Gospel & Culture blog
The gospel is eternally true, and is for all cultures, right? Yes, but missiologists have discovered that it's a bit more complicated than that. Truth doesn't change, but its significance to you or me will be different that to folks in a different context. Just as the value of pi doesn't change, its significance to a mathematician is different that its significance to a child. In the same way, the significance that Christians find in the good news of the Kingdom of God has varied a bit both geographically and across time.
For example, in the 1950's Billy Graham and Bill Bright (of Campus Crusade) could hold massive events explaining the way to heaven. The truth has not changed, but it is hard to fill a stadium in the USA these days with people who are looking for a way to heaven. In the USA these days, Christians emphasize more how a relationship with God can improve your marriage, give you purpose in life, or lead to happiness.
What significance have other cultures found in the good news? The hope we have in the death and resurrection of Christ is fairly universal for Christians- but there are certain central questions, based on context, that also come in to focus. In Latin America for the past four decades, the role of the gospel in bringing economic and social justice has been a central theological issue. Worldwide, Christians know that living out the gospel means loving neighbor- but Latin American Christian communities have made this a central focus of the gospel. This has also been a focus among Black American theologians, and theologians in south Africa.
In other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, though, the social aspect of the good news has not been focal. Central theological questions have been about the morality of ancestor veneration, how to defeat dark spiritual powers, and how to achieve healing. The good news of Jesus, in this context, is his supremacy over the powers of Satan.
Dyrness (1990) points out that if Latin American theology has emphasized the this-worldly focus of the good news, Asian theology has typically focused on the other-worldly aspect, or has remained fairly philosophical: How is Jesus the ultimate meaning of the universe? Asian Christian theology also emphasizes the way Jesus takes away the shame of our collective sin against God, and has focused a bit less on our personal guilt.
It would be no surprise that Arab Christians must think through the role of Israel- a question that all Christians may be mindful of, but which is a daily felt-reality in the Middle East.
By taking in the global picture of how Christians contextualize the gospel, we can find even deeper significance of the good news. For further reading on the contribution of global theologies:
Anderson, G. and Stransky, T. (1974). Missions Trends 3: Third World Theologies.
Dyrness, W. (1990). Learning about theology from the Third World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Tennent, T. (2007) Theology in the context of world Christianity: How the global church is influencing the way we think about and discuss theology. Zondervan.
© 2015 Kenneth Nehrbass. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor