Living at the Crossroads of the Biblical and Western Story: Faithfulness and RelevanceMichael W. GoheenVancouver, B.C.
Living at the Crossroads
Dilemma of the MissionarySolidarity: Wants to be part of cultureHas good news for them in their settingRejection: Whole of culture distorted by sinful idolatryFundamental incompatibility between Scriptural and cultural storyDanger: Relevance may lead to unfaithfulness; attempts to be faithful may lead to irrelevance
Illustration: Model of Cross-Cultural CommunicationProclaim good news to HinduAdopt language/cultural categories (Tamil)Who is Jesus?Swamy (Lord)? 330m.!Avatar (god incarnate)? No finality!Just tell story? Maya!Kadavul (transcendent god)? Satguru (teacher)? Chit (second member of triad of ultimate reality)? Adipurushan (primal man)? Etc.
Problem!Relevance seems to lead to unfaithfulnessWhat all these answers have in common is that they necessarily describe Jesus in terms of model [story] which embodies an interpretation of experience significantly different from the interpretation which arises when Jesus is accepted as Lord absolutely. (Newbigin)No escape from this tensionRelevant: Must use understandable categoriesFaithful: Must communicate gospel
Caging the GospelThe gospel is like a caged lion; it does not need to be defended, just released.Two sets of bars that cage gospel:Irrelevance: Holding older or foreign forms of the gospel (in attempt to avoid cultural idols)Unfaithfulness: Capitulation to idols of culture (in attempt to be relevant)
Gospel of John:Model of ContextualizationI suppose that the boldest and most brilliant essay in the communication of the gospel to a particular culture in all Christian history is the gospel according to John. Here the language and thought-forms of that Hellenistic world are so employed that Gnostics in all ages have thought that the book was written especially for them. And yet nowhere in Scripture is the absolute contradiction between the word of God and human culture stated with more terrible clarity (Newbigin).
Gospel of John:Model of ContextualizationIn one sense the entire Gospel is a case study in how John recontextualizes the story of Jesus for a new audience and a new generation. . . . The Gospel of John, then, is a shining example of an effort to reexpress the story of Jesus in a new theological idiom and language, thereby enabling it to speak afresh to a new audience and their needs. (Flemming)
In the synoptic gospels the Kingdom of God is:Central image for the Jews
Central image for Jesus
Central image for Matthew, Mark, Luke
In Johns gospel...He employs images popular in classical culture and philosophyE.g., Heaven/earth, life/death, light/darkness, flesh/spirit
Do we have a different gospel?
Do we have a different gospel?
John 1:1,14In the beginning was the logos...
...and the logos became sarx.
Johns employment of the concept [logos] to introduce the story of Jesus was a master-stroke of communication to the world of his day. (Beasley-Murray)
New translation or articulation of the gospel is both:Relevant: He uses language of classical dualism familiar to hearersFaithful: Challenges the idolatry of the classical dualism
Subversive FulfillmentorChallenging RelevanceFulfills religious longing for order and origin [relevant]Subverts and challenges idolatrous understanding [faithful]
New Testament ContextualizationThe conclusion that we derive from the New Testament, the book that contains the expression of the revelation in its concrete conflict and intermingling with the Jewish and Hellenistic world of religion and civilization, is that the religion of revelation stands in revolutionary contrast to this concrete Jewish and Hellenistic world, but at the same time freely uses its ideas and thought-forms to express itself, and so Christian truth experiences its first incarnation (Kraemer).
True ContextualizationBridge-building and contrast-making (Kraemer)Relevance and challenge (Newbigin)
Contextualization . . .Often considered to be only how to be relevant, build-bridges, meet felt needs, etc. Also challenging idols!
Paul . . . calmly uses the terminology of the naturalist and sacramental mysticisms of the mystery-religions and thereby forcefully expresses the opposite character of the prophetic religion of revelation. He does not bother about making contrasts or building bridges, but he is entirely absorbed in expressing the truth and so reveals gulfs and bridges at the same time. . . . Again Paul uses these terms and ideas freely to express forcefully the revelation in Christ, the exact opposite of what these mystery-religions were seeking after (Kraemer).
John and the worldWorld: Pagan culture shaped by idolatryOverstated by Robert Gundry: John not only leaves the world outside the scope of Jesus praying and loving. He also describes the world as full of sin; as ignorant of God, Gods Son, and Gods children; as opposed to and hateful of Gods Son and Gods children; as rejoicing over Jesus death; as dominated by Satan; and as subject to Gods wrath. In the only one of the four gospels to mention the incarnation, then, the world looks wholly negative. . . . The Fourth Gospel is unalterably countercultural . . .
World in JohnWorld: Pagan culture shaped by idolatryHow can the language categories of the world be used?World: Place of missional involvement
In but not of the world. . . there is a tension in Johns Gospel between separation from the world and missional involvement in the world, a tension faced by the church in every generation. True, the world is a dangerous place and Satan is its ruler (John 12:31), but it is also the object of Gods redemptive love (John 3:16). The disciples do not belong to the world but they are sent into the world on Jesus own saving mission (John 17:15, 18; 20:21). [Flemming]
In the world but not of itI have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. - John 17:14-18Jesus Prayer for His Disciples
Cross as ModelThe Cross is in one sense an act of total identification with the world. But in another sense it is an act of radical separation. It is both of these at the same time. (Newbigin)
Cross as ModelWe must always, it seems to me, in every situation, be wrestling with both sides of this reality: that the Church is for the world against the world. The Church is against the world for the world. The Church is for the human community in that place, that village, that city, that nation, in the sense that Christ is for the world. And that must be the determining criterion at every point (Newbigin)
Importance of Unbearable TensionThe deeper the consciousness of the tension and the urge to take this yoke upon itself are felt, the healthier the Church is. The more oblivious of this tension the Church is, the more well established and at home in this world it feels, the more it is in deadly danger of being the salt that has lost its savour (Kraemer).
Reasons we do not feel this tensionFragmentation of Scriptural storyComfortable co-habitation in seemingly harmless [Christian? Neutral?] cultureChristendom mindset accepting private role
Missionarys Inner DialogueWay of being in the culture; state of mindDesire to live in both worlds fullyFaithfulness to Biblical storyViews all of culture through lens of ScriptureSeeks to discern idolatrous twisting of words, institutions, cultural practices, etc.Seeks to discern good creational structure
Romans 12.1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Gods mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Godthis is true worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Gods will is--his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Model for whole Christian lifeThis model of contextualization in cross-cultural communication is . . .NOT JUST FOR COMMUNICATION OF THE GOSPELFOR ALL OF HUMAN LIFE!
Two levels of contextualizationSocial and cultural institutions/ practices/ customs
Foundational story or cultural beliefs
Foundational Beliefs of ModernityInsight and IdolatryProgressHumanismRationalismScientismTechnicismIndividualism
Foundational Beliefs TodayInsight and IdolatryDisillusionment and suspicionPluralismConsumerismNon-rational anthropologySpiritualismEcological concernEgalitarian
Contrast CommunityA community of justice in a world of economic and ecological injusticeA community of generosity and simplicity (of enough) in a consumer worldA community of selfless giving in a world of selfishnessA community of truth (humility and boldness) in a world of relativismA community of hope in a world of disillusionment and consumer satiationA community of joy and thanksgiving in a world of entitlementA community who experiences Gods presence in a secular world
Questions:What idols (modern or pm) do we need to oppose? [antithetical stance]What creational insight is being idolized and needs to be embraced? [affirmative stance]
Contextualization in . . .Communal church lifeMission in the world