Stepping Outside the Westernization of the Gospel

Chicago, Illinois (USA) is in the midst of a very cold and snowy winter. Temperatures are far below normal almost every day, and this winter’s snowfall totals are the highest in thirty years. When you live here, however, you get used to it. It is the way of winters in our land. However, a few days ago, my work took me to Charlotte, North Carolina (USA). Since Charlotte is further south, there was no snow, and the temperature was about sixty degree Fahrenheit (or about fifteen degrees Celsius). As I stepped from the airport terminal into Charlotte’s warm evening air, the thought struck me that Chicago really is cold and snowy!

It is somewhat the same idea we write about in this issue of Lausanne World Pulse. Our theme is the westernization of the gospel. Most readers will agree that by and large, our evangelical theology and missiology is derived from a Western, or Enlightenment, worldview. One of our authors calls it the theology and missiology of Christendom. Certainly our “culture” shapes our reading of scripture and our views of life and God.

There is some truth in these assertions. One of the areas I direct at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois, USA) is scholarships for international leaders in our graduate school. Each year we provide scholarships for fifteen to twenty international leaders pursuing masters degrees. To receive a scholarship, each recipient moves to Chicago, studies books written in English, and receives instruction from English-speaking and Western-trained scholars. We immerse our recipients in Western thought and culture and the way we read scripture. This is good, but it falls short in receiving education that translates into the student’s heart culture. At least, I think this is the case. However, since I live here and have been trained here, I don’t know for sure. Indeed, I’m quite as used to these styles of thinking, speaking, and living, as I am to wearing cold clothing in Chicago winters.

The point is this: the Church is greatly in need of evangelists, missionaries, pastors, and theologians from non-Western cultures to carefully read and interpret scripture and life from their worldview. The Western ways of interpreting life are not all right or all wrong—however, they are not complete. The fullness of God’s image is expressed in the fullness of his creation and the multitudes of human cultures. Several of our authors are long-time missionaries or leaders from non-Western cultures. They help those of us who are primarily mono-cultural and Western to step back, drop some of our presuppositions, and ask God to reveal himself and life through multicultural voices.

This epoch of the Church affords the great opportunity for such missiology and theology to develop. I rejoice in the opportunity. I must lay aside my “professor” title and become a student again and again and again. I gladly lay aside my Chicago clothing to bask in and absorb the variety of God’s adornments.

Dr. Lon Allison is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He also serves as director for the Institute for Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College. He is co-publisher of Lausanne World Pulse.