For a good majority of Church history, an intolerant undertone has silhouetted the theology behind evangelism; namely the ‘good news’ has meant elbowing the diversity of humanity into a narrow-minded uniform of anthropological being, in which the Church has used the Bible as a cultural cookie-cutter to turn the ‘noble savage’ into the civilized Christian. Even though the colonial bigotry isn’t as overt as it was before (by before I don’t mean 200 years ago, I’m talking about a generation ago), evangelism is still philosophized and practiced for the goal of cultural conformity, in which the only culture that matters is the monocultural ‘Jesus Culture’ (which predominately means western, capitalist, conservative, and male).
In light of this historical biasedness, there are both shards of divine glory and shards of brokenness within every community, culture, religion and political faction – the mesh of postcolonial anthropology that paints humanity diversely is a continual conversation calling us to cherish the glory in others while co-sojourning together towards redeeming the brokenness in us all. By redeeming brokenness I don’t mean ‘saving’ indigenous people groups from their ‘barbarity’ nor do I mean ‘Jesus Culture’ customs and beliefs when I refer to cherishing the glory in others; arguably it’s not what Jesus meant either.
If Jesus is the fullness, the image, the radiance, and the character of God – emanating ‘the way of love’ as the command for ALL humanity through his life, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, outpouring of the Holy Spirit, ascension and second coming; then surely ‘the way of love’ should be the measure (the ‘authority’) in which ALL socio-cultural constructs (including the biblical narrative) and communities should be filtered with, in and through. Holding this in mind then, cherishing the divine glory in others means treasuring the anthropological gifts uniquely innate to every culture, and redeeming the shards that are counter-the way of love. Evangelism then becomes not a crusade against difference but a practical conversation around how to journey together as a diverse family of God towards co-creating societies driven by ‘the way of love.’
Clearly, the gospel is bigger than the Church…I’ll say that again; the gospel is bigger than the Church. Undeniably if Jesus is the inclusive God and the way of love, then all religions, communities and people groups are invited to add to the universal collage of redemption and renewing. What does this mean for evangelism? It means outreach/missions and ministry all become more dialogical towards a conversation around cherishing and redeeming each other together. It means sermons cease to be afterlife ultimatums or three point messages on the steps to be financially blessed; rather sermons become rallies for social justice and peace as well as ‘altar-calls’ becoming signposts of communal redemption.
What does this mean for religious supremacy and universal truth? Well, arguably Jesus’ message was far broader than starting up a new religion and far more meaningful than dominating cultured narratives. Do I dare say that the Church hasn’t got copyright dibs on the Kingdom of God (a renewed and renewing society centred on the way of love)? Unquestionably, bearing the fruits of Christ-centred love for one another isn’t a ‘Christian’ construct but rather the way, the truth and the life that shapes what it means to be human. Certainly, adherents to Islam or followers in the Sikh community reflect Jesus through their cultural customs that follow the way of love. Regardless of whether I acknowledge the Earth as Papatūānuku (Mother ancestor) because I believe conservation closely engages with the way of love, or whether I recognize Jesus’ universal redemptive work through my ancestral guardians (like Tāne Mahuta the forest god); ALL people have anthropological treasures that build the Kingdom of God.
So in trying to save evangelism from monocultural theology, am I committing so-called heretical universalism and left-wing syncretism? Well perhaps, but what’s so wrong with that? In fact if ministry and missions is not good news for ALL people in their socio-cultural context, then it simply can’t be good news right? And if the only ‘rule of thumb’ is the same rule of thumb (the way of love) that Jesus incarnated through his humanity, then why shouldn’t ALL people feel invited to colour the rainbow of God’s redemptive narrative with their particular cultural treasures? Evidently Jesus shows us a renewed perspective of anthropology; through Christ we find both the meaning and the purpose of what it means to be truly human. Diversely unified and united by our diversities to form a renewed and renewing Kingdom of God in which we cherish the shards of divine glory in us ALL as well as collaboratively redeeming ALL of our brokenness. Arguably this is at the crux of postcolonial anthropology.