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The evangelistic power of holy culture

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series

"A New Testament Understanding of Culture"

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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:

  1. New Testament authors explain cultural differences between various people groups as differences of belief and value.
  2. New Testament authors identify people groups (ethnicities, tribes, nations, etc.) as those of common ancestral heritage who share common culture flowing from common values.
  3. New Testament authors demand that the culture of Christians be holy, pure, and distinct from the culture of unbelievers.
  4. 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

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Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Snoeberger, “Noetic Sin, Neutrality, and Contextualization,” 357. []

3 Responses to The evangelistic power of holy culture

  1. 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.


    Are you arguing, then, that the only adaptation one must make from one setting to another in evangelization is language? While you are offering these points succinctly, it seems in trying to make your overall point, that you are throwing out an awful lot of baby with the bathwater. It seems to me that there are aspects of cultures that are morally or Biblically neutral other than language that it would be wise to adapt in such efforts… For example, if one is working with a tribe in primitive surroundings, it’s probably not the wisest thing to wear your expensive Western clothing, and build a nice house with electricity, A/C, and a guard patrol to keep the villagers aways. Learning and adapting to things like clothing styles, forms of greeting, non-verbal signals, cuisine… Are you saying the New Testament recommends against such things? Because the quote I provided seems to lead to that conclusion–the only thing necessary is linguistic intelligibility.

  2. Now, Greg, there you going again making assumptions and erecting your own straw men! :)

    You and I both know that this is not what is meant at all by the modern notion of “contextualization.”

    I would certainly advocate following Paul’s model of removing hindrances to the gospel when they are things not essential to the gospel, such as even being married or receiving pay for preaching.

    What I am specifically addressing, of course, are cultural methods and means of communication, all of which shape the message, that are employed simply to make the unbeliever feel “comfortable” or to make the gospel more “attractive.”

    No, there is not such thing as neutral culture; all behavior is moral, but as I’ve reiterated several times, this does not mean there is only one right way to behave. There could be many ways of behavior that embody noble values consistent with the gospel and its presentation.

  3. I not defending the modern notion of anything. You are assuming anyone reading will assume and understand what you have not actually said. What you actually said, before your clarifying response to my question, was that language intelligibility was justified, period.

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