My Culture Can Beat Up Yours

Culture is a community measure. So you can’t really blame everything someone does on their culture. And contrary to popular opinion, some cultures are better than others. Culture can’t be a neutral thing – sin permeates every aspect of our life in some way – how could culture be any different? Do you really think a country could push atheism down the throats of its citizens for half a century and not have it wildly affect cultural values? Or do you think a country could breed materialism in the hearts of their children for a century and not have it reposition their culture morally? So in a sense, all cultures are equal – but only if you mean that every culture has weaknesses (though some are greater than others).

 

As a Christian, it’s so important to realize that our faith does not endorse any particular existing culture. As a church-planter, it is very tempting to leave the cultural clothes on the Gospel when introducing it in a new country. And this is what Chinese people expect. When I talk to college students about Christ, the skeptics consistently draw distinctions between Chinese and American cultures as one of their primary reasons for rejecting Christianity! Not even kidding – I probably have this conversation once a week – “in America, a faith like Christianity makes sense to you, but here in China, we’re naturally opposed to traditional faiths.” In those moments, you have to be quick to point to the super-cultural relevance of the Gospel.

 

On the other slope of this truth, many cross-cultural Christian workers want to sweep everything under the culture rug. Including sin. But this is selling the people short of the Gospel! The Gospel is more than a-cultural. It is super-cultural! It influences, re-prioritizes, and transforms culture. The Gospel introduces a new community (the church) that comes with new ways of doing family, work, love, friendship, and money. If the Gospel that we preach leaves people trapped in the vices of their culture, it’s something less than what Jesus preached. And that goes for Chinese people who treat each other like dirt or for Americans whose lives revolve around money. So a Chinese church must more than that – it must be a Chinese Christian church. That’s tough – it’s easy to preach into the gaps of the culture – show how the Gospel fills the voids that their idols can’t. Attacking the idol itself is another thing altogether.

 

Think with me – how does the culture-transforming Gospel work at your job, school, home? What are the idols of your society that get swept under the rug because they’re “cultural”?

 

Quick “for instance” for those of you still with me. We just moved this week into a new house. Having some work done to the place. We’re drilling in the bathroom, little after 5 pm. Making lots of noise. Almost done. Neighbor comes from downstairs, screaming on her way up. Not raising her voice. Screaming. Comes to the door. Demands to know what’s going on. Storms past me right into our house. Goes to the back of the house. Screams at the workers for about ten minutes. “It’s after five, and there’s kids in this building that need to study!” Never even a request to quiet down, let alone an introduction to her new neighbors. Now that is cultural, or close to it. It’s an extreme case, but screaming wrathfully at each other is more than a little common in our city. It’s how life is done. Looking out for me and mine, and there’ll be a loud fight if you step over that line. Ignore for a second my own sinful pride – how should the Gospel transform this particular part of the culture?

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