from an address by
Ray Aldred

This page:

Cross-Cultural Conversion



index pages:

Cross-Cultural Conversion

Presumed copyright © 2003, 2004 by Ray Aldred
Revised version of an address given Dec. 29, 2003, at
Urbana 03, the Student Mission Convention of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
The complete version was once online there, but I cannot find it any more.

For most here we understand conversion as to turn around to stop from going in one direction and turn back the other way. Sometimes we forget that the early church thought of conversion as recapitulation or re-creation. These ideas speak to me and say that conversion is about becoming who we were made to be.
Heart language includes art, economics, and traditional religion. If the gospel is going to be in the heart language of a people it must embrace or speak to peoples’ political and economic aspirations.



Sharing from a position of strength means we do not see value in others because we do not want to open ourselves up to receive from others – so we believe they have nothing to offer us. Many times we can find ourselves thinking of people outside the church as having nothing to offer us. Of course, scripture makes it clear that everyone is made in God’s image and has good things to bring and if they were to be in relationship with us, we would be enriched by them and they would be enriched by us.



The gospel story is suitable for calling us to conversion. Because it is story, we can all understand it, because no matter what culture, tribe or people, we all have story. If we want to share the gospel story in our context we need to understand how our stories work.
We’re always looking for the right technique to produce converts and that undermines dependence upon God. It undermines relationship. True conversion is not possible by technique but in the West we are consumed with technique. We want to find the technique that will bring about transformation – thus being re-created – without any pain. But transformation only comes about through God’s word in the context of his community, the church. This requires that we become vulnerable. And we don’t like to do that.

When we reduce the gospel to a set of propositions or truth statements we are guilty of attempting to take control of our salvation and everyone else’s.

Reducing the gospel to a set of propositions makes theology something you know, instead of something that you do. And it makes it the exclusive property of experts. Theology is something we do not just something that we know. Reducing Christianity to a set of doctrinal statements without teaching how these things fit into the gospel story, we make Christianity a religion of the mind. And seem to think if we only know the right stuff everything will work out. We not only have to understand, we have to be what this gospel says.

If we make Jesus just a good teacher, we have reduced him to the level of folk religion. Folk religion is only concerned with maintaining the status quo. It is a religion motivated not by sharing the gospel story with others, so they can become what God made them to be, but about making them like me, so I can love them.



When we hear our world described by Christians from other cultures, we are called back to conversion. For example, we all hear that we are materialistic, and we understand that. But as I sat talking with a Vietnamese friend of mine, who had fled Saigon just before the communists took over, he said that “in Vietnam during the fall of Saigon they threatened to kill me. But in the West, they offer you money to give up your faith. That’s harder than the threat of being killed.” I was brought face-to-face at that point with my materialism in a way that had never occurred before.
God is calling the West to the ongoing conversion, and the twist is that it will happen as we continue to reach out across cultures. The twist or the irony of the gospel is that as we strive to be a witness to the end of the earth, to see people converted and to be all that God intended them to be, we find that we are becoming who God made us to be. In attempting to proclaim the gospel to others, we hear God’s call for radical conversion. We hear God calling us to be re-created.



text checked (see note) Feb 2005

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Background graphic copyright © 2004 by Hal Keen