You Can’t Reach People for Christ While Holding Their Culture at Arm’s Length - Living Strong Television Network
You Can’t Reach People for Christ While Holding Their Culture at Arm’s Length

A veteran missiologist shares a lifetime of lessons on bringing the gospel into unfamiliar settings.

In an important new book, missiologist Darrell Whiteman tells a revealing story about a missionary who had been preaching in a particular community. Without realizing it, the missionary gave offense by wearing expensive shoes in a place where people couldn’t afford shoes of any type. For Whiteman, this anecdote illustrates how much missionaries need to learn—and how many presumptions they might need to abandon—in order to bring the gospel to people in other cultures.

Whiteman’s book Crossing Cultures with the Gospel: Anthropological Wisdom for Effective Christian Witness, challenges his readers—and missionaries in particular—to recognize the possible ethnocentrism in their perspective, which can distort and impede their ability to communicate well across cultural boundaries. As he explains, each culture has its own ways of understanding and coping with the problems of life. All of us understand biblical truths in ways that seem natural to us in our own cultures but not to people who have grown up in other cultures.

In each community, traditions of communication and interaction develop over time, resulting in distinct customs. Every community has its own sense of the past, its own traditions of loyalty and obligation, its own rules of courtesy, and its own conceptions of virtue and honor. If missionaries are to communicate with people who have grown up in other cultures, argues Whiteman, they must lay aside their own presuppositions and cultural conventions and commit to acquiring knowledge of unfamiliar customs and ways of thought.

Watching, listening, and asking questions

The missionary project, as Whiteman reminds us, is to insert the universal message of the gospel “within the very …

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