Friday, November 13, 2009

Enculturalization and the Gospel in Our Own Land

Andrew Jones the Tall Skinny Kiwi posted today about Brother Flack, a 100 year old missionary who Tall Skinny suggests ought to be the Patron Saint of the Emerging Church. It is a great post.

The quotes from Brother Flack highlight adaptation to culture in which one is ministering, and this is what Tall Skinny identifies as an emerging church dynamic having been around for a lot longer than the Emerging Church Movement.

"Go as a learner. Be prepared to learn from the national people and from the culture of the country. Do not try to make the churches like the one in your own country. Do everything you can to develop indigenous growth. Do not be masters; be servants. Identify in every way you can with the people God puts you among." says Brother Flack.

Having aggressively attempted this style of evangelism for a couple decades now, and having been acknowledged by missionaries as doing a missions model within the United States I have discovered something a bit disconcerting.

It has become popular enough to talk about adaptation to new cultures if someone moves to a far away place to preach the Gospel. There is an expectation that there will be a season of enculturalization for the new missionary. This is accepted as a necessary adaption for the growth of the Gospel.

In our own land new cultures are developing all the time. Adaptation, and learning from these developing cultures is not nearly as acceptable to the ecclesiastical powers that be as adaptation to foreign cultures. One can get themselves into some pretty sticky situations. I agree Brother Flack ought to be the Patron Saint of the Emerging Church, but if you practice his ways - oh, Brother are you gonna take some Flack! Sorry, bad joke, but still a good point.


cern said...

Very cool. There have, as suggested, been plenty of examples in the past where that was the approach. But I can't help feeling that one of the reasons why there are the abhorrent interpretations of Christianity that result in killing people accused of witchcraft is because some 'missions' completely neglected this idea. I've suggested it was something carried out by American evangelists like Benny Hinn before. But when I think about it, I wonder just how much of it is actually an aspect of British colonialism.

I think the ultimate key is not just about cultures, but about people. It's not about changing the message to suit the people or cultures you're addressing either. But about changing how you present that message. The bible has been translated into an awful lot of languages. Language is a tool. But it is an imperfect tool. Using love to seek a meeting of hearts and minds.... love that expresses an interest in those being loved, that doesn't seek to convert (conversion takes place between the person converting and God anyway, doesn't it?) and doesn't look for opportunities to get the 'word of God' into the conversation, love that listens and learns….. now that speaks far more than words. That cuts across all cultural differences. That is when you can have a Pagan being concerned for a Christian friend who is being taken for granted and treated badly can quote Psalm 22 to that friend, understanding that doing so will be communicating with love using language that friend will understand. (Ok, maybe that is just me doing that kind of thing. :D)

People are different. They understand the world differently. Trying to push your own understanding of the world upon them may very well result in a muddled understanding. Not good. So maybe the whole emerging church thing is really about REAL relational faith. Maybe that is what Brother Flack is really trying to communicate. :)

Or maybe my Pagan worldview is leading to a muddled understanding and I've typed gobbledygook. :D



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