Theology for Crossing Cultures
David Baldwin, Director of Theology for Crossing Cultures at Oak Hill, thinks through the connection between gospel and culture, not just for overseas mission, but for ministry in the UK.
Before thinking about anybody's culture, we need a foundational theology of culture what the Bible says about it. Is human culture good, bad, or neither? How, in God's providence, did the different cultures come to be, and why are there so many of them? How does the gospel relate to them? We also need to understand our own culture and just how culturally bound each and every one of us is.
Respected contextual missiologist Bruce Nicholls (among others) teaches that there are always at least three cultures (and sometime four) which we need to consider if we are communicating the gospel cross-culturally. There's the Bible's own culture (actually, there are many cultural settings in the Bible); my own culture (how I as a communicator understand the gospel through my own cultural lenses); and there is the culture into which I am communicating gospel truths. This makes a dynamic triangle of three cultures interrelating.
But it gets even more complicated. Don Carson famously said that 'no truth which human beings may articulate can ever be articulated in a culture-transcending way but that does not mean that the truth thus articulated does not transcend culture.' He's simply saying, I think, that even though God's truths are never limited to or bound by any human culture, in his great grace and wisdom, God has arranged things so that those gospel truths are always communicated in cultural ways, using human thought and language.
Despite sounding complicated, Carson's pithy statement should encourage us and give us hope in what we do. Cross-cultural gospel communication is doable, because that's how God set things up. But we mustn't be hasty or shallow. We need to go deep.
Crossing cultures in the UK
Cross-cultural mission is not something we only do overseas. More than 10 percent of the people currently living in the UK were not born here. And year-on-year migration increases look set to continue last year, 624,000 people made the UK their new home. That's 1,700 each day. Over the next 25 years, the UK population is likely to increase by 15 percent to 70 million, and nearly all of that growth will be through people of other cultures coming to live in the UK, and the children they bring into the world here.
That's why every Oak Hill student has to take at least one cross-cultural mission course before they graduate. I'm really excited about this new initiative at Oak Hill, which shows the college's commitment to cross-cultural mission training for every student, not just those headed overseas. Imagine a cohort of UK based church workers graduating with no love for the nations and no idea how to communicate with them on their own patches. Horrors! Now imagine the opposite.
Just off the main drive at Oak Hill is a young oak tree with a plaque by it. The simple inscription reads, 'The Mission Tree, 2009'. It was planted by the first graduating batch of mission students. It's thriving, and that has something to do with its being dug in properly and its roots going down deep. I'm confident that the 2009 graduating class, and subsequent graduates, will be following a similar pattern: Deeply rooted theologians engaged in fruitful cross-cultural mission both home and abroad. That's why I'm proud to be TCC Director at Oak Hill College.