“What would be involved in a genuinely missionary encounter between the gospel and this modern western culture?” –Lesslie Newbigin (Foolishness to the Greeks, p 3)
When I began this blog I worked at the large office where I had been told by more than one of my colleagues that I was the only evangelical they knew. I’ve since moved to small town ministry–a town with only one small, aging evangelical church. In both environments I find myself engaging cultures with little or no evangelical presence or gospel awareness.
My hope and intention is to use this blog to share readings and other resources I have found helpful on gospel, culture, and ministry in these settings.
As Lesslie Newbigin points out, “The primary action of the Church in the world is the action of its members in their daily work [in their several vocations]” (The Study of Evangelism, p 51).
my theological influences.
I know one of the first answers I look for when I find a new website is what theological perspective the author comes from. My theology has been especially influenced by the Wesleyan, Reformed, and Anabaptist Christian traditions; the local church I am a part of is non-denominational, but would be closest to CMA (or baptist). The theologians who have most influenced my contributions to this site are Lesslie Newbigin, NT Wright (especially on eschatology), and Greg Boyd.
Alan Hirsch has written, “The time has come for us in the West to learn that all of our attempts to communicate the gospel are now cross cultural” (The Forgotten Ways, 1st ed., p 58), and:
“Alpha (evangelistic groups), evangelistic services, and friendship evangelism will reach within our own cultural framework, but are seldom, if ever, effective beyond it. … To reach beyond significant cultural barriers we are going to have to adopt a missionary stance in relation to the culture.” (p 62)
“The world is not free as it thinks it is. We are not honest inquirers seeking the truth. … We are by nature idolaters, constructing images of truth shaped by our own desires.” –Lesslie Newbigin (Proper Confidence, p 69)
I think the most prominent idol in our culture is the ideology of capitalism and consumerism. As Lesslie Newbigin wrote, “We have to reject the ideology of capitalism as incompatible with the gospel” (Mission in Christ’s Way, p 8), and:
“The ideology of the free market has proved itself more powerful than Marxism. It is, of course, not just a way of arranging economic affairs. It has deep roots in the human soul. It can be met and mastered only at the level of religious faith, for it is a form of idolatry. The churches have hardly begun to realize that this is probably their most urgent missionary task during the coming century.” (The Open Secret, p 94-95)
Missiologist Alan Hirsch has likewise written of consumerism:
“[M]ake no mistake, we are surrounded by the claims of false gods in our own way as the many gods clamor for our loyalties and lives as well—not the least of these the worship of wealth and the associated gods of consumerism.” (The Forgotten Ways, 1st ed., p 97)
. . .
“Consumerism has all the distinguishing traits of outright paganism—we need to see it for what it really is.” (111)
. . .
“We must initiate a thoroughly prophetic challenge to consumerism’s overarching control on our lives. ….we are dealing with a deeply entrenched alternative religious system to which Jesus’s disciples need to model an alternative reality.” (112)
where is the church growing?
One last consideration: we know the church is growing—fast—in the global south and east, with few exceptions (see, for ex, Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity). On the other hand, in the West the church is seeing decline.
Back in 1987, Newbigin wrote:
“If one looks at the world scene from a missionary point of view, surely the most striking fact is that, while in great areas of Asia and Africa the church is growing, often growing rapidly, in the lands which were once called Christendom it is in decline; and, moreover, wherever the culture of the West, under the name of “modernization,” penetrates, it carries with it what Lippmann, called “the acids of modernity,” dissolving the most enduring of religious beliefs including the beliefs of Christians. Surely there can be no more crucial question for the world mission of the church than the one I have posed.
Can there be an effective missionary encounter with this culture—this so powerful, persuasive, and confident culture which (at least until very recently) simply regarded itself as “the coming world civilization.” Can the West be converted?” (PDF link)
If our goal is to reach all nations with the message of the gospel of Jesus, we often forget that it is our own culture to which we most desperately must turn our minds.