Because The Cross Was Made Of Dogwood – Thoughts On Evangelism, Part 5

Thanks for hanging on with us as we’ve covered some of the ramblings of my mind. The comments and feedback have been great. If you haven’t, please check out the other posts in this series and let us all know what you think.

We’re going to turn the direction of this series a little and start looking at the environment that non-Christians/new converts/visitors experience when they enter into a church building. Much of what we’ll discuss has to do with culture.

Culture is something that many of us are completely unaware of yet it is all around us, in us, and protrudes from us. At the same time it is very difficult to define. In 1952, Alfred L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn published a book called Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions that was simply 200 pages devoted to the different definitions of the term. To help us understand culture in this discussion, I will provide the bullet pointed definitions used by Myron W. Lustig and Jolene Koester in their book Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication Across Cultures:

Culture:

  • Is Learned
  • Is A Set of Shared Interpretations
  • Involves Beliefs, Values, Norms, and Social Practices
  • Affects Behavior

The biggest challenges regarding culture in churches is 1) being aware that there is a culture that exists within the walls of our churches that is probably different from the culture of the non-Christian/new Christians we encounter around us 2) being aware that much of our culture is not from scripture and is therefore not mandated 3) being aware that other cultures exist and are of equal value with our culture and 4) being sensitive enough to these facts to help individuals new to our church culture transition effectively.

In case the above doesn’t quite make sense to you, here’s a clip from the Adam Sandler movie Waterboy to give you a demonstration of what culture clashes look like. For those of you that haven’t seen the movie, the student doing most of the speaking was raised by his ‘momma’ in a swamp and was home schooled by her in all the important thing in life. He is attending college because he wants to play football.

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Aggression in the video aside, entering into the culture of church is a very strange thing for those outside the church. Several years ago while living in the D.C. area I received a phone call from an inquisitive young lady about our church. She was raised religion neutral, meaning she was brought up neither for or against any particular religion. Her first question demonstrates the confusion involved in approaching another culture. She asked “Are your services open to anyone or only to particular people?” Little did she know how badly we wanted people.

After her first visit, my wife and I invited her over for dinner and to discuss her experiences at worship. She brought a bottle of wine as a gift for the hosts, which is a very customary thing to do in D.C. Of course, those of you who know the culture of conservative Christianity, we have a thing against drinking alcohol… despite the Biblical mandate for consuming it.

As we discussed the whole Christ and Christianity thing, we got to the part about baptism. I described the process of entering the water, confessing faith and obedience to Christ, and being immersed. She thought I was kidding. “Are you serious? I get in water? I go all the way under? In front of everyone?” Think about that for a second… for someone outside of Christianity, how weird does the idea of baptism seem? Could you imagine another organization using this practice as their method of extending belonging? For the uninitiated, we might as well be asking them to put on a chicken costume and run around the auditorium clucking. Would be about the same level of intimidation for some.

So, what kinds of things do we need to watch out for in the cultural transition for new converts? Or how about even before that? What do we need to be aware of culturally for first time visitors to our facilities. Not everyone knows to stand up when we get to the second part of “Holy Ground” after all.

5 Responses to Because The Cross Was Made Of Dogwood – Thoughts On Evangelism, Part 5

  1. Ben Skutt says:

    I’d be interested to hear your take on reading the bible in the context of the culture it was written in. For example, the context which we hold Baptism is entirely different from the cultural context of those in the bible. I think it’s important to communicate the culture of the church in evangelism and by extension also communicate the culture within the narrative of the bible. I hate to say “make the bible culturally relevant,”  but I do believe the bible needs to be translated from more than just Hebrew and Greek.

    • Anonymous says:

      Scot McKnight’s thesis is that you have to understand the Bible within the
      context it was written before you can understand it for your current
      context. Makes perfect sense if you think about it. How can we apply the
      core of the message of the Bible without understanding what it meant in the
      first place? When we choose to not think culturally about the Bible, we
      choose to commit at least one of several fallacies. First, we push our own
      interpretation back onto the text rather than the other way around (i.e.
      ‘overseer’. Modern usage = supervisor. New Testament context = guardian or
      ‘one who looks over’.). Second, we turn the Bible into a law book that is
      used to dictate behavior. Third, we view the Bible as a source of snippets
      of blessings/encouraging statements while taking the verse out of context of
      the pericope (one of my favorites is ‘following the footsteps of Jesus’,
      which comes from 1 Peter 2:21. Many churches use it as a ‘mission’, but the
      context is talking about suffering unjustly and persecution).

      The only way to avoid that is to find out what the cultural context is. That
      way you can squeeze out the ‘timeless truth’ and apply it in a modern way.

      Good thoughts, Ben.

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