Today I would like to mix things up a little bit and direct your attention to a post which I linked a couple of years back. This post is over at Alastair at Adversaria and it is part of a series having to do with his thoughts on the denominational church. We think denominationalism is a bad thing, and it is, but God is using it to shape His church in ways which we can’t even imagine. In this series Alastair offers some ideas about this. Here is the post on denominationalism which gave rise to this series. Here is part 1 of the series, part 2, and part 3.
About a third of the way into this post (which is part 2 of the series, by the way), the subject turns to cross-cultural missions, and Alastair has this to say:
It is incredibly sad to see the absence of cross-cultural theological dialogue in many parts of the Church when we have so much to gain from such dialogue. There are some who believe that missionary efforts merely involves transplanting our cultural forms of Christianity into foreign settings. The goal of missionary activity, for instance, becomes that of getting African Christians to think in terms of the Westminster Standards. The idea that our form of the Christian faith, deeply culturally conditioned as it is, might have a lot to learn from humble dialogue with more indigenous African forms of Christianity never seems to occur to us.
For instance, the Westminster Standards are the sort of documents that one would expect seventeenth century northern Europeans, trained in Western forms of logic and rhetoric (their Anglo-Saxon background muted by the academy), living in a culture where the Christian faith is pretty well established, to produce. They are deeply culturally conditioned. I imagine that if the Christian Church were faithfully to express its faith in terms of an African tribal culture, it would look surprisingly different, without ceasing to continue significant similarities. I firmly believe that God desires that we encourage the development of such indigenous declarations of faith and that we learn from each other as we engage in cross-cultural dialogue within the new culture that God is creating within the Church.
Let the record show that I am in agreement with Alastair on this one. I’ve said it many times before on this blog and I’ll say it again: We who live here and now in present-day American evangelicalism are NOT the end-all, be-all of what God is doing in the world!
It is unfortunate that much of our evangelical approach to missions has involved bringing not biblical Christianity to the peoples of the world, but biblical Christianity filtered through the grid of Western culture. And it is particularly unfortunate, in light of the fact that many who live outside of Western culture can see the spiritual emptiness which has come with our vast wealth and technological superiority. A quote from Mother Teresa which speaks to this: “You in the West have the spiritually poorest of the poor.”
Perhaps we would do well to rethink our approach to missions, to think that the people and cultures which we evangelize have something worthwhile to contribute to our understanding of God, and at least listen to them.