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Posts Tagged: Gospel

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.

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Preaching the Gospel We Received

Sep. 8, 2015By: Philemon YongAuthor Bio

[3] For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4ESV).

gospel

 Can One Be Christian without Knowing the Gospel?

 In 2004, I preached at a youth camp in Cameroon, West Africa. One of my messages was titled “The Good News of Salvation.”  I began by asking  a series of questions, which follow with the answers the attendees gave:

Is the gospel message necessary for salvation?  Answer, “Yes!!”

You mean you cannot be saved without the gospel?  Answer, “Right!”

So you cannot be a Christian without understanding and believing the gospel?  Answer,

“Absolutely correct!!” 

Are you a Christian?  Answer, “Yes.” 

Do you believe the gospel?  “Yes, we do.”

What is the gospel, then? ---------  Unfortunately, I was met with blank stares.  No clue how to articulate the answer. They could not outline the gospel message.

This is troubling for two reasons: 1) These well-meaning young people believe that they are Christians and heading to heaven. 2) Yet, they do not know what the gospel is. So the question remains: can one be a Christian without knowing the gospel?

 The Problem

This experience highlights a problem in many mission contexts. While the church exists in terms of numbers, it is deficient in terms of the gospel message. If one asks people in the vicinity of the church, “What is the message of the church,” what will the answer be? If you were to ask members of the church what they believed in order to be saved, will there be a clear statement of the gospel centering around the death and resurrection of Christ? In most cases, one looks in vain. We need to pay attention to the gospel we preach, to put in place means of preserving it through the years so that future generations will not be in doubt as to what the gospel is. This is the task of the missionary. To bring the gospel to a people, preach it clearly, and train others to carry on the task of proclaiming the gospel as they received it. 

 

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A Plea For Gospel Sanity in Missions – From East to West (Part 2).

Feb. 27, 2015By: Aubrey SequeiraAuthor Bio

Editors Note: This post is one in a three part series. You can read the first article here.

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I sit there, intrigued, as I listen to the man’s story. We are in an important (and extremely unreached) city in North India. Detail upon intricate detail mounts as he narrates the amazing events that caused him to renounce Sikhism for Christianity. I listen intently as he tells us of the healing his mother received from a life-threatening illness, his subsequent rise from rags to riches, the persecutions he has faced, and most importantly, the supernatural vision in which he saw a figure cloaked in white who squeezed his hand and told him “I will bless you.” 

He rubs his moistened eyes, wiping away tears…and then he tells us that though it has been over 20 years now, he can still feel the hand of that otherworldly figure squeezing his hand today. My Western friends listen, some of them wary, but a couple of them, enthralled… 

My Indian co-laborer nudges me as we listen. We are all too familiar with the gimmick—this is something we’ve seen and heard many times before. The man finishes his story, and one of my Western friends, a sincere brother—in fact, one who is fairly solid in his theology—remarks, “Wow! Praise God! That’s such an awesome testimony brother!” 

Inwardly, I feel flabbergasted! How is it that even people who know their Bibles and understand the Gospel well get duped by this stuff?! Isn’t the complete absence of the gospel in his testimony obvious?? 

My Indian friend and I begin to explain to the man about the true forgiveness of sins that only Jesus can provide, about Christ’s death and resurrection and his sin-bearing substitutionary sacrifice on the cross…he looks puzzled, for he has no idea what we’re talking about! All he knows is that “Jesus is the only god who will bless you.” That’s why he became a Christian. That’s why he became a pastor. And he’s been a pastor for 20 years! He used to be a poor Sikh, but now he’s driving a posh SUV as a “Christian bishop.” He drives us to his “church” building, a multi-story mega-church that seats 3000, and tells us that he’s the “bishop” over a ministry that plants several hundred churches every six months. But one could replace the name “Jesus” everywhere in his testimony with the name of any other god, and it wouldn’t make a difference… 

And to make matters worse, this “bishop” has a Western missionary, totally taken in by his story, functioning almost like his foot-servant. Why not, since the missionary can report back all this bishop’s numbers as his own! 

In my previous post, I talked about the evil fruit that results from a craze for numbers and “rapid growth” in missions in India. In this post, I want to focus on a second major problem—the West’s enchantment with the “supernatural.” My intent here is not to enter into the debate over whether God still operates supernaturally or not. Rather, I hope to alert my brothers and sisters in the West to the dangers of being allured by sensational stories that are devoid of the biblical gospel message. I also hope to call my brethren in both India and the West to keep the gospel message central in all our gospel work, and to prize the power God’s Holy and Authoritative Word above all else. 

Has the Holy Spirit Migrated from West to East? 

The Beatles. Madonna. Julia Roberts. Eat, Pray, Love. College students without a job. One can think of a long list of people in the West who are fascinated with the otherworldliness of Eastern spirituality. And this trend has found its way into the Church as well. I’ve grown weary of hearing it over and over: “We Western Christians are so narrow-minded. We put God in a box! We place limits on what he can do. That’s why we don’t see God work supernaturally here like he does in the East.” Many of my brothers and sisters in the West have bought into this false idea that the Western church is devoid of the Holy Spirit’s supernatural work today—while the third member of the Trinity is greatly active in the East, in places like India and China, where people are purportedly seeing dreams and visions and miracles are happening all over the place. In the West, people are fascinated and allured by all the amazing testimonies and reports they hear from what is happening “out there” on the mission field. 

But sadly, this fascination with the “supernatural” is often accompanied with a loss of discernment. At times, Westerners get so googly-eyed with sensational stories from the East that they don’t even notice the non-existence of any form of the gospel message.

Westerners get so googly-eyed w/ sensational stories that they don’t notice the absence of the Gospel. - Tweet this 

Beloved friends, Wake Up! The Holy Spirit has not transferred locations! He is just as active in the West as He is anywhere else in the world, doing what He has been sent to do—empowering witness to Christ (John 15:26–27; Acts 1:16; 1 Pet 1:12); convicting the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8); leading the church into all truth (John 16:13); glorifying Christ by drawing people from darkness to light as the gospel message is proclaimed (2 Cor 3:12–4:6); and sealing God’s people for the Day of Redemption (Eph 1:13). 

Oh that we would recognize that the greatest, most supernatural work of God is when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of sinners to the glory of Christ, regenerating and renewing them through the proclamation of the gospel, so that they are transferred out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith! Do we not realize that the Spirit of God is sovereign and active, accomplishing this work in every place where Christ is faithfully proclaimed from the Scriptures? 

I know of so many dear brothers and sisters in the West whose testimony goes something like this: “I grew up in a Christian home. From my youngest years, my parents taught me the Bible. My parents loved the Lord. They pointed me to Christ and told me of his sacrificial death on behalf of sinners. I was very young when I heard the gospel, repented of my sins, and trusted Christ for salvation. And so I’ve grown up almost all my life knowing the Lord.” Beloved friends, is this less glorious or less supernatural in any way? Is this not a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power to raise dead sinners to life? Have we forgotten the glory of the gospel? Have we forgotten that all heaven celebrates when one sinner comes to repentance? 

Let us not emphasize other things, for this has disastrous consequences…

The Fabrication of Testimonies that Titillate 

In my last post, I talked about the corruption prevalent in ministries in India owing to an emphasis on numbers in the West—Inflated numbers and false reports of great revivals are generated in order to bring in Western cash. Likewise, the West’s fascination with sensational stories has a similar corrosive effect—testimonies are fabricated in order to dazzle and daze Western believers into generously giving financial support. And once again, I am sorry to say that my Western friends—even the theologically sound ones—are gullible. 

In India, I have encountered professing Indian believers who don’t say much to me by way of testimony—why would they, since I am just a fellow Indian. But these very people, when they meet a Westerner, as soon as they see white skin, are quick to narrate stories of dreams, visions, and amazing supernatural experiences. 

On more than one occasion, I have had the heartbreaking experience of meeting churches and believers in the West who have had the awful experience of being duped by Indian “ministries.” For instance, one Indian “evangelist” hoodwinked a whole network of churches with his fantastic testimony: 

He claimed to have been raised as a religious Hindu, and his family owned a snake that they worshipped daily. As an adult, he was gripped with religious fervor and zeal for Hinduism. He was on his way to attack and kill Christians when he saw a vision of Christ that halted him, and brought him to tears. He then became a Christian, resolving to proclaim the faith he once persecuted, and despite being rejected by his family and friends, he is following Christ and serving him as an evangelist. 

Several churches and ministries supported this “man of God,” only to later learn that the entire story was made up! This man actually grew up as the son of a pastor in a “Christian home,” and fabricated this testimony because he learned that it is only testimonies like this that generate support from the West. And let me assure you that this story is not an isolated case! There are many, many others like this one… and in every case, my Western brothers and sisters are quick to be amazed—and sadly—deceived. 

Such deception could be avoided by exercising more caution and discernment—by verifying every detail of such testimonies (especially in view of its extraordinary details) on the account of eye-witnesses; and by carefully checking if the person understands the biblical gospel and prizes it above such experiences.  

The Propagation of the Prosperity “Gospel”

 When Western believers unwittingly get carried away with sensational stories of the supernatural, not only does corruption thrive in India, but so does false teaching. Even churches and believers who decry the evils of the heretical prosperity gospel actually promote its growth in India. How? By endorsing and supporting ministries in India that emphasize great miracles while teaching the anti-gospel health-and-wealth doctrine. Because the ministries in India that emphasize great miracles are also those that most often teach the anti-gospel health-and-wealth doctrine. They do not begin with the biblical gospel, so we should not be surprised to find that the content of their ministries is not the biblical gospel! Yes, it’s true. And this is also tied to the craze for numbers: the “prosperity gospel” prospers, and brings in the people by the droves. It thus boasts of both supernatural “miracles” and big numbers.  

Let’s Put the Emphasis in the Right Place

My brothers and sisters, the only way for true gospel growth to happen in India is for us to remember how gospel growth comes—through the Gospel! The Gospel proclaims that all people everywhere have sinned and rebelled against God our Creator and stand justly condemned under his holy judgment; but God graciously saves sinners through his Son Jesus Christ, who lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death on the cross as a substitute for sinners, and was raised from the dead, so that all who repent of their wickedness and trust in him alone receive full forgiveness of sins and eternal life through him. The Story of God’s great and supernatural plan of salvation must take precedence over all other “supernatural stories.”

Let us not get carried away by stories of dreams and visions, but let us stand firm on the bedrock of the inspired Word of God. Even the apostle Peter, who was an eye-witness to the glory of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, who heard the very voice of God and saw with his own eyes the Son of God in all his majestic glory, tells us that we have something more sure than his experience. Something “more fully confirmed, to which we would do well to pay attention”—the Bible (2 Pet 1:16–21). 

The faithful Indian co-laborers that I know, who sincerely work for true gospel growth in the hardest regions of India do one simple thing when anyone comes to them with stories of a dream or vision or anything else. Open God’s Word. Point them to the Bible. Remind them that such “supernatural” occurrences might be shaky and uncertain, but the Scripture is steadfast and true. Do we thank God for dreams, visions, supernatural healings, deliverances and any other special acts of God’s providence that glorify Christ? Absolutely. But the most supernatural work of all is when the Holy Spirit brings people to submit to the Supernatural Book.

My brothers and sisters in the West, will you hear me out? In your support of gospel work in India, will you be discerning and resolve not to get carried away by the sensational stuff? Will you remember that the proclamation of the gospel and the teaching of the Scriptures are what produces a people conformed to Christ’s image? Will you ensure that any “gospel work” that you endorse or support is founded on the message of Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners, the gospel of repentance and faith, and God’s Holy and Inspired Word? I pray that you will. 

So the next time you hear a testimony from India (or anywhere), be careful to discern whether the person has truly understood the gospel. And be careful to ensure that God receives the glory above all else for his marvelous supernatural work in saving lost sinners. 

 In my next post, I will address another burning issue in missions in India—“contextualization.”

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Will the Diffusion of Evangelicalism Spell It’s Disintegration?

Feb. 9, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

The conclusion of The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott

If the global diffusion of evangelicalism proves eventually to have transmuted into the global disintegration of evangelicalism, it will not be because of the philosophical and hermeneutical boldness of a few post- conservative evangelical theologians in the North. It will rather be because in the explosive popular Christianity of the southern hemisphere the balance will have been tipped away from a Bible-centered gospel that, while being properly holistic, still holds to the soteriological centrality and ethical normativity of the cross, towards a form of religious materialism that subordinates the cross to a crude theology of divine blessing reduced to the promise of unlimited health and wealth here and now. In the majority world the sharpest challenge confronting believers in the message of the atoningFocuslogofc6e12f923 power of the cross derives not from Enlightenment scepticism but from the daily realities of endemic poverty, hunger, pandemic disease and structural injustice. In cultures in which the traditional role of religious rituals and specialists was to provide power to ward off sickness and evil, Pentecostal versions of evangelicalism that give central place to the victory of Christ and power of the Spirit have proved immensely attractive. The question is whether such deeply inculturated variants of Christianity will succeed in grounding the message of the victory of Christ over the powers of darkness in a biblical eschatology that recognizes that the full establishment of the kingdom of God is still to come. The battle for the integrity of the gospel in the upcoming years of the twenty-first century is being fought not primarily in the lecture rooms of North American seminaries but in the shanty towns, urban slums and villages of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

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Who are the Weary and Heavy Laden in Matthew 11:28?

Jan. 17, 2014By: Philemon YongAuthor Bio

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

In the previous post I argued that the people invited to come to Jesus in Matthew 11:28 are believers. In this post I want to look at what makes them weary and burdened. The teachings of Jesus call his followers to live lives that are different than the standards of the world. In doing so, they will face persecution and suffer. Here are some examples of the kind of people who will suffer in following Jesus.

These are people described in the sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-10): the poor in spirit (who know that the kingdom belongs to them); those who mourn now (knowing that comfort awaits them); those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (they will be satisfied in the future); those who are pure in heart (something that comes through the labor of pursuing holiness); the peacemakers; those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness; those who are insulted and persecuted and have all kinds of false things said against them because they belong to Jesus. These people are laboring and Jesus is inviting them to COME.

The people invited are those who labor to let their light shine in the world so that people will see their good works and glorify God (Matt 5:16); the one who, while presenting their offering realize that someone has something against them, leaves his offering and goes and is reconciled with the brother (5:23-24); it is the person who does not resist an evil person; and when sued for a shirt, gives his coat also (5:39-42); those invited are those who labor to love their enemies and pray for those who mean them harm (5:43-47); it it is the people who are striving to be perfect just as their heavenly Father is perfect (5:48).

The people invited are those who fast but do not let their fasting be noticed by men,  (which is hard to do (6:16-18). It includes those who work hard not to store up treasures on earth, but invest in the Kingdom (6:21). And those who are not anxious about tomorrow but trust God to provide for their needs (6:25-34), and last but not the least, those who take up their cross and follow Jesus (10:38).

These are examples of people who live lives different from the world. The reason is that they are followers of Jesus. Leaving the world behind and turning to Jesus, embracing the life of the Kingdom, does not make life easy. On the contrary, it makes life more difficult because you have to do things like turning the other cheek, going two miles when asked to go one, giving a person your coat when he is trying to take away your shirt, not resisting the evil person etc.

To live this life as a Christian is to labor. It weighs on you and you feel tired. Jesus says to you, “Come to me . . . and I will give you rest.”   

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