Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Can they still hear our Good News?

The Gospel must be repeatedly forwarded to a new address because the recipient is repeatedly changing places of residence. - Helmut Thielicke

This is an article excerpt from Christianity Today by William Dyrness that points out what is obvious...the Good News we know isn't necessarily good news for them...

As a former missionary I have often reflected on the difference between what I mean to say and what people hear me saying. My colleague Charles Kraft's experience in Nigeria illustrates this clearly. As a new missionary, he once explained the death and resurrection of Christ to an old Nigerian man—a communication of what was to the missionary the simple gospel. "Oh, I have heard of that before," the man said when Chuck had finished. "My nephew once was dead and came back to life." (In that culture anyone who is unconscious is thought to be dead.) Apparently the mere events of Christ's passion did not strike this man as particularly unusual; they were not "good news."

So Chuck decided to take another tack: "What would be the best news in the world that you could possibly imagine?" The man thought a minute and then said, with an air of asking for the impossible: "If I found out that there was a power greater than all the many spirits that trouble me." That was it, Chuck thought to himself, that is the "good news" for these people: In Christ's death and resurrection he has conquered the powers of evil in this culture.

In America, most people at one time or another have probably heard some version of the gospel—at least some of the facts about the gospel. Polls continue to show that a large percentage of Americans believe in God and prayer and know something about Christ's birth and death. But, like the old Nigerian man, Americans understand Christian faith with strong cultural [empathy].

Indeed, an old professor of mine, Dr. Darrell Whiteman (Asbury Seminary), once gave his own example of this:

We should never assume that all needs are alike. Sometimes, what we think are needs may already be met. For instance, in American society, people go off to one place for work, to another place for worship, one for market, one for banking, and still another for school—these are what we call simplex roles. Simplex roles are one strand relationships. You’re in one context, and that’s the only context that I see you in. The result is shallow relationships and nameless people in our lives. To talk about Jesus as Friend, for instance, makes a lot of sense.

But in a multiplex society, you don’t have the problem of alienation and loneliness. Clans are huddled together; extended families are crowded under one roof. Every relative you have may be within a three-mile radius. To talk about Jesus as Friend in a multiplex society doesn’t make sense at all. People want to talk about Jesus as Protector, as a Sustainer of life, as Life itself. But Jesus as Friend? “I don’t have any sense of loneliness! I’ve got too many friends/companions/relatives as it is!” they are likely to say. Understanding these and a multitude of other dynamics will make a radical difference in terms of the context of your ministry.


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