In our preparation for missionary service, we are well trained in the Bible and the missionary message. When we go abroad,
we assume that once we learn the local language we can preach,
and the people will understand us. It comes as a shock that this is not so, that the task of communicating effectively in another culture is far more difficult than imagined. But what do we need to improve this?
There is a gulf between ourselves and the people to whom we go in service. There is an even greater gulf between the Bible's historical and cultural setting and contemporary life. How do we bridge these gulfs and make possible the effective cross-cultural and cross-historical communication of the gospel?
Clearly we need to understand the gospel in its historical and cultural setting. Without this, we have no message. We also need a clear understanding of ourselves and the people we serve in diverse historical and cultural contexts. Without this, we are in danger of proclaiming a meaningless and irrelevant message.
Too often, however, we are content to settle for only one of these goals. As evangelicals we emphasize knowledge of the Bible, but
rarely stop to examine the people and cultures we serve.
So the message we bring is often misunderstood and "foreign." The liberal wing of the church, on the other hand, has underscored knowledge of contemporary human settings, but downplays the importance of solid theological foundations based on biblical truth. This group is in danger of losing the gospel.
We need both approaches.
We must know the biblical message. We must also know the contemporary scene.
Only then can we build the bridges that will make the biblical message relevant to today's world and its people everywhere.
Paul Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, n.d.