Academic journal article International Review of Mission

On Intercultural Hermeneutics

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

On Intercultural Hermeneutics

Article excerpt

[The following is a statement prepared by a group of theologians on intercultural hermeneutics and communication. The group met three times as part of the World Council of Churches study process on gospel and cultures. While it is not the definitive statement on the issue, it raises sharply some of the questions and issues that are central to the thmene of Section IV at the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. Therefore, it is included in this issue of the IRM - Ed.]

The Statement

Christians cannot think about the gospel apart from its engagement with culture, for the gospel directly engages the lived experience of those whom it addresses. It speaks a word of power and hope to the broken and oppressed, the diseased and the poor. It brings life within the context of the lives of its hearers. This was Jesus' message in his inaugural sermon: that the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4:18).

The account of the miracle of hearing at Pentecost - which mentions three times that the listeners heard the message "in their own languages" (Acts 2:6,8,11) - illustrates how the gospel engages each human culture by coming to it in familiar language, in terms that connect with the everyday life, memory and conceptual world of that particular people. In today's rapidly changing world, however, a variety of factors complicate the issue of communicating the gospel in different cultural situations:

* The gospel is being witnessed to in many more cultures than ever before.

* These many cultures are coming into closer contact with one another. Multicultural societies are emerging on an unprecedented scale, heightening questions of cultural identity and creating conflicts among cultures.

* Many people whose cultural identity had not previously been challenged find themselves in a minority when they become migrants or refugees. Others find their culture suppressed when their country is occupied by a stronger military power.

* Fierce religio-ethnic struggles create narrow ethnocentrisms, often leading to hatred and violence. In many places cultures are maintained and legitimated along ethnic lines. We witness also the fact that class, race, gender and other interests shape and reshape cultures.

* Cultures that had been brutally suppressed, sometimes even in the name of the gospel, are rediscovering their voice and renewing their resistance against their oppressors.

* Many cultures struggle to maintain their traditional way of life against encroaching secularization and corrosive globalization.

On top of the narrow nationalisms and xenophobia of our day, the fundamentalisms of various kinds and the relentless advance of "modernization," the shadow of human-created threats to the survival of the earth fosters cultural ferment and turmoil. Communities do not share a common world or a common way of communicating with one another. This creates uncertainty, fear, avoidance of encounter and often conflict and violence. Intercultural encounter is an opportunity for revealing the hidden treasures of the gospel, but it has always been a challenge, and never more than in the present. Communication within communities is difficult enough. What can we learn about how to communicate the gospel across cultural boundaries?

Gospel, culture and their encounter

In order to address this question we should clarify our use of several terms that will arise often in the discussion. The first is "gospel." This term is sometimes used to indicate apostolic faith as a whole, sometimes to indicate the basic Christian proclamation (kerygma), sometimes to accent the significance of the Christian message as good news. We will emphasize primarily the kerygmatic understanding of "gospel," but in a way which also acknowledges the importance of its being received as good news and its place within the larger complex of apostolic faith as a whole. …

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