As we live in a blessed age when we are able to place the Scriptures in the hands of more and more people, it is incumbent upon us to also be sure that we handle the Bible with great reverence and respect. The dilemma is this, how do we put the Word of God in the hands of others without compromising the integrity of its message? This is no small question, and there is no one answer. I would suggest a few short guidelines that hopefully can help in the process of taking the Good News to all peoples of the world.
First, we must recognize that ultimate Truth, God’s Truth, is not dependent upon or bound by culture or by its evolution. The Scriptures came to us through Hebrew and Greek culture, but because it was inspired by God, remains valuable beyond those cultures.
Second, Culture is valuable in that it provides Man with a unique perspective by which he can understand God’s Truth. However, Truth itself does not change or evolve with those cultural morays. For example, American culture gives us a unique perspective on God’s word, but it does not change it. Other cultures too have unique insights which they can pass along to us, and each works together to give us greater understanding of the mystery of God. Thus, when we study culture, past or present, it is not to prove one society is right over another or one culture more ‘Christian’ than another, rather it is to learn and grow in our common faith. For those Christians who desire to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, cultural study helps one to view God’s Truth from a different perspective so that our knowledge may increase and with knowledge, our ability to season our words with salt that we may be pleasing to every man.
Third, cultural study and being culturally sensitive can not replace the importance of trust in God. Study of history, language, culture, and extra-biblical writings are important but fail to serve as a bridge between the Bible and culture. The only true bridge afforded to us, the only trustworthy connection, is God Himself. God’s Spirit is the great intercessor and it is His Holy Spirit who comes to us as our guide. These other areas of study are profitable to assist us, but in and of themselves are vanity.
Fourth, our ultimate goal, in teaching, preaching, or casual conversation, is not to make the Bible relevant to Man, but to help make Man relevant to Scripture. What is the difference? The former is always easier to accomplish because it only requires that we treat people as a group and not individuals. This means it requires little investment of self and little personal sacrifice. The latter will always be harder because it requires us to love and respect each person as an individual and to sacrifice our lives for the sake of the other. To help make a person relevant to Scripture is harder because it means we must wait upon the Lord to guide and change the heart of the other and give full control to Him. In practice helping people to relate to the Bible may look different depending on who is speaking, but the goal remains the same (i.e. helping people to see the grace and mercy of God in their lives). Let me say it this way, our goal is not to make people accept the Gospel, but to show them the truth of God’s plan and then allow the Holy Spirit to work in peoples hearts. The core of the content is always the same because we must not infringe upon the Divine prerogative of Revelation, yet our expression of that truth may very.
Ultimately we must recognize that ALL cultures are foreign to the Divine holiness of God and NO CULTURE is completely relevant to God’s Word. That is why the Scripture calls us to make disciples. No man can instantly understand the Bible and all the difficulties it posses without the illumination of the Holy Spirit and the instruction and nurturing of Spirit filled Christians.