MY PERSONAL STATEMENT OF A THEOLOGY OF CULTURE

  1. Definition of culture

According to Miriam Webster dictionary, culture is defined as the beliefs, arts, and customs of a particular society. It sums up, their way of thinking, practices, behavior and art that is carried out collectively. A society that subscribes to one culture, therefore, shares certain attitudes, goals, values and practices. These characteristics feature their daily practices, and the knowledge passed across generations. It, therefore, suffices to say people are defined by their cultures in a society. Culture is thus an identity and can be used to understand particular groups of people.

Other ethnologists too have attempted to define culture in some ways: T. S. Elliot observes that culture is that which makes life worth to live. Donald Bloesch explains that culture is that task that has been appointed to humans in service towards the glory of God so that they can realize their destiny in this world. However Crouch, (2013) combines these definitions to include the products, actions and world views of a community or society.

  1. Brief survey of biblical teaching about culture

The bible has a lot of teachings about the culture that as Christians we can relate with. In the New Testament, according to Mathew (28: 19), Jesus speaks to us to make disciples of all nations. “Nations” as a word implies to people. People refer to different ethnic groups with various social, economic and racial backgrounds. Therefore, as Christians we are instructed to speak to people of different values and cultures to make them Disciples of Christ.

“People of all nations” is a statement made to exclude the barriers that people may see stemming from differences in cultures. Values, language, social and political differences are the fundamental barriers that Christians should go beyond.

Genesis (1:28) further details that; culture exists so that a group of people can adapt to their environment and perpetuate themselves. Therefore, every group learns how to manage their communities better. This involves developing their best survival means that suit their environment and resources. As such, different groups develop certain common skills, values, beliefs, tools, which they carefully cooperate to enable their survival. Also, the best methods that a group has found are made into guiding rules and practices that are then handed down or passed across generations for perpetuation. An individual’s deviance from following these rules is, therefore, liable to punishments either as an individual or to the larger community that would threaten their survival.

According to Acts (17:26), God created a society. “And He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation.” Genesis (4:23) also reveals governance and urbanization and agriculture developing societies. Genesis (10:1-32) we are told about dividing nations. Further, at the Tower of Babel God separates people and scatter them throughout the world through the difference in languages (Genesis 11:1-4).

Additionally, the Bible teaches about the good and the bad cultures. Roman (1:8) details a society that has rejected God. They have instead descended into customs that are self-destructive and vile. In making others the Disciples of Christ, therefore, all ethnic societies of the world should be included.

Certain biblical verses also recognize humanity as not differentiated by cultures.  For example, Galatians (3:28) explains that there is neither a Jew nor a Greek. It adds that there is no male or female, slave or free, female or male but one people in Christ. Colossians (3:11) similarly rules out divisions that are based on cultures. It refutes the existence of Greek or Jews, uncircumcised and circumcised and free or slave. Instead, it asserts our oneness in Christ.

Through the various verses highlighted above, we can appreciate the diversity of the human society that we have. However, God teaches us of the oneness we share in Christ regardless of our cultural diversities. We are called upon to go beyond our cultural, languages, or ethnic barriers to make one another a follower of Christ as we seek the Kingdom of God (Hegeman, 2007).

  1. How Christians best should interact with culture

From the perspective of conservative evangelical, I believe Christians can interact with culture in some ways. These could better be understood from Richard Niebuhr point of view.  According to Niebuhr, (1951), the church interacts with and response to culture in different ways. These interactions and responses are as below:

Firstly, there is the aspect of Christ against culture. This categorization makes an attempt to completely separate the holy church community with the sinful rest of the world. It, therefore, recognizes the church as opposing to culture and vice versa. As such, a clear distinction exists between what is sacred and that which is profane. Christians are thus supposed to abandon the institution of the heathen society by withdrawing physically or rejecting and rebuking culture. The contemporary resource like the media and its appeals also needs to be rejected by the church so that people can return to the fundamentals of religion.

Secondly, a perspective of Christ of culture can be adopted. In this aspect, Christ assimilates culture. This implies that the existing cultures accommodate the Christian visions and goals. The highest aspirations of culture are thus in agreement with Christ. The implication is a fundamental agreement between the church and the society. Christ is, therefore, the hero and teacher of the society. He, therefore, creates a cooperative and peaceful society in concert with principles of democracy.  The church is therefore called upon to use the contemporary resources to effectively communicate the religious values as well as beliefs and answers. The media becomes a pipeline for delivery of good news (Carson, 2012).

Thirdly, Christians can interact with culture in another perspective that can be referred to as “Christ above Culture”. Christ is therefore above culture and becomes the Guide to human aspirations. Christianity therefore, brings culture up, and the culture leads people to Christ. Christ draws the society to culture, and the tools like media serve well with God’s help.

Another aspect recognizes Christ as the transformer of culture. Niebuhr, (1951) and Carson (2012) observe that this perspective believes in transformation through God’s grace. Therefore acknowledging the fallenness of man can be transformed by the grace of God. Christ is, therefore, converts individuals through faith and stands in the Judgment of all things.

Taking into consideration all these different schools of thoughts, we can understand how Christians have interacted and responded to culture. However, what would be the ideal manner? I find the four listed aspects to be recognizing Christ as an authority on culture and influencing the culture. Except the first perspective where Christ is against culture, all the rest seem ideal. The contemporary issues of cultures informed by secularism are addressed by the first perspective – Christ against culture. Cultures that misdirect or corrupt Christian values and beliefs can thus be abolished and condemned in the strongest manner. It is because such cultures are not consistent with the teachings of Christ and, therefore, misleading. That notwithstanding, the four perspectives all contextually explain how Christians can better interact with culture. Therefore, contextually applied, all the four aspects provide an ideal manner of how Christians can interact with culture.

  1. Practical implications of my conclusions for ministry and Christian living

From First John (2:15) Christians are instructed not to love the world and the things in it. It adds that, if anyone loves the world then the love of God is not with them. This is an instruction to Christians on how to live on earth. On earth is a culture that is in most cases in a confrontation with the Christian ways. Therefore, what does this mean for Christian living?

The above question brings us to the initial discussions of culture and Christianity. I argued contextually that, if the cultures in our surrounding contravene our values and practices as Christians, then “Christ is against culture” aspect is good to go by. It is essentially what John says in the highlighted verse above.  Christ against culture makes an attempt to completely separate the holy church community with the sinful rest of the world. It, therefore, recognizes the church as opposing to culture and vice versa. As such, a clear distinction exists between what is sacred and that which is profane. Christians are thus supposed to abandon the institution of the heathen society by withdrawing physically or rejecting and rebuking culture (Hunter, 2010). The contemporary secularism and lifestyle distract a Christian from God.

As such, a Christian in living should practice Christianity in their values, practices,  beliefs and abolish culture. In ministry, we can advocate for a life free of earthly cultures and only bound by Christianity doctrines that are the foundation of our beliefs. In ministry, emphasis should be laid on drawing Christians from culture to values to enable Christians to live according to the teachings of Christ Jesus. For guided by the Bible, I can conclude that no one takes someone captive through philosophy or empty deceptions that are according to the traditions of men or elementary principles of the world but only according to Christ Jesus (Colossians 2:8)

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