1083968Hunsberger, George R., and Craig Van Gelder, eds. The Church between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996.

This book is a collection of essays written in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Many of them are in response to the work of Lesslie Newbigin as he responded to the post-Christian culture of England and greater Europe. Newbigin’s questions spread to the United States and Canada, sparking theologians and church leaders to reevaluate the relationship of the church to the Gospel and to culture. These essays and the authors behind them formed the core of the Gospel and Our Culture Network in the mid 1990s.

The following is a simple outline, author bios, and snippets of quotes that I have gathered. It is more of a snapshot than an analysis:

Part One: Focusing the Mission Question

The Newbigin Gauntlet: Developing a Domestic Missiology for North America | George Hunsberger

78acb2a7613bb262040fbc2ff73f173fGeorge Hunsberger came to Western in 1989. He was the coordinator of the Gospel and Our Culture Network in North America from its beginning in 1987 through 2010, and has served as both

secretary-treasurer and president of the American Society of Missiology.

Dr. Hunsberger is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), he has been a campus minister; a pastor; a missionary team leader in Nairobi, Kenya; and a teacher at Belhaven College. He has also contributed many articles and reviews to missiological, Reformed, and Presbyterian journals.[1]

Missiological Orientations

A Missiology of Culture

A Theology of Conversion

A Postmodern Apologetic

The Missionary Congregation

A North American Missiological Agenda

How Must We Grasp Our Identity?

How Must We Seek the “Common Good”?

How Must We Tell the Gospel?

Paying Attention…

…To the culture

…To the gospel

…To each other

Defining the Center—Finding the Boundaries: The Challenge of Re-Visioning the Church in North Amercia for the Twenty-First Century | Craig Van Gelder

Context—What Kind of World Do We Live In?



Radicalized Modernity

Gospel—How Do We Make Sense of the Good news Message in This Kind of World?

The Post-ness of Theological Studies

The Rediscovery of Narrative

The Wider Rationality

Church—How Do We Live as God’s People in This Kind of World?

The Post-Christian Context

The Changing Face of Denominationalism

Repositioning the Church

Part Two: Assessing Our Culture

A Great New Fact of Our Day: America as Mission Field | Craig Van Gelder

The Development of the Modern Project and Its Subsequent Demise

The Collapse of the Modern Project—A Postmodern World

The Development of an American Churched Culture and Its Demise

Changes and Challenges for the Church in Keeping Pace with Change

A Church Seeking to Reposition with a Search for New Rules

The Culture of Modernity as a Missionary Challenge | Wilbert R. Shenk

profile-shenk-wilbertWilbert Shenk joined the School of Intercultural Studies faculty in 1995.  He has previous experience as director of the Mission Training Center and associate professor of mission at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (1990-95); director of the Overseas Ministries Division of the Mennonite Board of Missions (1965-90); and a teacher in Indonesia (1955-59).

Among Shenk’s recent publications are: North American Foreign Missions, 1810-1914:  Theology, Theory, and Policy (2004), Enlarging the Story: Perspectives on Writing World Christian History (2002), By Faith They Went Out: Mennonite Missions, 1850-1999 (2000), and Changing Frontiers of Mission (1999).  He was a consulting editor of the Dictionary of Mission Theology: Evangelical Foundations (2007).

Shenk is a founding member of the American Society of Missiology and served as secretary-treasurer (1988-89) and president (1995).  He is also a member of the International Association for Mission Studies.  Shenk coordinated the Missiology of Western Culture Project (1992-98) and was North American coordinator, North Atlantic Missiology Project/Currents in World Christianity (1994-2000).  Additionally, Shenk convened the consultation sponsored by Fuller Theological Seminary in 1998 on the topic “Toward a Global Christian History,” with 45 participants from six continents.[2]

The church of Christendom was a church without mission

Missiologists have reinforced the Christendom viewpoint with regard to mission

Missionary encounter with modern culture requires that we hold together basilean (the reign of God), as the content and goal, and incarnation, as the essential strategy, as we listen carefully, respectfully, and compassionately to the modern world.

The culture of modernity is and unprecedented missionary frontier. It is the first culture that has had a long encounter with the Christian faith but in which vast numbers of people live post-Christian lives. The  non missionary church of Christendom remains a dominant form of church in modern culture. This ecclesial reality can be made salvifically and socially relevant only if reshaped by basileia to become the means of incarnating the reign of God in modern culture.[3]

From Biblical Secularity to Modern Secularism: Historical Aspects and Stages | Christopher B. Kaiser

KaiserChris Kaiser began his professional life as a scientist and went on to become a theologian, and his teaching vocation has always included working to build bridges between his two disciplines. He has been part of Western’s faculty since 1976. He has also served as lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and has been a resident member of the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey. There, he conducted research on the interaction of science and theology during the Renaissance and the eighteenth century.

He is a frequent contributor to theological journals, and his 1991 book, Creation and the History of Science, was awarded a John Templeton Prize for Outstanding Books in Science and Religion.

Dr. Kaiser has served on the Theological Commission of the Reformed Church in America and is active in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Gospel and Our Culture Network.

Secularity and Secularism Defined

Secularism differs drastically from biblical secularity. In fact, it is exactly the opposite! Instead of God revealing Godself in space and time, God is isolated from creation (in practice, if not in formal creed). Instead of God being an agent in history, God is confined to the experience of the individual and (perhaps) the liturgy of the church.[4]

The Historical Development Introduced

Five Stages of secularization:

  1. the development of the medieval dialectic of natural and supernatural in the context of the power struggle between church and state (late 11th—12th centuries);
  2. the construction of uniform space and time in an era of emerging nation-states and market economies (14th—15th centuries);
  3. the reise of the mechanical philosophy in the context of the stabilization of nation-states against post-Reformation confessional disruption (17th century);
  4. the poularization of the mechanical philosophy and the construction of the modern self along with the rise of the “new men” of long-range commerce (18th century); and
  5. the restructuring of communities and the privatization of religion during the transportation and industrial revolutions (late 18th—19th centuries).

Six Aspects of the secularization process:

Sociopolitical—emergence of the modern nation-state;

Spiritual—spirits disengaged from the objective, public world;

Sociopsychological—individuals abstracted from social roles;

Cosmological—cosmos de-animated and matter commodified;

Phenomenological—split between subject and object; and

Cultural—life patterns transcending tradition, community, and place.

There are, then, at least three witnesses that testify against the permanence of secularism: Historical (and economic) contingencies, people from other cultures, and Scripture. And these three agree: the days of secularism as we know it are numbered (1 John 5:6-7; Dan. 5:26).[5]

Mission in the Emerging Postmodern Condition | Craig Van Gelder

Mapping the Task

The Enlightenment Worldview and the Culture of Modernity

Transitions from Modern to Postmodern

Theorists and Themes regarding the Emerging Postmodern Condition

Difference and Intensitities by Jean-Francois Lyotard

Desire and Micropolitics by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

Power-Knowledge and Discontinuity by Michel Foucault

Signs and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard

Late Capitlism and Consumer Society by Fredric Jameson

The Unfinished Elightenment Project by Jürgen Habermas

Positive Postmodernism

It is their belief that the fact that truth is relative does not rob it of all meaning. The worlds in which we live, both physical and social, are real, and we can come to know meaningful things about them. They simply caution that we can’t possess knowledge about them in an absolute sense. We have to use adjectives such as contextual, perspectival, and interpreted to define both the process by which we come to know and the content that we learn. In this way they have worked to shift much of the discussion from modernity’s focus on epistemology (the nature and grounds of knowledge) to hermeneutics (the principles of interpretation). In large part this shift defines the ground common to positive postmodernists and those attempting to extend the Christian mission within the emerging postmodern condition.[6]

A Christian Response to the Emerging Postmodern Condition

Bridges of Continuity

Challenges to Confront

The Gospel in Our Culture: Methods of Social and Cultural Analysis | Paul G. Hiebert

hiebertPaul Gordon Hiebert, Distinguished Professor of Mission and Anthropology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, arguably the world’s leading missiological anthropologist, died on March 11 of cancer. He was 74.

Paul combined attributes not easily combined: anthropologically—and theologically—informed scholarship and a passion for God’s global missionary purposes.

Theoretical Considerations



A Theoretical Model


The Social Systems of Modernity

A Technological Approach to Organization
Complexity and Specialization

The Cultural Systems of Modernity

Dualism: the Split between Spirit and Matter
Mechanistic Worldview
Order and Hierarchy
Individualism and Freedom
Materialism, Work, and Consumerism
Welfare State and Civil Religion
Cosmic Warfare
The American Dream


The Social Order of Postmodernity


The Cultural Order of Postmodernity

Deconstructionism, Relativism, and Pragmatism
Subjectivism, Idealism, and Existentialism
Theraputic Society

The Gospel in our Culture

The greatest danger is that we accept our social organization and our culture without being aware of it and thereby become its captive. All human systems need to be brought under the lordship of Christ and his kindgom.[7]

Symbols Become Us: Toward a Missional Encounter with Our Culture through Symbolic Analysis | David Scotchmer

Associate Professor of Mission and Evangelism at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, until his death

The Scotchmer award recognizes outstanding professional writing by graduate students in the field of Mesoamerican studies. The award is named for the late Dr. David Scotchmer, an alumnus of our Graduate Program (Ph.D. 1991) who died in 1995 just as his career was flowering. David, a pioneer in the study of the Protestant Evangelical Movement in Guatemala, published several significant essays on this subject while a graduate student here at the University at Albany. This award, in his honor, celebrates and encourages the ideal of publishable scholarship by graduate students.[8]

Why Doing Our Own Cultural Analysis is Critical

Cultural proximity

Cultural diversity

Cultural acuity (the ability to think and act critically within and outside the comfortable limits and known expectations of our own world and enter that unknown world of the cultural other.[9]

A Closer Look at Symbolic Analysis of Culture

Geertz on Culture

Geertz on Symbols

Geertz on Sacred Symbols

The Symbolic Analysis of Culture

Religion as a Meaningful System of Sacred Symbols

An Instrument for Symbolic Analysis of Context

Part III: Discerning the Gospel

Christ All in All: The Recovery of the Gospel for Evangelism in the United States | David Lowes Watson

watsonDavid Lowes Watson is a retired Elder in the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church. A native of England, he was educated at Oxford University (M.A.), Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri (M.Div.), and Duke University, Durham, North Carolina (Ph.D.). He pastored congregations in the Illinois Great Rivers and North Carolina Conferences, and served as Executive Secretary for Covenant Discipleship and Christian Formation at the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church. He taught at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas as the McCreless Professor of Evangelism, and at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C. as Professor of Theology and Congregational Life and Mission. He concluded his active ministry as Director of the Office of Pastoral Formation for the Nashville Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church, and for three years following his retirement served as Interim Senior Minister at West End United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He also taught as Adjunct Professor at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and The University of the South School of Theology, Sewanee, Tennessee.

He has written extensively in the fields of Methodist history and theology, evangelism, and congregational life and mission. His books include Accountable Discipleship, The Early Methodist Class Meeting, Class Leaders: Recovering a Tradition, and God Does Not Foreclose. He has written curriculum resources for The United Methodist Church, including the New Testament studies in Troublesome Bible Passages. He was the founding editor of the Covenant Discipleship Quarterly and the Journal of the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education, of which he is a past President. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley and the Board of Directors of Eden Theological Seminary.


Excerpted from MinistryMatters.com. Read more: http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/article/author/david_lowes_watson#ixzz2VqzoNTH2

Ministry Matters supports ministry leaders with resources, community, and inspiration.

Follow us: @ministrymatters on Twitter | ministrymatters on Facebook[10]


A Twofold Enculturation

“The resulting enculturation is two fold. On the one hand, the practice of evangelism is often reduced to congregational self-maintenance and aggrandizement; on the other hand, the field of evangelistic studies—the best hope for reforming American evangelism, though still a fledgling discipline—remains a veritable minefield of theological polemics and academic politics.”[11]

Congregational Enculturation

Theological Enculturation


An Acute Pastoral Dilemma

“[Pastors] know one thing for sure; in the final analysis, and eculturated church will measure thier pastoral effectiveness by the numerical size and growth of their congregations.”[12]


Hermeneutical Distinctions


A Hermeneutic for Evangelism

What is the Gospel?

What is Our Context?

What Makes the Gospel Good News in This Context?

How Does Contextual Response to the Gospel Further Illumine Its Good News?

Ecclesia Crucis: The Theologic of Christian Awkwardness | Douglas John Hall

douglas-john-hallRev. Douglas John Hall is a United Church minister and a professor emeritus of Christian theology at McGill University in Montreal[13]

“”I would like to show that intentional disengagement from the dominant culture, with which the older Protestant denominations of this continent have been bound up in the past, is the necessary precondition for a meaningful engagement of theat same dominant culture.”[14]

Disengagement as a Work of Theology

An Ancient Dialectic: Not “of,” Yet “in”

Four Wordly Quests—and Christian Witness

The Quest for Moral Authenticity

The Quest for Meaningful Community

The Quest for Transcendence and Mystery

The Quest for Meaning

Gospel for American Culture: Variations on a Theme by Newbigin | Charles C. West

Professor of Christian Ethics Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary


Speaking the Truth in Love: Elements of a Missional Hermeneutic: James V. Brownson

brownsonWhat is the gospel, and how does it address and transform our lives? This is the question that has shaped Jim Brownson’s academic and theological work. Jim’s teaching and thinking tends to move between close and careful readings of the biblical text and wide-ranging exercises in theological imagination that bring the biblical text into conversation with life in the modern and postmodern world.

His passion is to equip students to understand the gospel both in its stunning simplicity and in its incredibly diverse applications to our lives. His scholarly and teaching interests include the Gospel of John, the Synoptic Gospels, biblical hermeneutics, contextual theology, and theology in service to the church. Dr. Brownson served Western eight years as Academic Dean and has contributed significantly to recent revisions in Western’s M.Div. curriculum.

He is deeply involved in service to the Reformed Church in America, both in theological scholarship and in theological education. He is a long-standing member of the Gospel and Our Culture Network and a contributor to its ongoing research and publication. He often contributes to a variety of journals and magazines as well.[15]

A Hermeneutic for the Missionary Encounter of the Gospel and Our Culture: Speaking the Truth in Love

That truth of the gospel is always spoken in love. It is never spoken for the purpose of political advancement or domination, but in the hope that each person and community might discover its true voice and its own distinctive experience of full humanity as the gospel takes root in fresh and diverse ways. How we speak is as important to our missional vocation as what we speak. In this sense, Newbigin is quite right to speak of the local congregation as the hermeneutic of the gospel. It is ultimately through our lives, in all of their contingency and local particularity, that the universal claims of the gospel will find a credible voice in the midst of our fragmented and suspicious world. It is only when the announcement “Jesus is Lord” is spoken by someone who takes the posture of a servant that it can ever be heard as the gospel. It is only through the convergence of word and deed that the fragmented suspicion of our postmodern world will be able to discover a new Way that is also Truth and Life.[16]

Vernacular Theology | William A. Dyrness

william-dyrnessWilliam Dyrness, professor of theology and culture, joined the Fuller faculty in 1990 and served as dean of the School of Theology from 1990 to 2000. He teaches courses in theology, culture, and the arts, and was a founding member of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts.

Dyrness has over 30 years of teaching experience in the U.S., the Philippines, Kenya, and South Korea. He has published work in a variety of fields, including theology and culture, apologetics, theology and art, and global missions. His recent works include Poetic Theology (2010), A Primer in Christian Worship (2009), the Global Dictionary of Theology (co-edited with Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, 2008), Senses of the Soul: Art and the Visual in Christian Worship (2008), Reformed Theology and Visual Culture: The Protestant Imagination from Calvin to Edwards (2004), Visual Faith (2001), Changing the Mind of Missions with James F. Engel (2000), and The Earth is God’s: A Theology of American Culture (1997). He has also served on the national boards of Christians in the Visual Arts (Wenham, MA), 1999 to 2005, and Development Associates International (Colorado Springs, CO), 2000 to the present, and is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He is currently at work on a major research project funded by the Henry Luce Foundation on the use of visual images in worship in Christian, Buddhist and Muslim communities. Additionally, he is currently writing a book with art historian Dan Siedell on the religious influences of modern art.[17]

“Here it occurred to me that the participant-observer methods of the anthropologist are the most important skills that theologians who wish to do “advocacy theology” need to develop. In other words, they need to become ethnologists.”[18]


“Translatability” in the Missional Approach of Lamin Sanneh| Paul Russ Satari

Lay Ministry Staff (missions and evangelism) at the Wesley Methodist Church, Singapore.

Part IV: Defining the Church

Acquiring the Posture of a Missionary Church | George R. Hunsberger


Congregations with Missions vs. Missionary Congregations | John R. “Pete” Hendrick

Lancaster Professor of Mission and Evangelism Emeritus at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary Austin, Texas.

Congregations with Missions

Missionary Congregations

  1. A missionary congregation will understand that it exists in a cross-cultural situation.
  2. A missionary congregation will enter into dialogue with its context and culture.
  3. A missionary congregation will provide opportunities for its members to reflect on culture from a biblical view.
  4. A missionary congregation will pray for and seek its own transformation.
  5. A missionary congregation will accept the marginal position in which it finds itself.
  6. A missionary congregation will bear witness in its social and cultural situation.

Up from the Grassroots: The Church in Transition | E. Dixon Junkin

Dean of the Institute for Christian Formation of the Presbyterian church (U.S.A.), Stony Point, New York.


Pastoral Role in the Missionary Congregation | Alan J. Roxburgh

alan-roxburghAlan Roxburgh is a pastor, teacher, writer and consultant with more than 30 years experience in church leadership, consulting and seminary education.  Alan has pastored congregations in a small town, the suburbs, the re-development of a downtown urban church and the planting of other congregations.  He has directed an urban training center and served as a seminary professor and the director of a center for mission and evangelism.  Alan teaches as an adjunct professor in seminaries in the USA, Australia and Europe.  His books include: Reaching a New Generation, Leadership, Liminality and the Missionary Congregation, Crossing the Bridge: Leadership in a Time of Change, The Sky is Falling – Leaders Lost in Transition, The Missional Leader (co-authored with Fred Romanuk), Introducing the Missional ChurchMissional Map Making and Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood.  He was also a member of the writing team that authored Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America.

Through The Missional Network, Alan leads conferences, seminars and consultations with denominations, congregations and seminaries across North America, Asia, Europe, Australia and the UK.  Alan consults with these groups in the areas of leadership for missional transformation and innovating missional change across denominational systems.  Along with the team at TMN, he provides practical tools and resources for leaders of church systems and local congregations.

When not traveling or writing, Alan enjoys mountain biking, hiking, cooking and hanging out with Jane and their five grandchildren as well as drinking great coffee in the Pacific North West.[19]

A Model for Engagement

The church in liminality

Pastor/Apostle (discipling and equipping requires a leadership that demonstrates, in action, the encounter with the culture.)

Pastor/Poet (articulators of experience)

Pastor/Prophet (prophecy is the addressing of the Word of God directly into the specific, concrete historical experience of the people of God.)


Sizing Up the Shape of the Church | George R. Hunsberger

A Particular People: Toward a Faithful and Effective Ecclesiology | Inagrace T. Dietterich


Inagrace T. Dietterich, Ph.D.,
Director of Theological Research

An ordained minister of the Iowa Conference, The United Methodist Church, Inagrace has done research and writing which form the theological foundations for the Center’s work. She has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School, and degrees from the University of Iowa and Wartburg Theological Seminary. Inagrace is Director of Theological Research for the Center. She is the author of a range of significant and rich Bible study resources that cultivate God’s people in their missional calling.[20]

If the dualism of internal/external, nonrational/rational, private/public, personal/institutional is uncritically presupposed, the biblical images of the corporate nature of the Christian faith—as the people of God, the body of Christ, or the koinonia of the Holy Spirit—and of its mission to proclaim and embody the new “society” of the kingdom of God will be profoundly undermined, distorted, and misrepresented.[21]

[1] http://www.westernsem.edu/about/faculty-staff/?wts-fs-id=5947 (accessed June 10, 2013)

[2] http://www.fuller.edu/academics/faculty/wilbert-shenk.aspx (accesssed June 10 2013)

[3] Wilbert R. Shenk in George R. Hunsberger and Craig Van Gelder, The Church between Gospel and Culture: The Emerging Mission in North America (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996), 78.

[4] Christopher B. Kaiser in ibid.,  85.

[5] Kaiser in ibid.,  112.

[6] Van Gelder in ibid.,  134.

[7] Hiebert in ibid.,  156.

[8] http://www.albany.edu/ims/scotchmer.html (accessed June 10, 2013)

[9] David Scotchmer in Hunsberger and Van Gelder, 160.

[10] http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/article/author/david_lowes_watson#axzz2VqzZQngx (accessed June 10, 2013)

[11] Watson in Hunsberger and Van Gelder, 179.

[12] Watson in ibid.,  184.

[13] http://religioninthebalance.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/a-theologian-who-knows-what-time-it-is/ (accessed June 10, 2013)

[14] Hall in Hunsberger and Van Gelder, 198.

[15] http://www.westernsem.edu/about/faculty-staff/ (accesssed June 10, 2013)

[16] Brownson in Hunsberger and Van Gelder, 258-259.

[17] http://www.fuller.edu/academics/faculty/william-dyrness.aspx (accessed June 10, 2013)

[18] Dyrness in Hunsberger and Van Gelder, 261.

[19] http://themissionalnetwork.com/index.php/alan-roxburgh (accessed June 10, 2013)

[20] http://www.missionalchurch.org/pg/staff.html (accessed June 10, 2013)

[21] Ditterich in Hunsberger and Van Gelder, 354.

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