Saturday, April 29, 2006

Study of culture

Apparently John MacArthur said at Together for the Gospel that

I don’t spend a lot of time studying the culture, I think I know enough from living in it. I don’t want to be a student of the culture, I want to be a student of the Bible. (HT Adrian W):

I don't know if that has been taken out of context, and I don't know that much about John MacArthur himself so please don't take my comments as personal to him. But I do wonder because although John MacArthur may know enough about the culture from living in it, I certainly don't. And it is because I wish to be a student of the Bible, and an ambassador for Christ that I think I should study it more. I do not see the dichotomy that he sees. I have two reasons for this. One relates to my desire to see transformation of the culture (and that means other people), and the other is my desire to be transformed myself.

Everyone now knows about the dangers of Christian jargon. We know that not only can it form a barrier to preaching the Gospel because it may be not understood, but it may be so misunderstood so that it does harm. The classic example is the word 'sin'. To a Christian it means to rebel against our loving creator, running after other gods and consequently manifesting itself in abuse of our fellow creatures. To our culture the meaning is closer to 'a deducted mark for sexual immorality (among a few other things), in a test that fundamentalists believe is being conducted by a impersonal god, which when passed leads to some unearthly bliss after death’. If we are to communicate the Gospel in today’s culture, as we are commanded, we have to spot such misunderstandings and address them, even when they are less than obvious. And a earnest attempt to reach the world involves a lot more study of the culture than this first step demonstrates.

Even if we are to study the bible we need to understand what we are bringing to the text, in order to take from the text grace. The early Gnostics no doubt thought they were being faithful students of the Bible, but were totally unaware that they were distorting its message with what we can latter see is assumptions brought with them from the Greek culture of the time. Many white Christians thought that they were being faithful to what they had learnt from their study of the Bible when they treated their Black slaves to inhumanly to finance their new Georgian Terraces.

A less obvious example of the results an lack of study of culture when expounding the Gospel is in the oft-quoted comment of CS Lewis in response to the question of the uniqueness of Christianity:

"It's grace."

Grace is of course foundational to all we believe, but many other religions would claim if for themselves too (even in the way we mean it). The Bible never distinguishes Christianity from other religions in this way. In fact, the primary way it distinguishes itself is by its truthfulness. However in the early Twentieth-century culture of CS Lewis, still in reaction against Medieval Catholicism, it was a natural answer to give.

I come from a sub-culture that puts a high value on knowledge of facts and a low value on emotion. Even with a great help from John MacArthur’s fellow conference speaker John Piper, I still do not think that I have come to understand my culture’s influence on my faith in this area. I still don’t really understand what my culture finds so attractive in wealth so I read about it, because I know it is affecting my study of the bibles teaching on it. I need to study the culture as well as the Bible to do this, and both feed each other.

That was a rambling post, and the result of far too little studying of the culture, and studying and imbuing the Bible. Sorry, sometimes I get the itch to write.


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