Positive Pluralism: How to be Engaging Gospel Tourists

May 15, 2010 in Mark, Church, Culture, Theology by Mark

Having been busy with many Wycliffe events over the last few weeks I haven’t been able to blog a great deal, but I came across an article the other day written by Krish Kandiah about the positive effect of cultural diversity on the church. From the Lausanne Global Conversation website, it’s the kind of piece that sums up exactly what I think, but have never been able to quite put into words.

Krish talks about how following Jesus is something that we should do in and through our diverse cultures, rather than thinking we have to leave our uniqueness behind to become like everyone else.

As we navigate our pluralist societies we need to avoid two dangers tourists often fall into. We do not want to be the tactless tourist who presumes that shouting louder will make our foreign tongue more decipherable. Nor should we be the reluctant tourist who seeks out McDonalds in Madrid, Dunkin Donuts in Delhi, or Burger King in Bangkok. But unfortunately these are the approaches the church has often adopted when engaging pluralism.

Tactless Tourism

The tactless approach to pluralism can lead the church to retreat into an arrogant absolutism. Out of fear and misunderstanding we end up believing we have nothing to learn from people from other cultures and religions and so we resort to shouting the truth of the gospel at them and often not hanging around to listen to the response. I would like to balance Chan’s dire warnings of the dangers of postmodernity with the positive things postmoderns can bring to the discussion. Postmoderns help us recognize that we are all culturally biased, and therefore in every missionary encounter we have something to learn. The apostle Peter spent three years on the road with Jesus and preached the Pentecost sermon where thousands were converted, yet he still had more to learn about the implications of the gospel. It was only as he crossed cultural boundaries to evangelize that he realized “God does not show favouritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35, TNIV). I believe the gospel is God’s unique truth, but I also believe that we Christians cannot claim to have comprehended it exhaustively. We must learn the boldness to speak but also the humility to listen and learn.

Reluctant Tourism

The second danger is that we are reluctant to engage other cultures and so retreat into our own ghettos. I have eaten in McDonald’s on Hong Kong’s Repulse Bay, on Moscow’s Pushkin Square and on Hollywood Boulevard, and I know that as I walk through the door, it doesn’t matter which continent I am on. I get the same sense of cultural dislocation when I walk into many churches around the world, as I find recognizable books, songs, and fashions. I agree with Chan that the gospel is “universal truth”, but when this is emphasized at the expense of valuing culture, we can end up with a bland “Mcdonaldized” evangel. A fast-food message cannot compare to the nourishment offered by a local flavoursome organic church. read more

In cross-cultural mission it’s so easy to think in terms of what is easiest, most efficient and quickest, particularly if you are coming from a position of power. But this article reinforces for me the importance of not just shouting the gospel from a distance, but really engaging with each person in their own language and culture, so that like Peter we can learn at the same time as we proclaim Christ, and he can be lifted up in the glorious diversity of peoples serving him.

Another great reason not to teach everyone English!

(Image from Tim at Bible and Mission)