Commnicating Christ Cross Culturally:


Verbal Plenary Inspiration

             The Bible is the inspired Word of God in its entirety, Word for Word, concept for concept.  There are no mistakes in the Word; however, this does not imply that the Scriptures do not record mistakes.  God directed men to record and authenticate the necessary human events that were necessary to reveal Him to man through, including the vehicle of human fallibility and error.  The lack of perfection in conduct, grammar, practices and cultural assumptions such as polygamy or totalitarian governments or religious institutions does not mean that God necessarily endorses or accepts imperfection as a standard.

It does however, demonstrate that God purpose was to reveal His perfection and perfect plan in contrast to man’s fallen and limited nature and state of being.  This accounts for the varied educational levels of linguistic ability of the writers, their limited knowledge of their environmental considerations and their incorrect practices.  In so for as to the perfect revelation: the Scripture is perfect and complete in the spatial period in which it was revealed through and in the cultural confinements where it came into existence through.  The development of biblical material showcases the limitations of humanities understanding of God and the creation.  This is understood as mystery.

The answer to these limitations and inspiration are found in the eternal concepts of God’s holy council, as His decision to grant humanity limited free will provided the opportunity for limitations and restrictions to exist in the divine/human interactive process.  In order to communicate through the human agent, it would necessitate the utilization of human limitations in inspiration: including human understanding of language, government, science, history and the like.  Again, this is consistent with the purpose of Scripture in so far as it contrasts human imperfection and inability against divine perfection that culminates in the sacrificial expression of the incarnation: that which exists in perfection and knows no limits being limited to the external confinements of the human condition (Philippians 2:5-11).

God’s deliberate choosing to allow the freedom of choice within humanity has created the need to operate within the restrictions humanity is confined to for effective communication to take place.  Had Scripture been revealed in such a way that the human agents will or understanding was overridden, the process of faith would have been violated, as this would demonstrate divine oversight beyond a reasonable doubt, therefore denying the necessitation for faith’s needed component: trust.  The mere fact that varying theology’s exist points this necessary ambiguity out.  Man exists in a vacuum of limitations in his inability to perfectly express the divine image he bears.

An understanding of this nature insulates Scripture from the charge that it is incorrect scientifically, as human understanding of God’s creative enactments expands, or his political function adapts to the sociological environment he finds himself existing within.  Mankind is truly subject to change.  This isn’t the point however, as God never changes.  His revelation to man exists perfectly in the image that it was cast into: Holy Writ.  Mankind’s efforts to govern humanity, his inability to gain absolute understanding of truth,  or the human races struggle to grapple with the earth’s natural environment are not perfect.

This is readily demonstrated in the debate over evolution and Scripture.  Typical liberal or modernist arguments have been advanced throughout the years that have embraced the natural evolution theories of Darwin and his ilk, although no scientific evidence has existed to verify and validate this hypothesis.  It has been understood in the scientific community and the liberal theological circles that the evidence would surface eventually, and that the silent evidence such as fossils and differences within species plus the diversity of life points to this conclusion.  Microbiology has been the savior science has hoped for, as it was anticipated that genetic advancements would prove the essential link between man and his nearest biological relative in the primate genus, the ape.        The recent unraveling of the human and the chimpanzee genome was expected to provide the conclusive answer, as the genes demonstrate the viability of ancestral connectivity.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle in an article that is sitting on my desk at home, when the two strands of genetic material were examined and contrasted, over 90% of the material was consistently held in common.  This doesn’t prove the missing element that was expected to link humans and apes, however, as this same amount of genetic similarities are held in common with all sentient beings of the animal kingdom.  The new scientific evidence seems to point out that there are no viable connections between mankind and the apes or any other organic material that exists in so far as has been discovered.  It is a biologic impossibility that mankind and the ape are related as direct relatives.  Mankind’s hypothesis has been unraveled, while God has waited patiently for the science to catch up with His understanding.

The task of the church in the world setting it finds itself entrenched in, can, at times, be daunting. Scandals, administrative challenges, utilization of resources, finding purpose and relevance in a social structure that seemingly views church polity and existence as tenuous at best, are just a few of the difficulties the body of Christ faces. Coupling these varied complexities with whole societies that are negative or ambiguous toward the Gospel message and the purpose of David Hesselgrave’s work, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI, 1991), comes into focus. Dr. Hesselgrave apparently has developed on acute understanding of the need for effective communication to occur, if the significant message of Jesus Christ is to broach the cultural divide that distinguishes many people groups and nations from the relevancy of the churches message.  Serving as a missionary to the nation of Japan for 12 years, and as the professor of mission and director of the School of World Mission and Evangelism at Trinity Evangelical   Divinity School, USA (, has provided Dr. Hesselgrave with the distinct qualifications necessary to raise the valid and pertinent questions that exist in multi-cultural dialogue.

Analyzing cultural distinctives causes the varied peculiarities of worldviews, or maze ways in accomplishments such as standards and customs of people groups to surface in the study of cross-cultural interests. As long as these perceptive differences exist, without making adjustments or allowances to compensate for variations in thinking patterns and responsive enablement’s or distinctions of a cultural nature, there will be cause for havoc to reign when communication is attempted. Cross-cultural communicants appear to need to undergo the process of shifting paradigms, garnishing understanding and insight into the targeted worldview of those to whom communication needs to be enacted with. It is in the expressive task of building bridges composed of thought and speech where the effective communicator finds the greatest levels of challenge, and most significant rewards for success in the work of expressing Gospel truth. To accomplish this undertaking effectively: “as is the case in all communication, the missionary message becomes most compelling when it ceases to be general and becomes personal” (p. 157).  Bridging worldviews advances this most noble cause in communicating Christ by establishing commonalities of thought and expression with the intent of sharing ideas in a meaningful fashion by developing an understanding of the differences that exist in world perception.

Cognition as a procedural understanding is a necessary component in the establishment of communications variables, as they exist in the form of: “the mind of the people,” (p. 294). By this, it is meant that cultural differences, political thought, religious practice and theories of reality: all create intrinsic impressions upon the psyche of persons in intercultural bindings. The act of cognitive evaluation comes into focus in multicultural interaction in no greater way than that which is found in the process of “encoding and decoding” (p. 44) the pertinent focal points of importance that are found in culturally relevant actions and practices. Codes of a community variety can be best described as symbols or signs, “pure, iconic, discursive, presentational” (p. 45); with each one of these signs carrying specific valuations in the nexus of the conveyance of ideas with cultural attachments and assigned standards being given.

Codifications or expressions of thought that have been encoded, or empowered with meaning, are essential and “must be available to the respondent if true communication is to take place” (p. 47). By virtue of the essential force of value, these words and actions are necessary components that must be formed and projected for meaningful interaction to occur in the normative sense. This level of communication exists in both verbal and nonverbal expressions with the verbal format manifesting in “the spoken and the written” (p.47) type. Nonverbal communication carries within its perimeters a less distinct identification. Intonation, stressors, “paralanguage…pitch, rate, rhythm, pacing…voice tension…volume and inflection” (p. 48), all fit within the boundaries of the nonverbal sort. Couple these primary nonverbal considerations with the importance of the “silent language…gesture, behavior…use of space, time, etc.” (p. 48), and the broad range of communications boundaries are readily seen. These nonverbal codes may even be of greater need in the understanding and study as to how to express thought and intent among differing cultures than the spoken and written forms. Each of these points referring to cognition is essential components that can be utilized in the creation of a field of thought that enhance the communication process to happen.

Linguistic achievement is found in the ability to form guttural sounds into recognizable, sequential and repetitive intonations. The genius of civilization is the unique ability of humanity to express thoughts, ideas and needs in a cohesive manner that conveys conceptual understanding.  Communicative theories encompass the model that examines: “message, source and respondent” (p. 41) as the primary participants in the encoding and decoding procedure of thought conveyance.  Cultures and civilization are based on the need to communicate. This process takes place through the simple procedure of “learning…by imitation” (p. 365) and placing the importance of languages ability to influence cultural assumptions and inter-connective relationships that develop networks of feasible interdependent lifestyles.

Linguistic forms are foundational to another field of reference for understanding communications intricacies as well. This can be equated to the practices of any given culture that affects behavioral patterns that influence the external actions of cultural practices. Missional workers need to comprehend the relevant power of behavior if the fine art of communication is to occur effectively. This force can be seen in the positive and negative in the study of: “cultural relativism… (As) anthropologists make a clear distinction between ethical or moral relativism and cultural relativism (p. 122).” Creating distance between these significant segments, ethics and culture is an invaluable assistor in the task of communication. Determining the root causal influences of practice allows the person attempting cross-cultural dialogue the unique insight and forethought to by-pass preconceived judgments based on the communicator’s culture as opposed to the desired respondents cultural assumptions and actions.

Taking advantage of these tools can allow the missionary the unique ability to use pagan cultural practices as elevators of conveyance for Christian communication to transpire when appropriate.  Hesselgrave notes this, as he states: “One of the most potent weapons…is the ability to bring the behavioral patterns of pagan cultures to a new level of awareness and open them up to the light of revelation and reason” (p. 447). These peculiarities of uniqueness that are neutral in application, and adaptable to Christian presentations, of salient information, grant an audience in given cultural expressions that allow an ease in communicating truths, utilizing pre-existing platforms for the use of presentation. Naturally, these platforms need to conform to scriptural standards of conduct (p. 404).

Social structures, as an existent formulator of communities is another focal point of interest to those who desire to express Christian truth cross-culturally. Societies, in general, are simply enlarged, concentric bandings of people units based on commonalities of language and need, As Hesselgrave notes: “language is the means by which we acquire a worldview and logic” (p. 368).  The thought process, emotive considerations and belief systems make up the distinguishing characteristics of social structures.

In the modern realm, the need to understand the significance of social networks carries a greater sense of importance due to: “the gap between our technological advances and our communication skills” (p. 96). This takes added meaning and focus when missionary tasks are conducted in social settings that have been recently impacted by the rapid acceleration of technologies impact upon indigent people groups in rural and primitive surroundings. Christian efforts to advance the message of Jesus Christ, has found a hidden ally in the guise of societal neurosis caused by significant changes in the smaller, rural groupings of people outside the boundaries of cities.

There are difficulties that can arise in the examination and attempts at understanding social networks, as they exist within the context of the task of communicating to differing societies. These are especially enhanced when an awakened realization transpires concerning the fact that: “all human societies have implicit and explicit patterns of interaction with certain cross-cultural similarities and differences” (p. 522). Cities, rural cultures and primitive tribal social networks have distinctions that must be bridged for effective interaction to occur. However, there are unique similarities that do not exist among the three cultural expressions. “Peasant and tribal societies have much in common when compared to the city. They tend to be more homogenous…traditional in lifestyle…resistant to change… (Containing) a negative attitude toward outsiders (p. 512-513).”  Possessing an enlightened understanding to these social digressions can help in the facilitation of sharing Christian values, ideology and concepts, within these unique social structures.

Effective presentation of any message, including the Gospel, can be enhanced significantly by proper use of media. After all: “it is not just who says what to whom, but how the message is channeled to the respondents that determines how the message will be decoded” (p. 537). Proper use of media formats, simple and sydetic are integral in the communicative process. As a tool, simple media is a tremendous asset in bridging the gulf of encoding the transmission of thought between “spoken or written words…into…nonlinguistic codes” (p. 528), thus enabling communications potential between complex and simple societies.

This aspect of dialogue, media presentation, constitutes an extremely potent form of communicating as it covers the gamut of available models, ranging from “first generation media…charts, graphs, written materials…through, fourth generation…programmed instruction, language laboratories and…computers” (p. 49). Proper analysis of the target group’s limitations in comprehension, language barriers, and political dissimilarities forces analysis:  all become surmountable obstacles that can be conquered with proper application of correct media tools for use in the respondent culture.

Receptivity by the targeted respondents to the presentational message should be the goal of those who aspire to the task of communicating information. The theory of motivation is Hesselgrave’s ninth segment, Motivational Resources – Ways of Deciding, (pp. 571-638). Placing the capstone on this examination of various forms of communication functionality, Hesselgrave draws attention to the primary motivation that should drive Christian Missionaries practices and techniques that cause movement toward the message by those who hear and analyze that which has been spoken concerning the Christ.

By focusing on the issue of persuasion, Communicating Christ draws into the light the power of rhetoric and the question persuasive rhetoric inevitably raises: do we “have the right” (p. 574) to create changes in the core structure of multiple cultures by the introduction of the Gospel, with western culture’s baggage attached? Is the West’s preponderance with individualism always the correct approach through: “the appeal to selfhood” (p. 604) while “in much of the rest of the world thing are quite different” (p. 604)?

By looking at the factors that motivate decisions in respondent people groups, Dr. Hesselgrave packages truth’s reception through the guise of social analysis. If the Western approach to structure is “to think first of family, clan, community and country” (p. 604), yet the non-Western worldview may be to focus on “social harmony” (p. 605), as the pivotal point from which elentics, the fine art of persuasive speech with the aim of creating “conviction of guilt” (p. 582), from which motivation occurs, it must be asked: is the impetus to change the responsibility of the communicator? This seems to be Hesselgrave’s primary message: find the necessary point of contact that makes the message receivable to the desired respondent. To do less is to fail in communications process.

The projection of truths needs have never changed: “human societies need teachers who will prepare themselves to make the strongest possible case for truth, justice and goodness” (p. 578).  The gauntlet of persuasion is indeed significant. In any field of study, and effort of work, the question must be postulated: does the theory work, and if not, why? How can the conveyance of values, both implicit and explicit (p. 624), lead to the coveted profit of souls won for Christ?

The weaknesses of Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally, such as an overly weighted analysis of theory, with the possible exclusion of implicit application, is balanced, at least for Westerners, with the reduction of communications task into language most capitalists can relate to: “profit = reward – cost” (p. 624). Is any cost too great in the aggressive challenge to extend the Gospel’s influence?  As the churches answer must be a positive affirmation in expending whatever is needed, so to is the geniuses of Hesselgrave’s examination, found by enlarging an understanding of culture, unlocking the potential of people, wherever they may be found, to accept the message of Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord.


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