We have been discussing New Testament implications of the idea that culture is essentially the behavior of a people group. Here are the previous implications:
- New Testament authors explain cultural differences between various people groups as differences of belief and value.
- New Testament authors identify people groups (ethnicities, tribes, nations, etc.) as those of common ancestral heritage who share common culture flowing from common values.
- New Testament authors demand that the culture of Christians be holy, pure, and distinct from the culture of unbelievers.
- New Testament authors proclaim Christianity as a new and distinct people group that shares new values and thus new culture.
The fifth implication is that New Testament authors insist that a clear distinction between the culture of believers and unbelievers will have evangelistic impact. Many evangelicals, however, argue that in order to reach the culture, believers must be incarnate in the culture, that is, they must resemble the culture around them. Unbelievers will be evangelized only as they recognize the presentation of the gospel in their own cultural language. The advocacy of contextualization by these evangelicals flows directly from their understanding of culture as something entirely involuntary and neutral. Evangelism cannot occur, they argue, without cultural contextualization. While this is certainly true with regard to language intelligibility, these evangelicals extend “intelligibility” to all aspects of behavior.
In contrast, New Testament authors insist that only when the culture of believers changes as a result of transformed values will unbelievers “glorify God on the day of visitation.” Snoeberger explains this more biblical approach to evangelizing the culture: “The proper response of the Christian to culture is to expose its depravity, demonstrate that it has illicitly borrowed from the Christian worldview, and show that its adherents cannot live within the implications of their own worldview.”1
- Snoeberger, “Noetic Sin, Neutrality, and Contextualization,” 357. [↩]