. Of course, the more we are bound to the culture we are in the less we are able to distinguish between culture and the gospel. One additional benefit to intercultural work is that we often learn quite a bit about our own culture when we spend time interacting with other cultures.
I have both a degree in Bible-theology and training in public relations, so I think I see both sides of the issue.<br><br>The challenge, it seems, is how to "put the best foot forward" without willfully misleading the target audience and/or denying essential elements of the truth being presented. Think of it as a "truth in advertising" issue.<br><br>If it were not for sin (and the judgment that will come because of it), there would be no need for a Savior. And, since Jesus said, "...no one comes to the Father except through me," we can't pretend that the true gospel will be found in the teachings of Islam (for example).<br><br>But looking for creative ways to bridge from "there" to "here?" As long as the journey leads to the true Christ (not necessarily the "American" version or the "Sunday School" version or...), we have to respect the effort.<br>
We should remember that there is only one God. There is not a godling called Allah out there among the stars engaging in cosmic wrestling matches with his rival godling Jehovah and another rival godling called Buddah, while they cheer on their respective teams down on earth. There is only one. The Arabic word for The God is al-Lah, and the way I just typed it gives a more accurate rendition into English in the Roman alphabet than "Allah" does. Allah is not the name of a god. In Christian Bibles written in Arabic (and there have been Arabic-speaking Christians since before Muhammed), everywhere we read "God" or "the Lord," the Arabic reads "al-Lah." So, one faith may teach ABOUT the one and only God more accurately than another, but we ARE talking about the same God.<br><br>While the Qu'ran is not the Gospel, we shouldn't pretend that Jesus said all those or only those who call upon him by name will be saved. Cf. Matthew 25:31 to the end. Many who never heard of or called upon Jesus will be surprised to hear that "I was in prison and you visited me, I was hungry and you gave me to eat" because "inasmuch as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me." These will be among the sheep, entering into eternal reward. Likewise, many who have prayed in the name of Jesus every day of their lives will find themselves among the goats, because "I was in prison and you visited me not." I suspect that Governor Perry of Texas is high on that list, but its not mine to judge -- I'm only guessing.<br><br>I know there are sects of Protestants who contrive that Jesus was talking about gentiles being saved because they did something nice for someone Jewish. That's an interesting speculation, but I'll stick with what is plain in the text. Does this contradict "No-one comes to the Father but through me"? No, because "inasmuch as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me," and therefore they will come to the Father "through me." But it does show that Jesus had a much more inclusive mandate for salvation than most Christians have ever acknowledged.<br><br>Incidentally, I am reminded of a Sunday School story about a Presbyterian missionary to the southern Philippines, inhabited by Muslim Moros, who discovered that the Torah, the first five books of what we call the Old Testament, were sacred to Islam, and therefore started with those books as the foundation of his mission. I recall it being taught as, the Five Books are part of the Qu'ran, which they're not, at least not the copy I have on my shelf, but they are sacred to Islam. Starting with common ground is always a good idea.
I think the Catholics in Malaysia would have an idea of the 'cultural baggage' of Islam. They have in the last few months had their churches firebombed & much more persecution because of their use of the name "Allah" when refering to our Creator God. The truth is that Allah is not the God of the Bible. The god or idol of Mohammed's tribe, the Quraysh, was called "Allah". Allah is the Moon god. 'Audience Sensitivity" will never win a lost soul to Christ, Love will - and that Love is expressed through Truth. Jesus IS the Truth - Way & Life. The cultural baggage we should get rid of is our dependance on church 'Rules & Regulations' to make us feel comfortable.( think of your own ! ) Without knocking the 'cultural' Rules & Regs of others.
I believe you are right, to a degree. We preach a gospel of Love, but we also preach a gospel that explains what happens when you do not accept Christ. Today's culture has lost sight of the fact that we are inherently evil. The society has started to buy into the argument that they are inherently good, therefore are going to heaven.<br><br>In evangelistic discussions, I have found that you have to start at ground zero essentially in that we have to show people that they are sinners and are in need of salvation. From there, move to the Gospel of Jesus Christ's love. If they do not understand that they are sinners and as a result of their sin, are doomed to hell, they will never see the need to accept Christ.<br><br>So while I do not condone a judgement message alone, we cannot leave that aspect out of our message.
T here is the Islamic Immersion way of preaching the gospel, Shane Claiborneâ€™s Social Justice way and the street corner yelling preacher way. But there is also a fourth way. The Jesus way.<br><br>First he gave the commission to the 12. As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.<br><br>Then he gave the commision to the Seventy-two. "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.'<br><br>Finally he gave the commission to all of us. And He said to them, " Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. "These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."<br><br>Preaching the gospel and praying for the sick is what enabled Heidi Bakerâ€™s ministry in Mozambique to establish over 8,000 churches in 15 years and bring over one million former Muslims and animists into the kingdom. When her team goes into a village, they show the Jesus film then ask if there are any deaf or blind in the village. They pray, God heals, and the entire village comes into the kingdom, repenting of sin and giving their lives to Jesus. This is the ancient way that still works today.
I get a funny sense when people talk about "the God of the Bible." It sounds like the Bible is a box out of which the God emerged. God exists a priori the Bible. I don't know what source you base your pat little statement of "the truth" on, but if you ask anyone conversant in Arabic, al-Lah does mean "the God." We can then debate the fine points of when and how it was used, and by whom.<br><br>It is common among pagan religious traditions to have some sense of a single Creator deity, but to create whole pantheons of messengers and intermediaries who end up getting most of the worship. During the period prior to Islam, the Quraysh tribe worshipped many such gods, but did indeed have a vague notion of al-Lah. However, al-Lah wasn't commercially viable. What really brought in the silver (not unlike "Diana of the Ephesians" was pilgrims coming to worship at the little shrines in the Kabbah. There was never a "moon god" named Allah. Muhammed was chased out of Mecca by the Quraysh for the same reason Paul was put in prison in Ephesus -- his new teaching was bad for business. Whatever else one may say about his teaching and practice, he did destroy the idols when he re-entered Mecca.<br><br>Sources: Lewis, David Levering, <i>God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215</i>; Pickthall, Marmaduke, <i>The Meaning of the Glorious Koran</i>. I could list others, but start with those. If you want to challenge the veracity of these authors, at least read the intro and do some background research.
There are many, many, syncretistic/animistic muslims in the world. Many of them do not even know the Quran and are not necessarily so resistant to hearing about Isa from the Injeel (The New Testament - one of three holy books in Islam). But if you go to Cairo, or Riyahd, or Istanbul, a Quranic approach to teaching true things about Christ is a fine start. The Quran teaches many true/truish things about Christ (born of a virgin, is the only "prophet" who has the ear of God). Pulling truth from the Quran is totally legitimate - Paul did something similar on Mars hill - all truth is Gods after all. People have to start somewhere in their understanding - and there is a process of learning. Avoiding syncretism is an issue, and the discipleship process for muslims in the insider movement needs to address this.<br><br>The question regarding the use of the term "Allah" - the name of God, is simply a result of lack of understanding of language in my opinion. Our English word "God" came from the norse word for Oden, a pagan God - missionaries coopted it and put new information into the word. This happens all the time with language. And anyway, the Arabic is close to the original Aramaic. When Christ use the word God in Aramaic he said the word Ela or something to that effect. Some of these things are only issues because WE are scared of muslims and scared of Islam and we don't know anything about it or understand it.<br><br>HIGHLY recommend the Encountering the World of Islam course about missions in the muslim world available online or possibly at churches in your area.
I think the area of bigger dispute on this is not whether to contextualize the gospel by pulling bits from the Quran, but whether it would be ok for Muslims to remain nominal muslims and be "Muslim Followers of Jesus" rather than taking on the mantle of "Christian". There are huge cultural barriers to leaving Islam, as it is not just a religion but a way of life that fills all of life and society. Leaving Islam is way different than leaving Christianity. Many muslim peoples do not understand the separation of religious and civic life that we have. For example, they would believe that all of the movies available at Blockbuster are "Christian" movies (because they are produced by a Christian culture). <br><br>Some of those who support the insider movement of Islam (and by the way, this is something that is actually occurring in some countries) point to the Messianic Jewish movement that sprang up in the mid 20th century - how it was questioned at first by the church and then accepted and how there seem to be many legitimate, culturally Jewish, but theologically Christian followers of Christ in that movement.<br><br><a href="http://www.bajabible.org" rel="nofollow">http://www.bajabible.org</a>
It is true that love can be expressed in truth, but without grace, we can only present the "ugly truth". Most people can't handle the truth, the way some kids hate eating vegetables. But the parent knows that vegetables are good for the kids, hence it is prepared as a salad to be appetising to them.<br><br>Peter tried to stop people from preaching the gospel, but Jesus stopped him, and said that whoever is not against us with with us. Culture is something that can work for us, or against us. Should we allow the gospel to transform culture, or use the gospel to destroy culture?
Peter Q i totally agree with your comment that culture can work for us or against us. But I guess i'm not sure I understand what you mean by using the gospel to "destroy culture". If by that you mean destroying what is bad/sinful about a particular culture and using the gospel to put new things in place, then I can get on board with that. But if by "destroying" you mean something akin to simply tearing down walls and leaving the rubble in place, without buidling new, stronger walls to replace them, then I guess I would have to ask, why? Why not use the gospel to transform a culture and make it work for us? It seems that there are some neat, innovative ministries, like Erwin McManus's Mosaic Church in LA and the guys at XXXChurch, who are trying to do just that. Am i making sense? I'm not trying to argue, by the way, just clarify.
I'm a Christian missionary to a Muslim people group and I totally agree with you. This group of people is not Arabic but because they are Muslims, all of their religious vocabulary is Arabic and they use the word "Allah" to mean God, the Creator. And they use the word "Isa" to mean Jesus because Jesus is called "Isa" in the Koran. So when I learned the language of the people, when I speak, read the Bible, pray and sing songs in this language, I pray to "Allah" and do so in the name of "Isa". I have no problem with this because my understanding of "Allah" and "Isa" are Biblical understandings; the same as what I was taught as a Christian. I agree that we can start with understandings we have in common and then through the process of conversion and discipleship, the understanding of the Christian believer changes and grows. We've seen this happen. <br> Let's not forget that Mohammed lived several hundred years AFTER Christ; he was not the one who started talking about God and Jesus first; rather he saw himself at the end of a long line of prophets. I think it's fine for Christians to affirm what he said that is true but to take issue with his mis-understandings of Jesus and God, the Torah and the Gospel, as well as his false statements of what Christians believe and what the Bible says. <br> What's so "radical" about growing a beard and not eating pork? My husband has a beard but he had it before we came here as missionaries and not eating pork is easy here -- it's not available, for one thing! This is not deception on our part; what it is is not giving unnecessary offense which would close them off to the Gospel unnecessarily. Let our only offense be the cross of Christ. <br> Speaking of culture and of offense, what really grieves me is Western tourists coming to our town dressed in shorts or tight jeans and tops, not to mention the sex-saturated images from Western media in general. Muslims think this is all "Christian" and that is a huge offense. It makes me understand why more and more of them are reacting by going to the opposite end of the spectrum, namely, dressing in all-covering black robes (which is from Arabic culture, not from the culture of the people we are working with: it's Arabic cultural imperialism, you could say).
Thanks Peter Q. You are right about not forgetting Grace. It is only by the Grace of God expressd through Jesus that any of us, of whatever culture- religion- can be saved. The culture I belonged to had a veneer of Christianity and a large helping of superstition, witchcraft, e.s.p. and a strong culture of 'working our way' to heaven & or God's favour.Those parts of my culture had to go in me, not all at once but through time & the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I ministered as Elder in a Maori fellowship for a few years & parts of the Maori culture I happily took as my own, but the part of their culture that appeased & honoured spirits of ancestors or trees, water carvings etc.I had to teach against and was supported in this by my Maori Pastor. Let us hold on to what is good & drop like a hot brick the bad !
One word. Inquisition.
Taking into consideration one's audience is just good common sense. I think we can share the essential, basic truth of the gospel with anyone if we remember that the enemy is the devil, not the one with whom we are sharing. And here is how we do that: "Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, 'Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.' And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony...." It hard to argue with the blood of Jesus and someone's personal testimony. And these things can be presented in ways that honor and respect the recipient of our words in whatever culture we find ourselves in.
It has been said you got to get a person lost before you can get them saved. So true.
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