Donor Login spacer divider Translate

Missions 101

Posts Tagged: Culture

How Should the Gospel Relate to Culture?

Feb. 25, 2016By: Philemon YongAuthor Bio

The question of how to relate the gospel to culture is a question about how to express the gospel message in genuinely cultural and authentic terms while at the same time maintaining the purity of the gospel. Speaking of gospel and culture in the African context, Kato says,

Culture as a way of life must be maintained. It is God’s will that Africans, on accepting Christ as their Savior, become Christian Africans. Africans who become Christians should, therefore, remain Africans wherever their culture does not conflict with the Bible. It is the Bible that must judge the culture. Where a conflict results, the cultural element must give way.”[1]

In relating the gospel to any culture, it is good for the preacher to have an objective, which in this case is to make the gospel relevant without compromising the purity of the gospel.

In the history of missions in West Africa, different approaches have been taken in relating the gospel to culture.[2] One approach believes that there is nothing redeemable in the culture andScreen_Shot_2016-02-24_at_9.22.31_AM thus seeks to destroy the cultural practices of the people before establishing Christianity. This is what Pobee calls Tabula rasa. With this approach, Christians were more or less called out of society instead of being redeemed in society. One very different approach is what was called accommodation but now is called adaptation, localization, or indigenization. This view acknowledges that there is “a whole heritage in the non-Christian culture and consciously attempts to come to terms with that heritage” (Pobee 59). Here the missionary makes use of he belief system of the people and builds on what they already know. Yet, everything in the culture cannot be accepted en masse. Wisdom and discernment should be used. Some elements will have to be modified but others will be rejected. Again, Kato notes,

In the African evangelicals’ effort to express Christianity in the context of the African, the Bible must remain the absolute source. The Bible is God’s written Word addressed to Africans —and to all peoples—within their cultural background (Kato, 148).

This second approach has to do with couching the gospel message in genuinely African terms and categories, while at the same time not compromising the truth of the gospel. The point here is that while the gospel remains the same, its truth should be communicated in a culturally relevant manner.

Paying attention to how the gospel is communicated in a culture avoids the concept of working misunderstanding where “a missionary preaches the gospel in very foreign terms and the natives appear to receive it. That is, they may attend church services, obey church regulations, and so on, without any real understanding of what is going on” (Pobee, 59).

The importance of making the gospel relevant in a culture cannot be overstated. Once the gospel is stated in culturally meaningful ways, the people will embrace and own it and no longer see it as a foreign concept. They will embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord of their lives. Bediako writes of this point for Africans;

Once we discover that there is no valid alternative to Jesus Christ, the question is no longer: why should we relate to Jesus of Nazareth who does not belong to our clan, family, tribe and nation? But, how may we understand more fully this Jesus Christ who relates to us most meaningfully and most profoundly in our clan, family, tribe and nation?[3]

It is therefore the duty of the missionary or anyone preaching the gospel in another culture to be able to make the gospel message culturally relevant. How should this be done? While one finds many articles and books on methods of contextualization, I do believe that the preacher needs to be one who knows the gospel message well, knows the cultural context of his ministry, and prays for wisdom to make the message clear without losing an iota of it. I commend Paul’s principle on how to do this as seen in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

This passage shows Paul’s pattern of ministry to people of different cultures, Jews and Gentiles. Paul made himself a servant (slave) to all with the objective of winning more to Christ (v. 19). He adapted himself to Jewish customs as to win Jews to Christ (cf. Acts 16:3; 18:18; 21:23-24, 26). To those under the law he lived as one under the law (note his qualification of this statement in v. 20) to win those under the law (v. 20). To those without the law, he lived as though without the law (again note qualification of the statement in v. 21) to win those without the law (v. 21). He is weak among the weak in order to win the weak (v. 22a).

He concludes,  “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (v. 22b). Paul’s goal is specific, the salvation of some people. He will do whatever it takes (becoming all things to all men) and he will use whatever means or method (“by all means”) for the purpose of saving some people.

Why would Paul want to become all things to all people with all the risk that might come with this practice? One answer already given is that he does it in order to save some. Another way to look at this answer is stated in verse 23, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” Paul does what he does because of the gospel, for the purpose of partaking of the benefits of the gospel with those who are saved through his ministry.

It would appear that Paul has a gospel to preach to different kinds of people in different cultures, and he becomes what those people are and uses whatever means necessary in each culture to preach the gospel so as to save some. We could say that while Paul’s gospel does not change, his means of presenting the gospel changes. However, he takes care not to compromise the purity of the gospel itself.

Following Paul’s example, the preacher of the gospel should be willing to make himself a member of the culture in which he is working, so that he can effectively communicate the gospel and save those who believe. He should adapt himself to his cultural setting for the sake of the gospel. There is one unchanging thing in this approach; the gospel. The gospel message will not change but the means of presenting and applying it will change according to the cultural context.

Constant study of the Word of God, culture, and prayer is needed to do this effectively.

[1] Byang H. Kato, “Theological Issues in Africa,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 133 (1976): 530.

[2] See the discussion in John S. Pobee, Toward an Africa Theology, (Nashville, TN: Parthenon Press, 1979), 53-80.

[3] Kwame Bediako, Jesus and the Gospel in Africa: History and Experience, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2004), 32.

Show Comments   |   Leave a Comment  |  Tags:  cameroon, africa, gospel, culture, missions

Honor and Shame are Objective (Not Merely Subjective)

Oct. 21, 2015By: Jackson WuAuthor Bio

Many Christians think honor and shame are simply subjective categories. I believe the Bible disagrees. Scripture uses the concepts of honor-shame to convey objective realities. 

Unfortunately, this observation often gets overlooked. In recent weeks and months, I’ve seen this time and time again. I regularly receive pushback from people who think shame and honor are nothing more than psychological and anthropological terms.

Honor = Glory = Objective Reality

If you care about what the Bible says, I urge you to set aside that assumption for a moment and consider a few passages that challenge conventional thinking.

honor-and-shame-0011. Hebrews  

Hebrews 3:3 is unambiguous. 

 “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses––as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.” 

Note two observations. First, the writer says that a house (not a person) has honor. Second, The verse treats glory (doxēs) and honor (timēn) as functionally synonymous terms. 

2.  John’s Gospel 

Jesus’ use of honor-glory is illustrative. In John 17:22, Jesus prays to the Father, 

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.”

Likewise, in John 8:49–50, 

“Jesus answered, ‘I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor [atimazete] me. Yet I do not seek my own glory [doxan]; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.’” 

Again, glory is treated as an objective reality, not a subjective feeling. Also, via contrast, (dis)honor is correlated with glory. (I point this out because some people try to forge a sharp wedge between “honor” and “glory” despite biblical evidence to the contrary. 

3. Habakkuk 2:16

“You will have your fill of shame instead of glory…Drink yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory.

First, the passage treats shame and glory as objective realities that can be gained and taken away. Second, note that the writer contrasts shame and glory (and I doubt many people will say glory, which God possesses, is a mere psychological feeling in God’s mind).

Why are Honor and Shame Objective?

One’s honor or shame is objective in two respects.

1. A person or thing’s honor and shame describes his/her/its worth or some characteristic.

The basic idea is evident in Hebrews 11:24–26, which says, 

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” 

Moses’ disgrace or lack of honor is described in terms of “wealth” [plouton], something that has value in itself. It is more than a mere feeling.

To think of it another way, something is considered “shameful” if it is worthy of shame, censure, rebuke, etc. From this perspective, shame can be objectified in the same way Peter objectifies the emotion of fear in 1 Peter 3:6. He writes,

  “do not fear anything that is frightening” [m
ē phoboumenai mēdemian ptoēsin]. 

The latter phrase speaks of some thing (object, person, situation) that is regarded as being worthy of fear. 

2. A person’s reputation or social “worth” is assessed by others (or even another person).

Honor and shame like guilt as relative to some standard or measure existing outside an individual. For instance, relative to some law, I may be objectively guilty of an offense regardless of whether I have guilt feelings.

In the same way, God’s people would agree that those who have Spiritual fruit (i.e.  love, joy, peace, patience, self-control….) enjoy an honor/glory relative to Christ. Yet, relative to the world, otherwise godly attributes like humility are deemed humiliating, shameful, or dishonorable. 

In short, having honor or shame in one respect depends on an outside (objective) standard rather than an individual’s psychological (subjective) feeling.

Are We Ashamed of Honor?

What do we do with these observations?

1. Self-reflection

I suggest that people humbly do some self-reflection to consider whether they have overlooked the significance role of honor and shame within the Bible. Might cultural or denominational biases create this blindspot?

To assist you, check out my article “Why the Church Has Lost Face” (in the Jan 2015 issue of Mission Frontiers).

2. Reading

Do some further reading on the subject. A number of resources have come out recently that appeal to different audience; some are introductory, some go deeper into theological debates. On my blog, various posts and resources can help. 

Also, here are a few books to start with:

ï Saving God’s Face: A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame

Don’t let the word “Chinese” deceive you. Only one chapter speaks exclusively to a Chinese context. Most of the book develops a theology of salvation for (any) honor-shame context. While not a light read, it is overtly theological and exegetical for those who want to see interaction with the broader theological community.

The next two books are written for a more general audience and so introduce a variety of concepts. They purposefully do not engage in rigorous exegesis and theological debate.

ï The Global Gospel

ï The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures

3. Honor-Shame Language

Intentionally read Scripture with an eye for honor-shame related issues. Don’t forget that you may need to reframe how you have thought about certain topics, like God’s glory.

For instance, John Piper like Jonathan Edwards has rightly proclaimed that God is most passionate about His own glory. Amen. Yet, we could just as well borrow a Chinese expression and say that God is passionately seeks His own “face.”

Show Comments   |   Leave a Comment  |  Tags:  culture, bible

Should a Woman Take the Name of Her Husband?

Aug. 26, 2015By: Philemon YongAuthor Bio

This is a question around the world: Should a woman take the name of her husband when she gets married? It is argued that when a woman takes her husband’s name, she gives up her own identity. It is also argued that the tradition reflects a hierarchical society in which women have few rights, and that there is really no biblical foundation for a woman to take her husband’s name. Is that true?Is there any reasonable biblical argument for a wife to take her husband’s name?


In Genesis 2:18-23, we note the following: God declared that it was not good for the man to be alone. Until that point in creation, God said it was good/very good. Only here does he say “it is not good” (v. 18a). He resolved to make “a helper fit for him” (v. 18b). The word helper here does not mean one who serves, but one who complements the man and completes him. After this observation, God brought the created animals and birds to Adam to see what he would name them (2:19). As Adam was in the process of naming the animals and birds, the words, “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him,” (going back to 2:18b) are repeated. It would appear that when God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone, Adam did not even know that he had a need. In the naming process, Adam came to see his lack of a “helper fit for him.” The animals had corresponding counterparts but Adam did not. Adam came to see his loneliness. God created a situation to show Adam his need for a helper.

Then, God proceeded to create exactly the right helper out of Adam’s own rib. Just as God brought the animals to Adam to see what he would name them, he brought the woman to Adam, probably to see how he would respond and what he would name her (v. 22). Following are the first human words in the Bible. We read in verse 23,

“Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (Isha), because she was taken out of Man (Ish).

There is a word play in the naming of the woman by Adam. In naming her, he imbedded his own name in her name. This is significant in several ways: 1) Adam was joyful in the presence of the woman, for he saw that she was the helper fit for him, one who would meet his need for a companion, one who was like him but different. 2) Verse 23 shows that Adam saw equality with the woman. She was his own flesh. 3) By including his own name in the name of the woman, he was anticipating a relationship of deepest intimacy. It is no wonder that immediately following in 2:24-25, we see what amounts to an institution of marriage.

By naming his wife, Adam communicated the deepest intimate feeling he had for her.

So, what is there in the name? As believers, if we agree that the woman is a helper fit for the man, that the two are equal, that there is joy in this union of marriage, that the two are indeed one flesh, we most certainly should complete the thought, and capture that intimacy in the name that results from the union. The issue is not whether one should avoid male control or whether a woman will lose her identity The issue is what is involved in the name. That is worth preserving.

Show Comments   |   Leave a Comment  |  Tags:  theology, culture

How Do You Distinguish Americans?

Jun. 22, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio
Show Comments   |   Leave a Comment  |  Tags:  culture, america

One Reason Cross-Cultural Small Talk Is So Tricky

Jun. 19, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio


From Erin Meyer:

It was my first dinner party in France and I was chatting with a Parisian couple. All was well until I asked what I thought was a perfectly innocent question: “How did the two of you meet?” My husband Eric (who is French) shot me a look of horror. When we got home he explained: “We don’t ask that type of question to strangers in France. It’s like asking them the color of their underpants.”

Read the whole thing here.

Show Comments   |   Leave a Comment  |  Tags:  culture
SubscribeRSS FeedEmail Subscribe
abortion, acts, africa, african traditional religion, america, ancestor worship, animism, answer to prayer, arcc, asia, atheism, audio, bible, bible study, bible translation, biblical theology, biography, black church, book review, books, brazil, bribe, c.s. lewis, caliphate, calvin, calvinism, cameroon, charity, china, christian, church, church growth, church history, church planting, church polity, compassion, confession, conflict, contextualization, corruption, creation, cross, culture, da carson, dead church, death, delight, demonic, dependence, discipleship, doctor, documentary, easter, ebola, ecclesiology, economics, effectiveness, ego, elder, endorsements, ethics, europe, evangelical, evangelicalism, evangelism, evil, faith, faithfulness, false teachers, false teaching, famine, forgiveness, free books, free will, funny, gaba bible institute, gay marriage, gifts, global, global christianity, global south, good friday, gospel, graduation, great commission, greece, greek, healing, hermeneutics, history, history of missions, honor, hot topics, humility, humilty, humor, hymn, immigration, incarnational ministry, india, indigenous, infographic, informal education, integrity, interpretation, invitation, isis, islam, jesus, jews, john piper, journal, joy, kenya, language, language acquisition, latin america, leadership, literacy, love, majority world, map, maps, marriage, martyr, maturity, medicine, memorization, ministry, ministry of tli, miracles, misisonaries, missiology, mission, missional living, missionaries, missionary, missionary care, missionary kid, missionary training, mission of god, missions, mission sermons, missions methodology, moms, money, nationals, nepal, news, new year, nigeria, orality, parenting, partnership, pastor, pastors, pastor sponsorship, patience, paul, persecution, pictures, pioneer, pioneer missions, politics, poor, pope, post-christian, poverty, practical, prayer, prayer requests, preaching, pride, productivity, prophecy, prosperity gospel, quote, radical, reached, reconciliation, relevance, relief, resources, retirement, revival, romania, sacrifice, salvation, scripture meditation, seminary, sending, sermon, serving, shame, shepherd, short-term missions, singing, social action, spiritual life, sports, spurgeon, stat, statistics, stats, stewardship, stm, story, strategic, strategy, suffering, support, support raising, teaching, team, tennent, testimonies, testimony, tgc, thanksgiving, theological education, theological famine, theology, the west, tli, training, transformation, translation, tribalism, uganda, unreached, update, video, west, western influence, when helping hurts, wisdom, women, worldview, worship, young churches
blog search