Scholars reflect on Scripture, culture, missions

Scholars reflect on Scripture, culture, missions

FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – In the latest issue of the Southwestern Journal of Theology, theologians reflect on the encounter between Christ and culture, considering how Christians can proclaim the Gospel in various cultures without corrupting it.

This issue of the journal includes many essays presented at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s spring 2012 “Sola Scriptura or Sola Cultura?” conference, including an essay by well-known Christian apologist Norman Geisler.

“The problem the evangelical church faces today is that we are proclaiming a premodern message in postmodern times,” writes Geisler, chancellor and distinguished professor of apologetics and theology at Veritas Evangelical Seminary. He explains that Christians preach absolute truth in a relativistic society. They proclaim “an exclusivistic message in pluralistic times.” And they defend belief in supernatural reality in a “naturalistic” society. As a result, he writes, Christians must engage in apologetic “pre-evangelism.”

“If the evangelical church is going to survive,” Geisler writes, “it must overcome its aversion to apologetics and take the Scriptures seriously when they declare, ‘I am set for the defense of the gospel’ (Phil 1:17).”

According to Managing Editor Terry L. Wilder, professor of New Testament at Southwestern Seminary, Christ called his followers to fulfill the Great Commission, and whether in a postmodern society or elsewhere they must face the question of “contextualization.”

“Contextualization considers the culture into which the gospel is proclaimed and tries to remove unnecessary stumbling blocks to communicating the good news of salvation,” Wilder writes in his editorial, adding that this issue of the journal “focuses on the relationship between Scripture, culture, and missions.”

In an introductory essay, titled “A Biblical Theology of Missions and Contextualization,” Wilder considers three key New Testament passages that reveal “theological and methodological principles to help believers as they engage in evangelism, missions and contextualization”: namely, Matt 28:19-20, Acts 17:16-34 and 1 Cor. 9:19-23.

In the following essay, titled “Global Choices for Twenty-First Century Christians: Bringing Clarity to Missional Theology,” Professor of Systematic Theology Malcolm Yarnell adds precision to the conversation about Scripture, culture and missions. He does so by defining various terms used in this conversation “according to the biblical-theological commitments of the free churches”: that is, terms such as “Scripture,” “culture,” “Christ and culture,” “relevance,” “the cultural mandate,” and the “Great Commission.”

In an essay titled “Encountering Culture in Light of the Book of Daniel,” Paige Patterson considers what Christians can learn from four “Hebrew children”—Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—who endured a major, unforeseen cultural change.

“Like the Hebrew children you will find yourself in the midst of a strange culture,” Patterson writes, adding that this may happen at home or abroad. In the face of such a situation, he writes, Christians should follow the examples of the four Hebrew children.

“Appropriate every bit of (the culture’s) wisdom including the language, the lingua franca of the area,” Patterson writes. “Having appropriated that knowledge and wisdom, avoid the theological, moral and spiritual compromises that will be there, acknowledge your need of the intervention of God, and then accentuate the superiority of God’s ways.”

Dean of the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions Keith Eitel considers the relationship between Scripture and culture in the following essay, titled “Scriptura or Cultura: Is There a Sola in There?” While entering other cultures, Eitel writes, Christians must filter “culture through the grid of Scripture,” rather than changing the biblical message based in order to fit the culture.

David J. Hesselgrave of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School contributes the following essay, titled “Did Cape Town 2010 Correct the ‘Edinburgh Error’? A Preliminary Analysis.” According to Hesselgrave, members of the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, erred in refusing to address doctrinal issues that were essential for a biblical understanding of Christian missions. In this essay, he considers whether the 2010 gathering of this conference in Cape Town, South Africa, has corrected this mistake.

The following two essays focus on the work of the late Donald McGavran, who has been called one of the greatest missiologists of the 20th century. Assistant Professor of Missions John Morris writes “An Introduction to McGavran’s Thoughts on Church and Denominations,” which precedes one of McGavran’s own essays.

In a final essay, titled “Wrinkling Time in the Missionary Task,” Associate Professor of Missions John Massey analyzes the missiological methods of Church Planting Movement. He concludes that the missionary strategy of Southern Baptists should not be based merely on pragmatic considerations, but rather on what “the Bible teaches regarding the nature of the missionary task, evangelism, discipleship, church planting, church leadership, and missionary recruitment.”

This issue of the journal also includes review essays focused on Whomever He Wills: A Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy (Founders Press, 2012) and Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism (B&H Academic, 2010), followed by numerous other book reviews.

The editorial and select articles from each edition of the journal may be viewed on, a website of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for Theological Research.

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