the gospel illusion

October 24, 2008

The idea that one can or could at any time separate out by some process of distillation a pure gospel unadulterated by any cultural accretions is an illusion. It is, in fact, an abandonment of the gospel, for the gospel is about the word made flesh. Every statement of the gospel in words is conditioned by the culture of which those words are a part, and every style of life that claims to embody the truth of the gospel is a culturally conditioned style of life. There can never be a culture-free gospel. Yet the gospel, which is from the beginning to the end embodied in culturally conditioned forms, calls into question all cultures, including the ones in which it was originally embodied.”

I started reading Foolishness to the Greeks, by Lesslie Newbigin this week. This quote is on the first few pages, and methinks you might be reading a lot of Newbigin’s words on this blog in the coming weeks.

What Newbigin expresses above fits with what we are trying to capture here in Austin. The process of church planting is not about replicating one’s church experiences from somewhere else, but about engaging as a missionary in the culture where you live. In fact, I’m using the term church planting as little as possible. The language that I have used much of the last year is that we are coming to Austin as missionaries — as foreigners with a need to listen to, and learn from, the culture.

But, Newbigin sheds new insight for me above. Not only am I beginning to learn more about this culture — and, of course, about the Gospel — it is also a process of learning about self. I am seeing how my understanding of Gospel is limited to the culture(s) that I have been a part of.

What lies ahead for me, and for Austin Mustard Seed is a delicate process of learning what is true about Austin and myself, and how the Gospel shapes both. Or perhaps better said, how the Gospel is Good News for both.

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