Metaphors & Cross-cultural Evangelism: Part 3, Warfare & Fear-based Cultures

by Jayson Georges

(Editor’s note: This is the 3rd in a 3-part series on using metaphors and evangelism in different cross-cultural contexts.)

Jayson George, Honor and Shame, evangelism, metaphorsWhy would a student make an offering to her ancestors before taking a university exam? Why would new parents paint a fake eye on their baby’s forehead? Answer: they fear the world of spirits and believe these actions will ensure success and avoid harm. The previous posts examined evangelistic metaphors for guilt and shame cultures; this post examines the gospel for fear-based cultures.

Many non-Western people fear the invisible spirits that inhabit the physical world (in trees, weather, people, illness, etc.). They fear that a potential misstep may open a vulnerable point for spiritual influence or expose them to harmful accident, a bad dream, or even demonic possession. So to control the unknowns of life and ward off evil influences, they resort to magical practices that promise spiritual power. They use amulets, curses, charms, incantations, witchcraft, and more to maintain harmony with the spirits.

Animism contrasts sharply with the Western worldview of scientific rationalism, where the laws of nature are the main causes for explaining everyday life.  While all cultures deal with spiritual fear to some degree, the cultures of Africa and Southeast Asia are particularly affected by it.

Since life is viewed as a perpetual spiritual battle, the language and imagery of warfare may resonate better with people of fear-based cultures. Consider how you could use the following biblical words to explain the good news of how Jesus delivers us from spiritual bondage and grants us power.

Deliverance                 Healing                        Satan                          Power(s)
Bondage                      Authority                     Darkness                     Exodus
Magic                          Signs                          Wonders                      Miracles
Weak                           Captive                       Peace                          Power(ful)
Almighty                      Throne                         Control                        Oppression
Spirits                          Holy Spirit                   Exorcism                     Prayer
Kingdom                      Angels                         Blessing/Curse             Protection
Deceiver                      Freedom                      Ransom                        Conquer
Triumph                       Idolatry

Here is the good news using the language of warfare and combat:

  1. God is the sovereign King. He created people to rule his entire creation and experience his spiritual blessings.
  2. But we rebel against God’s rule, so live in bondage to Satan. We are weak, and afraid.
  3. Jesus is the warrior who conquered evil powers to release the captives from Satan’s dominion. Jesus restores God’s power and blessings to us.
  4. You must know Jesus to access the Divine Spirit and overcome the power of sin and Satan. Jesus alone, not rituals or magic, provides us peace and protection.

Let’s summarize these posts. Different biblical metaphors speak to each culture type: courtroom metaphors work great in Western guilt-based cultures, community metaphors are most plausible in Eastern shame-based cultures, and combat metaphors are most apt for animistic fear-based cultures.

The gospel is a multi-faceted diamond—Jesus saves people from guilt, shame, and fear. So in our evangelism, we would be wise to utilize the full range of biblical metaphors to explain how people can know God.

Jayson Georges (@HonorShame) hosts HonorShame.com and recently published The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures. He served nine years in Central Asia, and now works as a Missologist-in-Residence advocating a biblical missiology for honor/shame cultures.