How can you present the gospel in a way that is culturally relevant?
In chapter 4, Mark Driscoll states:
“…most people are as unaware of their cultural assumptions as they are of their own bad breath, because it is so familiar to them. Therefore, Christians on reformission must be particularly attentive to both the culture they live in and the other cultures they encounter” (pg 93).
In essence, this chapter is a short lesson in cultural anthropology. All peoples have culture because culture is the framework by which all the answers of life are understood and communicated. Language is the primary medium of a culture, and everything that a person says or does is culturally conditioned.
Yet, culture is a gift of God, according to Mark Driscoll.
“People create culture because God made them to fill, work, and keep the earth.”
But culture is also conditioned by sin.
“Cultures are hard to untangle and understand because they reflect both the beauty of creation and the ugliness of the Fall” (pg 94).
What are some things in the way you worship or gather as the church that are culturally defined?
Mark Driscoll gives us three ways to evaluate culture: “thoughts, values and experiences”
Culture affects the way people think and the way people think changes culture. Its a vicious circle. But as Mark puts it:
“The truth is that most people are contradictions, neither logical nor coherent in their reasoning” (pg 95).
I think he is on to something. Culture is a framework for defining and solving life’s problems for a particular group of people. Culture comes up with answers that work, not necessarily answers that are coherent, nor even answers that get deep enough to actually resolve the issue. When people are alerted that their answers don’t really answer the question, then they are more open to the gospel. That is why in societies that worship idols, they have multiple gods. If Ganesh won’t protect our village, then maybe Shiva will, for example.
What ideas about Christianity do you hold that are contradictory? What ideas about non-Christians do you hold that are contradictory?
What steps can you take to understand how people think better than you do now?
What people do or do not do also reveals their values. But, Mark warns, “values can be tricky.”
“Many vegetarians eat meat, environmentalists don’t recycle, employees don’t work, and Christians don’t read their Bibles” (pg 96).
I’ve had the opportunity to meet many Indians who would be vegetarians in their homeland, but ask me where’s the closest steakhouse while they’re in America. I’ve met many Christians who will “Amen” sermons against immorality but who get involved in adultery or who are porn addicts. We violate our own values because we are sinful. But it also shows that culturally defined values can be violated and don’t necessarily correspond to truth.
Values also affect our preferences in style.
“While each of these cultural forms can mediate the gospel (arguably some more easily than others), this fact is often overlooked because people tend to attach moral value to the cultural form they prefer” (pg 99).
Ouch! This is true. Those with different values that ourselves, we treat as immoral, at least ignorant.
Are we perverting the gospel by universalizing our preferences? Are we inhibiting the gospel by our preferences?
This is the key question because…
“issues of style affect how you live your life, how you worship God, and how you will be perceived by lost people in your culture. In practical terms, your cultural preferences help determine the way you dress, where you live, what you drive, the entertainment you enjoy, whom you trust, what friends you have, and how you perceive and communicate the gospel” (100).
Before going too far, notice that Mark said “affect” not “determine”. Ultimately, our faith should affect our values more than our culture. But this would not negate the cultural influence. Because there is a level of freedom in “debatable issues” (Rom 14) such as style of dress and style of worship, etc.
“Reformission Christians and churches exist to perpetuate the gospel and should be swift to change their cultural forms if they are not the most beneficial for achieving that goal. This is what Paul told the Corinthians about being all things to all people and using all means to see as many people as possible saved (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Reformission churches have to continually examine and adjust their musical styles, websites, aesthetics, acoustics, programming, and just about everything but their Bible in an effort to effectively communicate the gospel to as many people as possible in the cultures around them” (pg 100).
Driscoll is right on here. This is why. Cultures that are isolated from outside influence rarely change. Technology remains the same, language, styles, morals, religion does not change. That is why natives in the Amazon retain their stone age lifestyle, why feudalism was still prevalent in Russia and China into the late 19th early 20th centuries. Conversely, cultures that are exposed to other civilizations change rapidly. That is why the information age is quickly changing the globe. Some cultures are skipping over industrialization into the technological age because of this phenomenon. What does this mean for America?
The life of America from the beginning has been dominated by interaction with Western Civilization. So any change that we experienced in language was dominated by ideas that were not all to foreign. Even after WWI, when we refused to join the League of Nations, we were able to remain largely isolated from foreign influence, even to be able to avoid entering WWII until late 1941. Things have changed since then. We are increasingly in contact with other cultures, other civilizations, and other religions, thus culture changes at an exponential rate.
We do not have a monolithic society. However, in the church we have sought to preserve an older culture that since has changed drastically. Unfortunately, we have defined that century-old culture in religious terms and have placed an un-holy value on something that is “debatable.” The beauty of the gospel, though, has been its ability to adapt and change societies and cultures from barbaric Amazonian tribes to even anti-religious Chinese communism. Let us not imprison the gospel in Southern White culture nor progressive Seattle culture. Rather, let the gospel free us all.
Have you seen your culture change? What ways have you tried to confront your changing culture with the gospel?