“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (I Corinthians 9:20-23).”
There are as many definitions of culture as there are cultures. Here are a few:
“Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.”
“Culture is the systems of knowledge shared by a relatively large group of people.”
“Culture is communication, communication is culture.”
H. Richard Niebuhr is the author of a classic work called “Christ and Culture”, studied in divinity schools. In it he outlined 5 ways a Christian could relate to culture. Menuge quotes Phillip Yancey’s response to the book:
“I remember that Niebuhr’s book left me feeling enlightened, but as confused as ever. All the approaches seemed to have something to contribute, and in fact, I could point to biblical examples of each one.”
Here is a simplified version of Niebuhr’s approach, showing how a proponent of each view would relate to the computer as a cultural artifact:
Whatever view we hold of how a belief in Jesus Christ fits in with culture, this aspect of life cannot be ignored. People are not the same everywhere. Yes, everyone has basic human needs and qualities. But they approach things differently.
For example, people have different values. Most cultures value family. But not all value learning. The apostle Paul found that the Thessalonians didn’t care much for his message, but that the Bereans applied themselves to learning about it. He found that the Athenians viewed learning as kind of a sport or hobby. So Paul shared the gospel in that context. (See Acts Chaper 17.)
If we want to share our faith with visiting internationals or in a foreign country, we need to value learning ourselves. We have to develop what Jerry Kociatkiewicz calls the “anthropological frame of mind”:
“The anthropoligical frame of mind is a certain openness of the mind of the researcher/observer of social reality. One the one hand, it means the openness to new realities and meanings, and on the other—a constant need to problematize, a refusal to take anything for granted, to treat things as obvious and familiar.
The researcher makes use of his or her curiosity, the ability to be surprised by what she or he observes, even if it is ‘just’ the everyday world.”
Cultural differences are not easy to understand, but the journey involved in learning about them can be fun and fascinating. Minimally we should at least have an awareness of them if we want to make an impact for Christ among people different than ourselves.