Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Biblical Model for Discipleship: Paul's Ministerial Strategy

            The approach to discipleship ministries is as diverse as the churches that seek to obey Jesus in this endeavor.  Each has its own approach even within the same denomination.  This is also true within the same church even when curriculum has been standardized.  Here I will provide a brief review of the Apostle Paul’s approach to ministry as described in Philippians 4: 9 followed by a discussion of discipleship in three churches of which I have had the privilege of being a part over the past 12 years.  I will then discuss the resources employed by those churches and how they implement the Biblical model previously described.  In closing I will discuss the resources best align with the Biblical model.
The Approach of Paul
            The church at Philippi held special significance to Paul.  It was the first church he established in Europe.[1]   Paul’s letter to the Philippians was sent as an encouragement for this congregation from prison though Paul would have preferred to have encouraged them in person.  The letter touches on several topics deserving of study though the theme is living the Christian life.[2]  Throughout this letter Paul explains what progressing in the faith will look like and presents himself as a model  of living the Christian life in verses such as 1:12-18; 3:17; and 4:9.  It is in Philippians 4: 9 we find Paul providing a simple yet powerful statement of his approach to discipleship: do as I have taught you and as you have seen me do.  Paul understood that a great deal of learning is derived from imitation thus the importance of a teacher as a model to be imitated.[3]  Sound teaching is important but it must also be modeled.
Discipleship in Today’s Churches
            The state of discipleship in today’s churches is a topic unto itself.  George Barna devotes an entire chapter to discussing this very topic arriving at some rather unflattering conclusions about the effectiveness of modern churches.[4]  It is sufficient to say simply that the state of discipleship is not what it should be in American churches with some exceptions.  By and large most churches are “doing” discipleship in some form but the lack of effectiveness is certainly without question.
            I have had the pleasure of being part of three growing churches over the past 12 years.  Each church was experiencing growth but for different reasons.  The first of these churches has remained very traditional in terms of worship style, music, preaching style, and approach to the primary discipleship ministry, Sunday School, in which quarterly curriculum was utilized by the vast majority of those in teaching roles.  The decision to remain traditional in approach while other churches in the area changed to a more contemporary worship style resulted in a great deal of growth though this was mostly among the senior age group.
            The second of these churches offered three different worship services (traditional, blended, and contemporary) on Sunday morning along with Sunday School.  Teachers were encouraged to use quarterly curriculum though were not required to do so among the adult age groups.  Sunday afternoon was dedicated to outreach activities (e.g. visitation, letter writing, etc.) followed by assorted Bible studies.  At any given time, there were about a dozen such studies that covered such topics as doctrine, theology, what other religions believe, life application, and so on.  Though there were fewer worship services, these were replaced with additional opportunities for Bible study.  The church is experiencing growth more or less at the same rate as the community itself.
            The third church offers services on Sunday morning and evening along with Sunday School.  A quarterly curriculum is not commonly used.  Instead, the desired learning outcomes for each age group are discussed among the leaders followed by specific curriculum selections targeted for those outcomes.  Of course, the desired learning outcomes take into account any perceived deficiencies.  Sunday School classes are subdivided into care groups that are allotted time each Sunday but are also encouraged to continue their fellowship outside of church.  Since going to this model two years ago, the church has experienced growth of about 35%.
Assessment of Resources
            The first two churches discussed have differing approaches to their worship style and frequency of worship service yet both approach discipleship through the use of quarterly materials purchased through their denominational association.  The second church goes a step further in offering additional discipleship opportunities on Sunday evenings but the materials used for this purpose are from the same source as the quarterlies.  As would be expected, the materials are well written and when presented properly are effective in communicating the intended message.  However, both churches do not to take inventory of the needs of the learners preferring to simply accept whatever has been planned by their association each quarter.  In fairness, it should be noted that there is a seven year plan that these churches are aware of and have had the opportunity to accept or look elsewhere for curriculum. 
            The third church discussed is much more intentional in the approach to materials to be used in discipleship.  By first determining the desired learning outcomes to be achieved, there is more thought put into the planning process.  This does lead me to believe that discipleship is more something that is part of the church rather than simply being a program.  When asked about this approach, the senior pastor says, “I fail to see how the church can make Biblical disciples who go on to reproduce themselves without being intentional in our discipleship ministry.  Discipleship is not a program at our church; it is part of who we are as a congregation.”[5]  To that end Wednesday evening is devoted specifically to teaching participants how to simply and with confidence share their faith with non-believers.
            Each church meets the teaching aspect Paul mentions in Philippians 4:9 but more needs to be done in modeling the behavior being taught.  In the first church discussed, the pastor's involvement with the other ministries of the church is somewhat limited.  In the second church, the pastor is more involved in serving in various other ministries providing him with the opportunity to model service and servant leadership.  In the third church, the pastor is involved in many ministries and he and his wife even take a turn in the nursery once per quarter.  In all three churches, the vast majority of Sunday School teachers serve in one or more other ministries of the church.  Pastors of all three churches spend a significant amount of time with various lay leaders though the amount of time does seem to correlate to the size of the church.  This observation is not unexpected.
             Howard Hendricks states that the Christian educator strives for nothing less than the transformation of the believer into the image of Christ.[6]  The attention to the desired learning outcomes prior to selecting curriculum seems like an approach that would dovetail perfectly with that goal.  The fact that it was found in only one church is curious.  While there may be additional effort required for such an approach, the benefit of taking a more customized approach would have benefits far and above the use of materials created by others who are not aware of the needs of a specific congregation.  That is not to say that such materials are of inferior quality but rather is an admission that there may be more reliance upon the judgments of others as to the spiritual needs of a local congregation than there should be.
            The willingness of pastors and lay leaders to serve others in unrelated ministries provides a model for less mature Christians to observe is an essential part of discipleship.  It is impressive that such participation is so high and that this appears to be a common trait.  This modelling behavior coupled with assessing the spiritual needs of the congregation by age group are key!  The hard work involved in such an effort is essential if disciples who reproduce themselves are to be created.

                [1] See Acts 16:6 – 40.
                [2] Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck, and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985), 646.
                [3] Anthony, Michael J., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 679.

                [4] Barna, George. Growing True Disciples. (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2001), 33-56.
                [5] Edmonds, Kevin, interview by Christopher L. Sanchez. Discipleship at Cherokee Baptist Church (September 16, 2010).
                [6] Hestenes, Roberta, Howard Hendricks, and Earl Palmer. Mastering Teaching. (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1991), 15.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

We Do Not Need to Reinvent The Wheel

          As overwhelming as the points covered in my last few posts might seem, there is more, much more.  With this proper understanding of what culture is, worldview being at the core of culture, the importance of contextualization and avoiding syncretism, there is little wonder that a great deal of training is involved before missionaries are sent abroad from sending countries.  Fortunately, a church that might want to become involved with supporting missionaries, sending missionaries, or church planting is not alone.  There is a wealth of resources already available.
          The Joshua Project is a research initiative that seeks to highlight the ethnic people groups with the least followers of Jesus Christ.[1]  Information is available concerning the languages spoken among various people groups in a particular country, the status of Bible translation into the local language, the Jesus film, audio recordings and tracts that help with evangelism.  The project also tracks data on local religions including the progress of Christianity among the indigenous people.  More tools are being developed too such as tablet and smart phone apps that missionaries might use in the field.
          On the denominational front, the International Mission Board (IMB) and the North American Mission Board, both entities of the Southern Baptist Convention, exist for the sole purpose of sending missionaries to underserved parts of North America and the rest of the world.  A similar outreach called the General Board of Global Ministries is the global mission agency of The United Methodist Church.  The Roman Catholic and many others have similar outreach ministries that span the globe trying to reach the lost people groups of the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
          The point is simple: there are a great many resources available and a tremendous outreach effort already underway from all corners of Christendom.  Interested individuals and local churches can easily become involved in local, domestic and/or international missions should the desire to do so be present.  They need only express the interest and follow the Great Commission.  We do not need to reinvent the wheel!    
          Missions is not the goal of the church; worship is.  Missions exist because worship does not exist.  When this age comes to an end and the redeemed fall on our faces before God missions will be no more but worship will continue forever.[2]  In the opinion of the author we must never lose sight of this fact.  This should also energize all Christians for the cause of reaching the nations with the gospel.
The role of culture in communicating the gospel cannot be ignored.  Without understanding culture, it is unlikely that the missionary or church planter will have much success.  This understanding includes understanding that worldview is the core of culture.  Before an opportunity to be an example to the receiving culture is possible (John 13:15), the missionary must first win the trust of the people.  Learning the language and the local customs is only part of the equation.  The missionary must become a partner with the laypeople in the new church plant teaching proper hermeneutics to the new believers while learning how Christianity adapts to the receiving culture while subtly going to work on the worldviews of the people.
This partnership should result in contextualizing the gospel in a manner that assists the receiving culture in better understanding the truth being presented.  It should be relevant and address the issues the people face while also being guarded against adopting the local culture in such a way as to dilute the gospel.  When syncretism takes root, true Christianity is obscured.  While avoiding this outcome, it is equally important not to overcompensate and force Western values on the receiving culture as this can and often does result in those beliefs being adopted for church situations and disregarded in much of the rest of the lives of the people.
The gospel should be presented using narrative much as Jesus did when teaching the people and his disciples.[3]  People remember stories much better than other methods of teaching and also find practical ways to apply those lessons to their lives.  Winning people to Christ and helping them grow in the faith is being obedient to the Great Commission.  Seeing people worship the true living God, now that is exciting!

[1] U.S. Center for World Mission. Joshua Project. 2009. http://www.joshuaproject.net/ (accessed August 14, 2012).
[2] Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1993, 2003, 2010), 35.
[3] Coleman, Robert E. The Master Plan of Evangelism. (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 1963, 1964, 1993), 66.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Beware Syncretism

          As Christians, we have a strong desire to reach people where they are and share the gospel of Christ.  Yet Scripture warns time and again about practices that might lead to syncretism.  We find such warnings in Deuteronomy 16:21 – 17:1; 2 Kings 17:29-33; Zephaniah 1:5-6 and John 4:4.  God even commanded Israel to destroy nations because if they were allowed to survive the Israelites would adopt the practices of those nations in spite of His warnings not to (Exod. 23:23-33; Deut. 18:10-14).[1]
Since Scripture provides ample warning about this issue, it is important to understand what it is and how those who communicate the gospel avoid it.  In simplest terms, syncretism is the replacement of core or important truths of the gospel with non-Christian elements.[2]  Kraft explains syncretism as the mixing of Christian assumptions that are incompatible with Christianity resulting in something that is not biblical Christianity.[3] 
When converts to Christianity are permitted to attach their own worldview assumptions to Christian practices, syncretism exists.  When people practice Christian rituals with the understanding that those practices have some sort of magical properties, syncretism exists.  Considering Jesus Christ to be the manifestation of one of their pagan gods, syncretism exists.  However, syncretism is not simply limited to instances where native practices are applied to Christianity. 
When a receiving culture is so dominated by the missionaries or church planters among them that they adopt surface-level practices and deep-level assumptions then syncretism can creep in.  In such instances new believers adopt a different set of worldview assumptions that are applied in church situations yet are largely ignored in the rest of their lives.  Their existing worldview remains unchanged by biblical principles.  Ironically, it is fear of syncretism that drives missionaries and church planters towards this overcompensation.[4]
The problem of syncretism can be avoided and the first part of the solution has already been alluded to in the preceding section.  Missionaries and church planters must partner with the body of Christ working collaboratively to develop expressions of Christianity that are culturally responsive yet theologically responsible.[5]  Of course, it should go without saying that missionaries and church planters should be expert teachers of the Word of God.
The second part to assist in avoiding syncretism is to teach the gospel through the use of narrative rather than propositionally.  It is tempting for seminarians to use all of the tools they learned in school to try and share the gospel with a new people group.  Teaching through the use of narrative allows for the gospel to be understood holistically and provides for themes to be better understood in real life terms people can relate to and retain.[6]  It is easy to ignore doctrines as being from a foreign culture but the story of God’s actions in history cannot be so easily dismissed.
Finally, it is important to remember that just because missionaries and church planters seek to find common ground to better communicate the gospel does not mean that they should avoid contrasting the local culture with the Christian worldview all together.  The evangelist does not do anyone any favors by only seeking to use the local language and customs to better explain the Christian faith and never mentioning the differences.  It is to be expected that there is a time and place for doing so and well trained evangelists will see these opportunities.

[1] Moreau, A. Scott, R. Corwin Gary, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 305.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Winter, Ralph D., and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader (4th ed.). (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1981, 1992, 1999, 2009), 405.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Pocock, Michael, Gailyn Van Rheenen, and Douglas McConnell. The Changing Face of World Missions: Engaging Contemporary Issues and Trends. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 100-01.
[6] Ibid.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Gospel Contextualized

          Clearly, culture plans a critical role in communicating the gospel whether that is in different parts of our own communities or country or abroad in a faraway land.  Despite thinking to the contrary, different people groups do not think in the same or even in a manner similar to our own way of thinking.  At the heart of any culture is the worldview the people in the culture share.  The truth claims of Christianity are something that can be easily proven.  In short, they are a matter of faith.  The heart of the gospel is the something for which there is no precedent – the Resurrection.[1]  Brown, Robinson, and Willimon rightly point out that while we desire to reach people where they are, we have a limited ability to adapt the gospel.[2]
          Stated simply, contextualization is the notion of taking the gospel to a new context and finding easily understood ways for people to understand it in their own context.  While doing so, we must understand that it is simply not possible to deliver the whole of the gospel message on any single occasion.  Some part must be selected; others omitted and saved for another time.[3]  Lest the author be accused of not supporting the proclaiming of the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), it should be noted that Jesus and the apostles did not always begin with the interests and concerns of their audience or communicate what today we consider the heart of the gospel.[4]  What Christ and the apostles did do was note the level of understanding of their audience and start communicating with them at that point while reserving deeper teaching for those more mature in the faith.  From those receiving this deeper teaching such as the Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, Paul expected a more mature practice of their faith.
Figure 2: Contextualization in a Hindu Setting
Trinity International Baptist Mission
          The Jesuits of the Seventeenth century were pioneers in the practice of indigenization which accommodating the local culture and taking cues from the local customs.[5]  The first of these missionaries to employ this approach lived in Japan in Japanese-style houses adopting the local type of dress and many of the local customs.  Notable successes using this approach occurred at Madurai in South India and China.  Regrettably this early success was not widespread.  Rulings against the Jesuits prevented peoples from other cultures such as those in China from being both Chinese and Christian.[6]  How far this set back the cause of Christ in this part of the world is unknown but those decisions may be felt even to this day.
          This early understanding of how to reach local cultures is what would later come to be referred to as contextualization.  Today, the church widely understands and employs methods very similar to these.  Modern missionaries acknowledge the effectiveness of following the powerful example of the Apostle Paul in trying to become as the people group they are trying to reach (1 Cor. 9:22).  Today we universally recognize that the goal of our Christian witness is to see people come to saving faith in Jesus Christ and be formed into groups that are culturally appropriate and biblical in their structure.[7]  We call these groups churches. 
In these groups familiar terms are used to communicate the gospel.  Along the way, these terms are transformed in their usage.  We must keep in mind that Christ came into the world and worked through the existing culture.  As His ministry progressed, the worldview of those who came to follow Him began to change.  In the opinion of the author, this is by design.  As the gospel penetrates deeply into the culture, eventually it begins to change the worldview of those new Christians which leads to changes in their belief systems and thus values and behavior.  That is a process that takes time but it does and will occur.  That is not to say that the resulting church will bear close resemblance to Western churches. 
To properly contextualize Christianity does not mean missionaries or evangelists are presenting a sort of product.  Western Christianity is mistaken if it believes that the faith has once and for all been developed in a way that is perfect for all peoples across all cultures in all times.   Christians in Western nations may attempt to apply Western business practices to the spread of the gospel.  This may lead to being tempted to try and prepackage all aspects of the gospel much as a Fortune 500 company might package a product.  At best, this well-intentioned approach is misguided and should be avoided.
The gospel message is to be planted as a seed in the soil of the local culture where it is permitted to grow and flourish.  A church that is truly contextualized will preach essentially the same message since the doctrines of the Christian faith will be clearly in focus.  Yet the way the message is put together and delivered, the issues addressed, and the illustrations used will vary from one culture to the next.[8]  This is proper and as it should be. 
The missionary or church planter should work with the new congregation to assist in their understanding of Scripture.  It is right and proper to be certain that sound hermeneutics are being practiced in the new congregation.  As a priesthood of all believers, the new church is a hermeneutical community and in most instances will be in a better position to exegete the meanings of local cultural practices and linguistic expressions.[9]  Where the missionary or church planter is trained to help laypeople determine the meaning of the text, laypeople help the missionary or church planter understand the receiving culture to which the Scriptures apply.[10]  
This is an ongoing dialog at least for a time until the missionary is no longer needed and departs.  Also in keeping with the cycle modeled by the Apostle Paul, the missionary or church planter should have definitive plans on how long it will be necessary to remain among the target people.  It is important to train local leaders with the intention of assuming leadership as soon as possible.  Paul’s stays in each place where he planted a new church we limited in duration though he remained in contact with them.  This approach helps to avoid the new congregation becoming dependent upon the missionary or church planter. 

[1] Brown, Stephen W., Haddon W. Robinson, and William H. Willimon. A Voice in the Wilderness: Clear Preaching in a Complicated World. (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 1993) 65-66.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond (2nd ed.). (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000), 149.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Winter, Ralph D., and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader (4th ed.). (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1981, 1992, 1999, 2009), 230-31.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid, 404.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond (2nd ed.). (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000), 222.
[10] Ibid, 223.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving 2012

"It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God; to obey His will; to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly implore His protection." - George Washington

Wishing all of my family, friends, and faithful readers a blessed Thanksgiving holiday.  Your continued support these past years has been a tremendous blessing and inspiration as my blog has grown.  Thank you!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How Worldview Informs Culture

            Much like the idea of culture itself, the concept of worldview would seem to be rather simple.  In passing conversation one might consider the concept of worldview as a way of looking at something or simply one’s point of view.[1]  However, such a simple explanation is wholly inadequate.  Worldview represents a wide array of assumptions about the world around us, how things fit together, and things happen or events unfold.[2]  
If culture were an onion, worldview would be the core.  Since culture is a universal feature of all human communities[3], it is essential to have a thorough understanding of what worldview is and how it shapes a given culture.  What is seen in a given culture is the outward expression, or behavior, that is shaped by a multitude of things.  When Christian missionaries visit a foreign land, it is important to understand that the people they encounter behave as they do for much the same reasons that people in the missionaries’ home countries do: they have a patterned way of doing things.[4]
Underlying the behavior that can be observed are values which Kwast defines as “pre-set” decisions that a culture makes between choices commonly faced which helps those who live within the culture to know what should or ought to be done in order to conform.[5]  That such a pattern for living has been accepted takes into account that there are subcultures within the larger context.  Here conformity is used in a broad sense.  Beyond the behavior found in a culture that can be observed and the values that guide those behaviors, is a deeper level of shared understanding known as cultural beliefs.
Beliefs in a culture seek to answer a seemingly simple question: what is true?  This is an interesting question that can seem to be at conflict with values and behaviors seen in the culture.  While is it possible to observe similar behaviors and expressed values by people in a given culture, some in the culture can and do express completely different beliefs about those values and behaviors.[6]  Kwast describes this as a difference between operating beliefs that actually affect values and thus behavior and theoretical beliefs which are stated creeds that have very little practical impact on values and behavior.[7]
At the very heart of culture is the worldview held by the people within the culture.  People generally do not think about their worldview and most actually mistakenly believe that the peoples of other cultures think and reason in much the same way as they do.[8]  While early missionaries may have held this mistaken notion, the modern missionary knows much better.  Worldview may best be described as the part of culture that answers the most basic questions of reality that are seldom asked such as what is real, where did we come from, is what we can see all there is, how does the past influence the future, can the future be known?[9]  And on and on!  Every culture assumes answers to these and other questions about reality which shape the other aspects of culture.  Interestingly, the confusion seen at times at the belief level is caused by conflicting worldviews.  At times aspects of worldview compete with other aspects leading to conflict. 
This simple explanation of worldview could be expanded upon greatly but is sufficient to drive home the point: Christians who share the gospel must understand the importance of the culture.  Worldview influences the belief system of a given people group which in turn inform the value system of those people.  Taken together, this is observable in the behavior of the people.  Communicating the gospel cross-culturally should then focus on the worldview of the people.  Simply introducing a new or competing system of beliefs will likely accomplish little as there will be no change in the values and behavior that is still held firmly in place by the existing worldview.[10]

[1] Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond (2nd ed.). (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000), 126.
[2] Moreau, A. Scott, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 1032-33.
[3] Tennent, Timothy C. Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2010), 168-75.
[4] Winter, Ralph D., and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader (4th ed.). (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1981, 1992, 1999, 2009), 398.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid, 398-99.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Moreau, A. Scott, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 1033.
[9] Winter, Ralph D., and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader (4th ed.). (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1981, 1992, 1999, 2009), 399.
[10] Ibid.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What is Culture?

            Early missionaries went out into the world with unbridled enthusiasm to reach the world for Jesus Christ.  However, so many arrived in distant lands and were met with very little success.  Centuries of missionary activity have taught the church the importance of understanding culture before attempting to communicate the gospel.  So what exactly is culture?
            Culture may point to a whole host of things such as entertainment, literature and the arts.  These things are certainly part of culture yet this is not entirely what is meant here.  Carson broadly defines culture as the set of values broadly shared by some subset of the human population.[1]  Carson’s definition is broad indeed!  Tennent quotes Eagleton’s remark that culture includes everything from pig-farming to Picasso, from tilling the soil to splitting the atom.[2]  With such a broad term, how can a missionary hope to understand it?  Expanding our understanding of culture is necessary.
            Cultures are largely patterns acquired in and shared by social groups.  Though not considered at times, generally speaking a culture is large enough to contain subcultures yet is shared by the society at large and in this social group people learn and live out their collective values.[3]  Of particular importance is the fact that cultures are not collections of isolated themes.  Rather, they are holistic, integrated patterns structured in such a way as to meet the basic, yet now necessarily all, needs of those in a particular society.[4]  There are three dimensions of culture around which all cultures shape their understanding of reality: the cognitive, the affective, and the evaluative.  All three dimensions vary from culture to culture.
            The cognitive dimension addresses the perception of time and space.  In terms of time, people in the West have a linear view of time with past, present, and an infinite future whereas African peoples have a more two-dimensional view of time.[5]  Another example of this is the perception of personal, public, social, and intimate space or zones of space.  Americans views of personal space are from actual physical contact to about three feet away.  People from Latin American consider personal space to be smaller.  When two people from these respective cultures engage each other, the American may see the person from Latin America as invading their personal space while the Latin American person might consider the American to be distant or cold when in fact neither intends to be disrespectful towards the other.
            The affective dimension addresses what we feel about a given thing.  Consider the notion of beauty.  For a person from Japan, a garden carefully arranged in such a way as to enhance the viewing experience is beautiful.  For the Western eye, the beauty is in the floral variety and explosion of color on display when the flowers are in bloom.[6]  Both are legitimate positions yet each culture places value on a different aspect of the garden.
            The evaluative dimension focuses on where the culture places allegiances and values.[7]  An excellent example in American news media recently is the idea of marriage.  Whom can a person marry?  In the West who a person can marry is an individual decision whereas in other cultures such as ancient Egypt marriages between brother and sister were common.  In other cultures arranged marriages were and to some extent are still common.  It is interesting to note that this presupposes that what is meant by marriage is a union between a man and woman.
            There are several things to remember when considering the notion of what makes up a culture.  First, culture is complex and ever changing.  In much of the West, there is an attempt to expand or redefine the term marriage.  Though there is a shift in Western culture by a significant number of people and marriage remains defined as being between a man and woman, the issue remains unsettled.  While there is little doubt in the mind of the author as to the correctness of the current definition, Western culture may indeed alter this view in the coming years.  The bottom line is this: culture is not static.[8]
            Next, it is important to grasp a biblical understanding of culture.  When the gospel is shared with diverse people groups, the expression of Christian practice in those people groups will and should look different than in other parts of the world.  The Apostle Paul understood that he could reach more people with the gospel of Jesus Christ if he became like those people (1 Cor. 9:19-22).  He clearly understood that he would not save all of those whom he came in contact with but he used all means at his disposal to save some.  In fact, Paul’s practice is still modeled by missionaries today.[9]
            Finally, while we strive to understand the receiving culture and even to become like those who we seek to reach with the gospel message, we must remember that the gospel challenges and changes every culture.[10]  However, this change is not to be confused with westernization or modernity.  Increasingly there are non-Western sending churches who are engaged in missions around the globe.  Their missionary work does not and should not result in the local culture being molded into the image of the sending culture and neither should the efforts of Western missionaries.  Saving faith in Jesus Christ changes lives and those changes lives lead to changed cultures.[11]  The job of the missionary is to allow the gospel to work in the lives of people.

[1] Carson, D. A. Christ & Culture Revisited. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008), 1-2.
[2] Tennent, Timothy C. Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2010), 168.
[3] Moreau, A. Scott, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 252-53.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ott, Craig, Stephen J. Strauss, and with Timothy C. Tennent. Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 127.
[9] Winter, Ralph D., and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader (4th ed.). (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1981, 1992, 1999, 2009), 146-48.
[10] Ott, Craig, Stephen J. Strauss, and with Timothy C. Tennent, (127).
[11] Ibid.