Cultural Context Matters
One of the many advantages of online evangelism is it offers easy access to conversations with people from all over the world. This means people with different cultural and faith backgrounds potentially hearing about Jesus for the first time. Others may have misguided ideas of who Jesus is and what the Bible actually says.
It is critically important to appreciate how someone’s cultural understanding of Jesus and sin will affect how they receive the Gospel. This means simple questions asking someone what they understand or believe can be critical to connecting with them. When we understand a seeker’s background and cultural context, we can offer the Gospel in ways that are more likely to resonate.
There are many ways to view different cultural viewpoints, but it can be helpful to see them from a broad perspective before learning specifics about an individual. Some Christian anthropologists classify cultures into three different sin-response types:
- Guilt/Innocence cultures view right and wrong primarily based on understanding of justice and law. The Gospel is most clearly understood as salvation from guilt and the penalty of sin. This is common in western cultures like the US.
- Shame/Honor cultures value relationships and understand right and wrong based on what grants honor (both to self and family/community) and avoids shame. The Gospel is most clearly understood as salvation from their shame and how God grants them an honorable position as son or daughter of the Most High. This is more often seen in Eastern cultures like Japan.
- Fear/Power cultures see life as a struggle for spiritual power in order to attain what they need. What is right is determined by what the individual god or spirit demands from someone to gain favor. The Gospel is most clearly understood as salvation from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of a sovereign and good God who is more powerful than all other spirits. This is seen in Tribal cultures throughout the world.
The core message of the Gospel does not change but how we present it may differ depending on the background and culture of the seeker. We also need to recognize that we often use language and metaphors that we have grown comfortable with but those may not help someone from another culture appreciate the message the same way. We must be mindful to choose simple words that capture the essence of the Gospel and select language and examples that connect with the audience. Always trust the Holy Spirit to guide and lead each conversation to a place of understanding and transformation for the seeker.