Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Communicating the gospel to a Muslim culture

Concluding a look at Honor & Shame by Roland Muller...

The Bible has three salvation themes which correspond to the types of culture – guilt, shame and fear. In the west we emphasise the guilt theme and filter our understanding through it.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were guilty – this led to the plan of salvation. But they were also ashamed - this theme also runs through the Bible. And when Adam hears God’s voice he is afraid – a third theme.

Our inability to understand shame-based cultures is matched by our inability to impact much of that world. Well-meaning western ways may lead to unforeseen consequences in a shame-based society, where the hearers may feel the missionary is shaming them by drawing attention to certain areas of their lives. Church attendance may occur simply to avoid shaming the missionary.

Muller is keen that we should not develop different models of salvation for the different settings but should address all three elements in each. He identifies certain key areas to address:
  • Repentance. Accept His way and turn from pride (= pursuing one’s own honour) and from fear. 
  • Sacrifice. This deals with sin, shame and fear.
  • Redemption. Our western concern with guilt meets the shame-based view where a mediator pays to cover our shame and redeem our honour
  • Propitiation. Removal of wrath by offering a gift.
  • Reconciliation. Restoration of the relationship between man and God. This is more than the removal of guilt, it is God bringing us into the Father/Son relationship – shame is removed and honour restored.
A three-fold message is needed – hope for those in shame, freedom from the bondage of fear, cleansing from guilt – each culture enters through its own door. Paul had a threefold message – the Jews were shame-based, the Greeks were guilt-based and the Barbarians were fear-based. New believers who receive only one of the three threads will not ultimately be strong in their newfound faith.

Muller believes that cross-contextualisation of the gospel is simply knowing how to start the gospel message from a place of common understanding.

The influence of each of the dominant cultures has changed with the passage of history. Muller concludes by observing that currently Islam is growing in influence and evangelical Christianity is recorded as the only religion growing by conversion. He asks - what of the next century? To whom will it belong?