Summary: USING LEGENDS TO EVANGELIZE ACROSS CULTURES
USING LEGENDS TO EVANGELIZE ACROSS CULTURES
Introduction - Every society is proud of its traditions, culture, and historical discoveries. When I first came to Africa it amazed me at what reverence the people gave to the stories of past. Parents told legends about Joseph and his brothers to their children for instruction on how to live peacefully within the family. Teachers used fables about the tortoise and the rabbit to tell their students about the benefits of steady persistence. Even politicians used tidbits of errors to avoid in the history of former republics to persuade people to vote for them.
All of these traditions were told with such emotional fervency that it struck me of the near sanctity in legends. It was almost as if the survival of people depended on the understanding of what had happened in the past. Coming from a present and future oriented Western society this seemed like "backwards orientation" to life. However, after ten years of teaching 64 different subject in an African theological seminary, I have learned the value of using legends in teaching, preaching, leading, exhorting, counselling, as well as introducing change. In Africa it seems that using sagas in conversations is a culturally accepted way to use former precedents to determine, guide, and validate truth.
The dilemma most African Christians face in communicating revolves around the way in which African Traditional Religions should be integrated with Christianity. John Mbiti believes that African Traditional religions are largely but not entirely compatible with Christianity. He is of the continuity school that sees matters of common ground in belief of God, continuation of life after death, spiritual beings, the works of God etc. Although Mbiti acknowledges other areas of incompatibility such as magic, sorcery, and divination, he is of the view that there are many issues that lie between and which should not be detrimental to the Christian faith. It is this area of common ground that Mbiti advocates researching. (Mbiti, Crucial Issues in Missions Today, p. 151)
One of the guiding considerations in looking for this common ground is rooted in scripture. Writing in Rom. 2:14-15 to some arrogant Jews who refused to accept the Gentiles acceptance into God’s family Paul says,
"Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them."
Paul is teaching us that there are moral people in Africa who show us that the laws of God are not just written on stone or found in the writings of the Old Testament or the New Testament. In effect the law was given to Israel as a statement of God’s moral and spiritual requirements for everyone. The Moral Gentiles of Paul’s day proved by their moral actions that they had the law of God written in their hearts. This was confirmed by their consciences or the faculty within everyone that governs our actions, thoughts, emotions, and responses. Their thoughts either accused them or tried to excuse them of their sins.
Conscience is not an absolute indicator of what is true as it has been affected by the fall of man.
We must remember that Satan was the operating agent to introduce sin into the world. He came to Eve when she was apart from her husband as an indication of the lost strength through separation or disunity. She subtracted from God’s word and distorted its meaning by interpreting it according to her selfish interests. She toned down the word of God as God said, You will surely die, but Eve said, "Lest you die." She emphasized wisdom over truth.
Just as many African Traditional Religions present new ideas, so did Satan subtly introduce false or partial truths through legal appetites, desires for greatness, and through inclinations for power. He told the woman in Gen. 3:4, "You will not surely die, For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Not only did Satan accuse God of having unworthy motives, but he tried to distort the truth of God’s words. He spoke half truths to Eve. Truly her eyes were opened, but the result was quite different from what the devil promised. As a result all men became sinners through their human natures. They realized their naked shame and realized that they were separated from God. Sin divides man and distorted his thinking as it makes him at enmity with God. As a result the whole world lies under condemnation, the curse of death, and the struggle with our sin nature.