Enculturated Christianity

Why has Christianity, more than any other major religion of the world, been able to infiltrate so many different radically different cultures? There is of course a core of teachings . . . to which all forms of Christianity are committed. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of freedom in how these absolutes are expressed and take form within a particular culture. Contrary to popular opinion, then, Christianity is not a Western religion that destroys local cultures. Rather Christianity has taken more culturally diverse forms than other faiths.

—Tim Keller, The Reason for God, chapter 4

Cultural Inflection in Worship

Each culture uses its own rhythms, melodies, and instruments to convey meaning through music. An intonation that signals politeness in one language may signal disbelief in another. It would be inappropriate to use victory music at a tragic scene, party music at a serious scene, or shaman music at a worship scene. A familiar musical setting helps people identify with the message. A song that sounds beautiful to a Westerner may sound dissonant to someone else and hinder them from opening up to the message.

—Wycliffe Bible Translators, “Scripture Engagement”

Worship in Romans (37)

“…in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” (Romans 15:9)

How does Paul unpack the word “glorify” from verse 9? He does it with four Old Testament quotations in verses 9–12.

As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.”

And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”

And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”

Praise, sing, rejoice, praise, extol, hope.

Glorifying God for his mercy starts with the emotions of joy (verse 10) and hope (verse 12) in the God of mercy. Joy as you savor the merciful God now, and hope as you happily expect to savor him even more in the future. Then that joy and hope overflow in praise (verse 9, 11) and song (verse 9).

This is the essence of gospel worship: Heartfelt, hope-filled joy in the God of mercy overflowing in fitting outward expressions. The reason I say this is the essence of worship is because I know there are other emotions that are part of worship besides joy. Like the sorrows of confession. But these sorrows are not true worship, unless, at root, they are sorrows for our failures to experience joy in the God of mercy. Therefore, joy in the God of mercy remains the essence of gospel worship. And that is really good news, because in God’s design, we get the mercy, God gets the glory. We get the joy, God gets the praise. We revel in hope, God receives the honor. When we call the nations to worship the true God in Christ, that is what we call them to.

—John Piper, “Gospel Worship: Holy Ambition for All the Peoples to Praise Christ”

Worship in Romans (36)

“For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.” (Romans 15:8-9)

And what was the aim of God in this overflow of mercy for the nations?

The aim was worship. Romans 15:9: “In order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” Notice: It’s not just that the Gentiles might receive God’s mercy or simply experience God’s mercy, but that they glorify God for His mercy. The aim of the gospel among the nations is not man-centered. Paul does not say, “Christ became a servant in order that the Gentiles might receive mercy.” He says, “Christ became a servant in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for receiving mercy.”

The ultimate aim of the gospel is God — God glorified for His mercy. Don’t fall short of the ultimate aim when you preach the gospel. Don’t just offer people mercy. Offer them the greatest gift: a merciful God, and that God glorified for His mercy. Human beings were made finally for God, not mercy. Mercy is a means not an end. Savoring mercy is not the end, savoring God for His mercy is the end.

—John Piper, “Gospel Worship: Holy Ambition for All the Peoples to Praise Christ”

 

Diversity in Unity

We need to discover how Christians from different races and cultures have expressed themselves in song to God. Song structures, musical style and instrumentation will vary. Learning to enjoy such variety is a way of experiencing the breadth of Christian experience beyond the limitations of our own context.

—David G. Peterson, Encountering God Together, 139