How do you teach the gospel in another language and culture without the people simply adding this new “Jesus Talk” alongside their existing stories of gods, spirits, and powerful ancestors? What is the gospel and how can it be taught in a way that leaves as little room for syncretism as possible? Missionaries do a disservice to the very people they are trying to help if the gospel is not clearly presented. How are they to do it well?
Ethnos Canada takes a very specific approach: chronological and foundational Bible teaching. They recognize that while the gospel of Jesus dying for the sins of the world is a crucial part of the story, it only makes sense when seen inside the entire metanarrative of the Bible. Beginning in Genesis, Ethnos missionaries lay the foundation for who God is and what He does. The story is all about Him. They teach critical Bible lessons that move the story line along, pulling out themes of who God is, sin, Satan’s part in the drama and man’s response to it all. The purpose is to teach a complete biblical worldview separate from the animistic worldview that held them in slavery. By teaching chronologically, the people clearly understand God’s story and how it all fits into life as they know it; it forces them to choose which worldview they will hold to—their way or God’s way.
This chronological approach is new and different, since the typical North American way of preaching is to teach a series of propositions or to teach a story from the Bible without connecting it to the entire story of God and the work that He is doing. As North American missionaries, it is natural to take this segmented way of teaching and jump to the middle of the story where Jesus died for the sins of the world. After all, that is the important part, is it not? Yet even in North America, as more people know less of God’s Word and His story, the need for chronological teaching is apparent. Syncretism–the combining of beliefs–will happen if the entire story of God is neglected. In light of effectively sharing the gospel, David Hesselgrave writes:
“It is a mistake merely to tell Bible stories. All must be set in a complete redemptive history, including creation and eschatology, with Christ at the center. All of this must be seen in contrast to the local mythological framework so that the Christian faith can revolutionize all patterns of thought”
-David Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally: An Introduction to Missionary Communication, p.207
Along these very same lines, Paul Hiebert writes,
“If the worldview is not transformed, in the long run the gospel is subverted and the result is a syncretistic Christo-paganism, which has the form of Christianity but not its essence. Christianity becomes a new magic and a new, subtler form of idolatry”
-Paul Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An anthropological Understanding of How People Change, p.11
Chronological Bible teaching addresses the beliefs of the audience while sharing biblical truth. God’s holiness, love, justice and grace tied to His all-knowing, all-powerful character; how He relates to the world; the way that Satan is trying to deceive; God’s promise to send a Deliverer to save us from Satan, sin and death—these themes and so many more are woven throughout the story as the biblical worldview is presented chronologically. By the time missionaries present the gospel, the people understand how it fits into the story and anticipate the way that God is going to solve the problem of sin and make the world right again.
When the people finally begin to understand the truth of God’s word in light of the entire story of Scripture, how exciting it is! Here is a testimony from one of our missionaries:
“Seth Callahan, ministering among the Iski people of Papua New Guinea, shares some of the colourful word pictures he has heard from the people as they are hearing the first of many chronological Bible lessons. These lessons are laying the foundation for the presentation of the gospel.
‘It’s like we are a tree, and our ancestral stories are a vine that is wrapped tightly around us. Satan wants to kill us with this vine, but God’s Word is slowly pulling the vine away, so we can live!'”
-David Pierce, Ethnos360 Missionary
As Ethnos Canada missionaries teach in a different culture and language, they are endeavoring to share the gospel well, fighting syncretism by teaching chronologically. What a difference God’s Word can make when it is taught clearly and understood fully!