How has our culture informed modern missions?
by Phil Martin
(The first in a three part series on Pluralism and Missions)
Much has been written about the evangelical church, pluralism in western culture and the intersection of the two. By 2014, it is no longer a new or profound position to assert that orthodox Christianity is diametrically opposed to a pluralistic worldview. In fact, it has been 91 years since J. Gresham Machen addressed these topics in his increasingly applicable “Christianity and Liberalism.”
Pluralism at its heart is the denial of exclusive, singular, and absolute truth. Rather than one system of belief or worldview being true, all are equally valid. All worldviews can exist in parallel without contradiction. It is not a surprise that the Bible flies in the face of pluralism. Scripture contains particularly bold and clear cut statements about absolute truth.
Modern Americans, on the other hand, have accepted religious pluralism as an assumed virtue. From that perspective, the worst possible action is to inform someone of a different culture that a core tenet of their cultural identity is false. Cross cultural church planting is then the most heinous career path one can aspire to. To proclaim that a person’s beliefs and actions are leading to destruction need and to be repented of, is bad enough. Christians go the extra mile and spend resources to cross a culture for the primary purpose of that proclamation. We are aware of the hostility this tension engenders towards us, even if it is not overt. Slowly and subtly, these ideas have seeped into the church. There are three ways that pluralism is affecting missions today.
1) The first is the most obvious. Some churches altogether (practically and philosophically) abandon global missions. Their pluralistic logic states, “If every religion is equally valid, then there is no need to convert anyone.”
The problem is that Jesus makes it clear that without the good news, we will not be saved. John Piper has a great explanation of this in chapters 3 and 4 of “Let the Nations Be Glad.” At one point he examines the story of Peter and Cornelius. Some mainline Christian scholars point to the story as evidence that God can save men without the Gospel. A “devout man who feared God” can be heard by God even without knowing anything of Jesus.
The catch is in Acts 11:13-14 (Peter quoting the angel speaking to Cornelius) "…Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household" Even the pious Cornelius needed to be saved! Even the man who got God’s attention with his alms and prayers needed to hear the gospel to be saved! Even more, God did just have the angel tell Cornelius the message, He led Peter to come and share the good news. God chooses to use weak vessels like Peter for honorable tasks like sharing his Gospel!
In short, humans do need to be saved, they need the gospel to be saved, and the great commission is God’s chosen means for them to hear the gospel.
(Parts 2 and 3 coming)