What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hooray for Curing, Boo for Brittney, and The Good News About Race and Ethnicity Part 2

Editor's Note: This is the second post dealing with issues of race and ethnicity and how Christians should relate to it all. If you missed the first post, you'll want to check that out in my notes so that you can revel in the glorious wisdom.[note: sarcasm].

The Question:

I know that every culture has values that are to be celebrated. But is it the culture that we should celebrate or the values?

For example, the book pinpoints a couple of positive cultural values of white Americans. I guess the way I look at it is that these positives are not the result of one culture, but merely positive values that this culture adopted.

I tend to find many more cases where I'm conditioned by my culture towards ungodliness than conditioned by my culture towards godliness-- and the reflections of godliness in my culture can not be claimed by that culture. I realize that different cultures have different, equally valuable approaches to good things (such as worship) but isn't it the thing itself and not the approach that is to be admired?

AK Responds:

Good distinction between culture and the values, but I wonder if it's possible to be consistent in doing this--in fact, we hardly ever do this in any other context.

Your best friend is a great guy! Do you love him or do you love "great guy-ness?" Maybe both: you love him and you love great guy-ness. But there are specific ways that "great-guy-ness" is demonstrated by your best friend that are particularly glorious and there are other guys you know that demonstrate great-guy-ness in different ways that you can still appreciate...but at the end of the day, it's the person we love, not the dis-embodied value.

So, too, with cultures' values. Here's an example: during the Enlightenment in an EXTREMELY short period of time historically speaking, Europeans developed drugs that eliminated diseases and sicknesses that plagued humans for thousands and thousands of years and destroyed billions of lives.

Do we celebrate an abstract thing (hurray for curing diseases in general!) or can we look at that and say "there's a great example of a specific culture developing a specific good for the entirety of the world?" Obviously we like curing diseases whenever/wherever that happens, but I think it's the latter.

God does not delight in abstract values. He delights in His values becoming embodied: first in Christ, then in you and me. The values themselves are good, but the embodiment of those things (worship, disease-curing, UNC basketball) are the things that really matter!

Obviously, there's bad stuff in culture. In your mind, "culture" is largely short-hand for "bad stuff that points you away from God." This is largely how it's used in sermons or talks--even mine! Forgive me! If you listen, you'll find that most of us speaker/preacher types find culture a really convenient whipping-boy for all the problems of the Christian in the world.

But it's not that simple. People aren't that simple and cultures are more complex than people! Culture is a mixture of good (curing diseases! Hurray!) and bad (Brittney Spears--boo, vile temptress!). It is too narrow a thing to attempt to dismiss culture altogether. We can't do that with people, we can't do it with culture.

All culture is in need of redeeming. My job as a white guy following Christ in white culture is the exact same as it was when I sat across the table and discipled you: where is God at work here to bring about redemption and his glory, and how do I participate in that? That includes elements of rebuke and encouragement and lots of prayer.

But culture just isn't all bad. I think you've got that as a category/definition in your head and I think that your ascribing ONLY bad things to culture while trying to "peel off" the good things from culture and celebrate those apart from their cultural expression is simply incorrect. That's a mistake that Christians have made throughout the centuries and it's not the way that Paul or Jesus related to culture.

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