In our last blog, we closed by posing several questions:
In this blog, we address the first of these, albeit in an abbreviated fashion. For fuller consideration and treatment of these topics, please consult the resources available through the Newbigin Center for the Study of Indigenous Missions (www.unfinishedtask.org/resources).
Conversion is worldview shift, meaning that cross-cultural evangelism is essentially an effort to introduce change into a specific culture. As a result, it is helpful to consider what is meant by culture. In ordinary speech we use the term “culture” to refer to the behavior of the rich and famous. It is listening to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, having the proper taste for good clothes, and knowing which fork to use at a banquet. However, anthropologists in their study of mankind in all parts of the world and all levels of society, have broadened the concept of “culture” and freed it from value judgments, such as good and bad. A good working definition is the one proposed by Paul G. Hiebert: “Culture is the more or less integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas and products characteristic of a society.” Another way of stating this is to say that culture is the learned part of man’s environment.
We learn about culture by observing the behavior of people and looking for patterns in that behavior. For example, two North American men when meeting each other usually shake hands, while Hispanics embrace, the French kiss one another’s cheeks, Indians put hands together and raise them towards their foreheads with slight bow of the head, and Suriano men of South America spit on each other’s chest when meeting. Culture is not inherited, but it is learned. In other words, an ethnic Chinese raised in an African environment would act, think and speak as an African. An Anglo child raised in an Indian environment would act, think and speak as an Indian. This process of learning a culture is called enculturation.
Cultures are made up of a great many patterns of behavior, ideas and products, but is more than the sum of them. These patterns are integrated into larger cultural complexes and into total cultural systems.
Hiebert asks if his readers have noticed that Americans have an obsession with platforms (chairs)? He goes on to say that this North American peculiarity may be regularly observed in airports as U. S. travelers uncomfortably drape themselves over chairs in airports while most others sit or lie comfortably on the floor. Behind this pattern of behavior is a basic assumption that the ground and floor are dirty, explaining why we keep our shoes on when we enter a house/building. For a North American, when food touches the ground, it instantly becomes dirty, no matter how clean the floor is. The exception is the unofficial three-second-rule invoked by a number of households, mine being one of them. On the other hand, Asians believe the floor is clean. They take their shoes off at the door, sleep on mats, and eat squatting on floor. These basic assumptions that people have about the nature of reality and of right and wrong, are all integrated into ‘worldview.’ This linkage between cultural traits and their integration into a larger system have important implications for those who seek to introduce change into a culture. Culture abhors a vacuum. When changes are made in one are of culture, changes will occur in other areas of the culture, often in unpredictable ways. A classic example of this may be seen in the low budget film, “The Gods Must Be Crazy” – in which a Coca Cola bottle finds its way into Bushmen of Botswana, resulting in selfishness, ownership, jealousy, anger, etc.
In our next entry, we consider in more detail the implications of such cultural differences for Evangelism and church planting.
The word indigenous means "originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native." The term is often used in mission circles to describe the proper aim of missionary endeavor. Henry Venn and Rufus Anderson, two missionary statesmen, initiated the modern concept of the indigenous church. In their view, the goal of missions was planting the Church through preaching the gospel, cultivating leadership, and developing indigenous churches. They articulated a 'three-self' formula to describe an indigenous church: self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. The Venn/Anderson model of missions offered a radical departure from the old paradigm. Later, John Nevius, an American missionary to China and Korea, developed a similar strategy of indigenous methods known as the “Nevius Plan,” which stressed the three-self formula, but added an emphasis on laity training. Roland Allen, an Anglican missionary to China and East Africa, wrote Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (1921), in which he offered a revolutionary element to the indigenous church philosophy. In church planting strategy, the word indigenous can be applied to the planter or to the church. If applied to the planter, indigenous means that the church planter is from the people group and context in which the church is being planted. If applied to the church, indigenous means that the church members, leadership and forms of the new church largely reflect the people group and context in which the church is being planted. Indigenous churches govern, teach, support and reproduce themselves with local, “home grown” leadership rather than with non-indigenous leadership brought in from outside the context of the new church plant. The goal of indigenous church planting strategy is always to start churches that reflect the cultural and worldview context of the Christians in the new church.
By definition, indigenous church planting among unreached peoples is always, at least initially, a cross-cultural process, simply because there are no believers among the people to launch the effort. Cross-cultural evangelism and church planting is largely about recognizing and identifying walls. The different walls within which people live are not physical ones made of stone or brick; they are invisible, yet they determine our values (right and wrong). There are three basic value systems that enclose people:
1. Social System - traditions/customs that determine how people behave.
2. Cultural System – what holds people together as a unit.
3. Beliefs System – people’s religious beliefs.
Our task is primarily one of communication that takes into account these walls, but refuses to leave people behind them where they are shielded from the Gospel. We are to proclaim the good news and victory in Jesus in such a way that people who are walled in by their social customs, cultural forms, and religious beliefs, and enslaved by sin and evil, can hear and understand what we’re talking about. Only when they understand are they ready to respond to the love of Christ.
In other words, our task is not to fight against systems, but to communicate effectively within them. For example, a great deal of evangelism is taking place in India. There are 13 million Christians in a nation of 1 billion; however, a large percentage of these Christians are drawn from tribal societies rather than mainstream Hinduism. The Christian church has largely been ineffective in penetrating the citadel of Hinduism, with the past exception of Sadhu Sundar Singh. Various teams are going out with gospel literature all across the country of India. Gospel programs are broadcast in most of the major languages of India. But for some reason, and for the most part, the Christian message is not penetrating into the minds and hearts of Hindus. Obviously, an essential element is missing, one that effectively communicates the Good News of Christ so that Hindus hear, understand, believe and obey, without feeling forced to scale unnatural or "foreign" obstacles in the process. E. Stanley Jones called this encountering "the Christ of the Indian road."
In our next blog, we will consider the following questions related to cross-cultural evangelism and church planting:
DANE FOWLKES, PH.D.
Follower of Christ, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Practical Theologian, Researcher, and Author