Is missional living becoming merely an ethical lifestyle of Christian deeds? Is it becoming increasingly vulnerable to cultural influences? Is our courage to speak about the Gospel declining? Missional living cannot discount its prophetic mission. In every epoch, effective missional living was characterized by its ability to speak the Gospel in spite of the culture.
Surely, our message is also assessed by our deeds of love and compassion, and we should definitely strive to grow in Christ-likeness. We cannot neglect to vivify our witness of the infallible Good News, and communicate the Gospel’s power of grace. Otherwise, missional living can become indistinguishable from other well-meaning religions.
Jesus said, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3). In context, His point was that teachers of God’s Word should have discerned the overwhelming prophetic utterances that pointed to Him as their Savior. A parallel learning for us is that we too must discern our times and necessitate the uniqueness of His ageless grace. The ‘signs of our times’ indicate subtle intimidation when we attempt to verbalize the message that is in our hearts. The tension between cultural thought and our treasured Gospel is at an all-time high. It’s an arduous task to go against this cultural tide.
In 2008, the late Tim Keller captured the rise of this cultural tide in his highly acclaimed book, The Reason for God: Faith in an Age of Skepticism. He wrote:
Is a belief in absolute truth the enemy of freedom? Most people I’ve met in New York City believe that it is. Christianity names some beliefs ‘heresy’ and some practices ‘immoral.’ It bars from its community those who transgress its doctrinal and moral boundaries. This seems to contemporary observers to endanger civic freedoms, because it divides rather than unites our population ... Finally, it seems to enslave or at least infantilize its members, determining what they must believe and practice in every particular.
Keller discerned correctly how people in the West are thinking about Christianity. In addition, people are now being encouraged to question everything, especially Christian claims. Believers are challenged to provide answers within a culture that is intellectually stubborn. How can we increase our confidence in speaking the Gospel to contemporary persons who are typically contrarian?
We must first overcome our fears, and acknowledge that Christian faith was not intended to be an individually private belief. The Bible says, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). In apologetic ministry, we quote this verse as a mandate; but contextually, we should note that the believers were undergoing persecution and immense push-backs. Their cultural milieu was hostile, and so Peter was encouraging them to be steadfast in their counter-cultural witness of God’s grace, albeit “with gentleness and respect.” A prophetic approach doesn’t seek to win in a dialogue; neither does it seek to formulate arguments that make a believer appear brighter than questioners.
Realistically, Christians have never been, nor ever will be, free from antagonism. A dedication to genuine missional living will attract opposition. “In the midst of wolves,” missional living entails being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). The natural person doesn’t welcome admonishment of sin, and a message of repentance is obnoxious. Yet sin and salvation must be part of any meaningful conversation that is faithful to John 3:16.
Missional living should be conscious of possessing a powerful message and it shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Paul addressed the powerful Roman culture of his day by emphatically stating: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). If “God so loved the world,” and we have personally tasted this love, then neither should we be ashamed of such a wonderful message.
When we engage people intelligently with love and proper tonality, God’s love and grace can accomplish something special.