Summary: Using Comparisons Between The Traditional versus Progressive Outlooks in Cross-Cultural Evangelism
Using Comparisons Between The Traditional versus Progressive Outlooks in Cross-Cultural Evangelism
Introduction - Throughout the world there is a growing trend towards more effective - contextual evangelistic approaches. Increasing evidences of God using preaching that draws from people’s experiences, stories, and real life problems is producing results never before thought possible in such short time with certain audiences, but not with others. With an emphasis on "possibility faith that makes all things possible with God," there is an awakening going on in churches across denominational, ethnic, and social stratus. However, much of this excitement is largely centered in certain camps of the Christian world - why?
Perhaps much of the effort of contextualizing the Biblical message has neglected the philosophical assumptions of the people. It is understood that contextualization involves a knowledge of both the philosophical interpretation of the message and its audiences perspectives. The contextualizer needs to understand the basic metaphysical, epistemological, and axiological presuppositions of the people in order to maximize understanding of the message.
All kinds of contextualization (Translation, applications, correlations, observations, explanations, and interpretations of events) should be faithful to the nature of the scriptures. However, this does not mean that a communicator can neglect the methods that make the message most compelling in the minds of the audience.
For example, Africans love stories and proverbs. Jesus communicated at least one-third of His teaching through stories and proverbs. These allow for a common philosophical vehicle of communicating truth close to the heart of most Africans. Jesus uses a rich display and profound respect for symbols such as in the parable of the sower and the seeds from Mark 4:1-22. He espouse an epistemology that takes as its starting point participation in the struggle to survive, prosper, and avoid the natural enemies of life through farming. He begins where the people are at socially, economically, educationally, physically, spiritually, as well as philosophically.
Beginning with the doctrines of Paul’s epistle to the Romans would not fit the philosophical pattern of most Africans’ outlooks as well as the stories of Jesus. By paying close attention to the philosophical patterns of the people we seek to communicate across cultures to, we will enhance the appeal of the scriptures through a multi-dimensional approach.
Similarly, there seems to be a problem with the philosophical emphasis in contextualizing one’s ministry cross culturally. Trying to balance the ministry of truth and grace has always been a struggle for the church. When one puts too much emphasis on the pursuit of truth there is a subtle neglect of its gracious applications. However, stressing pragmatical applications without a thorough grasp of the full implications of truth is like firing a gun without aiming. Since decision-making is only as good as the information upon which it is based, truth must always proceed practice.
For example, even Jesus taught, "If you know the truth, the truth will set you free." (John 8:31) Here Jesus found Jews that paid attention to His sayings without bothering to commit themselves to Him personally. Just as it is possible to believe in a message without repenting and coming to a knowledge of the truth.
To continue in the truth is a sure sign that one has been transformed - regenerated through a new birth in Christ. If people really grasp His truth they will liberate themselves by obeying it implicitly and explicitly. Those who continued in the truth would then be real fishers of men (Matt. 4:19) and those who would be co-laborers in the Lord’s vineyard. To fail to continue seeking His kingdom will be a real indication that they failed to follow completely the truth and its author. (Matt. 6:33) Somewhere there had to be a philosophy of religion that could embrace these essential balances between truth and practice.
A Case Study Comparing Two Seminaries Using Traditional Philosophical Approaches Versus Two Seminaries Using Progressive Ones In Nigeria.
Ten years ago I began to research four seminaries in Nigeria to determine the effectiveness of their curricula for theological teacher training for my Ph.D. dissertation. Now it is apparent that the findings of the dissertation can be applied as well to improving the training of cross-cultural communicators as well as educators. What started out as a search for effective practice led me to discover a philosophy of religion that embraced the balance between truth and practice. The more I reflected on the results of the research, the more it became clear that effectiveness in training theological educators correlated with greater facility in cross-cultural evangelism and church planting. The same schools that scored high on the theological teacher training criteria were the ones that produced the best missionaries and planted the most churches. Conversely, the schools that performed lowest on the criteria for effective theological teacher training were the ones who produced poor quality missionaries and a dismally small number of new churches. The progressive schools planted 102 churches during the seven years of observation while the traditional seminaries only planted three. Added to this the graduates of the traditional schools seemed to face far greater problems with membership attrition in their churches than the graduates of progressive schools. While the traditional graduates stressed preservation of the truth and emphasized maintenance of historic Christian values. The progressive graduates focused on qualitative and quantitative growth of the church. Some reason had to be found for the vast philosophical differences in emphasis on application of truth in these two schools.