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Removing Obstacles

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

The Obstacle of Communication

If we were missionaries to some hidden tribe, we would have to find words in the culture that would be the closest equivalent to biblical words and concepts like: God, sin, forgiveness, grace, etc. In a post-Christian world, those same words are familiar, but ill-defined and misunderstood. The secular world is biblically illiterate but has heard Christian “words.” This means that we cannot simply use Christian language, even though it is available, unless we take the time to redefine the vocabulary and/or explore how ordinary Europeans use and think about these words. The words “God, cross, church, forgiveness, salvation, etc” are already filled with some kind of meaning in the secular world, but the wrong meaning can hinder the truth of the gospel. The attention to language in our evangelism, preaching, and teaching must take into consideration this enormous issue. Longer conversations, patience, and lots of listening can help us communicate the gospel more accurately.

A secondary communication obstacle is the “google-translate-error ”. Because many people in Europe speak English and because the culture “seems” similar to the US culture, we are strongly tempted to simply run our ministry models through “google-translate” – that is to say we don’t really believe that any special cultural knowledge is needed to inform our ministry strategies and means. As long as we “put things in Spanish, German or Romanian,” no fundamental shifts need to be made to our philosophy of ministry that we used in the states. This communication error happens when we separate words, meanings, and context. This temptation is common among all missionaries, but is uniquely strong when our target people-group seem to be so like us.

The Obstacle of Trust

The historical relationship between the state, the church, and expressions of cultural power is so twisted in Europe that trust has evaporated in formal religion. Ironically, fresh expressions of religions (like evangelical-pentecostals) may be doubly suspicious: suspicious because we are passionately religious, and suspicious because we are the wrong religion (not recognized by the state or historically familiar). We must build trust with the secularist on a personal level, and we must also rebuild trust in the idea of a Christian faith community. This means that simplistic comments like “it is a relationship, not a religion” may be more confusing than helpful. We are calling people to a religious community, though it is one centered on a relationship with Christ, rather than an institution. To be a cultural force, we have to work on the double issues of trust in Jesus and trust in His gathered people.

The Obstacle of Indifference

The obstacle of indifference is an issue of spiritual warfare. One of the consequences of non-absolutism (everyone does what is right in their own eyes) is that it creates spiritual and moral laziness. There is a significant “spirit of apathy” in secular cultures. That does not mean they are unemotional, rather it means that curiosity and interest in debate or searching for a better truth are not there. In particular it means that there is no interest in a “big picture” dialogue about the meaning of life. According to post-modern thinking, it is both unnecessary and impossible.

Many of our evangelism and apologetic tools are based on people’s willingness to have a conversation or debate. For secularists, it is fine to have differences of opinion about a football team or favorite restaurant, but to engage in “persuasive speech” about anything of importance is at best bad taste and worse fanaticism. This indifference is at its heart a work of the enemy to cause secularists to abandon the search for truth before it even begins. As long as one has a good wine, decent health care and a future pension then let’s not disturb the peace by religious fanaticism. This passion for indifference is a significant obstacle.

The Walking Dead

If we were to characterize the nature of the spiritual lostness, we would call Europe’s secular people the “walking dead ”. “Walking” because they have, in general, a kind of life that in global terms is quite satisfactory. “Dead” because they are “without God and hope in this world.” The lostness does not scream for our attention. The spiritual warfare does not attack but lulls to sleep, by hiding the problem, denying the need for more or for help, by providing simple pleasures. Europe’s secular peoples walk towards destruction in silence.

These are tremendous obstacles, but secularism like any worldview does have possibilities of connection and bridge building.

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