The following is a guest post from Dr. David Dunbar, President of Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, PA.
With these words St. Paul (1 Cor. 13:12) contrasts the limitations of our present spiritual vision and understanding with the fullness of knowledge that will be ours at the return of the Lord.‚ This metaphor may be helpful as we consider the last of Biblical Seminary’s theological convictions.
The Necessity of Cultural Engagement
We are committed to ongoing engagement with culture and the world for the sake of our witness to the gospel, and to continual learning from Christians in other cultural settings.
There are three points I want to make about this statement:‚ 1) culture as the context for mission, 2) culture as a way of seeing, and 3) the need for cross-cultural learning.
1. Culture as context
By “culture” we refer to the traditional ways of thinking, speaking, and acting that characterize a particular group of people. In our highly mobile Western world, we must think of culture not as a single entity but as a complex interplay of contrasting and even competing ways by which different groups construe their world.
This diversity of cultures is one reason the church in North America must now think of itself as a missionary church. We are surrounded by groups of people who do not share our way of viewing the world. To bring the gospel to our world we will need to engage in the missionary task of translation.‚ We must communicate the truth about Jesus in ways that are faithful to Scripture and effective in crossing cultural boundaries.
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, understands this challenge better than most. “When Paul spoke to Greeks, he confronted their culture’s idol of speculation and philosophy with the ‘foolishness’ of the cross, and then presented Christ’s salvation as true wisdom. When he spoke to Jews, he confronted their culture’s idol of power and accomplishment with the ‘weakness’ of the cross, and then presented the gospel as true power (1 Cor. 1:22-25).” In affirming one gospel, Keller nonetheless argues that different “forms” of the gospel are appropriate to people of differing cultural backgrounds.
So, in the context of his own ministry in New York City, Keller recognizes that people with religious backgrounds understand the concept of sin as an offense against the law of God.‚ These people can therefore be reached with the more traditional evangelical summary of the gospel which presents the cross as divine provision for human sin and guilt.
But Keller notes, “…Manhattan is also filled with postmodern listeners who consider all moral statements to be culturally relative and socially constructed. If you try to convict them of guilt for sexual lust, they will simply say, ‘You have your standards, and I have mine.’ If you respond with a diatribe on the dangers of relativism, your listeners will simply feel scolded and distanced.”‚ For this audience Keller finds it more effective to speak of sin not as guilt but as idolatry.
My point is not to argue the rightness or wrongness of Pastor Keller’s specific approach to preaching, although I agree with much of his article. The point is rather to emphasize the missional challenge we face. Careful interpretation of Scripture must now be combined with careful interpretation of culture(s) if we are to witness faithfully to our generation.