Are you one of the 100+ million people who’ve seen this video?
I know that for some people, the first time they saw it, they felt just a little dumber. One person left this comment on YouTube, “I’m so embarrassed to live in this generation.” On the other hand, it is a catchy song. When it’s all said and done, you really do start to wonder, “Well, what does the fox say?”
Nobody knows what the fox says … so people just guess. They are satisfied and content with their assumptions because it makes them happy and they don’t know anything different.
So why talk about what foxes say?
What does the gospel say?
I regularly ask Christians (including missionaries) to explain to me the gospel. I want to hear how they understand and summarize it. You may be surprised how much people struggle to answer this seemingly basic question. There are two problems to consider. I’ll mention the first one here. The second one will come in a later post.
1. Some people don’t know exactly what the gospel says, … so they just guess.
They talk about all kinds of things they’ve heard from a pastor or read about in a book. So often, people confuse “gospel” with “Bible,” as if preaching the gospel was essentially just teaching anything in the Bible.
Therefore, it should not be surprising when people start listening to false gospels. After all, one may think, “Your guess is as good as mine.”
To solve this problem––to help people know and remember the gospel––people have used all kinds of presentations. Some are rather direct and provocative, “What if you died tonight…?” Others have great artwork and clever wording. People try to design simple presentations that are “catchy” because they want listeners to remember them.
Making gospel presentations clear, memorable and reproducible is a worthy goal. However,we need to ask ourselves a humbling question:
What side effects should we be aware of when training people to use simplified gospel presentations?
I’ll just mention a few answers to that question. I’ve talked on some of these answers in Saving God’s Face. I’ll say a bit more in the next post. If we are not careful, the following consequences could result.
- We make the gospel acceptable
People are sometimes deceived by simplicity. They think it’s “easy” to be a Christian. Of course, at one level, we can agree with that. On the other hand, the Christian life can feel painful, even impossible, at times. Jesus warns his followers to expect suffering and rejection.
- We might syncretize the gospel
On this point, I’ll simply repeat the quote by Dean Flemming that I previously posted.
…But could it be that refusing to contextualize the gospel poses an even greater risk of syncretism?
Consider the situation today––not unlike that of Colossians––when the gospel meets worldviews that are burdened with fear of unseen powers thought to control practical realities such a crops, health, and family relations. In many cases, the Christian message that has been imported to these contexts from the West has failed to address such issues. As a result, people can easily assume that Jesus is powerless to overcome the forces that influence their daily lives. Like the Colossian syncretists, converts may look for supplements––shamans, amulets, rituals, or occult practices––to protect them from hostile spirits. Ironically, a gospel that neglects such worldview issues may unwittingly end up promoting syncretism instead of preventing it.
(from “Paul the Contextualizer,” in Local Theology for the Global Church: Principles for an Evangelical Approach to Contextualization, 18–19)
This leads to the next potential consequence.
- We may distort the gospel
This could come both through syncretism and by reductionism. Likewise, we can confuse main themes and minor themes.
- We will assume the gospel
I know this last idea sounds strange. Why is it a problem to “assume the gospel”? I’ll elaborate on this last point in a coming post.
- One of the most important quotes I’ve read on contextualization (www.patheos.com/blogs/jacksonwu)