Sharing the Gospel Across Cultural Worldviews
Review of ‘Effective Intercultural Evangelism’ by Jay Moon and Bud Simon
The mission Jesus gave the Church extends to “all nations” (Matthew 28:19), meaning ethno-linguistic people groups, not countries.
In the modern period, missions involved going from the West (Christendom) to the Rest (the Majority World). Today, however, the nations are coming to us.* Moreover, within Christendom, many are leaving the faith.
(I write about “us” and “them,” but the situation is complicated. A sizable percentage of immigrants to the West are Christian. They are “us” in a religious sense but “them” in a geopolitical sense. By contrast, secular Westerners are “us” in a geopolitical sense but “them” in a religious sense.)
The missional dynamics of going, coming, and leaving require Great Commission Christians to navigate the cultural differences between their own culture and the culture of the people with whom they’re sharing the gospel.
This is not a new requirement, though. Already in the first century, Paul understood that evangelizing Jews and Gentiles required different culturally relevant approaches: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Effective Intercultural Evangelism by Jay Moon and Bud Simon offers readers a primer on how to practice those approaches. It defines intercultural evangelism as “the process of putting Christ at the center of someone’s worldview in order to initiate them into Christian discipleship through culturally relevant starting points.”
The use of worldview might mislead readers into thinking this book examines differences between Christianity and other religions or ideologies.
The authors define worldview broadly, however. Quoting missiologist Paul Hiebert, they define it as “the foundational cognitive affective, and evaluative assumptions and frameworks a group of people makes about the nature of reality that they use to order their lives.”
Intercultural evangelism is the process of putting Christ at the center of someone’s worldview in order to initiate them into Christian discipleship through culturally relevant starting points.
Drawing on social science, Moon and Simon identify four worldviews common among people groups: guilt/justice, shame/honor, fear/power, and indifference/belonging with purpose. The first term in each pair names the problem a worldview addresses, while the second names its solution.
The guilt/justice worldview predominates in the West. “Objective right and wrong guide all conduct without regard to individuals or consequences,” write the authors. “Central values include individual responsibility, an internalized code of conduct, and individualism.”
The shame/honor worldview is common in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. “Relationship and standing in society determine conduct,” the authors write. “Collectivism, group expectations, indirect communication, and an audience to observe conduct … normally play significant roles in these cultures.”
The fear/power worldview is found throughout Africa, the Caribbean, and tribal/folk communities. “The spiritual and physical world intermingle through nature, matter, rituals, ancestors, and other forms. In this worldview, people fear that these powers will act capriciously, causing harm through a person’s relationships or possessions.”
Westerners typically interpret the Bible through a guilt/justice worldview, but careful readers will notice the presence of all three worldviews’ concerns throughout Scripture.
Consider Genesis 3. Is the story of the Fall about guilt because Adam and Eve broke a command? Is it a story about shame because Adam and Eve were naked and needed cover? Or is it a story about fear because Adam and Eve lived under a curse?
It is a story about all three because guilt, shame, and fear characterize the human experience. The Bible thus can be read across cultures in terms that make sense within different worldviews.
This is true regarding the indifference/belonging with purpose worldview, as well. Secularism is a modern phenomenon, not a biblical one. Secular Westerners, prosperous as they are, generally are not driven by guilt, shame, or fear. Instead, they suffer from what Kyle Behsears calls “apatheism.”
In their worldview, “God and religion do not affect reality,” write the authors. The problem with secularism is that it destroys traditional sources of identity, belonging, and purpose, leaving a cultural vacuum in its wake. This emptiness leaves an opening for the gospel. “Belonging (in community) with purpose (beyond themselves) provides an experiential pathway to engage the audience,” according to the authors.
The four worldviews present ideal types with permeable boundaries. All people experience guilt, shame, fear, and indifference. Worldviews prioritize one of the four themes above the others.
What Effective Intercultural Evangelism says about worldviews is the central insight of the book. Understanding worldviews is the first and hardest step in moving from what William Howell calls “unconscious incompetence” to “conscious incompetence” in intercultural communication.
In other words, we must move from not knowing that there are cultural differences, let alone how to navigate them, to both knowing the former and learning the latter. Only then can we progress to “conscious” and finally “unconscious competence,” where intercultural communication comes naturally to us.
In the book’s final chapters, Moon and Simon offer additional advice about the importance of holistic evangelism, the necessity of knowing other peoples’ learning styles; and the value of identifying influences within each worldview.
I recommend the book to would-be missionaries, pastors in ethnically diverse communities, and church members interested in sharing the gospel with neighbors from other cultures. Each chapter concludes with practical exercises that can be completed in small groups or individually.
W. Jay Moon and W. Bud Simon, Effective Intercultural Evangelism: Good News in a Diverse World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2021).