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The Gospel, Christians and Culture

Greg Strand – February 6, 2015 Leave a comment

One of the significant discussion and pressure points for Evangelicals is how we understand and engage in culture. In a previous day, Fundamentalists separated from it, while Liberals (speaking theologically) accommodated to it.

The gospel creates a new person (Jn. 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:14-16) who becomes part of a new community (Matt. 16:18), an eschatological, end-time community that exists now in the present time through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This community manifests a gospel grounded, formed and framed culture that influences and impacts the world around them. Although Christians are in the world, they are not of the world (Jn. 17) which means they are not squeezed into its mold (Rom. 12:1-2). Rather, having been transformed by the gospel (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 12:2; Phil. 3:21) they influence and impact the culture.

Harold Netland, Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Intercultural Studies at TEDS, and a former ReachGlobal missionary to Japan, and Gerald R. McDermott, Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion, Roanoke College, were interviewed about their recently co-authored book, A Trinitarian Theology of Religions: An Evangelical Proposal. There is much to glean in the interview, and even more in the book. However, there was one response that was an excellent reminder about Christians and culture, and how we are to understand the gospel and its relation to culture.

Netland and McDermott write, “While the gospel can be expressed in any culture, it also judges every culture.” In response to the question “Why is it important to recognize both these truths?,” they replied,

Scholars like Andrew Walls and Lamin Sanneh have drawn attention to the “translatability” of the Christian gospel into diverse cultural settings. Walls speaks of the “indigenizing principle,” which reflects the fact that all Christians (including those within the first-century New Testament church) are embedded within particular historical, linguistic, and cultural settings. God encounters people within these contexts. Thus, the gospel of Jesus Christ can become “at home” within any particular linguistic or cultural setting. Unlike the relationship between Arabic and Islam, there is no single “Christian language” or “Christian culture.”

But the indigenizing principle must be balanced with what Walls calls the “pilgrim principle.” While the gospel can be authentically expressed within any cultural setting, it cannot simply be identified with any culture. The gospel of Jesus Christ transcends and challenges all cultures, reminding believers that they are not to be completely at home in any earthly culture. In this sense it also judges every culture.

A few questions to ponder:

  • What do you find helpful about remembering the two aspects of culture – the “indigenizing principle” and the “pilgrim principle”?
  • What happens if we focus on the “indigenizing principle” and neglect the “pilgrim principle”? Or what happens if we focus on the “pilgrim principle” and neglect the “indigenizing principle”?
  • How has this played out among Evangelicals in our present-day discussion and understanding culture and cultural engagement?

Christians in Iraq

Greg Strand – June 23, 2014 Leave a comment

We read daily reports of the civil war in Iraq. The situation is bad and getting worse. The Islamist terrorists continue to made advances, toppling most things in their path. Iraq is facing its worst crisis since the 2003 war. Much of this devastation is led by ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Group. The most seriously affected is the Christian community.

One report states that “the Christian centre of Iraq has been totally ransacked.” More specifically, “Christians are fleeing severe violence targeting them, including church attacks, killings, robberies, and rapes, and the Christian population in Mosul shrunk from 35,000 to 3,000 in the past decade. In the last week, the remaining Christians fled, according to World Watch Monitor, which analyzes the reasons behind the exodus.”

Canon Andrew White, The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, has ministered faithfully in this region, and he pleads, “We urgently need help and support. … We are in a desperate crisis.” You can read further about this at this link. Though this report is about a week old, it gives you a sense of what they are experiencing. And what it describes has only become worse.

Our Christian brothers and sisters need prayer!