If there’s anything that my one intro-to-missions course reinforced for me was the importance of contextualizing the gospel. This obviously goes beyond language acumen – which is hard enough! It’s has to also be about deeply understanding the culture that the gospel has to go into.
I’ve also been doing some thinking about “gospel.” The Gospel is clearly the news that Jesus died, was buried, and rose according the scriptures as an atoning substitution for the penalty of sin. But I’m increasingly aware that “gospel” is – for postmodern U.S. – part of what we would technically call ‘pre-evangelism.’ Thankfully, Evangelicals are coming to grips with this.
How do we become “good news” to our community? How do we take the Jer 29:29 thing and be a blessing to our immediate context such that they see that we Jesus-people are around and would miss us if we left? So an example of ‘pre-evangelistic gospel’ would be the good news that those Jesus-people did a ‘pick-up the trash around the neighborhood’ event, that they opened their facility to the neighborhood association, that they unilaterally gave out some Christmas gifts (because, after all, they think Christmas is a Big Deal) to kids around the place-neighborhood where they meet. All of that while maintaining a fierce devotion to Jesus.
That is a combination of missional and attractional, of course. But then it’s only attractional if, should these neighbors come to see what it’s all about that they see authentic worship done in a culturally coherent way. For example, in the case of an urban church that I’ve talked to, hymns are dorky and even praise choruses are contrived – and that’s just the music part. But they frequently have people walk into their service from the street and so make sure that what they are doing makes sense to those folks – that it is coherent with their culture.
In our increasingly ‘Balkinized’ society, every Christian needs to think cross-culturally. There’s a double entendre’ there: the more a believer becomes like Christ the more they are changed from an aspectational-perspectivalism of ‘the world’ to a God-perspective. A Christian, seem to me, should be moving to a "Cross Culture." OK, that’s dorky, but stay with me. Christians need to keep feet in both cultures: the culture that is profoundly shaped by the ‘Christ Event,’ as well as the culture that urgently needs that good news.