by Josh Lott
Imagine, for just a moment, that we discovered sentient life on another planet. No doubt, this would bring up lots of questions. Can we communicate with these creatures? Are they rational? Do they feel pain in the same ways that we do? Digging a bit deeper, we might ask things like: Do they have souls? Do they sin? Are they in need of salvation?
Perhaps you’re reading this thinking: “That’s ridiculous. Why would we ask these questions. Obviously they don’t have souls. Only humans are created in the image of God and these obviously wouldn’t be humans.” And you’re right. This is a bit of an extreme example. But these questions are actually the exact questions that European colonizers were asking as they came to the new world. Contact with new people groups challenged many of the worldviews held by Europeans as they encountered indigenous tribes.
There were some, however, who were passionate about bringing the whole gospel to these people, and loving them with the love of Jesus. Two bright examples of this in history are two men who never met. One, a Dominican friar from Spain who ministered in the 16th century. The other, a protestant pastor born in the new world at the beginning of the 18th century. Both Bartolomé de las Casas and Jonathan Edwards devoted a great portion of their lives and ministries to bringing the gospel to indigenous people of their lands, and faced that great challenge of cross cultural evangelism.
In our pursuit of an authentic faith, we may never encounter an unreached people group. We will very likely never encounter alien life forms. But we do live in an age of rapidly changing culture. A melting pot where ideas are shared at the speed of a finger swipe and worldviews are shaped by voices on a screen. In this digital age, it is important for followers of Jesus to be willing to walk into unfamiliar cultures, knowing that the gospel is bigger than every culture, and that Christ is at work to redeem all things for his glory. In studying these two men, Las Casas and Edwards, we can learn that bearing Christ to an unfamiliar and sometimes hostile culture will produce change. Change that happens not only in that culture, but also in us. As we share Christ with the world, Christ teaches us about himself: reminding us that he is full of compassion and love for all of us.