Undeniably, in bringing a message from a sovereign God, Christian missionaries are agents of culture change. The gospel of the kingdom of God will have ramifications throughout a culture as allegiances are transferred, as the demonic is exposed and dealt with, and as assumptions are confirmed or transformed by the Author of absolute truth.
Equally, Christian missionaries, in bringing a message they have heard and received from within their own cultural constructs, tend to colour the way that message is passed on. The Jerusalem Council, whose deliberations was the prototype ‘missions conference’, deliberately faced this delicate issue.
A look at the lives of ordinary Muslims has prompted some uncomfortable questions about our success or failure as missionaries to such people. For the most part, perhaps, we have not even recognized the ‘world’ in which many Muslims are living.
Western Christian witness among Muslims tends to promote a mono-cultural outlook on life. Instead of the declared realities of a Middle-Eastern inspired word, Western values, such as individualism, rationalism, and naturalism, have tended to decide the approach made in mission.
Western culture’s overemphasis on individualism, for example, prejudices many of us into seeing conversion on a one-by-one, ‘personal’ basis as the most important priority, but there are significant scriptural examples of multi-individual decisions, whereby whole groups of people repented and believed on Christ.
Again, the biblical idea that man should live in harmony with the world around him is, to a large degree, a concept alien to the Westerner. In our view, nature is to be subjugated or put to use – what do you mean, ‘bread has life of its own’?
Perhaps most significantly, Western Christian faith tends to be cognitively oriented. Perhaps the Western Christian’s cerebral bias has resulted too often in the gospel being shared with Muslims in a way that misses their hearts.
Such Western categories of thought and ways of looking at the world are, paradoxically, uninformed by the Bible itself. They tend only to separate the Western missionary from peoples such as ordinary Muslims, who function from within a more dynamic or experience-oriented view of reality.