Gospel in Obscurity   3 comments

This is part of a series. Check it out.

“I can’t go to your church, I’m not a Republican.”

Someone said that to Brad recently. For the record, we are not Republicans. We’re registered non-partisans with conservative-libertarian views who edge toward voluntaryism and anarchy.

But, the person who said this to Brad is probably correct that many of the people in our church are probably Republicans. Since Alaska’s voters are 58% registered undeclared/non-partisan, I won’t say that the majority of our church members are Republicans, but most probably agree with the Republican Party more than they do the Democratic Party.

Statistically, the more you go to church, the more likely you are to be a Republican and the less you go to church, the more likely you are to be a Democrat. There are exceptions, of course, but this is what the media refer to as “The God Gap.” It’s the math of the situation. There is a strong correlation between church attendance and political party.

There are Christian observers who believe it is best to just shut up on political social issues rather than risk alienating potential converts to Christ … and to a certain extent, I agree with them.  I think we need to be more careful in how we address people of differing opinions. They are not our enemies. The false premises on which their opinions are based are the enemy. I try to concentrate on that rather than on the fact that some politicians who espouse those opinions and advance those false premises are simply odious.

I have a busy mind that can’t just concentrate on one subject, so it’s likely I won’t just turn to posting about salvation and not speak political, social or economic truth when I think it needs to be spoken.
But, hey, from the very beginning my blog has been about principles and not politics. I am not nor have I ever been a member of a political party. If the Democratic Party begins to espouse a platform I can agree with, I’ll vote for Democratic candidates again. In the meantime, I’m wading mostly in the teaparty, libertarian end of “conservativism”. The Republican mainstreamers are not, by and large, in agreement with me. They call me the radical fringe. I call them progressive moderates who really can’t see how far the country as drifted to the leftist socialist tyrannical side of the spectrum.
So my Christmas posts probably made it pretty clear that I believe Christianity exists in the context of the culture in which it resides. I hope in this series to touch on some of the examples and issues arising from that.
My mother was a great admirer of James Michener’s writing. Michener was a Pulitzer prize-winning American author known for writing books based on deep and intensive research into historical and cultural information. His book Hawaii recounted the history of the islands in vivid detail. Included in Michener’s retelling of the islands’ history is the evangelization of the native people by missionaries.

We could debate Michener’s historical accuracy, but the book illustrates a problem Christians have had for a long time. Missionaries and lay-people have wandered around the idea of contextualization, which is translating the never-changing gospel into an ever-changing, dynamic culture. Michener rightfully points out that missionaries of that era were not terribly savvy about the myriad issues of cultural context. The movie made from a portion of the book plays up that reality to the point of stereotype.

Male missionaries preached the gospel from their big black Bibles in their black suits under the shade of their wide-brimmed black hats. The women with them walked the shores of Hawaii spreading the good news in hoop skirts and bonnets while the native women listened intently in their grass skirts and other traditional attire. Converts were made, but a scene later in the movie shows the new Hawaiian believers gathering for worship wearing hoop skirts and bonnets and black suits and black hats while carrying big black Bibles. The book makes it clearer that the church had not penetrated very deeply into the island.

When we share the gospel, we must be careful not to obscure the critical points for the sake of an idea or truth that is less important.

 According to the movie, people incorrectly understood what it meant to become a Christian. To become a Christian was to literally change their clothes. Other Hawaiians were less open to the gospel, because they didn’t understand it as an internal work of grace that affected people on a spiritual level. They saw it simply as an outward physical change that was more American culture than it was Christian.
Cultural expressions that accompany the gospel, for good or bad, can actually obscure the gospel.

Obscurantism is when someone confuses the gospel with some idea or expression external to the gospel.

Just as the people in the movie confused dressing a certain way with following Jesus, many modern Americans equate Christianity with the Religious Right. We  need to be aware that there are many opportunities for unbelievers to misunderstand the gospel because of our words or actions.

In an obscured version of Christianity, it appears as though you have to do particular things that are not actually the gospel in order to follow Christ, because all the Christians you know do them.

Clothing, hairstyle, musical tastes, and politics all can be associated with Christianity, but seeing these things as the gospel actually creates a false gospel.

Our society is asking huge questions about our faith and how it fits into our culture. We need to take those seriously and consider whether what we are presenting is really the gospel or the culture that has become associated with the gospel. Are we obscuring the gospel by allowing some cultural aspects into our churches that hinder the gospel.

And, if we find that to be the case, what do we do about it? What might it cost us to let go of the cultural things that obscure the gospel in order to reach the unbelievers around us?

Posted December 29, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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3 responses to “Gospel in Obscurity

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  1. Pingback: Cultural Dance | aurorawatcherak

  2. I definitely agree with you. The Gospel is supposed to transform the culture, not the other way around.

    Like

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