One reason why Christianity has been the most successful of all world religions in crossing cultural boundaries is its adaptability. To be sure, this has not been manifested in all places and at all times, some missionary endeavors have been based on the premise that any rival belief system is of the devil and must be obliterated. Contrariwise, there have been occasions when, for the sake of number crunching, religious fundamentals have been sacrificed. On the whole, however, wise evangelists have understood not only that the gospel may be garbed in a variety of national costumes but that incorporating fresh customs and thought patterns actually enriches the life of new churches.
(Derek Wilson, Charlemagne, p 18)
Wilson’s words are actually a description of the success of Celtic Christianity in the 8th-12th centuries, but they apply equally to our postmodern world and our approach to evangelism.
In the past, the supremacy of the Western culture allowed Christianity an attitude of cultural supremacy in evangelism. In fact, the modern type of evangelism virtually required an attitude of superiority. Evangelists demanded that people of different views adopt their belief system, and that belief system was a dominate, colonial one in many cases. (I am aware that most evangelists were not representatives of state churches, but many of them still held onto the cultural trappings of their western dominions.)
In the postmodern age, we are confronted with a world that does not share our values and does not have a necessary reason to adopt our culture. For some, this is a discouraging notion. For me, it is an encouraging one. For the first time in a long time, the church is free to incorporate fresh customs and thought patterns – to enrich the life of the church of our age. This was the state of affairs in the birth of the Gentile church under Paul, in the birth of Celtic Christianity, in the subtle emergence of the Chinese church that thrives underground to this day.
That’s what I think anyway.