How can we engage Australian culture with the gospel?
ANSWERING THE QUESTION WITH SOME QUESTIONS
A good starting place to be able to answer this question is with a couple of more questions:
- "when you hear the term "Australian culture", what comes to mind?"
- "when you hear the term "gospel", what comes to mind?"
(Another good starting point would be to ask the "average Aussie" the same questions!)
The trouble we have upfront is that we unwittingly carry our own mixture of both church and Australian culture into these questions - and as long as we do that we will always struggle to be able to answer them.
Nonetheless, here's two things I think we can start with:
When I was in New Zealand a couple of months ago, I was struck by the nature of engagement between Indigenous and European Kiwis - it wasn't until I saw a contrasting story to that of the Australian story that I was able to gain a deeper insight into our own culture. And as I reflect on it, in order to understand our culture, I needed to change where I began hearing the story ... (ie. not with me).
To exegete is to "draw out", and I like what Ernest Goodman has to say on this subject: "cultural exegesis means discovering why people in a particular culture do what
they do by observing them and viewing their cultural influences from
their perspective rather than interpreting their behavior through our
own cultural lenses."
I remember the day when I presented a book concept of the whole story of God to a ministry leader, and after walking him through the content, he asked me, "So where do you present the gospel in this story?"
Now I know that he was talking about the message of salvation being explicitly presented, but my initial internal response was one of disbelief - I couldn't fathom that he couldn't see that the whole story was in fact "the gospel."
When we become so focused on starting "the gospel" with "God loves you and created you to know Him personally" we deliver an incomplete version of the good news. As I reflect on it, in order to understand the gospel, I need to change where I begin telling the story ... (ie. not with me).
The whole story of God IS the gospel. When we understand and proclaim the gospel in this way, it enables us to more fully discern how the gospel intersects with culture.
EXAMPLES OF INTERSECTION
- DESIGNED - the episode of creation intersects with narratives around origin and heritage.
- BROKEN - the episode of rebellion and disruption intersects with narratives of pain and suffering.
- EXPECTANT - the episode of the nation of Israel intersects with narratives of struggle, community, deliverance, longing and exile.
- PRESENCE - the episode of the life and ministry of Jesus intersects with narratives of priorities and influence.
- SATISFIED - the episode of Jesus' death and resurrection intersects with narratives around fulfilment and meaning.
- MISSION - the episode of the new community of God intersects with narratives around family and vocation.
- RESTORED - the episode of the age to come intersects with narratives around hope and future.
If we're going to be able to answer the question, "how can we engage Australian culture with the gospel?" then we need to be able to become recognisers of how the gospel intersects with culture.
Next week we'll be looking at a practical framework for missional engagement.
AN EXERCISE FOR YOU TO TRY
What is something you've noticed in Australian culture ?
What is the story behind that element of culture?
In what way does the gospel intersect with this example of culture?