The September 2022 issue of Christianity Today (CT) has an interview with an author, Justin Ariel Bailey, who wrote a book about engaging with theology and culture.
The title of the interview, which is also the title of this blog, was drawn from Bailey’s answer to the question, “How can a deeper understanding of culture contribute to our evangelism and discipleship?”
What did Bailey mean? Does he believe that the gospel message is different for different cultures?
The answer to the question, “What would be good news to these people?” was never explained in the interview. Bailey did go on to say in the next section that, “There has also been greater sensitivity to the fact that culture is not reducible to ideas, and that cultural discipleship has to go beyond simply giving people correct information” (p. 74).
Does Bailey think the same way about evangelism?i Does cultural evangelism need “to go beyond simply giving people correct information”? That seems to be what he is suggesting.
I found a podcast (listen here) in which he said that we are secure because “God has promised to be faithful to us” and “because of what Jesus did for us.” That sounded good. But later in the same interview he said that we are not secure just “because we have all the right answers.”
I also discovered a CT article he wrote titled “Doubt Be Not Proud” (see here), in which he said, “I was raised in a religious context that emphasized certainty, moments of decision, and the clarity of Scripture over experience. Those emphases are not so much incorrect as incomplete. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stand on a firm foundation or trying to explore the world from a stable base.” He then went on to say, “But life is full of sharp edges to puncture our illusions of control. At least that’s what I found as I went away to college in a big city, began to wrestle with doubt, and started working in ministry.”
It is not clear to me what Bailey believes about what one must do to have everlasting life. That bothers me. His question, “What would be good news to these people?” also bothers me. This is a question we should not be asking.
John 3:16 is good news to all people of every culture. We do not have a message that shifts depending on culture. We have the certainty that Bailey grew up with, not the doubt that he learned to embrace in college and seminary. The good news is that those who believe in Jesus have everlasting life and will never perish. While we certainly need sensitivity to culture as we share that message, we do not vary the message depending on culture. The good news is unchanging.
i When he edited this blog, Ken Yates asked, “Are you sure he sees evangelism and discipleship as distinct things?” That is a good point. He might be like many who merge evangelism and discipleship.