Summary: THREE INTERSECTING ASPECTS OF THE WILL OF GOD SOVEREIGN WISDOM MORAL DIMENSIONS
THREE INTERSECTING ASPECTS OF THE WILL OF GOD
SOVEREIGN WISDOM MORAL
So how does a contextualizer differentiate between what is a moral absolute and what is a cultural ideal that runs contradictory to God’s standards? It seems that the solution is found through discrimatorily discerning what are God’s essential principles in their original context. Second, a contextualizer needs to distinguish the ways in which those principles were communicated in their original cultural context. Third, the contextualizer should consider which elements are cultural values that are supracultural and which are expressions of cultural specifics that are non-essentials. For example, Paul told the Corinthians that a woman should have her head covered during worship services. This aligned with the principles of women demonstrating meekness and submission to the church authorities as representatives of God’s leadership. The Corinthian culture understood that wearing a head covering best expressed this in their culture. So Paul encouraged this practice, but today, many western families look at headcovering as a non-essential or culturally specific directive to the people of that time and context. So a western woman would demonstrate her submission to the church authorities by other means, but with similar attitudes of humility. This gentle and quiet spirit is what God is looking for as Peter reminds us in his letter, not the great attention to externals.
Therefore, a contextualizer seeks to be able to discerningly pick out the ideals of scripture and the ideals of culture and look for parallels. Don Richardson has made popular the redemptive analogy style of contextual evangelism in his book called Peace Child. In working with the Sawi tribe of Papau New Guinea, he discovered the value of analogizing the peace child between two warring villages and Jesus Christ, our chief reconciler between God and men. With this concept he has written numerous articles and books like Eternity in Their Hearts, encouraging others to think in terms of drawing bridges between the ideals hidden in the cultural consciences of people and those of the scripture. Take for example the following instance of a redemptive analogy from Perspectives on page 416 in an article called Concept Fulfillment he writes:
``When a missionary enters another culture, he is conspicuously foreign, and that is to be expected. but often the gospel he preaches is labeled foreign. How can he explain the gospel so it seems culturally right? The New Testament way seems to be through concept fulfillment. Consider:
The Jewish people practiced lamb sacrifice. John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus as the perfect, personal fulfillment of that sacrifice by saying, ``Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’’ This is concept fulfillment.
Nicodemus, a Jewish teacher, knew that Moses had lifted up a serpent of brass upon a pole, so that Jews when dying of snakebite could look at it and be healed.
Jesus promised, ``As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’’
This too is concept fulfillment.
A Jewish multitude, recalling that Moses had provided miraculous manna on a six-a-day-week basis, hinted that Jesus ought to repeat His miracle of the loaves and fishes on a similar schedule.
Jesus replied, ``Moses gave you not the true bread from heaven. The true bread from heaven is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world . . . I am the Bread of Life.’’ Once again concept fulfillment.
When some charged that Christianity was destroying the Jewish culture, the writer to the Hebrews shoed how Christ actually fulfilled all the central elements of Jewish culture - the priesthood, tabernacle, sacrifices, and even the Sabbath Rest. Let’s call these redemptive analogies - looking for their fulfillment in Christ. Their God-ordained purpose was to pre-condition the Jewish mind to recognize Jesus as Messiah.’’
How wonderful it is that our God works within and through human cultures. He bends over backwards to communicate His truth in terms that we not only can understand, but value. His will is best discerned through our experiences as the writer of Hebrews so aptly put it in Hebrews 5:12-14 when he wrote:
``Some of you ought to be teachers by this time but you stand in need of someone to teach you the elementary principles of God’s lessons; you have come to need milk and not solid food. Of course, anyone who feeds on milk is inexperienced in the matter of righteousness, for he an infant. But solid food is for the mature person, for those who faculties have been trained by practice (Several translations use the word experience) to distinguish between good and evil.’’
In other words, the Lord’s methods and message is affected by how the respondent culture will most effectively understand the truth. Therefore, it would be presumptuous for contextualizers to assume that ``God’s word will not return to Him without accomplishing its purposes,’’ (Isa. 55:5-10) and sit and fold their hands fatalistically claiming that the people are just too hard hearted to receive the message. God’s ideals are usually written in supracultural terms such as loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and our neighbor as ourselves. (Luke 10:27) This leaves room for each culture to work out the meaning of that command in terms that makes sense to them. For an American that may means exhibiting an exuberance for understanding systematic and Biblical theology textbooks so that he can be a better preacher. But an African may interpret that to may that he needs to spend more time visiting his members and entertaining visitors while listening patiently to their problems. The American preacher may look at the African Pastor as lazy and undisciplined if he is judging another in terms of his own ideals. While the African Pastor may view the American Pastor as cold, unloving, and inconsiderate of the real problems of people. Both judgments would reflect an ethnocentric bias that belies the ability to see each cultural perception as valid.