Through Middle Eastern eyes
Gospel and Mission Series:
by John Hall
The theme for Missions Fest 2018 is “What is the Gospel” and we’ll be looking at the word through the eyes of missional professionals throughout the year. In this article Roland Muller shares about how the Gospel is perceived through different cultural lenses, making it relevant for all people through all time.
Who are you, and what ministry are you part of?
Hello. My name is Roland Muller. For all my adult life, I have focused my attention on sharing the Gospel with people from a Muslim background. My wife and I first entered the Middle East in 1979. While we were studying the Arabic language, the Muslim family next door adopted us as part of their family. We spent the next year experiencing life from within a Muslim family context, asking questions and trying to answer theirs. Over the years we have carried out ministry in many of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula in one form or other.
What does the word “Gospel” mean to you?
We have learned to see the Gospel through Middle Eastern eyes. Sin separates us from God because all of mankind, and every individual has brought dishonour to God. We have all disobeyed him, and experienced the shame of sin. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, shame has separated us from God. Muslims try very hard to obey their prophet in the hope that this will please God, but they realize that they will never ever experience God’s presence. The best they can hope for is a place of paradise, but God does not live there. They are eternally separated from him, and most would never imagine that there is a way to experience God let alone enter his presence.
God’s Word speaks to all cultures and worldviews, and so I not only needed to learn to share the Gospel through shame-based understanding, I had to learn to see and experience that shame for myself. Repeatedly I had to learn to experience the depths of sin, and the greatness of God’s love and acceptance, available only through the Lord Jesus Christ, who bore my shame (and my guilt and fear) on the cross. When they stripped Jesus naked and spit and mocked my Lord, he was bearing my shame, so I could be free of it. He also bore the guilt, and fear that sin brings with it.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden, everything changed. Sin affected their lives in many ways. These can be divided into two categories. First sin affected Adam and Even personally, and they experienced guilt, shame and fear for the first time in their lives. Second, God judged Adam and Eve and they experienced the results of God’s judgment on their lives. Everyone experienced God’s judgment, but today, we can classify cultures all around the world by how they react personally to sin.
Some cultures are more sensitive to guilt (generally western guilt-based cultures) who plot ethics on a scale of guilt versus innocence or good versus bad. Western Christians express the Gospel in guilt based terms and sometimes even exchange the word guilt for sin, imagining that Jesus died on the cross for their guilt only. Our young people no longer live in a majority of guilt-based thinking, and the Gospel message from churches is less and less relevant to their world.
Long ago missionaries discovered that some cultures are very sensitive to fear. these cultures include animism as well as communism and ways of thinking where ethics are put on a scale of fear versus power. The Bible speaks very strongly to these cultures, and we can understand that Jesus died on the cross to not only remove our guilt, but to also remove our fear, so that we no longer need to live in fear, we can also face eternity, because we can boldly come into the presence of God. Jesus died to remove not only our guilt, but also our fear.
In the same way, shame-based cultures which put ethics on a continuum between shame and honour exist from Japan to Morocco. Jesus bore our shame on the cross as well. When Jesus takes our sin, he has the power to free us from guilt, shame and fear. There are all the results of sin. If we acknowledge our guilt is removed but live under bondage to fear and shame, we are not experiencing the full freedom of the gospel.
So when one understands these basic principles, then the Gospel can be summed up as: Jesus died on the cross to take our sin and set us free from the guilt, shame and fear that sin brings.
How does the Gospel impact you?
Our upbringing in Canada was very sin-guilt related. I personally never felt much shame. I accepted I made mistakes and tried to correct myself. My Middle Eastern experience caused me to recognized how deeply I had brought shame upon God, and how sensitive the Muslims are to the shame in their lives. I had to learn to stop sharing a western guilt-based salvation message, and to discover a similar shame-based message that permeates the Bible.
How are you (in your ministry) a reflection of the Gospel?
We have tried to live incarnational lives, entering Muslim communities and relating to those around us in ways that they might understand. At the same time, we try to model something that they do not understand… someone who has a personal relationship with God, who has experienced his love, sensed his guiding hand, and who lives rejoicing in his love and his provision. Most Muslims are not moving forward in faith. They have accepted Islam, and they have stopped seeking. We trust that when they experience our lives, words and love that they will begin to seek answers. And what a joy it has been to be a part of the lives of many who have come to faith, and many others who are now in the process of seeking answers. In the last decade, we have also had the joy of seeing many western Christian experience a deeper appreciation of the Gospel as they see beyond their guilt-based experience and embrace the wider understanding of how sin affects us, and the power of the Gospel to restore us.
Missions Fest Vancouver is an organization dedicated to supporting the local church in their efforts to become more missional. Learn more at: missionsfestvancouver.ca