Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Evangelism and Culture

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Evangelism and Culture

Article excerpt

The most obvious gospel paradigm for the theme evangelism and culture is the parable of the sower. The seed is the Word of God.

But as St Maximos the Confessor wrote in the seventh century, the Word of God is constantly revealing himself, becoming "embodied." The Word establishes the created universe, the heavens tell his glory, the firmament his handiwork, for it is by the Word that everything that was made came into existence and is sustained in being. The Word is embodied first of all in the entire cosmos. The Word in the cosmos has been misunderstood, after all. It was as if the Message revealed by the Word was written, as C.S. Lewis once said, in letters too large for us to read clearly. In the pre-Christian societies, he was wrongly identified with Neptune, Zeus, Adonus, Apollo, or in the modern world with the forces of the natural world, with the "laws" of chemistry, physiology, genetics.

So in the second embodiment the Word became easier to decipher. The Word of God is also embodied in the holy scriptures, in some ways in a more focused and understandable form. Even there, the possibility of misinterpretation arose, and the Scribes and Pharisees were constantly criticized for missing the intended meaning of the Law and the Prophets.

So ultimately, at the fullness of time, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He is called "Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." He is called "the Messiah," "the Christ," "the Way, the Truth and the Life." He calls himself "the Living Bread," "the Son of Man," "Living Water," "the Good Shepherd."

All of this is the Word of God, the seed in the parable of the sower - and more. The gospel is also the church, the mystical body of Christ, and the scattered seed can refer to the evangelical establishment of the church as the faith spreads geographically throughout the world. And the fullness of the gospel, of the Christian faith, is Orthodoxy. The seed then means all these - the Word of God in all embodiments, the gospel of repentance, of the kingdom, the sacramental and iconographic presence of Christ, the Truth of the Orthodox faith. And none of these exist in a vacuum. The seed always requires a specific place, some soil, in which to grow.

The Word of God as scripture must be expressed in human language, and language is culture. The gospel of the kingdom must be preached in human words, and words are culture. The presence of Christ must convey, manifested with signs, symbols, art, music, liturgical action, sacrament, and all this is culture. The Truth, like the seed, needs soil in which to grow, and the soil is culture.

The seed in the parable is scattered and some grows, some does not. But even the seed that reaches maturity produces different harvests, some thirty or sixty or a hundredfold. The same truth, the same gospel, the same Christ, when introduced into a specific cultural context produces a unique harvest, for different soils have different levels of fertility. Climatic conditions vary from time to time and place to place. The reception of the Word of God varies accordingly, not only as individuals hear the gospel, understand the Truth, confront Christ, enter the church, but as cultures do as well.

No one plants without expecting a harvest. The result the church anticipates and for which it prepares, the goal of all that it says and does, is revealed in the gospel passage read on more Sundays during the church year than any other: John, ch. 17. It is no accident that the church presents our Lord's prayer for unity to us more often than any other, for this is the ultimate goal of his life and mission, the fulfillment of the gospel. In the end, the scriptures tell us, Christ will be "all in all." He will hold us, all people of all races, nationalities, ethnic groups, political parties, religious sects and creeds, forever in his infinite loving embrace. We will be forever with the Lord - and with all others, our friends, neighbours, and the enemies Jesus Christ commanded us to forgive, to bless, to love. …

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