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Communicating and Ministering the Power of the Gospel Cross-culturally: The Power of God for Christians Who Ride Two Horses

Worse, Pentecostals, like other western missionaries generally held an anti-culture bias and a very western approach to such things as church organization, music and communication (largely preaching and a rationalistic approach to witness). Their clergy-centered leadership style often appealed to nonwestern peoples but promoted (as it has in the West) the splitting off of groups following different leaders. This often disrupted both church and community life and gave a wrong impression of Christianity.

Nevertheless, the much greater success of Pentecostal missions speaks eloquently for the fact that they have been much more on the wavelength of traditional peoples than have evangelicals. Furthermore, it is likely that converts to Pentecostal Christianity have less of a problem with dual allegiance than do those converted to other brands of Christianity.

 

The Answer

As Westerners we have a lot to learn about Christianity. We have done well with understanding and promoting Christian allegiance. Salvation by grace through faith has, since the Reformation, been in clear focus. Though we have often intellectualized faith too much and often missed the fact that biblical faith included faithfulness, we have done quite well on this aspect of Christianity.

We have also done fairly well with the truth dimension of biblical Christianity. Though, in keeping with our cultural biases, we have tended to overemphasize intellectual truth to the detriment of experiential truth—learning the truth by practicing it—we have been solidly concerned with true understandings of biblical doctrine. We have largely conformed our teaching to what can easily be done in the classroom, the conveying of information. We have, therefore, tended to ignore the considerable body of truth that only comes through launching out in faith-dependence on God, truth that cannot be reduced to information (Jn. 3:21). We fail to see that it is experiential truth that is in focus in verses like Jn. 3:21 and 8:32: “You will know [=experience] the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32 GNB); “The one who practices the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen that what he has done has been done through God” (Jn. 3:21).

Had we not narrowed our understanding of truth to the informational and intellectual aspects of it, we might well have gone farther in understanding and participating in the more supernaturalistic dimensions of our relationship with God.5 For experiencing a life of faith (fullness) gets one well beyond that which can be rationally understood and explained.

We have tended to ignore the considerable body of truth that only comes through launching out in faith-dependence on God, truth that cannot be reduced to information.

What we have lacked, however, is the experience and understanding of spiritual power that fill the pages of the Bible. We often could talk about how the people of God lived by faith and in the authority God gave them over the invisible powers of evil. But, with the exception of Pentecostals and charismatics (comparative latecomers in the missionary enterprise), most evangelicals either ignored or explained away the possibility of our living that way today. Thus, the part of the Christian message most attractive to nonwestern peoples, and increasingly to Westerners, was not a part of the experience of most of the western missionaries who carried the gospel to them.

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2009

About the Author: Charles H. Kraft, Ph.D. (Hartford Seminary Foundation), is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Intercultural Communication, Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, California). He has served as a missionary in Nigeria, and professor of African languages at Michigan State University and UCLA. He has published widely both in missiology and in African linguistics, and his books include Christianity in Culture (1979 and revised 2005), Worldview for Christian Witness (2008), and The Evangelical's Guide to Spiritual Warfare: Scriptural Insights and Practical Instruction on Facing the Enemy (Chosen, Feb 2015). His ministry website is www.heartssetfree.org.

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