Archives For Cross-Cultural Missions

Josh GraumanAs I mentioned in my previous blog, I am excited to be starting a new program in South LA for training cross-cultural church planters. In this post I want to dive in to what the program is going to look like.

My heart as a pastor is to walk in discipleship with people. Some might take that to mean that study should be informal and non-structured, but discipleship doesn’t mean “non-academic.” Discipleship should include rigorous study of Scripture. We have designed The Apprenticeship to include both structured teaching (a full 3-year, 93-unit M.Div. level program), as well as walking alongside our pastors in inner-city ministry. We will study Hebrew, Greek, and Genesis to Revelation chapter by chapter.

Why go into so much depth in such a “practical” program (roughly 75% of the formal program is Bible and original languages)? In short, it is because we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. Studying the Bible in depth is extremely practical. While some may view Judges, Jonah, or Jude to be books that may change your theology but aren’t very practical, we believe each of these books have massive implications for your daily lives and topics as commonplace as how you relate to your next-door neighbor.

At Eternity Bible College, we spend about half of our class time doing Biblical Theology. This means that we study Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, which allows us to focus on what God focuses on in the Bible. As a professor, I don’t choose the topics that are important to me. God has already set our agenda in Scripture. And by walking through Scripture chapter by chapter, we can see how revelation unfolds in God’s time, and keep context primary in our study.

We are adopting this same model for studying Scripture in The Apprenticeship. Students will develop the tools to derive their theology and practice from Scripture alone, and will be freed from the shackles of pragmatism and legalism.

This fits perfectly into our vision of equipping apprentices to plant churches cross-culturally. Church planters must be able to rigorously study Scripture on their own, and know how to derive theology, philosophy of ministry, and application to a wide variety of circumstances and topics. Every culture is unique, and yet the Bible is the answer to all the problems of every subculture around the world. So that’s why such a large portion of our program focuses on teaching the apprentices how to rightly divide the Word and apply it in various contexts. (Click for more info on the importance of Biblical Theology or Hebrew and Greek.)

Hebrew BibleYet we still believe that our study of Scripture must be applied to daily life or it hasn’t been understood correctly. In fact, it is impossible to understand the Bible as God intended without applying it to real life. The Bible addresses our thoughts, motives, and lifestyles, and so to understand it properly we must be in contexts where these are dealt with. And so that is why I am so passionate about the rest of our program. There will be lots of time for “fireside” discussions, prayer, and doing ministry and life together. Although I am going to be heading up the program, our apprentices will also learn from and walk with other pastors as we minister in the inner city together. Here we have cultures colliding as many hispanics are moving into one of the oldest African American neighborhoods in Los Angeles, and we have the privilege of planting a church here that brings the unity and hope of the gospel.

Once again there is a lot more information on our website, but that gives you an idea of what I am going to be embarking upon. We would ask that you keep us in prayer and if you know anyone interested in training for cross-cultural church planting, that you direct them our way! Click here for more info.

From the very beginning, Christians have had a difficult time deciding how to live out Jesus’ statement that we are to be in the world but not of it. What does that mean exactly? Certainly the fact that we are not of the world means that we cannot buy into everything the world is selling. There ought to be something that sets us apart from the world around us.

But what does it mean to be in the world? This is the difficult part, and Christians have answered the question in more ways than you can imagine. I certainly won’t resolve this tension in a short blog post, but I recently read some material that helped my own thinking on the issue, and I think it’s worth sharing.

In his excellent book, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, Paul Hiebert proposes three ways that the gospel relates to culture: The gospel versus culture, the gospel in culture, and the gospel to culture. These aren’t three separate approaches; they are three realities that must be held in tension with one another.

The Gospel Versus Culture

This emphasizes the fact that the gospel and culture are not the same thing. It sounds simple, but it’s an important distinction. We cannot afford to confuse our culturally specific ways of “doing church” with the gospel. If you were going to take the gospel to the jungles of Papua New Guinea, for example, how would you proceed? Would you pack up your church building, pews, pulpit, suits and ties, small groups, etc. and simply re-assemble these elements of the North American approach to church in the midst of the jungle? I hope not. Instead, I hope that you would pack your Bible, talk about the truth of the gospel with the jungle people, and then work with them on how the truth of the gospel should play itself out in the midst of the jungle. All that to say, we cannot confuse our cultural forms with the truth of the gospel.

The Gospel in Culture

This emphasizes the fact that the gospel must always be presented in a specific culture. There is no such thing as a-cultural communication—you cannot communicate truth without using language (which is a cultural phenomena), symbols (which are culture-specific), and a host of other culture-specific media. Even if you decide that you’re going to demonstrate the gospel through your lifestyle rather than your words, you still need to live out the gospel in a way that communicates what you want it to in that specific culture. The way you show love to your neighbor in one culture may be a huge insult in another. Jesus himself incarnated the gospel in the midst of Jewish culture using Jewish cultural forms. When the gospel spread to the Gentiles, the early Christians had to wrestle with the cultural implications (see Acts 15). All that to say, we must always make use of cultural forms when we communicate the gospel.

The Gospel to Culture

This emphasizes the fact that the gospel plays a prophetic role with regard to culture. It is not that the gospel and our culture stand on equal footing and work out some sort of compromise. Rather, the gospel stands in judgment over every human culture. Some aspect of every culture on earth will need to be changed in light of the truths of the gospel. If we look at American culture, for example, we can find many things that reflect important gospel truths, such as our emphasis on human equality. But the gospel stands in judgment over our self-sufficiency and the idol of comfort-at-all-costs. All that to say, the gospel calls every culture to be transformed and realigned with God’s truth.

So what does this mean for being in the world but not of it? It means that we can and should be in the world. We can live in the midst of our culture, listen to the same music they listen to, wear the same clothes they wear, and watch the same movies they watch—at least to an extent. There is much to be affirmed in the cultural expressions that we find around us. Though every person suppresses God’s truth, Paul is emphatic that every human being knows God’s truth (see Romans 1:18-25). Therefore, we should not be surprised to see elements of that truth springing up in secular culture (whether it’s the exaltation of companionship in Toy Story, a vision of the world set to rights in a Mumford & Sons album, or a warning against consumeristic propaganda in Brave New World).

These elements of truth in secular culture can serve as excellent bridges or points of contact for the gospel. Just as Paul connected with the Athenians through their altar to an unknown God, so we can connect with our neighbors through a host of gospel themes that occasionally run through secular art and media. Basically, these points of connection can be great conversation starters where we identify an important gospel truth and then engage in a discussion that pursues that truth further and deeper.

But the gospel has much to say to our cultural expressions. When Lady Gaga sings about being “born this way,” when Rage Against the Machine calls us to “take the power back,” and when Miley Cyrus invites us to let go of our concerns and simply “party in the U.S.A.,” the gospel stands ready to address these wrong ways of thinking and call us back to worshipping the one true God.

Of course, this type of cultural engagement is difficult. It’s messy. We will sometimes find ourselves in uncomfortable situations where we don’t know exactly what to say or do. But that’s why the Bible calls us to use discernment. The alternative is legalism, which is much easier. The easy way out is to simply ban all forms of culture, art, and media that don’t come from a Christian label or director. But if we choose legalism over discernment, then we will never have the privilege of watching the gospel transform our culture and—more importantly—transform the people who create our culture. So let’s not take the easy way out. Let’s be discerning to the glory of God.

________________

Mark Beuving