How do we tell others about Jesus in ways they will understand? That question has always been important, but for those involved in diverse cultural environments at home and abroad, the challenge of evangelism is even more complex (see “Preaching Christ or Packaging Jesus,” pp. 24–40).
The easiest reponse to this challenge of “contextualizing the gospel” is to retreat into our own cultural cocoons. But this is unacceptable; some people will never hear the gospel if we are unwilling to leave our cultural neighborhoods. As evangelicals, we have the highest motive for expending whatever efforts are necessary to communicate to others. We believe the gospel—a piece of news about a person, Jesus Christ. We desperately want people to know him—who he is and what he has done for them. In fact, we believe the eternal destiny of every human depends on the clear communication of the gospel (Rom. 10:11–15).
Precisely because so much is at stake, we need to make sure others hear the gospel clearly. On the hermeneutical level, evangelicals need to be careful not to interpret Scripture strictly through Western lenses. Coming out of a long history of Western European theology and biblical interpretation, we sometimes accept unquestioningly the tradition that has shaped and, at times, warped our exegesis. That helps explain why, to people in Africa and Asia, American evangelicals sound like middle-class Victorians.
How do we free ourselves of this tendency to interpret Scripture under the influence of culture? We can’t entirely, but one place to start is to interact with other viewpoints. That is why serious evangelical scholars rely so heavily on the classic Greek text provided by a nonevangelical—Nestle—or ...1