Monday, December 18, 2006

You cannot limit this Gospel!

I've recently begun helping with a Christian interparish refugee assistance program in the city providing housing, food, clothing, child care, and routine medical aid to migrants seeking a new life. Each week I get the privilege of having fun with children from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Muslim world. Most of them are knit by the common language of Arabic or, for those from Iran, Farsi. It really is a blast!

This morning as we got all the children together for a group photo, a conversation I had last night with Ziya Meral was still in my mind. Currently a human rights activist, Ziya has also authored several books, including one about what it means to have a truly native Christian theology. That is, for him, what does it mean to live as a Christian in 21st-century Turkey? You see, here as elsewhere in the Middle East, those who become Christians bear the stigma of being labeled traitors and converts to Western, Anglo-Saxon cultural ideologies. Having read a book last year about countries with shame-based worldviews (unlike Western guilt-based worldviews developing from Plato's Republic and Roman law), I began to see the importance of a truly cultural, indigenous idea of what it means to live as one bearning the name of Jesus Christ.

At the same time, culture shapes what we see and cherish in the gospel of the person and work of Jesus. For those in America, oftentimes the gospel is that Jesus bore the punishment for our sins and we are declared innocent or "righteous" before God. In Jordan it's that God himself is restoring the shamed and outcast to a position of honor, with his Son bearing their alienation and reproach. In Laos and animist cultures Jesus is the Victor who wields power and triumph over all evil spirits. In Bolivia Jesus brings equality and crushes injustice. All of these are true and biblically valid ways to understand and embrace the Messiah.

So this morning with the children I wondered, For each of the varied faces gathered there, could there be a unique Jesus for him, Jesus for her? (Yes, there is!) And I wonder just how much more there is to Jesus and God's amazing restoration that I cannot or have not yet seen simply because of who I am in culture and history. The Great News of Christ is so expansive that its contours cannot be boxed or constrained or limited or defined. No crack caused by sin, no fear or stain or injustice or disorder will be left unturned, unredeemed!

You can check out two essays of Ziya's here: The Persecuted Church: Fighting Cultural Alienation with Contextual Theology and this passionate plea, A Message to the West from the Persecuted Church.

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