The lesser culture is always drawn to the higher culture (or the perceived higher culture).
Christianity always creates the higher culture, and as long as Christians hold strong to their beliefs, that higher culture will remain strong.
Sin is the disease of the world and Christianity is the immune system. But what happens when a previously Christian society turns it back on its beliefs? The immune system becomes an autoimmune disease — which is worse than the original disease that society suffered from before Christianity came in.
Today in the west, progressive leftist ideology is seen as the new higher culture. It is nothing more than a counterfeit Babel though. Nobody 30 years ago was thinking that we needed things like gay marriage (as one example). But now, if you speak out against gay marriage you will be labeled a hateful homophobic knuckle-dragger who is stuck in the primitive wasteland known as “The Wrong Side of History” where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
If Christians want to shape the future of the western world and plant more churches, they will have to rise up to the difficult call of creating the higher culture once again. It’s harder now than before. To bring a higher culture into a pagan culture is easier than doing it in a post-Christian culture where the blessings and benefits of Christianity are still enjoyed by the very people who are ignorantly rejecting its foundations.
Every once and a while I come across a bizarre negative attitude towards the white western missionary. I’m not referring to atheists or multiculturalists criticizing western missions; that’s to be expected. Rather, I am talking about missionaries criticizing other missionaries.
I’ll read or hear terms such as “white privilege” and “cultural appropriation” being used by missionaries to criticize white missionaries and accuse them of things they are simply not guilty of: colonialism, white supremacy, and negative paternalism. They get upset at the fact that white missionaries will presume to teach, rather than learn, in non-western nations. They lament at how white missionaries don’t seek to empower the local peoples. In most cases, these accusations are are all unfounded.
Western missionaries have access to resources which non-western nations simply don’t have yet. Western Christianity is also older and more experienced. Of course westerners will come as teachers. That does not mean they don’t respect the native culture, are unwilling to learn, or are unwilling to empower local people.
The terms “white privilege” and “cultural appropriation” did not evolve in the common market of language and ideas. They come straight out of the minds of leftist, Marxist university professors. And they certainly have no place on the mission field.
I like this definition of “white privilege” from the Urban Dictionary:
The racist idea that simply being white benefits people in some unexplainable way, and that discriminating against white people is not only okay, but enlightened and necessary. The excuse some extremists use to justify pretty much any level of racism, as long as it is coming from people of color. A young American woman died because in college she was brainwashed into believing that her white privilege would protect her from being run over by a bulldozer.
I understand, and agree with, the idea that missions is not about introducing western culture into non-western nations. There are few things I dislike more that hearing Hillsong music being sung by locals in their own language, when there own native music is so much more beautiful. But, I’ve met many missionaries, and I’ve never met one who was trying to push western culture into their host nation. (In fact, when I do hear the Hillsong music, it’s because the youth in the church wanted it – Hey you guys! Stop trying to appropriate sub-standard Australian worship music!) Many new missionaries come with western ideas, which they try to implement, but they soon learn what doesn’t work and they adapt. This whole idea of “white privilege,” “white supremacy,” and neo-colonialism is, in most cases, not true. (By the way, western culture is indeed moving in on Asian nations, but it’s anything but the missionary’s fault. Blame Coca Cola, Pizza Hut, or Ariana Grande.)
So first, let’s address the “white privilege” claim. All who live in the west are privileged – the rich and the poor – the natives and the immigrants. No other culture in human history provides the opportunities, safety, and freedom that the west provides. And this privilege did not fall from the sky. It is the result of centuries of hard work by all the men and women who built the western nations. It is the result of Christianity (which is really the elephant in the room when it comes to white privilege). Historically, the western nations have been predominantly white, and although that’s still true, it is changing now.
I live in Cambodia, but spent most of my life in Canada. There are many races and cultures in Canada, and all of them are privileged to be there. Many first generation immigrants do very well for themselves. That’s true today and it’s true historically. Good culture creates privilege. It’s nothing negative and it’s nothing to feel guilty about. Yes, privileged people can use their advantages to oppress others, but is that what white missionaries are doing? Do western missionaries misunderstand the host culture simply because of their privilege? That’s strange reasoning. Is a doctor only fit to heal people if he himself has suffered their sickness?
Where you start in life is not necessarily where you’ll end up. The decisions you make today determine where you’ll be tomorrow. Snapshot views of cultures are meaningless if you ignore the past and the future. Missionaries, white and brown, enter into other cultures, and bring their privilege with them, to create new opportunities for the native peoples – opportunities which include both the spiritual and the physical. When Jesus said, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more,” was He trying to make His listeners feel guilty? Or, was He telling them to use their “privilege” to the benefit of others?
Western privilege is a direct result of Christianity. What would you expect to happen to a culture which adopts the Christian faith and submits to Jesus? Poverty and war? The missionary’s job is to expand that culture to the nations. Yes, some cultures really are better than others.
As for “cultural appropriation”, I’ll start by posting this video to show how stupid that idea is…
In the video the black girl is angry because the white guy has dreadlocks, which is a black hairstyle. It’s obviously stupid and the girl is just being a bully. This is an extreme example, but extreme examples best illustrate how stupid some ideas really are.
If I see a Cambodian wearing jeans and a t-shirt, should I be upset that he’s trying to appropriate western culture? If I learn the Khmer language and dress in Cambodian traditional clothes at a wedding, am I wrongfully trying to appropriate the culture? I though we were supposed to learn to understand the culture. What if I marry a Cambodian woman? I did, by the way. And have kids who are half white and half Asian? Which we did. Now I’m really confused.
Ideas like cultural appropriation only work to divide rather than unite. Just like calling racism where there is none. Just like labelling privilege as negative and something to feel guilty about. Like using broad meaningless terms such as “systemic racism” or “white supremacy”.
If we are going to combat things like racism, we can’t just use broad terms like “systemic racism”. Which systems are racist? Who, in those systems, are making them racist?
Protestors often don’t have the answers to those questions. They just know that racism is everywhere, and it has to be stopped, and it is the result of white privilege. But when asked where specifically the racism is, they don’t know.
When I saw this picture, posted by Christian author Michael Frost on Facebook, someone in the comments posted a picture of the KKK in a church with a banner saying, “Jesus Saves,” in the background. So, a decades old photo of white racists is an example of systemic racism today? Can we have a more recent example? I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but you can’t fight your enemy if you don’t know where he is.
I sincerely hope that the leftist, Marxist ideology which is corrupting much of western culture today doesn’t find a home in the mission field. We are above racial distinctions out here. Our racial differences are merely a background reality – it’s not a forefront issue. Don’t make it one. We work together, missionaries and locals, to build the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
My article here is far from perfect, and as I think about the issue more, I’ll probably add more. For now I’ll just publish it as it is (no one reads this blog anyway).
August 27, 2016 ~ A Brief Addition…
Something else came to mind that I wanted to add.
I think it is apparent to all now that the center of Christianity is shifting away from the west and toward the south and the east. If you need statistical evidence of that you can read Philip Jenkins’ work The Next Christendom. Here’s a quote from the first couple of pages of that book:
We are currently living through one of the transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide. Over the last five centuries, the story of Christianity has been extricably bound up with that of Europe and Europe-derived civilizations overseas, above all in North America. Until recently, the overwhelming majority of Christians have lived in white nations, allowing some thinkers to speak of ‘European Christian’ civilization…
Over the last century, however, the center of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably southward, to Africa and Latin America. Today, the largest Christian communities on the planet are to be found in those regions. If we want visualize a ‘typical’ contemporary Christian, we should think of a woman living in a village in Nigeria, or in a Brazilian favela. In parts of Asia too, churches are growing rapidly, in numbers and self-confidence. As Kenyan scholar John Mbiti has observed, ‘the centers of the church’s universality [are] no longer in Geneva, Rome, Athens, Paris, London, New York, but Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila.’ Whatever Europeans or North Americans may believe, Christianity is doing very well indeed in the global south — not just surviving but expanding.
This doesn’t mean that western Christianity is doomed to destruction; perhaps we’ll see a revival sooner than we think. But, I believe it’s safe to say that Christianity will grow much more in the south and east before it makes a comeback in the west.
Perhaps in the future, Asian missionaries will travel to the west and do the very same things western missionaries do today, but better. They will have matured in the Christian faith far beyond where we’re at today and they will be greater teachers as a result.
A short and stupid book. I give it one star out of five because it was only $1.99 on Kindle. I can’t decide if the book was written for 12 year olds, or if it was written by a 12 year old. For example… His first argument against God is basically summed up as: “In order for God to create the space/time universe, God’s existence can’t depend on space/time. My human brain can’t comprehend that. Therefore there is no God. Booyah!”
Why I Believed
He’s got a couple of decent Dostoevsky-type arguments against faith/God, but most of what he says follows a “I just don’t want to believe anymore” kind of thinking. Christianity is a faith which requires engagement. If you choose not to engage it you will grow cold towards it.
Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes
I’ll come back to this book for the language sections. Everett is a talented linguist. He had no business being a missionary though. I don’t think he ever fully understood what Christianity is. His descriptions of the faith show he never moved beyond a Sunday-school understanding of it.
God Needs to Go
It’s hard to get into one of these books when it starts out with a straw-man argument; which this book does. In fact, this book is one straw-man after another — falsely representing Christianity and then attacking that false representation.
He makes a couple good points against prayer (or, what I would call the misuse of prayer).
Atheists often argue that morality is based on the evolved sense of the common good. While that might be true for economy, it is not true for morality. Morality is not the same across the world. A westerner being accepting of a transgender person is doing so because he believes it is loving to do so. That belief of loving acceptance stems directly from Christian morality. A Buddhist in Thailand who is accepting of a transgender person is not doing so out of love; his acceptance and noninterference is based on karmic justice. A Buddhist would be less inclined to help the poor for that very same reason, whereas a westerner would be more inclined to help the poor based on Christian morality.
The author states: “Except for certain religiously based societies, many of the secular nations display a sense of right and wrong that has allowed them advance in a positive way.” (page 23) “Certain religiously based societies” — every society is a religiously based society, including the ‘post-Christian’ west. A society’s morality is tied to its predominant religion. This is not hard to see. Western morality is based on Christianity, absolutely. If you don’t see that, you just need to do some travelling. A Buddhist nation’s morality is based on Buddhism. The same is true for Hindu and Muslim nations. If a person born and raised in a Buddhist nation becomes an atheist, his morality will still be based on Buddhism. (Although, Buddhism as a religion lacks the conditions to create atheists — which is a whole other interesting topic. Western atheism would not exist if it weren’t for Christianity.)
Then there are the usual arguments about slavery and God’s wrath and so forth. If you want to understand those issues in the Bible you have to understand two very important things: covenant and holiness. If you don’t get those two things, you won’t get the Bible.
And there are the attacks on biblical prophesy. Jesus said certain things about His return that supposedly didn’t happen. Well, there are plenty of books on eschatology to explain that. But if you’re not willing to study it out, then there’s nothing more to say. Reading Psalm 110 and Daniel 7:13-14 will get you well on your way to understanding what Jesus said when prophesying about Himself.
Right at the beginning of creation, humanity received from God what could easily be called our first “Great Commission”.
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
~Genesis 1:28 NASB
“Take over the world for the glory of God” is basically what we’re commanded to do.
Skip ahead to Babel and read what the people’s two reasons were for building the tower:
They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
~Genesis 11:4 NASB
They wanted to make for themselves a name (above God’s name and for their own glory), and they did not want to be scattered abroad; which is exactly what they were commanded to do: “…fill the earth, and subdue it”.
So, God scattered them. God scattered them by using different languages to cause division.
Right after the Babel story we are introduced to Abram, later to be named Abraham, the father of many. Starting with Abraham, God enters into a covenant with the Hebrew people, and for many hundreds of years, deals only with these people.
Did the Church exist in the Old Testament, or was that some different dispensation? Absolutely the Church existed in the Old Testament. Israel was the Old Testament Church; they were also of the same ethnicity. All those who were saved in the Old Testament were saved by the person and work of Jesus Christ. The animal sacrifices and the temple were types and shadows.
The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship.
~Hebrews 10:1 NLT
Now we can jump ahead to Pentecost.
At the beginning of the book of Acts, Jesus gives the Great Commission.
“…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
~Acts 1:8 NASB
And this is what happened when they were filled with the Holy Spirit:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language.
~Acts 2:1-6 NASB
The miracle of Pentecost was not that they spoke with other tongues. The miracle of Pentecost was that all the people present, from “every nation under heaven”, heard “the mighty deeds of God” (Acts 2:11) spoken to them in their own languages.
At Pentecost God used different languages to bring the people together.
At Pentecost God did the reverse of what He did at Babel.
Where as before God was only dealing with the Jewish people, now God was opening His arms to the gentiles as well.
The miracle of Pentecost was not that God was creating the Church in some new dispensation. The miracle of Pentecost was that God was taking the gentile nations and grafting them into the Church, which already existed as Israel, the true Israel.
Now reread the Great Commission as stated in Matthew:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
~Matthew 28:18-20 NASB
We can assign three parts to the Great Commission.
1) Preach the Gospel as a witness to all the nations.
2) Make individual disciples in each nation.
3) Make whole nations disciples.
I think many christians would read #1 and stop there. I’ve had christians declare to me that the end is near because the gospel has been preached throughout the whole world, and Jesus said, “(T)his gospel…will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)
I would argue against that reasoning, firstly and simply because, the Great Commission, as given to us in Matthew 28:18-20, does not say “go and preach the gospel as a witness to all nations.” It says to “go and make disciples of all nations.” There is a large difference between getting the gospel out there to be heard (a witness) and getting whole nations of people to conform their entire lives to it (discipleship).
Secondly, I would argue that, with the statement Jesus made in Matthew 24, He was not referring to the Great Commission, nor was He referring to the end of the world. Again, His wording did not imply the fullness of the Great Commission when He referred to the gospel as going out as a witness to all nations; that is part of the Great Commission, yes, but only the first part. Also, when Jesus used the word “world” in vs 14 (through the Holy Spirit inspired author), He used the Greek word oikoumené, which means “the portion of the earth inhabited by the Greeks, in distinction from the lands of the barbarians”; so arguably, He was referring to the Roman Empire only, not the entire planet 2000 years into the future.
The conversation in Matthew 24 between Jesus and the disciples was about the destruction of the temple, or more broadly, the end of the Judaic age, temple sacrifice, and the Mosaic priesthood. When Jesus said the gospel would go out to all the Roman Empire and then the end would come, I would argue that He was primarily thinking about all the Jews scattered throughout the empire at that time. Jesus wanted the Jews to hear the gospel before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. He wanted them to understand what was happening and why the temple was destroyed. It was destroyed because there was no longer any need for it and because judgment had come on the unbelieving Jews. The “end” which Jesus referred to is that destruction and judgement.
So, back to the Great Commission. Jesus said that all authority has been given to Him, and that is the reason we are to go out and make disciples of all nations. He did not say, “People are dying and going to hell, so go and preach to as many as possible and then I’ll come back”. Jesus is king, and we are to declare that fact to the world, and teach people how to serve the king. To do this, we have to do all three parts of the Great Commission. We can’t stop after #1 thinking we’ve finished the job. The bible does not teach that or allow it.