Down to Earth

Written by John Stott and Robert Coote Reviewed By Martin Goldsmith

This book consists of the papers from the Bermuda Conference on Gospel and Culture held in January 1978. Many of us have already appreciated the resulting Willow-bank Report which is reprinted here also, but it is a pity that these papers have not appeared earlier, for they relate to a burning issue in mission these days. Although much water has passed under theological and missiological bridges since January 1978, many in Britain and even also overseas may still find these papers challenging and illuminating. Others who are more thinkingly involved in cross-cultural mission will enjoy them, but may feel that the book adds only a little to what they have already struggled with.

Cross-cultural missionaries should inevitably have agonized with the whole question of cultural forms of revelation, our own cultural and philosophical blinkers and the resultant problem of how to relate the biblical revelation to people of today with their different backgrounds. Some of us wonder whether some British churches are not rather slow to realize what a vital issue this is in our changing world, and we ask how many Christians here in Britain think in terms of distinguishing what is biblical from what is a cultural understanding or expression.

Inevitably in a book of this sort some essays are better than others. Typically American essays concentrating on a scientific, anthropological approach contrast sharply with a typically British paper by Jim Packer. Your reviewer particularly appreciated Rene Padilla’s essay on hermeneutics and culture, and Kenneth Cragg’s on relationships with Islam. It was helpful also to have some specific applications through essays on contextualization of the church in Bali, contextualization of the gospel in Fiji and conversion and culture with reference to Korea.

Although I have much appreciated this book and shall thoroughly recommend it, I wished there had been a more thorough study of whether it is biblical to be cultural in questions of worship, church structures and epistemology. Is there a biblical blueprint which we are called to follow? Or does the fact that the NT churches largely followed the worship, organizational and cultural patterns of their immediate society mean that we should likewise adjust to current cultural forms? Or are the cultures of biblical times normative for today?

I should have liked more serious biblical studies and exegesis to see how the NT church adjusted from a uniquely Hebrew background to fit the Christian faith to a Greek and hellenized environment.

I hope all Christian leaders will read this book. It gives us a very helpful introduction to some key questions which face us in mission both in Britain and overseas. Already these issues have been taken further, particularly in the area of hermeneutics and contextualization, but we can look forward to further developments of theological/missiological thought and practice in the 1980s—and note with interest the significant trend for missiology to be vitally important for relevant theology.

Martin Goldsmith

All Nations Christian College, Ware