The Culture Swamp

Yesterday, I left rather a big question begging. How do we avoid culture Christianity? It seems to be rather like a swamp. The more I try to avoid being a culture Christian, the more I am dragged down into the dark mire of the relationship between the Gospel and Culture.

There is a further complication though: the way we read the Bible. I am pretty sure many of the readers of this blog are thinking, “but we have the Bible and so we know what is culture and what is Gospel.” There are at least two problems with this statement. The first is that the Bible is a huge book. Well, it’s not even a book, it’s a library of varying types of literature, written over a very long period, with numerous authors, widely differing cultures and worldviews. It is not so easy to choose where to start.

The second problem is that we bring cultural baggage to our reading of the Bible; often unconsciously. I will give a couple of examples. I was in a discussion with some colleagues from another Bible College about the role of women in the Church. They did not believe women should lead or teach and I don’t have a problem with it (this is a discussion for another time). One of the people from the other college said, “well, all we need to do is to go down to your wonderful library and look at some commentaries to see what they say about the subject”. I remember one of my All Nations colleagues saying–quite rightly–“yes but almost all are written by men”. This is not to say that a man’s view is not valid but it highlights that a women may have a completely different view because of her gender.

Let me give you another example. the local leaders of a church planted in East Africa by a Western mission agency believed that it was time for the foreign missionaries to hand over the reigns of the church to the locals. The foreign missionaries did not want to do this. A mediator was called in and after some discussion he suggested that the local leaders and the missionaries went away and discussed separately what the meaning of the Joseph story was in Genesis 37-50.

After a time the two groups came back together and the mediator asked them for their conclusions. The Western missionaries said that this was a story of a man who was faithful to God as God had been faithful to him. The African church leaders said that this was a story of a man who was faithful to his family even though the family had done evil to him.

Now, we can see both interpretations are true and, perhaps see the cultural emphases of each group influencing their interpretations. The Western group emphasise the individual and his relationship with God. The African group emphasise the importance of faithfulness to the family.

Perhaps this is the answer: we must read the Bible together; bring all our cultural baggage to the other; listen, respect and not reject their interpretation because it does not fit with our own and be mutually accountable to each other for our interpretation of the gospel.

Am I doing mission right? Ask your brothers and sisters from other cultures, traditions and denominations.