This was originally written for LRBC on November 26 2017. Gorse, possums, and wasps are species introduced to New Zealand. They wreck havoc on our ecosystems. The point of comparison I intended by this rather ambiguous title is that Christians are in some respects unwelcome intruders within the cultures of the world.
One thing that has fascinated me about world cultures and Christian missions is how different parts of the gospel offend or confuse different cultures in different ways. In ancient times, the political climate of the Roman empire made the Christians’ refusal to worship the state gods an act of disloyalty. Furthermore, this made Christians a liability to their cities because their failure to worship the gods could invite the gods’ displeasure and retribution. In that same era the philosophical culture made the Greeks find the incarnation of God the Son a ridiculous notion. Moving through history, I know that Christ’s suffering made him disrespectable to the Vikings, and monotheism was and still is a large stumbling block for the popular polytheism in India.
What about our culture? The holiness of God, and his transcendence are alien concepts to our secularism, and furthermore, something I think most western Christians actually struggle to truly get their heads around. The belief that God is the Creator, especially in the manner described in Genesis, is a point of ridicule. The belief that God created human beings as gender-binary (male and female) is starting to be seen as a repressive doctrine in light of changing ideas around sexuality and gender.
It is important that Christians, in any culture, recognise what is awkward and offensive about the gospel and a biblical worldview. These are things that we must endeavour to preserve in ourselves and our churches, and also to defend and explain in our communities. The fact of disagreement with our culture should not surprise us or be a cause for capitulation. The New Testament prepares us for this. We should not expect that we are welcomed – Jesus and the Apostles taught us that the world does not have a place for us.
The dominant cultural Christianity of much of western history is not what we are taught to expect by the Bible, nor the experience of most Christians throughout history around the world. And now that the cultural tide of the West is changing, it is important that we prepare our faith to survive and thrive in whatever environment we find ourselves in.