In my push to better communicate the Gospel, I’ve often attempted to learn how to contextualize the eternal message. The hope is to phrase the truth of Christ’s story so that it resonates within the language of the culture you’re trying to reach.
I recently read an article at the International Mission Board’s (IMB) website about pitfalls to that approach that gave me pause. The IMB article underscored dangers for contextualizing the Gospel in an honor-shame culture.
Personally, I’ve not had much experience witnessing outside of a Western context, but the article led me to consider how, in my attempt to reach and teach those around me, I may be ceding too much ground to the culture.
The Gospel message of salvation meets a lot of the needs that those in the West desire to see fulfilled: meaning, purpose, justice. In light of the chaotic events that constantly make headline news, it becomes rather apparent that we cannot satisfy those desires without some outside help. There are too many forces that are beyond our control. We need someone to intervene on our behalf.
While this is true, it’s only half of the story. It’s not only that obstacles external to us prevent us from attaining all that we were made to be; we also fail to live lives of meaning, fail to see justice done, because we are ourselves a part of the problem. We are sinners who make mistakes that lead to the problems that we witness in the world.
We like to think that we play no role, that we’re not guilty, but the harsh truth is that we are! We consciously and sometimes unconsciously act in selfish ways that only add to the injustices that we see in the world.
Aside from that, placing too much emphasis on ideals like fulfillment and justice can also turn the spotlight away from God Himself. While Christ did come to bring abundant life (Jn. 10:10), we’re foolish to think that our need can be met outside of the Lord Himself.
Even good things like living a life that purposefully impacts others for the good or seeing justice done within a community pale in comparison to the beauty and glory of God. We could do great things that build strong communities by serving countless people and bettering their lives and still miss Him.
To be sure, all good things flow from Him (Jm. 1:17), but we must guard against rejoicing over the refreshing water while forsaking the spring that is its source. In order to be rightly related to the Good Creator, we must respond to the Gospel by repenting of sin and believing in Christ’s graceful exchange of His goodness for our sinfulness.
When we believe in and proclaim the Good News, we can’t bottle up the by-products of grace and forget about the source that truly saves.