When Culture and Scripture Collide

You do not need to travel to other countries to experience this culture versus Scripture phenomenon.

I remember announcing many years ago that, in the next term of our MBC program in Egypt, the students would have a class called Cross-Cultural Counseling. The response was surprising. “Why? We’re all Egyptians.” (Even that was not technically true—there were two ladies from Jordan in the program.) One question-as-response explained the rationale of having such a course in our curriculum: “Is there any cultural difference between the culture of Cairo and the culture in Upper Egypt?” Of course. All the students understood those rather stark differences.

 

The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
(John 4:9)

Most of us tend to work close to home, so we’re not alert to 1) the peculiarities of other cultures, and/or 2) the doctrinal perspectives of other ministries. That was certainly true of me during my years as a pastor, 25 of which were invested in one town in middle America. But, traveling to teach—even in the USA, but especially around the world—will inevitably cause you to be faced with the collision between culturally-generated ideas and (what you have been taught are or what you believe to be) scriptural mandates. 

Really? Like What?

The first I experienced this collision of culture and Scripture was during the very first ministry ever conducted by Overseas Instruction in Counseling (OIC).

Just one month after the launch of OIC (June 10, 2006), God appointed us to conduct the first of what would be seven week-long pastoral conference-type teaching sessions in the Philippines. It was a delight to experience the fulfillment of what had been a long-held dream of taking biblical sufficiency-based soul care training to the nations.

But when I began to discuss the necessity of having—and sometimes actually initiating—a “conversation for change” (what is often called a confrontation in biblical counseling literature), I could sense the uneasiness in the 100 or so pastors sitting in front of me. When I later asked some of them for the reason for their response, they kindly explained that the kind of person-to-person ministry I had described was just not done in the Philippines. Rather, their cultural custom, described by the Tagalog word tagapamagita, was to involve a third party as a face-saving mechanism in what sociologists might describe as a shame-based culture.

Now, you do not need to travel to other countries to experience this culture versus Scripture phenomenon. In America, the home to the majority of readers of this blog, and in many other nations of some geographic or numerical size, there are regional cultural peculiarities. I remember announcing many years ago that, in the next term of our MBC program in Egypt, the students would have a class called Cross-Cultural Counseling. The response was surprising. “Why? We’re all Egyptians.” (Even that was not technically true—there were two ladies from Jordan in the program.) One question-as-response explained the rationale of having such a course in our curriculum: “Is there any cultural difference between the culture of Cairo and the culture in Upper Egypt?” Of course. All the students understood those rather stark differences.

The One Thing I Hate to Hear

When introducing biblical sufficiency-based personal ministry in a nation or region in which it has not previously been taught, the most consistent negative reaction comes from those pastors who have been “psychologized” and who want to defend the integration of secularly-originated ideas with the eternal, objective, and sufficient truth of the Word of God.

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