When a missionary leaves his home and travels to another land, he leaves with a message. That message is the gospel message. This is what he or she takes to the people. It is a message worth dying for and worth traveling and living in the most difficult parts of the world so that people will hear. The gospel is our life and because we want others to have that life, we do all we can to help them hear it and own it.
Yet, as the missionary takes this message he faces a difficult question: how will that message be presented in the different cultures in which he will minister? This is not only a question for the missionary. It is also a question for the church he will plant or help build. After he plants a church and leaves, what is the church’s message and how is the church going to present that message in her culture?
The two words, gospel and culture are words that we use often, but it is not always clear how the two relate. As one goes out to proclaim that message in various cultures he must face the question, what is the relation between gospel and culture? Should the gospel condemn culture? Should the gospel be subjected to culture? Should the gospel change with culture? Should the gospel replace culture? Should there be a separate Christian culture within the culture of the people? Or, should the gospel embrace culture as long as doing so does not compromise the purity of the gospel? The answer is not easy because both gospel and culture are important. So, what is the right way to deal with two things that are so important in our lives? Refusing to answer this properly is not an option. One quickly finds himself facing cultural dilemmas as he goes about preaching the gospel message. It is one thing to have a message, but it is another thing to actually deliver that message in a particular context. If care is not taken, a mistake in gospel presentation in any given culture will result in confusion between what is culture and what is gospel.
In the next blog posts, I am going to advance the view that the gospel must come to a people in their own cultural context in order for it to make sense and bring about true transformation (conversion). For example, Africans need to drink the gospel from their African cups, for only then do they own it and find it tasteful. In addressing this topic, I will briefly define gospel and culture; answer the questions, “What is the gospel?” And “What is culture?” Lastly, I will talk about the relationship between the two.