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The gospel and their culture

22 March 2009

A few years ago quite a lot was heard in missiological circles about the “Gospel and our culture movement”. Inspired by Lesslie Newbigin, it was concerned about the re-evangelisation of Western culture. In recent years it seems to have dropped out of sight, perhaps to be replaced by the “emerging church” movement, which seems to have inherited some of its concerns, and especially Christian witness in a postmodern world.

Both movements were concerned with a post-Christian culture. How does one communicate Christianity to this generation in the Western world?

Several years ago I was driving through the night listening to a taped address by an Anglican bishop, who was speaking about this. He told of taking his nephew and niece to see Jesus Christ, superstar and was quite disconcerted to discover that they didn’t know the plot. Bolshevism tried for 70 years to eradicate Christianity from Russian culture, and failed. Eradicating it from Western culture is perhaps proving far easier.

This gets discussed in Southern Africa, and I find it quite interesting, though I had grave reservations about the reference to “our” culture, which seemed a very ethnocentric attitude to take. It was discussed at one of the conferences of the Southern African Missiological Society, with some suggesting that “gospel and culture” for a wider interpretation, or “gospel and western culture” for the narrower one might be more accurate. But the proponents of the “gospel and our culture” movement insisted that it was “our” culture, which made me think of it as “their” culture.

But the point remains — how does the gospel relate to post-Christian western culture?

And today one answer seems to be emerging from the murk – Jade Tweed, or, as she is better-known to British TV viewers, Jade Goody.

People unfamiliar with British TV may never have heard of Jade Goody.

She participated in a reality TV show, Brig Brother a few years ago, where people live together isolated in a house for several weeks, exposed to TV cameras (and thus viewers) 24 hours out of 24, and isolated from the outside world. They are like laboratory rats under nationwide scrutiny, a live experiment in group dynamics. Every week the “housemates” vote for one of their members to leave, and TV viewers vote too.

Jade Goody made enough of an impression to be asked to participate in a second one, a “celebrity” Big Brother, where her catty remarks to another housemate of Indian origin nearly caused a diplomatic rift between Britain and India. It was a big deal. And it was very much at the centre of the “our culture” that the “gospel and our culture” movement was all about.

When the news came that Jade Goody had terminal cancer, and married a boyfriend who was a petty criminal facing charges of assault, and had to get special permission to go to his wedding, the media went mad.

Then she announced that she wanted her children baptised, and she herself wanted to be baptised. The media and many other people did not quite know what to make of it. Was it just another publicity stunt? Or was she expressing a genuine desire, from the midst of post-Christian western culture, to know God. Perhaps Jade Goody was a more authentic voice of Christian witness in that culture than a hundred bishops.

And then she died.

And one blogger wrote, Cranmer: Jade Goody dies and passes into glory:

There will be no more night, no pain, no sorrow or shame: the suffering is over. At the tender age of 27, Jade Tweed, mother of two, married for just 27 days, has died and passed into the holy light of paradise to sing the song of peace and glory. She is now with her Lord and Saviour, according to her faith, just as he has promised.

Read it. Go and read the whole thing. Read it and weep. Read it and laugh. Read it and rejoice. Read it and contemplate that God has chosen what is weak and foolish in the world to shame the wise.

Hat-tip to Bishop Alan. who writes Bishop Alan’s Blog:

Some may scoff at the considerable outpouring of warm feeling for Jade Goody, but her story has touched and inspired millions of people at a gut level. Why not respect love, courage and passion for life in someone else, just because they came to public attention as loud, brash and crude? The doctrines of the Incarnation and Grace, rightly understood, make it obvious that it is possible to be both.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 22 March 2009 11:23 pm

    judging by the medical aftershock of Goody’s passing, it sounds like she might have inadvertently made a long-term difference for cancer prevention in the U.K.

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