First Things has published a thoughtful article by Peter Leithart regarding missions and culture. I encourage everyone interested in understanding how missions should be done in light of various cultures to read this article. It addresses the issue of compromise and the gospel and much more. Enjoy!
Time was when Christian missions occurred â€œover there.â€ Every now and then, the missionary would show up at church dressed like a time traveler, to show slides of exotic places and to enchant the stay-at-homes with tales about the strange diet and customs of the natives. Foreign missions still happen, but that model seems like ancient history. With the new immigration and the increased ease of travel and communication, the mission field has moved into the neighborhood, and every church that has its eyes open is asking every day how to do â€œforeign missions.â€
That poses a problem. Missions has always been the place where the bookish question of â€œChrist and cultureâ€ turns practical. Now, at the same time that missions has become a challenge â€œright here,â€ multiculturalists question the very legitimacy of missions. Since the gospel always comes clothed in culture, how, on the premises of multiculturalism, can missionary work be anything but a veiled form of cultural imperialism? From Chinua Achebeâ€™s Things Fall Apart to Barbara Kingsolverâ€™s Poisonwood Bible, missionaries are depicted as tools of Western hegemony. But, if weâ€™re all missionaries now, are we all cooperating in genocide?
Under the regime of multiculturalism, mission efforts face a cruel dilemma. Either missionaries can preach an uncompromising gospel that will cause everything to fall apart, or they can soft pedal the gospel of Godâ€™s judgment and grace in order to permit non-Christian cultures to survive. But is the situation as dire as this? Does the Bible perhaps offer a model for re-conceiving the question in a way that avoids the unhappy choice between compromise and cultural cataclysm?
The answer, I think, is yes. [Continue…]