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"For us to disregard culture is to
disregard the practice of being incarnational, since being incarnational involves awareness of the
culture around us."
-- Jeff Walters, Nazarene Bible College student
by Howard Culbertson, emeritus professor of missions, Southern Nazarene University
Are you a visual learner? If so, you'll like this week's reading about culture. This section of our textbook is chock full of diagrams!
Well, elegance is one idea of what "culture" means. In fact, Southern Nazarene University's motto is: "Character, Culture, Christ." The middle word of that motto does mean refinement and manners and learning (including reading lots of thick books).
However, "culture" also has a broader meaning. It's that broader meaning which carries tremendous significance for global evangelism.
"Culture," anthropologist Philip Bock has written, "is what makes you a stranger when you are far from home." [ see PowerPoint slide ]
I wanted to come up with ten distinct reasons to study culture. So far, I have five. Help me out. Add some more:
If we are to imitate Jesus in being involved in incarnational ministry, we must see culture as an important factor.
If we are to bond with the people to whom God sends us, we must "tabernacle" with them in the phraseology of John 1:14. As Dr. Doug Samples used to remind ministerial students at SNU: "People act in ways that makes sense to them."
One of the readings for week 2 mentioned Roland Allen and his book Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? The article writer urged us to follow Allen's urging to allow the Holy Spirit to lead the churches we plant "to develop (their) own forms of polity, ministry, worship, and life." Does this mean a totally hands-off work in which anything goes?
Let's look at some practical things:
I'm not pointing out the architecture, music or social ills examples to criticize. I use them to illustrate how easy it is for the gospel message to show up in foreign garb. We don't want that to happen. We want to be communicating with people in their heart language.
It's for that reason that Hudson Taylor adopted Chinese dress and hair style (Chinese males in the 19th century wore long gowns and had their hair braided in long pig-tails). Taylor was ridiculed by westerners, including other missionaries, but the Chinese did not receive from him a gospel clothed in foreign dress.
When I talk about culture and the gospel I'm not calling for us to back away from anything we hold dear. I'm not calling for us to start sliding down a slippery slope of compromise on basic values. Instead, I'm calling for us to be engaged in calling peoples everywhere to be reconciled with Christ and to live a holy lifestyle.
Certainly, there are things in every culture that run cross-grain to gospel essentials. Cannibalism runs counter to the respect for the brotherhood of humanity to which we are called. So, we are called to be change agents in every culture. However, what we are out to do is to proclaim that one can be most authentically a Haitian or an Italian or a Chinese when one becomes reconciled to his or her Creator through Jesus Christ.
By no means. There are values in every culture which will be enhanced by the coming of Christianity. There are also things in every culture which will be condemned when the gospel message arrives. We cannot be ethnocentric (judging elements of another culture by the yardstick of our own). By the same token, there are some absolutes in culture which help us see how God's design for human beings should be lived out in every culture.
Global evangelism course resources: Course home page Attendance policy Connection problems Incomplete work Time requirements Learning habits
Lectures: 1. Biblical foundations 2. History 3. Culture 4. Strategy, part I 5. Strategy, part II 6. Nazarene missions Time requirements
Cultural Anthropology course resources: Cultural adjustment realities Cultural Bingo icebreaker Bwanda Fusa game Case studies Christianity and culture Course home page Path to cross-cultural enjoyment Culture shock Ethnocentrism Exam study guides Kwast's culture model Light bulb illustration: What do you see? Missions and culture Monoculturalism My own culture shock PowerPoint presentations used in class Reading report Re-entry: Coming home Research paper topic suggestions
Readings Communication "Contextualization" Enculturation/Acculturation "Ethics of change" "Mission" "Points of view" "Responsibility" "Value"
THUMB: an acronym to remember unreached peoples Harvesters needed Are the "heathen" lost? Answers to an oft-asked question PowerPoint presentations used in classes and other venues Knowing if you have a missions call
Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132
| Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. When you use this material, an acknowledgment of the source would be appreciated.