A couple weeks ago I wrote about looking down on past cultures in light of our advancements. https://dsmccurdy.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/our-time-and-place/ I would like to continue this line of thinking in this post and future posts. My wife, Rebekah, introduced me to a very helpful book Ministering Cross-Culturally by Lingenfelter and Mayers. This is a book that can be helpful for anyone because it is about working through differences in perspectives that people have.
The concept of the Incarnation is that Jesus took on human form to serve humanity. Jesus emptied himself of his heavenly position, took human form, and died, on a cross no less. Jesus was, and is the 200% person, 100% God and 100% human. Of course, this is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith. Jesus was not some sort of ideal human in the sense that he completely shed time and culture. Jesus came as a second temple Jew with Rome as the governing body. Jesus shared a particular time, place and culture with those around him. When Jesus spoke, his words were geared towards that time and culture. This does not mean they are irrelevant now, just that we need to understand Jesus was incarnated in a different time and place from our own.
Why did Jesus take a particular culture? Isn’t God above culture? Well, yes, God is above culture, but humans are an integral part of culture, and Jesus is human. To be human inherently means that you are part of a culture. Another reason for Jesus to take a particular culture is so that he could communicate effectively and relate to people. If Jesus were to come into our culture now, he would look and speak differently.
Lingenfelter and Mayer suggest that when we wish to help other people we need to become 150% people. Their goal here is to be 75% what you started to be and 75% whatever people group you are trying to reach. This concept follows from Jesus’ incarnation. Jesus humbled himself and adopted another culture. Now, we are not the God/man so we can’t go all the way. We also can’t completely leave behind our own cultural background. In humility we can to understand our own cultural ideas, and give some of them up to love others well. At the same time we should also learn about the culture we are trying to reach and adopt their ways of doing things. This is a rather basic statement of what they write a whole book about.
I’ll give a visual picture that one of my professors in college gave me. Imagine that the truth of the gospel is a peppermint. That peppermint resides in a green wrapper (the color is arbitrary). This wrapper represents my culture, my time and place. The Gospel is necessarily wrapped in culture. To transfer the core truth to someone with a blue wrapper culture I would first have to unwrap the truth from my cultural ideas. The same truth can then be held by someone with a blue wrapper culture, but it will look different because their culture is different.
Our default position is that how our culture is intertwined with the Truth is the best way. We equate our culture with the Truth. When we see another culture differently intertwined with the Truth we think that they are doing Christianity wrong. This is prideful and arrogant. One of the historical struggles of missionaries has been giving up the idea of what church and Christianity must look like from a cultural perspective. This also applies to theological traditions. It would be easy to think that Western traditions of theology are simply the best and right. What we often neglect to see is that these traditions cannot be divorced from culture. We can’t do culture-less study of the Bible or discussion of God. In a lot of ways our theology has been shaped by greco-roman philosophy. This may sound controversial to some, and I invite you to comment on your thoughts.
Part of the reason that I am writing this post is to begin the discussion of Incarnation. In the next couple of weeks I am hoping to blog through some of my thoughts on the book Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns.