Nothing new under the sun
It can’t have escaped your notice – and if it has, where’ve you been? – that we’re living in a post-modern age. You don’t have to understand the term, spend any time analysing the philosophical idea or even care, but you’ll recognise the characteristics of the culture.
Individualism, consumerism, relativism, pragmatism, spiritual subjectivism, nowism – ‘we want it all and we want it now’ –are features (or should that be symptoms?) of a PO-MO culture (that’s post-modern to you and me!) We engage with them on a daily basis. No, more than that, we’re immersed in them and generally subjected to them from all directions 24/7.
As much as we’d like to be unaffected by their influence we pretty much can’t help it; we’re a product of post-modernity and being the passionate, theological and missionally-minded Christ-followers we are this is a problem. How do we share the good news of the necessary and saving work of Jesus Christ in a culture that has no need of a saviour? How do we talk about forgiveness and atonement with a culture that scorns absolutes? And how do we talk about justification and sanctification in a culture that no longer has a vocabulary for it…?
I read that the Evangelical Alliance has begun an initiative asking how we should contextualise the message of the gospel for the 21st century, exploring what it should sound like and how we can communicate it to different sectors of society. How do we bring the whole gospel to the whole world? Exactly what our question should be:
“How do we frame and phrase the gospel to be all things to all people?”
We know the gospel is true and true for all people. The challenge is making it relevant to everyone without changing its central message or compromising the character of God. An unbalanced emphasis on ‘God is love’ leads to universalism; inclusiveness without righteousness leads to the redefinition of marriage…
As real as it may seem – ‘I feel it so it must be true!’ – it’s misguided to think it’s harder than ever to win the lost. Many even say it’s easier in an age of spiritual seeking and acceptance of any and every ‘truth’. What we forget is that every culture from the dawn of time has had its own challenges: biblical polytheism and infanticide; religious oppression and martyrdom; modernist if-it-can’t-be-experienced-it-doesn’t-exist empiricism; romantic I-am-how-I-feel-and-what-I-feel-is- truth emotionalism…need I say more?
For millennia the church has needed to frame and phrase the gospel in relevant ways. Paul did it quoting a Greek poem about Zeus on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31 and Jesus was the master at it: ‘new life’ with Nicodemus (John 3:1-16), and ‘living water’ with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-26). Check out Sheila’s blog about Jesus healing the blind man with mud (John 9:1-12) and the significance this would have had for both Jews and Gentiles!
No culture is beyond God
Don’t doubt that we can speak those kairos words. Remember that our desire to engage with our culture, PO-MO or otherwise, is an overflow of the very heart of God. Our passion to see lives saved and changed is an outworking of His abundant love so how can we not expect that He will speak to us and through us to save His world? We are ones upon whom He has poured out His Spirit to speak His words (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18).
There is nothing new under the sun, God has seen it all: every cultural peculiarity, every barrier, every excuse and He has an answer every time. God can whisper into the innermost parts of each and every being and meet the needs that nothing else can reach. Carlsberg eat your heart out! It is through His people – us – that He does it. We are God’s agency on earth.
An understanding of culture is impressive, the study of theology is wonderful, grappling with apologetic arguments is great, an understanding of Scripture is essential, but a relationship with the living, loving, ever-communicating God is indispensable. To live a prophetic lifestyle and to effectively speak into culture, any culture, means to listen to the one who made it all and ask Him for the words to speak.
The Lord said to [Moses], “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go;I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” Exodus 4:11-12