As a former missionary I have often reflected on the difference between what I mean to say and what people hear me saying. My colleague Charles Kraft's experience in Nigeria illustrates this clearly. As a new missionary, he once explained the death and resurrection of Christ to an old Nigerian man—a communication of what was to the missionary the simple gospel. "Oh, I have heard of that before," the man said when Chuck had finished. "My nephew once was dead and came back to life." (In that culture anyone who is unconscious is thought to be dead.) Apparently the mere events of Christ's passion did not strike this man as particularly unusual; they were not "good news."
So Chuck decided to take another tack: "What would be the best news in the world that you could possibly imagine?" The man thought a minute and then said, with an air of asking for the impossible: "If I found out that there was a power greater than all the many spirits that trouble me." That was it, Chuck thought to himself, that is the "good news" for these people: In Christ's death and resurrection he has conquered the powers of evil in this culture.
In America, most people at one time or another have probably heard some version of the gospel—at least some of the facts about the gospel. Polls continue to show that a large percentage of Americans believe in God and prayer and know something about Christ's birth and death. But, like the old Nigerian man, Americans understand Christian faith with strong cultural overtones that influence what they really hear—or more precisely, what they don't hear: the good news.
With the visibility of churches on our city corners it is hard to think of America as post-Christian or unevangelized. Yet evidence is ...1