The New South is growing.
“Through urbanization and the vibrant growth of southern cities and towns, the South is becoming a center for innovative, intellectual and cultural growth”, reports Advance the Church. Advance the Church also provided some of the following information.
This will greatly impact the way we do church.
Right now the South is the fastest growing region in our nation. In the 30 year period between 1995 and 2025, according to the US Census Bureau, the South will be the most populated region in our country. For example, North Carolina will grow by 1 million.
The Hispanic population is projected to increase rapidly over the 1995 to 2025 projection period, accounting for 44 percent of the growth in the Nation’s population (32 million Hispanics out of a total of 72 million persons added to the Nation’s population).
“In one generation’s time, there won’t even be the nominal Christianity in the South that there is now. The mega-churches will flounder and people will just stop going. They are only going now because it is somewhat expected—part of the culture—or as some moral exercise” -Tim Keller
We are not only growing in numbers but in age.
The first of the Baby Boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) reach retirement age in 2010. The percentage of the population that is elderly will increase rapidly in the South. The South is predicted to have 32 million deaths before 2025.
The South is also growing younger. The South will see 43 million births before 2025. How will our church respond to these cultural changes?
Paul in Romans 10:14 asked this question, “How shall they hear without a preacher?” He then added in verse 17, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” From these statements, we know we must not only witness and preach the gospel, but we must witness and preach so our culturally changing listeners will hear, understand, and respond.
We must communicate our message so our culture comprehends what we are saying without changing our message.
This is called contextualization which is “communicating the gospel in a more understandable, culturally relevant form”
We have already allowed our culture to influence not only what we teach and preach but how we teach and preach. I’m preaching in English not the Biblical languages of Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. I have contextualized the medium not the message.
Multinational corporations market their products according to their cultures. For example, McDonalds sell hamburgers in Malaysia. Over half of the population in Malaysia is Muslim. But the female cashiers in Malaysia behind the counter wear their little paper hats on top of their head-coverings and they call their products “beefburgers” not hamburgers. If they call their Big Macs “hamburgers” their Muslim customers would not eat there. Has McDonalds changed their product? No! Has McDonalds changed the way they market their product? Yes! Because of their Muslim culture who is offended at eating pork, McDonalds has contextualized without compromising. reachingandteaching.org/ by David Sills.
In Galatians, Paul is confronting a similar issue. The Jews wanted to force their Jewish regulations on Gentiles. The Jews wanted to coerce Gentile believers to be circumcised according to their Old Testament Law and culture.
How Paul responded to this cultural pressure provides us with three principles for engaging our culture without watering down our gospel message.
1. We Do Not Alter Our Message to Engage our Culture.
George W. Peters identifies the problem with contextualizaton. There is a legitmate and nonlegitmate, that is, a biblical and liberal contextualization (David J. Hesselgrave & Edward Rommen. Contextualization: Meanings, Methods, and Models. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989, x). The nonlegitmate and liberal contextualization changes the message of the gospel.
Paul used Titus as an example who was a Gentile believer that the Judaizers wanted circumcised. Paul refused to condone works of the Law as a means of salvation. Paul refused to change the content of his gospel message (Galatians 2:1-10).
David Sills also provides this example. Secular anthropologists see each culture as a separate entity with its own set of relative morals. If a culture believes in killing the second twin, then, it is not murder. This issue is relative with each culture. There are no absolutes according to the secular anthropologist. God, however, wrote an absolute when He commanded, “Thou shalt not kill.”
We do not change our message because it is politically incorrect to preach Jesus is the only way to heaven. Those who believe in Pluralism will call us intolerant of other religions.
Even among Evangelicals, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2007 US Religious Landscape Survey, only 36% believe their religion to be “the one, true faith that leads to eternal life.” This means that 64% of Evangelicals do not believe in exclusivity. This means culture has impacted the church and instead of the church impacting culture.
What about Jesus’ claim of being the only Son of God (John 10:30) and also the only way to Heaven in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, the life, no man comes unto the Father but by me.” In this arena, we are counter-cultural.
In Part 2, I will discuss the second principle for engaging our culutre without compromising our message.