On Sunday mornings we are doing a class entitled The Church, the Gospel, and the Ends of the Earth; these are my notes from those classes.
One of the things we did overseas was organize various trips where churches would send college students over to various cultural experiences we had planned. So we had students rooming with Muslim college students engaging in various cultural and academic projects and at one point one of the students, who was also a religious leader at his school, confronted his roommate and said, “I know why you are here. You are here to convert us. If you were anyone else I would have you arrested and immediately thrown out of the country.” This student was a spiritual leader on his campus and he did not turn us in to the authorities. Why would he do this? He didn’t turn us in because of their relationship.
We live in America our perspective of Islam is skewed because of events like 9/11 and the recent bombing in Boston. But we have to step out that American paradigm and view this through the lens of the gospel. If you remember anything from this morning remember the importance of relationship. I am not going to break Islam down theologically today; if you want resources on that let me know as I have written much on that topic. I want us to look at how the gospel speaks to the Islamic worldview as well as several other worldviews. But if you want to understand Islam theologically make a friend, talk to a Muslim, and find out what they believe.
II. The Challenge of Islam
In a way the challenge of Islam is no different than the challenges we face with any other worldview. At the same time international politics and the reality of terrorism do present a challenge, not so much for us as followers of Christ, but for us as Americans. So we must view these issues through the lens of the Gospel. Albert Mohler addresses this tension in a recent article asking,
Do American Christians really believe that Christianity benefits by being associated with all that America represents to the Muslim world? To many Muslims, America appears as the great fountain of pornography, debased entertainments, abortion, and sexual revolution. Does it help our witness to Christ that all this would be associated in the Muslim mind with “Christian” America? Beyond any historical doubt, the United States was established by founders whose worldview was shaped, in most cases quite self-consciously, by the Christian faith. . . But America is not, by definition, a Christian nation in any helpful sense.
It is important that we not let our United States citizenship become an obstacle when proclaiming the Gospel.
III. Communicating the Gospel through Culture
A lot of what missions and evangelism is about has been framed in terms of communicating cross-culturally. The missionary must bridge a cultural gap between themselves and their hearers. However, in the incarnation Jesus does not bridge a cultural gap. He becomes a Jewish man and communicates the good news through that Jewish culture. We too are called to incarnational ministry and I want to look at how we can communicate the gospel through culture.
Robert E. Webber writes, “In a world of competing stories, we call evangelicals to recover the truth of God’s Word as the story of the world, and to make it the centerpiece of evangelical life.” That is why our current preaching series is entitled “Luke, The Truth: Our Savior, Our Story.” This story, this gospel that bridges from creation to recreation, shapes the whole of our existence. And furthermore this story is not simply our story; this is everyone’s story, because it is God’s story. It is the narrative of God’s gracious redemption set forth before the foundation of the world. Because this is God’s story we can communicate the Gospel through culture rather than treating the Gospel as if it is a foreign element that must be forced into culture. As the elements of the Gospel are already imbedded in culture, though we have become experts at suppressing them, we must learn to communicate the story of redemption in a way that undoes all rival stories.
Now let’s break this down into something really simple. Every rival narrative, every culture can be understood in terms of three tensions. Does anyone know what two tensions characterize the western worldview? What about a South American or African animistic worldview? What about the worldview of a Japanese business man and a Muslim Imam? So these three tensions of guilt and innocence, power and weakness, and honor and shame explain the worldview of any culture you will come into contact with.
A. Guilt and Innocence
As westerners we are concerned with right and wrong. We frame the Gospel in terms of penal substitutionary atonement and the central theme of all our evangelistic methods is our guilt, it is about justice and forgiveness in Christ.
But the other themes are there too right? Can anyone give me an example of honor and shame in western culture? No matter how many times Pitbull and Ne-yo sing “we might not get tomorrow, let’s do it tonight” and all the freedom brought about by the sexual revolution if you go to any university in America, that still has separate men’s and women’s dormitories, there will likely be a path in between them known as the walk of shame. So no matter what we do to suppress it these themes are embedded in who we are as humans.
B. Power and Weakness/Fear
Can anyone give me an example of a power and weakness, or power and fear, worldview? I really tried to bring this theme out when looking at the temptation of Christ. Jesus overcomes for us and liberates us from our fears; He has triumphed over our enemies at the cross.
C. Honor and Shame
I can distinctly remember pacing near that bus stop for an hour waiting for our friend to arrive so we could go to the market together. He has promised to meet us there and continued to reassure me via text message that he was on his way. Unfortunately I was thinking like an American I didn’t understand what was happening. So I called and informed him that it would be dark soon and we needed to go, basically I was hungry and wanted food, he assured me he was on his way. I asked him where he was and then I found out that he was working on a school project four hours away. I brought shame upon my friend, I called him out for breaking his promise. He would rather maintain his honor, by insisting that he was coming, than endure the shame of admitting that he forgot about his project and would not be going to the market with us. It didn’t bother me, but I am sure that conversation bothered him a lot.
IV. A Complete Gospel
The gospel speaks to these three tensions. Jesus bears the wrath of God so that God can justify the ungodly, He becomes sin for us so that we can become the righteousness of God. Just as God clothed Adam and Eve in the garden God covers our shame, He will not put those to shame who believe in Him. He has triumphed over our enemies in the cross and He has been given all power and authority and we will reign with Him. So at the end of the day my central encouragement to you is not that you go read a book on apologetics and find out all the answers to the really hard questions in life. No, my encouragement is that you start a conversation and make a friend all the while knowing that not only does the gospel answer those hard questions more importantly it answers the questions that matter. So get to know someone, know what their questions are, what their struggles are, and then explain how the gospel makes us righteous, covers our shame, and overcomes our enemies.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., “The Challenge of Islam—A Christian Perspective,” Southern Seminary Magazine 81.3 (2013): 28.
Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 120.
For a more in-depth discussion of this please see Roland Muller, Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door (n.p.: Xlibris Corporation, 2000).