[Culture Week] How do we engage our culture with the Gospel?

We’re talking about culture this week, and thinking about one of the most basic and important questions that Christians ask today: how do we engage and challenge our culture with the Gospel of Christ? Society around us is saturated with false and destructive ideas, memes, and values; how do Christians bring the Gospel message to bear in such an environment?

One way to think of the question is to back up and ask it slightly differently. Who do you think of when you think of an outsider bringing the Gospel to an unfamiliar, even alien, culture? Missionaries! That’s right—everyday Christians can learn a lot about proclaiming the Gospel to their culture by looking at the evangelistic example set by missionaries. With that in mind, I’ve tracked down a few articles about missional engagement of culture. What can Joe Average Christian learn from the way that missionaries approach their mission fields?

  • People of the Book is an evangelistic ministry to Muslims culture. Here’s how they describe the way they approach Gospel-hostile cultures; think about how this might apply to the way we witness to our neighbors and coworkers:

    The People of the Book is taking an “insider approach” to working with Muslims. This means that we do not want to harshly extract them from their family and culture. We want them to come to saving faith in Christ, but stay inside their culture to be able to share Christ with family, friends and the rest of the Muslim world.

    If we desire to have an effective ministry to Muslims, we must, in a sense, become as a Muslim to the Muslim world. The goal is to share the Gospel in a way that it can be understood and embraced by them with all their heart and mind. If we do not spend time with them, living among them, how will they ever see the Gospel being lived out in real life?

  • A second item worth reading is a report from Lausanne World Pulse about evangelistic efforts that have—and haven’t—had good results in the culture of Sri Lanka:

    When the missionaries, who were raised in the Western cultures, encountered the Sri Lankan culture, they concluded that it was evil and to be avoided. They not only avoided it, they condemned it, and in AD 1711 passed a law that stated, “Christians participating in the ceremonies of heathenism would be liable to a public whipping and imprisonment in irons for one year.”

    This brought about a deep alienation of all new Christian converts from their culture and families. The converts, desiring modernization and identification with the colonial rulers, assimilated to the new culture.

    This aggressive approach to witnessing to a culture resulted not in spiritual transformation, but in two dead-end behaviors: high-handed condemnation of non-Christian culture by some Christians, and compromise and assimilation by others. Neither action attracted converts to Christianity, let alone had a lasting impact on the culture.

  • Lastly, take a look at this essay by Dave Livermore at Legacy Youth Ministry Resources talking about cross-cultural ministry both home and abroad—note particularly his emphasis on the idea of a “building phase” during which we establish sincere connections to the culture we want to reach, gaining trust and building meaningful relationships rather than diving into an evangelistic pitch right off the bat.

There are obvious differences in the way that a missionary approaches a foreign culture and the way that we, living in our own cultures, interact with our neighbors and friends. But in a sense, Christians are foreign to even the cultures they live in—you’ve probably heard the famous saying that Christians are called to be “in this world, but not of it.” Read through the above missions reports and give some thought to the ways their approach might (or might not) work in your everyday interaction with the culture around you.

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