By Lutic Mosoane.
Whenever we speak about the gospel and culture there is always an unhealthy tension resulting in either the gospel or culture taking precedence. I am not going to solve all the tensions that exist out there but I do want to give you a framework on how to navigate the good as well as the unhelpful things of our cultures through the lens of the gospel.
I was born in a Pedi home where the traditions of our culture are held to high esteem. Since the time I came to understand and believe the gospel, I had to learn quickly on how to navigate my Pedi culture (which I love very much). After 10 years of being a Christian, I am still learning how to navigate cultural things without compromising the gospel. I do not always get the balance right and I find myself having to remember the gospel again and again.
Now there are generally 2 responses to culture that are popular in our day and age. The 1st response is to totally reject everything about our culture. This is very popular amongst my generation and it is considered the easy approach. It results from laziness to think hard about the gospel and to engage in a loving manner. The consequence of this approach is that we fail to be winsome and the people from our culture remain un-engaged by the gospel. A true follower of Jesus should acknowledge that their culture forms a part of who they are and therefore should engage that culture with the gospel.
This response fails to obey the great commission to ‘go therefore and make disciples of all nations…’ Matthew 28:16.
The 2nd popular response is to blend in with the traditions of our culture, in the hope of reaching them with the gospel. This is the safe approach, avoiding any conflict. The sad reality is that the gospel gets compromised. It is unloving to the people we rub shoulders with – not to engage in the true gospel. The danger is that we are not transformed by the truth of the Bible but by what culture says – if you take this approach, you can bet on that happening. What always happens is that we tend to look like the culture and we fail to shine the light of the gospel.
What then? I propose that we need to take a different approach and engage our culture. The nature of our engagement needs to be driven by love and the gospel needs to remain on the agenda. At this point, one might ask, “what is this gospel that we need to engage our culture with?”
The gospel is the proclamation of the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ. That we were once dead in our sins and transgressions and that God came to this world on a mission in the form of a person – Jesus. His mission was to rescue us and he did that by dying for us on a cross. Not only did Jesus die but he physically rose from the dead and he is now reigning over all the earth.
When we trust in what Jesus has done for us, he gives us a new identity and calls us into His family. We now live with Him as our Lord.
Our identity is no longer in our culture, but in the Lord Jesus. It does not mean that I stop being Pedi, but what it does mean is that my first allegiance is to Jesus. In the words of Byang Kato “let African Christians be African Christians”. What it means to me is that I love my culture and I will embrace the beautiful and good things about my culture as long as they don’t clash with the core values of the gospel.
I want to look at Paul’s example from Acts 17:22-31 on engaging culture:
“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘to an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
I want to lift up 3 ‘quick fire’ applications from this passage, which I trust will be helpful to you as you think about engaging your own culture.
1. Engage by finding common ground (v23-24, 28)
Paul begins by finding common ground with spiritual interest. Paul is aware that almost everybody in our culture is interested – everybody is trying to find their spiritual centre. And so there is a great pathway to a conversation. Just say, “do you have any spiritual beliefs? Tell me about those.” Because most people you encounter will have some kind of spiritual opinions. Paul begins at that point. Paul also recognises that they are ignorant about something and that he has got something that can fill in that gap of ignorance. Then he jumps in with the inscription ‘to an unknown god.’ What a set up! He asks, “You’ve got a god that you worship? But you don’t even know His name. Let me introduce Him to you.” And then he begins to tell them the gospel.
I’m not saying that you should become an expert in culture – but you ought to know enough. Read up to find some common ground so that you begin having those spiritual conversations.
2. Engage with biblical truth without referencing the Bible
It is hard for me to suggest that you engage culture without reference to the Bible. I’m fully convinced that the Bible is God’s Word and is able to transform culture. Did you notice, however, that Paul engaged the Athenians using the Gospel, but he never made references the Old Testament Scripture? Why? Because they didn’t believe in the Old Testament Scripture. But mark this – in all his conversations he spoke biblical truth or Old Testament Truth.
3. Engage with the bigger story of the Bible
He goes from Genesis to Revelation. He starts with God as the Creator of all and he ends with God the Judge of all. That is Genesis to Revelation and everything in between. He is weaving through sin and righteousness and judgment—all of those things—speaking biblical truth.
You and I can never underestimate the value and the potential of engaging our cultures with the gospel. You know why? Because this gospel is mighty to save. It is mighty to save people in any unreached people group where we would go—motivated by a jealousy for the Glory of God.