by Doug Logan
Because I’ve been ministering in some of the most dangerous and violent cities (Kensington, Northern Philadelphia & Camden) in our nation for the past several years, it can be very easy to develop the blind spot of ethnocentrism. In other words, because I’m compelled by the Gospel of Christ to be a beacon of light in a city pervaded by the darkness of sin, there are missional endeavors, strategies, and opportunities that can elude me because they aren’t directly interrelated to my inner-city context.
As a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), many of my Anglo brothers have said the same. They can, at times, become so inward facing that they, like myself, can become blinded by the ethnocentricity of their immediate context. For the pastor/planter who is committed to reaching their context with the Gospel, this will be a constant struggle. Failing to disengage and assess other contextual landscapes can lead to mission-deterring blind spots.
For those, like myself, who have the propensity to develop this quasi-tunnel vision, the Apostle Paul kicks us in the shins in Acts 17. Here, we have a classically educated Jewish theologian with Roman citizenship stepping outside of his cultural norm for the sake of mission. At Mars Hill he comprehensively displays the incarnational mission of Christ by entering peoples’ worlds and showing off Christ’s glory through the preaching of the Gospel message.
Paul deviates from using the Jewish Torah to convince worshipers of YHWH of the power of Christ to scholastically debating Greek god worshipers, agnostics, and atheist in the Agora of Athens. In verse 17, after taking a cultural assessment of the land and reasoning with the devout Jews of the city in the synagogue, Paul moves to the Agora. The Agora was a market place typical of a downtown area, and during his stay he engaged the people “who happened to be there.”
Paul then transitioned to the university as a visiting professor to engage the college campus and debated with Stoic and Epicurean philosophers, professors, students, atheists, intellectuals, polytheists, and agnostics. He preaches Christ’s supremacy over all things, quotes a philosopher of antiquity, and rests on the power of Christ and his resurrection rather than relying on his Jewish tradition!
Sadly, in some our churches today, ethnocentrism has trumped missionality. Paul’s ministry flowed from the desire to see all people groups, regardless of cultural diversity or economic disparagement, to know Jesus. The gospel message crossed national, cultural, linguistic, religious, and racial boundaries with the intent of people glorifying God the Father by being united with Christ through faith.
Paul’s mission wasn’t shaped by his ethnicity or by his cultural leanings as much as it was augmented and developed by the Gospel’s far-reaching influence! As G.W. Peters states in his book The Biblical Theology of Missions, “Christians must learn to think internationally, interracially, and inter-culturally if they are to fulfill the commission of the Lord.”
My desire for this Network is that we, as church planters, would enter into multiple contexts for the sake of seeing people come to know Christ. The heart of the cross is that Jesus entered into a context to make the Father’s will known to us. My hope for the Houston Boot Camp on May 22-23 is that we will be reminded that Jesus entered into a difficult context and experienced death to secure our life as missionaries. We, in turn, should live lives inside and outside of our immediate context to reach people for Christ’s sake regardless of our discomfort or diversity.