To champion the leadership challenge of the Great Commission in a globalized world calls for us to become postmodern men and women of Issachar who know the times and understand what to do.
The world is becoming increasingly compressed and interconnected as a single place. Whereas the Great Commission still resonates deeply within the Protestant heart as a mark of evangelical identity and faithfulness to the Word and will of God, the context in which it operates has changed drastically over the last few decades. As to what this means in terms of leadership, we must understand that while the Gospel of Jesus Christ is timeless, the contexts in which mission takes place are constantly changing.
Orlando Costas emphasizes that we must exegete both the biblical texts and the contexts for Christian mission in the 21st century. Christian mission, or witness to the Gospel across diverse boundaries, is a process of relating the Christian faith to the ever-increasing realities in the world created by God and yearning towards recreation. To paraphrase Karl Barth, those committed to mission must reflect on it with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. In a nutshell, today’s Christian leaders must look around the world, see what is going on, and then figure out how the Gospel is relevant to that inevitable situation and context.
I Chronicles 12:32 says: “The men of Issachar understood the times, and knew what Israel should do.” Never has this verse been more relevant than it is today! We need, more than ever before, leaders who serve as “cultural exegetes” through their understanding of the times in which we live.
Students of the Bible are trained in biblical exegesis, which is simply a critical analysis or interpretation of scripture. However, to effectively carry out the Great Commission in today’s postmodern world, Christian leaders need to be not only biblical exegetes, but also cultural exegetes.
To this end, Mark Batterson has coined the phrase Carpe Culture. “Carpe” is a Latin word that actually means to “gather” or to “seize” something for the purpose of making use of it. He is saying, “Look, church! We need to gather the culture! We need to seize it! We need to redeem it and to make use of it for Jesus’ sake!”
Too many Christian leaders are getting A’s in biblical exegesis and D’s or F’s in cultural exegesis. We know Scripture, but we are out of touch with the times. And when that happens, the end result is a gap between theology and reality. That gap is called irrelevance.
We cannot afford to withdraw to the comfortable confines of our Christian subculture, or perhaps our Army subculture, and become out of touch with the very people we are trying to reach. We must be intentional about exegeting our culture to avoid or close any gap. We must become, as James Emery White says, “cultural apologists” who can translate the gospel into a language that people can understand; using culturally relevant metaphors to help people grasp spiritual truths. This is what Jesus did. He used agrarian metaphors to communicate spiritual truths.
Borrowing from the parable of the wineskins, we can think of biblical exegesis as the wine, and cultural relevance as the wineskin. Having one without the other will fail to quench anyone’s thirst. You need substance (biblical exegesis) and the container (cultural relevance). When we divorce biblical exegesis from cultural exegesis, we end up with dysfunctional truth. Either we answer questions no one is asking, or we give the wrong answers to the questions they are.
To fulfill the Great Commission today leaders must strive to get better grades in cultural exegesis; and this begins with doing our cultural homework. That is exactly what the apostle Paul did in Athens. Not only did he study the Athenian altars; but he even cited one of their popular poets. That made what he wanted to tell them about Jesus culturally relevant.
Finally, once we “understand the times,” we will then “know what to do.” An important study by Mayo shows that the one common denominator among all great leaders, regardless of numerical age or era, is “contextual intelligence.” This is an acute sensitivity to the social, political, technological, and demographic contexts that define the day.
Becoming good cultural exegetes gives leaders the insight, foresight, and vision to know what to do. So friends, let’s pick up a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Let’s look around the world, see what is going on, and then figure out how the Gospel is relevant to that inevitable situation and context. Let’s exegete the culture in order to redeem it, making use of it for Jesus’ sake! Then, to that end, we will effectively fulfill the Great Commission.