Theological and Cultural Rationale Behind Iwa's Faith Sharing Tools
Iwa has produced and intends to continue producing a variety of faith sharing tools that present the foundational message of the Bible in forms and content that most effectively communicate its meaning to people for whom existing traditional faith sharing tools have proven relatively ineffective. The categories of people for whom Iwa’s faith sharing tools are especially designed are as follows:
• Pre-Christian and Un-churched
• Post-modern and Post-Christian
• Asian and Asian American
It is important to emphasize that Iwa is not presenting a message in its faith sharing tools that is in any way contradictory to that which is contained in existing traditional faith sharing tools such as the Billy Graham Association’s Steps to Peace with God, Campus Crusade for Christ’s Have You Heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?, or the Navigator’s Bridge to Life. Iwa affirms the basic biblical beliefs communicated in these evangelistic booklets as accurate interpretations of biblical truth that are essential aspects of what is often referred to as “God’s Plan of Salvation.” At the same time, Iwa also believes that there are other essential elements of God’s redemptive plan that are not communicated or emphasized in the traditional evangelistic message that may well lead to greater understanding, deeper conviction, and a far more positive motivation to accept Jesus as personal Savior and Lord on the part of many people today, especially those in the categories listed above.
Iwa’s faith sharing tools are to be seen as complementary to the existing tools and, therefore, ultimately helpful to everyone. The understanding and appreciation for what God has done to forgive and reconcile humankind to himself on the part of those who become Christians through Iwa’s tools will definitely be broadened and deepened by exposure to the traditional presentations of the Gospel message. And, at the same time, the reverse is also true. The faith of those who become Christians through the traditional formulation of the evangelistic message will also be greatly enriched by Iwa’s evangelistic presentation as well. The crucial issue is not whether one presentation is more biblical or better than the other, but rather which evangelistic presentation makes more sense and has more impact on the person during early exposure to the Gospel. The difference between the two approaches is a matter of initial emphasis—which approach is best at the beginning of a person’s consideration of “God’s Plan of Salvation.”
The following outlines the characteristics of the various categories of people for whom Iwa’s presentation of the Gospel was designed that shaped its content:
Pre-Christian and Unchurched
• No prior biblical knowledge - Direct quotes from the Bible, especially from translations which use archaic English (e.g. King James Version) or are literal English translations that maintain the syntax of the original language (e.g. New American Standard Version) making the Bible seem old, odd or mystical, are rarely used because people not familiar with the Bible don't attribute any special authority to the exact words or wording of the Bible as is the case with many who are raised in a culture and context presently influenced strongly by Christianity. Also, Bible references (e.g. John 3:16 NIV) are never used, especially when not accompanying the actual passage being referenced. Such words, numbers and letters mean nothing to persons who are not familiar with the Bible and Christian literature. As a result, such references, which are generally listed to give support and credibility, end up having the opposite effect, making the material seem academic, abstract, foreign or cryptic.
• No familiarity with theological terminology - Words such as sin, propitiation, sanctification, salvation, redemption, and incarnation have little meaning to someone not familiar with the Bible or having little exposure to Christian dialogue, literature and the church. Because of this, none of this terminology is used in Iwa faith sharing tools even though the essential meanings of these terms must be communicated effectively. Such words as grace, glory, redemption, mercy and blessing, which may sound familiar to unchurched and pre-Christian people, are used only sparingly because they carry additional and greater meaning when used in Christian context. Therefore, when they are used, the biblical meanings behind these words are conveyed using “everyday” English to define and discuss them.
Post-modern and Post-Christian
• Don’t believe in absolutes - People who are post-modern and post- Christian tend not to believe that anything is absolute, but that all is relative. They don’t believe that an absolute and objective standard of morality exists, so they do not feel guilty for failing to believe in such a standard or living up to it. To them, morality is relative to the situation and whatever a person chooses to believe is right and wrong. The code of ethics they do adhere to is that they can believe and behave in any way they want to as long as they don’t offend or hurt anyone else. Therefore, instead of focusing upon mankind’s problem as being a result of disobeying God and his laws, the emphasis of Iwa’s faith sharing tools is upon how we and all humanity have offended, disappointed, dishonored and hurt God.
• Pragmatic and practical - Post-modern and post-Christian people tend not to be optimistic idealists. They are not very abstract or philosophical in their thinking. They are concrete and situational. They attribute more validity to personal experience than an intellectual argument. Therefore, rather than presenting rational theological arguments about God, Iwa’s evangelistic tools focus on real-life stories, whether people’s life experiences with God as recorded in the Bible or how God has transformed lives of people today. The acid test for what is true among post-modern and post-Christian people is whether something makes an authentic difference in people’s lives. In other words, what works is what counts.
• Highly relational - The highly mobile lifestyle of most urban dwellers today has destroyed the stability of the traditional people networks that have provided security, support, and a sense identity in the past. With the rise of divorce and single parenting, intact families have become increasingly rare, threatening extended families with near extinction. The break up of the family has given birth to a generation starving for close and stable relationships. As a result, many—especially the youth of today—are highly relational, seeking to fill the need for “family” not only from among their peers, but also from others older and younger than themselves. They are far less individualistic than previous generations. They are less concerned about personal fulfillment and success and more focused on relational harmony and well-being. For this reason, Iwa’s faith sharing tools emphasize the family metaphor of the Bible, with God being the heavenly Father, Jesus being God’s Son, and recent believers being newly adopted into the heavenly Father’s family. No family could ever be more secure, stable and permanent than that!
Because post-modern and post-Christian people are highly relational, concrete, situational and without much knowledge of the Bible, rather than the traditional abstract and linear “Plan of Salvation” that tells us little about the person of Jesus, Iwa’s materials seek to introduce non-Christians to Jesus Christ as someone who not only lived and walked on the face of the earth 2,000 years ago, but is alive and can be met in person now—today.
• Consumed by the here-and-now - Amid a rapidly changing world, under the constant threat of war and terrorism, people today are afraid of the future. Feeling unable to control their destinies, many are preoccupied with trying to make themselves as happy as possible here-and-now. Because of this Iwa’s faith sharing tools emphasize the quality of life and relationships they can have with God and others through Christ starting right now in the present rather than the eternal life that they can receive later after they die because they accepted Christ while they were living.
Asian and Asian American
• Without a Judeo-Christian worldview - The worldview of most Asians and Asian Americans has been shaped by various eastern religions and philosophies such as Taoism, Shintoism, Confucian- ism, Buddhism and Hinduism rather than by Judaism or Christianity. As a result, the religious concepts and beliefs of Asian and Asian American non-Christians are very different than those who belong to cultures having Judeo-Christian roots. For instance, it is common for Asians and Asian Americans not to have a concept of a personal God. As such, this and other preconceived religious notions must be addressed if non-Christian Asians and Asian Americans are going to be able to understand and relate to the Bible and its evangelistic message. Iwa’s faith sharing tools introduce that which is foundational to a biblical worldview for those who need its undergirding to understand the Gospel.
• Non-confrontational and indirect - Those coming from Asian cultures are so relationally oriented that they tend to avoid doing anything that may injure valued relationships. Direct sharing of religious beliefs is generally thought to be one of those things that places relationships at risk. It is thought to be too confrontational because the sharer is seen as seeking to impose his or her religious views upon the hearer. Asian and Asian Americans tend not to separate people from their beliefs. As a result, if a person shares his or her religious beliefs in a way that it is viewed as new or different than those of the hearer, it accentuates difference between the sharer and hearer, and most probably will be seen as judgment and a sign of disrespect resulting in offense and relational injury. It is for this reason that Iwa encourages Christians to communicate their beliefs indirectly by sharing their personal stories of discovery about God and the truth of his Word in the context of their normal, everyday conversations with non-Christian Asians and Asian Americans. Also, Iwa provides evangelistic resources that share the evangelistic message interwoven into the personal stories of others whose lives have been transformed by Christ. And, when a more direct communication of the Gospel is appropriate, Iwa provides tools that do so, together with an invitation to respond to God, in a culturally sensitive and non-confrontational manner.
• Honor and shame oriented - Traditional evangelistic presentations are most effective among people whose cultures are primarily oriented toward guilt as is true of Western cultures rather than shame as is the case with Eastern cultures. Traditional encapsulations of the Gospel focus upon mankind’s guilt, resulting from the trespassing of God’s holy and absolute laws. Such trespasses are what the Bible refers to as sins. Atonement for these sins must be made, otherwise the punishment for such disobedience is eternal condemnation in hell. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the penalty for mankind’s guilt and makes possible forgiveness and eternal life for those who believe in Christ’s sacrifice on their behalf. Most Eastern cultures, however, are oriented toward shame over guilt. This being the case, Iwa provides evangelistic tools that focus upon the dishonor and pain we brought to God by failing to live up to his design and expectation of us. We failed to trust that God was willing to enable us to do so. Because of our lack of faith in him, not only did we sin, our character became flawed because of it—we developed a Sin nature. As a consequence of this, our loving relationship with God was no longer possible. We broke our relationship with him. Rather than seeing the cross as a means of fulfilling a holy God’s need for justice as is true with the guilt-oriented presentation of the Gospel, Christ’s crucifixion is presented as an ultimate act of self-disclosing love—God demonstrating how much he anguishes over our separation from him and the incredible extent to which he is willing to go in his attempt to convince us he is willing to forgive us and accept us back if we but return to him. Christ’s resurrection and the sending of his Spirit to indwell new believers is also covered as an essential part of Iwa’s formulation of the evangelistic message as it communicates the means by which God is going to enable believers to be restored from having a Sin nature to having a godly character once again. The evangelistic presentation effective in the cultural West emphasizes justification and redemption, while that which is most effective in the East emphasizes reconciliation and restoration.
• Group and family oriented - Western cultures are highly individualistic. Because of this, traditional evangelistic presentations primarily address the problems, needs and aspirations of individual persons. Asians and Asian Americans, however, tend to value the welfare of their group and family more highly than their own. Group and family needs, problems and desires are extremely important to Asians and Asian Americans. Not belonging to a group or family is a grave personal crisis. For this reason, Iwa’s evangelistic tools treat individuals as integral to groups, families and humanity as a whole and primarily utilize the biblical metaphor of family as mentioned above in regards to how Iwa is addressing highly relational post-modern and post-Christian people through its evangelistic resources.
• Inevitability of pain - Western cultures, as reflected in their medical practices, seek to eliminate pain. An ultimate goal of life is to live as pain-free as possible. Asian cultures, on the other hand, see pain and suffering as an inevitable and unavoidable part of life. As a result, Asians and Asian Americans seek ways of living with pain rather than avoiding or eliminating it. Persons who are victims of extreme suffering and endure it well are admired and highly respected. Pain and suffering are valued as the means by which character is developed, tested and proven. In response to this, Iwa’s evangelistic materials do not present Christianity as a means of avoiding, relieving or escaping pain and suffering. The good news of the Gospel is not only what Jesus achieved for us as a result of his pain and suffering on the cross—forgiveness and eternal life, but even more so, how much God loves us as measured by the extent to which he was willing to suffer for us—not only social rejection, torture, and an excruciating physical death, but also separation between God the Son and God the Father for the first time in all eternity. The cross is not seen only as a means to an end, but also an end in itself—overwhelming evidence of how much God loves us. As we enter into and appreciate Christ’s suffering for us, we also realize how much he enters into our suffering and enables us to endure it well. And, when we experience Jesus’ identification, help and comfort in the midst of our suffering, so we are, in turn, enabled to identify, help and comfort others in the same way as we have been comforted. This then is a big part of effective evangelism among Asians and Asian Americans emphasized in Iwa’s evangelistic tools and resources.
• Harmony with nature - Those of Eastern cultures and religions tend to see a much closer connection between mankind and creation than those of Western cultures and religions. Consequently, Asians and Asian Americans have a greater desire to live in harmony with nature than to live as if they were in control of it. Iwa’s evangelistic materials seek to present the Gospel in the context of the whole of creation—that mankind’s spiritual deterioration has led to the demise of the entire natural order, therefore, the spiritual restoration of humanity should likewise lead to the restoration of the whole of creation.
As was mentioned at the beginning of this article, Iwa is not presenting a message that is in any way contradictory to the traditional way the Gospel has been presented, but rather is complementary. Just as God is just and holy, he is also merciful and loving. Just as the punishment for our sins must be paid to meet the need for justice by an infinitely righteous and holy God resulting in our redemption, so also we need God’s grace and love so we can be reconciled and rejoined to him. Traditional evangelistic tools have emphasized justification and redemption, while the most effective way of communicating the Gospel to those who are pre-Christian and un-churched, post-modern and post-Christian, and Asian and Asian American is by emphasizing grace and reconciliation. Both are necessary for a full appreciation of the Gospel. Together, they reflect the “full counsel of God,” as two arms of God’s love—the answer and fulfillment for all cultures and peoples—an answer to both the problem of sins and Sin. God is both just and merciful, infinite and intimate, fearsome and tender. Both sides of God are true. Both sides of the Gospel are true. Therefore, both the traditional formulation and Iwa’s formulation of the evangelistic message of the Bible are equally true and, together, are for everyone. Grasping both sides of the Gospel will, ultimately, create in all believers a deeper and fuller understanding of God, his saving work, and his sacrificial love—moving all to worship and praise God all the more!