Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Studying Culture

Studying Culture

One of the first rules in communication involves knowing the audience. One can’t expect to effectively relay a message if he is speaking from a perspective foreign to the listener. The same concept applies to communicating the gospel to people of a different culture.
“You don’t know how to best live out the gospel among a people until you’ve done your research,” writes Caleb Crider inTradecraft for the Church on Mission.
Cultural exegesis: What is it?
It doesn’t take someone long to look at the world and see something has gone terribly wrong; sickness, wars, crime and hate are everywhere. Cultures around the globe offer different explanations for what exactly happened to bring these things about. Caleb indicates these versions of the Fall account are divine arrows to truth.
“This is no accident; it is God’s provision for re-introducing Himself to those who have turned away from Him,” Caleb writes. “Rather than having to introduce a foreign truth, missionaries take the opportunity to retell a people’s stories back to them from the Kingdom perspective.”
To do this well, the believer must first exegete the culture to whom he is sent. This is the process of studying a culture through observation and inquiry, identifying bridges and barriers to the gospel message in order to effectively communicate its truth to a people.
Cultural exegesis can be difficult and time-consuming. It requires intentional immersion, as Jesus demonstrated when he became human to proclaim salvation to all mankind through faith in Himself. He communicated to his audiences using their own stories with which they could identify, each time adding noticeable, eternal truth.
Cultural exegesis: How does it work?
Caleb suggests that exegeting or drawing out meaning from a culture should begin with four key facets: story, space, idols and conflict.
Donald Miller believes truth is best communicated through story. Learning about a culture’s stories can be as simple as listening and reading.
“Find out what people are talking about, and show them how it all relates back to the Most High God,” Caleb writes.
Then note how people use, organize and maintain space. This includes how people live–the observation of yard work, visible security and the distance between residences. It also involves observing art and architecture, and transportation through spaces. This research is best done when the believer shares space with the people to whom he is sent–moving into their space to occupy and use it with them.
Tim Keller writes, “It is impossible to understand a culture without discerning its idols.” The things with which people use to replace God in their lives take on various forms, and often can be disguised as a culture’s values. Bitterness, the recollection of a wrongdoing, materialism, sex, power, wealth, the shame of failure or pride in success can all be idols.
A missionary must observe how people invest their time, money and energy, and then expose idols for what they are to members of the culture, pointing to God as the only One worthy of worship.
Conflict occurs when someone challenges a culture’s values or threatens the concepts of family, freedom, religion and control. Believers are to observe tension in a culture and interject as proponents of peace, as they address the weak and discourage retribution.
Caleb encourages believers to be patient as they seek to exegete a culture through observation and asking many questions.
“Cultural exegesis is … learned only through practice, patience, and diligent study,” he writes, “(and) will provide opportunities to build relationships and share the gospel.”
Caleb writes more on cultural exegesis in Tradecraft for the Church on Mission. It is being published through Urban Loft Publishers and will be released in print and Kindle formats, available through Amazon. We recommend it for churches, small groups, mission teams and missions organizations everywhere.

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