вторник, 12 ноября 2013 г.

Goods to export?

Someone once said that theology was "made in Germany, corrected in England, corrupted in America and exported to Asia."

Another interesting quote on this subject is from D.T. Niles: "The gospel is like a seed that must be sown. But our temptation is to bring along not only the gospel seed but our own plant of Christianity, flower pot included. The need now is to break this flower pot and let the seed grow as it should be in its own soil."

I want to share some thoughts about theological exports.

We all, myself included, have our favourite preachers, authors, churches, hymns etc. And, since we are a global church, these are not just people and things which we can choose to embrace or not. "All is ours in Christ Jesus". 

However it is with a certain sense of discomfort that I observe movements which I have personally found helpful, and others which I have found less helpful, seeking to package their wares for foreign export - and in particular for the Russian market (where I am now based). It is not that these and other people and movements have nothing to offer, but whenever this phenomenon takes place - transplanting our 'plant of Christianity' - we need to be very aware of the soil where the seed is to grow and its particular distinctive features. 

Some would argue that with the advent of globalisation, one size does genuinely fit all. I have even heard of a foreigner working in Russia who actually said, "Across the world all growing churches look the same." Whatever merits there might be in such a statement, it came across to me as, "Whichever world city you are in, your Big Mac will taste the same." But this sort of 'bread and circuses' ('hamburgers and facebook') approach to church and the gospel ultimately cheapens the gospel and fails to connect with the whole person and culture. 

The reality is that national cultures really are different across the world. Anyone who has spent any time learning a foreign language or adapting to a host culture knows that assumptions which apply in one culture by no means always apply in another. It takes time to become acquainted with a new linguistic and cultural milieu and to make the necessary adjustments. Russians have a saying, "When you join someone else's monastery, don't bring your own rule-book with you." I have found it helpful to read the Bible almost exclusively in Russian, rather than working from the English and translating. While the gospel is indeed the answer for every person and culture, the questions which the gospel is answering are often quite different. As long as they are not seeking to ape foreign models or to abandon their own identity for something more appealing, different cultures will express faith in Christ in different ways. Metaphors such as protection and health are prominent in Russian culture, whereas, say, in British culture metaphors about human relationships are more to the fore. 

So how does this relate to theological exports? It seems to me that particular ministries are successful not only on account of their faithfulness to the Word of God (the 'seed') but also on account of their adaptation to the cultural soil in which they are planted. A John Piper is successful, because he is responding to the cultural moment in the USA and the church there, for example reacting to anthropocentrism and worldliness as it manifests itself. Likewise Tim Keller's approach is deliberately tailored to engaging with an erudite, post-Christian world city. We have something to learn from them here, but if they are exported as a 'winning recipe' they will ultimately fail and a lot of time and effort will be wasted in the process.  

So, what's my point? In a nutshell, we need to have the patience to let the seed of the gospel grow in our soil and not try to short-cut by transplanting our 'plant of Christianity' from elsewhere. We can learn from examples in the past and in other places, but they can't do our growing for us. And nor should they.

"the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world" (Colossians 1:6)

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