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Inculturation In Contemporary Mission Theology Religion Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Theology
Wordcount: 3208 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This assignment will explore the place of inculturation in contemporary mission by defining mission in the present world and exploring how the various aspects of mission are affected by mission and the origins of the word ‘inculturation’. There will also be exploration into the ethics of inculturation in mission and an exploration of the biblical perspective of mission. The assignment will consider whether inculturation is part of the Missio Dei. This assignment will focus on inculturation in the western world as inculturation is most important when applied to a post-Christondom society as these are the lease likely to have a view on God. It is also more likely to be within the interest of the target audience for this essay.

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There is considerable controversy surrounding the meaning of the term inculturation. The relationship between gospel and cultures is recognised as a crucial question for Christian mission. [1]  The two main words used when relating culture with the Gospel and these are contextualisation and inculturation. These terms differ only by a matter of perspective – contextualisation is to make the Gospel relevant to the culture and inculturation is the perspective of the Gospel represented within those situations. The Gospel is communicated in and through language, symbols, music, traditions, and customs. In other words, the Gospel is communicated through culture. This is where inculturation begins. Each of the four gospels was written for a specific culture. For example, the gospel of Matthew was written for Jewish communities. The Gospel message transforms the world and continues to be inculturated in different times and places (Matthew 5.1-16). Among the problems vexing modern missiology is the urgent need for adaptation, both due to declining congregations in the post-Christendom era and because of the constant need for adaptation to promote acceptance of faith. Mission partners are told to adjust themselves to the people whom they labour. [2] This is the product of inculturation.

The ‘making of disciples’ is a process that begins at the point of conversion, but continues long after it, for the entirety, one could argue, of a Christian’s life. The International Standard Dictionary Bible Dictionary defines disciples thus: ‘after the death and ascension of Jesus, disciples are those who confess Him as the Messiah.’ [3] The process of becoming a disciple thus begins with a confession of faith, but must continue as part of the Body of Christ, and in the Church.

The term ‘winning souls’ implies in itself an eschatological view of salvation, and places a heavier emphasis on life in Christ after the resurrection of the dead than life in Christ in this world. In principle salvation is the effect on the soul of a conversion to Christianity. There is, however, a distinction to be made between ‘saving’ and ‘winning’ souls. Whilst the former has a firmly eschatological meaning, the latter is more ambiguous. It is therefore imperative that the motives of the church are clear; namely, from what are these souls being saved from? Butler describes American culture as something that people need to be saved from. [4] 

The practice of Paul laid out in 1 Corinthians 9:22 is that Christianity appeared to those on the outside of faith to adapt to the circumstances in which they find those to whom they are preaching. The word inculturation is of recent coinage and has rapidly been accepted within theological debate. [5] This would appear to imply that it meets a need identified recently and that there is general agreement on its significance within contemporary mission – that it is a vital component to successful mission both when inculturation is naturally occurring and when it is formulated for the purpose.

Academics agree that the message of the New Testament entails mission. Passages such as Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-16 are usually referred to by scholars as the ‘Great Commission’. [6] Due to this the Church of Jesus has a mandate to take the salvific message of the Gospel to the ends of the earth and to make Disciples of Christ in every nation.

There is some ambiguity regarding the understanding of mission. [7] Practicing one’s faith in community is an important way of participating in mission. [8] Through baptism, Hebrews 10:25 withholds that Christians believe that they become sisters and brothers belonging together in Christ. The church is the coming together of the faithful and their going forth in peace and this is the mission God is said to require of his people and this is also known as the Missio Dei. [9] Bosch is one theologian strongly in favour of witnessing as a Christian, saying that ‘Mission means serving, healing, and reconciling a divided, wounded humanity.’ [10] Sometimes to achieve these aims set out by Bosch it is required to adapt ones personal understanding in favour of a greater meaning which can put into motion these missiological acts.

Bosch describes mission in general terms as ‘the activity of proclaiming and embodying the gospel among those who have not yet embraced it.’ [11] The basic premise of mission is that all Christians should be involved in the Great Commission of Jesus as spoken in Matthew 28:19-20. The teaching of the contemporary missional church is that the church has a mission because Jesus had a mission. [12] Hirsch describes mission when he says ‘missional church is a community of God’s people that defines itself, and organizes its life around, it’s real purpose of being an agent of God’s mission to the world.’ [13] 

Through inculturation, the Church provides an incarnational in cultures and at the same time introduces people along with their cultures, into the churches own community, providing that it is biblical. [14] People of faith transmits these Biblical ideologies into their own values, at the same time taking the elements which already exist within their cultures and adapting those that do not into a more applicable form. [15] Due to this action within the local churches, the universal Church has developed forms of expression and ethics in the various sectors of Christian life, such as evangelization, worship, theology and social justice. [16] 

A consequence of inculturation is that a given culture has an opportunity to be transformed by faith, and ideally the culture in question is introduced into the Church. Inculturation has this effect because humanity reflects God as they are created in His image (Genesis 1:27). God has planted His holy spirit, in every individual, and as such, every community. This is a normal consequence of humanity’s creation in the image and likeness of God. [17]  Christians believe, as described by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians that the Holy Spirit is active in all of humanity, regardless of whether they have faith in him. This is this reason that the Gospel message can be unchanging despite inculturation of the Gospel into cultures. [18] It is the duty of evangelism which is made possible due to inculturation, to reveal this presence and this activity, to discover and affirm holy spirit and to challenge everything in the culture, which impedes the full manifestation of God’s truth and love. [19] This provides a full circle of inculturation from applying the Gospel to the culture in question, to the culture being transformed by the Gospel message and to some extent un-inculturating themselves.

There are various different ways of explaining transformation of culture by faith. One opinion, represented by Galder, is to situate the process in what is called the Missio Dei, which basically means ‘the Mission of God’. [20]  The Missio Dei reaches its potential in the great commandment of love (oneanother as oneself) and its practical implementation in the life and sacrifice of Jesus described in John as ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ (John 3: 16). [21] Another approach taken by theologians, represented by Wainwright & Tucker, is to see inculturation as a consequence of the Incarnation. [22] By becoming human, God identified himself with human culture. [23] Culture was part of the human nature adopted by God the Son, Jesus. [24]  This identification was completed in the death of Jesus on the cross. [25] Through his death and resurrection, Jesus transcended the limitations of an earthly life and has extended his saving power interculturally. [26] This process of the ‘inculturation wheel’ involves the death and resurrection of each and every culture. [27]  Christians believe, according to Wainright, that their faith is the perfection of every culture. [28] Both of these arguments represent valid points however, despite being seemingly distinctive in academic writings, they have no requirement to be mutually exclusive. For this reason, one may conclude that one could incorporate the incarnation with the Missio Dei for maximum beneficial results.

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Inculturation affects every aspect of the Christian life, particularly how that life of faith begins. Evangelism as Witness, a model put forward by Abraham, is the idea that a Christian’s everyday life should serve as a witness to their faith and that this should be a route to evangelism. [29] The basis for this idea is found in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus tells his disciples, ‘In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16). Abraham himself is ambivalent about this approach: while it is effective at making evangelism a natural part of a Christian’s daily life, there is a danger that it can ‘[allow] us to pretend that the church has fulfilled its obligations in evangelism when in reality it has reduced evangelism to our acts of mercy and love.’ [30] Furthermore, by making evangelism an inherent part of the Christian lifestyle, but distinctive from secularisation, it becomes removed from the culture of a community and represents its own, faithful culture. [31] This would leave room for new converts to detach from an inculturated Gospel message and begin their faith from pure eyes. [32] Through the eyes of inculturisation evangelism as witness appears to be a shallow representation of the understanding of the role of inculturism in contemporary culture.

However, one thing that may be said of evangelism by witness is that its motives are inherently pure. Because the Christian lifestyle is not a means to an evangelistic end but an end in itself, evangelism is not a purpose in itself; rather a Christ-like life is the purpose, and evangelism is merely a by-product. This is the danger that Abraham expresses in The Art: that witness as evangelism ‘exaggerates what can be conveyed through acts of mercy and love alone.’ [33] 

One characteristic of Jesus Christ is his willingness to serve. He spent his human life serving the apostles and all those he came in contact with. Through the scriptures, his service has become much more far reaching, beyond the people he came in direct contact with. The stories that are told teach all of us why service is important. When Christ was teaching the multitudes of people and it was a meal time, the community of people got hungry. Jesus was compassionate to their needs and fed them. Not only did he perform a miracle to show that what He provided both in the meal and in his saving actions, that there was enough for everyone, but he also shared his time with His people. Jesus is taken as the ultimate idol in a time where people feel the need to be provided with an external locus of identity. His example surpasses culture, it is an intercultural need that supposes time and space, for that of food, nutritionally and spiritually. This could be argued to be evidence for a resolution to some issues facing faith across cultures.

Christianity is a religion that has surpassed centuries and inculturation is is entwined throughout the church’s history. As a result of this historical process there is a certain accumulation of cultural elements, which begin with those biblical influences where the culture is present whilst continually being affected and adapted by cultures. [34] The cultures of the Bible are necessary for the understanding of Scripture, which, in the Christian tradition, cannot be replaced by any other historical influence. [35] 

Within more traditional church practices there is the use of words, gestures and rites – particularly those that belong to the liturgy of the sacraments. There are other traditions the church has help which Jesus himself did or has commanded his followers to participate in: Baptism and the bread and wine which Jesus substituted for the blessings of the Jewish Passover. [36] The Church feels unable to change these practices without being unfaithful to the historical Jesus. [37] 

The process of the inculturation into other cultures is costly in time. Tanye describes it as ‘not a matter of purely external adaptation, for inculturation means the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures.’ [38] The process is thus a profound and all-embracing one, which involves the Christian message and also the Church’s reflection and practice. At the same time it is a difficult process, as the attraction to compromise the distinctiveness and integrity of the Christian faith is strong.

The Church identifies with biblical culture, but this is ever further from its own living culture of today. The cultures of the first century AD are, in fact, cultures which are not naturally occurring in modern society. The reason for emphasis on biblical culture is because it belongs to the humanity and historicity of Jesus himself, who is the subject of evangelization/inculturation. People of every culture have to do this and it is part of the reality of inculturation itself, especially where these elements are essential   to Christian identity. Inculturation is a slow journey which accompanies the whole of missionary life. It involves those working in the Church’s mission and the Christian communities as they develop.. It is an integral component to evangelism. For this reason inculturation is essential to the current church in the west however is not ideal for a longer-term plan for the church.


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