On thing the European missionaries and the clergy of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church shared was the assumption that culture and religion were intimately intertwined; that technology was embedded in culture; and, hence, that the adoption of foreign technology and the pursuit of “modernization” were processes rife with religious implications.
-Donald Crummey, The Politica of Moderization: Protestant and Catholic Missionaries in Modern Ethiopia
Just about everything is “rife with religious implications”. Philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously quipped in 1964 that “the medium is the message”. This is largely true and should not be ignored. The medium matters because it dramatically changes the message. You can’t repackage something in a wildly different form and assume that the content has stayed intact.
The gospel comes across a bit different in Zulu than it does in English – for better and worse. Planting a church-hospital combo in the jungle is different than just planting a church. On the one hand, the medical care is a very tangible and valuable ministry. On the other, the technology and doctors and pharmaceuticals are then closely linked (perhaps too closely) with the preaching and conversion. This is also why you can’t take a gospel hymn and perform it as heavy metal or hip-hop and then claim that it’s the same thing. Of course it’s not. The contents is like liquid – it has changed shape to fit it’s container.
Some containers are more appropriate than others for keeping the message intact when changing the context. We should choose the medium wisely and carefully. The zeitgeist should be ignored.