Culture and Religion

Meal Group-ers These are some of the thoughts that I had after reading our book together. I was sad that we didn’t get a chance to talk about them in person, but I think our discussion yesterday was worth it. I really enjoyed getting to know everyone’s story better, and I look forward to next week when we can continue sharing our lives together!

Recap of Chapter 9 and 10 of McLaren’s book, A New Kind of Christian:

After recovering from his emotional outburst while on a walk with Neo, Dan invites Neo over for dinner with his family. A conversation ensues between Carol, Dan, and Neo. They talk at length about the relationship between religion and culture with paticular interest in syncretism (a theological term refering to a mix of biblical religous practice and pagan culture producing a dubious religious experience). Dan shares a story about a group of Native American pastors that he hosted. During their stay with him, he gained valuable insight into the cultural pressures these Native American pastors face. They grew up learning to distrust their spiritual heritage because outsiders said to embrace their heritage would be syncretistic. “The missionaries had told them it was all of the devil…” Dan shared this story as an example of how Western culture has suppress other cultures in the name of sharing the gospel.

In Chapter 10, Neo and Dan share a lunch together. During lunch, Neo explains his vision of the Kingdom of God and how it relates to the church. Neo thinks talking about the kingdom is a more accurate to Christ’s message than talking about ‘getting saved.’ Dan, however, is still primarily concerned with what Neo thinks about other religions and how someone gets saved. Neo gives Dan a sermon he preached on death and heaven.

Some Thougths

Syncretism is a significant issue in the Old Testament. God is regularly chastising Israel because they are taking up pagan worship practices. They build altars and sacrifice to a myriad of gods. They engage in worship activities with temple prostitues. Their desire for a king is said to be rooted in the fact that they want to be like the other nations. The entire book of Judges is structured cyclically to emphasis that every time God comes to their rescue it’s not long before the Israelites are back to worshipping idols. In light of this, syncretism seems like something worth avoiding.

Culture-Createdness: Colossians 1:16 talks about all things in heaven and earth deriving their existence and being created for Christ. We can therefore understand all aspects of cultures as being created for Christ. For this reason, Paul can go to the Greek and Roman cities and affirm the cultural practices of those cities. He sees in their statues to ‘an unknown god’ a reference to Christ himself even though they didn’t intend that. It therefore follows that if aspects of other cultures are created for Christ, the church should embrace these cultural practices and engage in them as a part of a worshipful life.

Our Biblical Culture/Worldview: When missionaries encounter cultures different from their own, there is a temptation for them to define their own church practices as biblical in distinction to what the church in the other culture is doing. However, this is naive because our expression of the church and of our faith is just as culturally entrenched as churches in other cultures. There is no over-arching biblical culture that we should shoot for, because there is no christian life that can happen outside of cultural-context.

In but not of the world: If we, as western christians, are not outside of and impervious to culture then what remains is a faithful witness within culture. Christ came to this earth as a 1st century Palestinian Jew. He dressed, ate, talked, and lived within that particular culture (or mix of cultures since no culture is truly monolithic). His was a faithful witness in the world in which he lived. But Christ was also living for another world. He heralded the coming of a kingdom that is unlike any other kingdom on the planet. In this kingdom ethics are turned upside down (see sermon on the mount); the king is Jesus himself; there are no geopolitical boundaries; and it is open to people of all different backgrounds. As western christians we proclaim this kingdom by incarnating it within our own particular cultures just like Christ did in his culture. We live in this world but we are of another world. We live in this world but as citizens of another kingdom who are ultimately under the authority and reign of Jesus.

Please post a comment and let us know what you thought of the reading or respond to any of the comments I made above.