16 November 2009

What about Jesus and culture?

My friend and former student, Bill Fiesser wrote me,

“Hey Glenn had a thought today and wanted your opinion. If another culture calls God by a different name but is taught access to that God comes through His son Jesus is that a disservice to the people of that culture?”

I answered:

Bill, if I understand your question – and I’d really like to hear your thoughts and what provoked the question – whenever we bring the good news of Jesus into a culture, we actually do honor to the people there. Especially when we do it right by being culturally sensitive.

In different languages god has a different “name.” But his attributes and personality can be very different along with his names. Zeus and the plethora of Greek gods are very different from the creator God of the Bible. Kali – a Hindu deity – is very different from the merciful divinity we see in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So we can say all gods are not created equal! (I’m not saying god is created… you know what I mean!)

And almost every culture and religion has a supreme Creator. I was once in India and was asked, “Where does God live?” And in this question my host (who had a whole “temple” of gods in the corner of the room) was asking where the Creator God resided.

And every culture – even our “home culture” – contains parts of the good, the bad and the ugly! Some vestige in culture is derived from the imago dei – image of God – other elements are purely demonic and some are just neutral and pragmatic.

The Gospel is not about someone named “Jesus” and someone named “God.” He can be called Yesua, Yesu or Jesus. And even the “name” “God” is an English word from the German word, from the Indo-European word from the Hebrew word… So the terminology is not as important as the relationship and the story. In the Gospel of Jesus, we bring the news of a superabundant loving God who bridges a gap between Creator and creation by becoming a man. We bring honor and dignity to the society by giving a story of God’s redemption of His world.

We serve people, families and cultures when we bring the story of Jesus. We do them a disservice when we hold good things to ourselves and don’t share.

Make sense?

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