CULTURAL ADAPTERS & A exercise to help you identify consonant, selective and dissonant adapters.

Commentary by Prof. B.: Recently a student shared a case study which is not too dissimilar to what many of my students and colleagues have experienced. This student created an informal fallacy by equating generational age to culture. Here is the LEAD 600 student’s case study followed by an exercise  the reader can utilize to identify the consonant, selective and dissonant adapters in the story.

Student: You’ve presented a particularly intriguing ethical dilemma. You (another student) said, “Based upon research from Barna, more than ¾ of Christians come to faith before they are 21 years old.” However, you also stated, “The older worship leader should have equal opportunity to a worship position.” Therein lies the dilemma. Equality has forever been a problem in society. In his classic book on poverty and racism, Howard Thurmon closed a chapter with the following words: “Instead of relation between the weak and the strong there is merely a relationship between human beings. A man is a man, no more, no less. The awareness of this fact marks the supreme moment of human dignity.” In a conversation about church strategy and demographics, the desire to hire a younger person makes complete sense. However, in a conversation about equality and human dignity, the reduction of possibility for an older candidate is an offense. Of course, Thurmon is referring to serious issues like the racism of the 40’s and 50’s. However, from a broad ethical perspective, his statement remains true and useful.”

I responded:  I appreciate that you stated, “In a conversation about church strategy and demographics, the desire to hire a younger person makes complete sense.  However, in a conversation about equality and human dignity, the reduction of possibility for an older candidate is an offense.”

I think the key is to not always equate age with culture. Doing su could be an informal fallacy. By that I mean, your point seems to be that the worship leader should relate to the age of those people who make a decision for Christ. However as we know, being part of an age demarcation, i.e. generation, does not necessarily mean they are part of that culture. There are many people who live and assimilate into a dissimilar culture from which they’ve been raised. The culture in which most people have been raised is age specific. But we all know people who have been raised in one culture and yet relate to another… even assimilate into it.

To understand this phenomena is to understand the difference between “consonant, selective and dissonant adapters.” Charles Kraft gives an introduction to this phenomena in his classic, “Christianity in Culture: A Study of Dynamic Biblical Theologizing in Cross-Cultural Perspective” (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1979), p. 113.

Kraft points out there are three types of adapters:

1) Dissonant adapters adapt very little to another culture because they’re very proud of their existing culture. They can become xenophobic and can usually only be reached by indigenous art forms such as music, liturgy and language.

2) Selective adapters adapting some areas but like to preserve the traditions of their culture. in my experience, they are often found in churches that offer blended services. They enjoy multiple cultures but sometimes are disingenuous: seeking to push other dissonant adapters to adapt beyond the comfort level of the dissonant adapters. This has been called the “creator complex,” e.g. to make over others in the image of our culture or the dominant culture. Wagner describes this as “Deep in the heart of man (sic), even in missionaries, lurks that ‘creator complex’ by which he (sic) delights in making other people over in his (sic) own image.” Wagner, C. P. (1979). “Our kind of people: The ethical dimensions of church growth in America,” John Knox Press, p. 76.

3) Consonant adapters adapt to a different culture previous culture and hold on very little to their previous culture.

There is a further an explanation of this in “The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart,” The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2013, pp. 69-70) https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2016/05/15/cultural-adapters-3-types-consonant-selective-dissonant/

Now, knowing those missiological terms, how would you analyze the players in this example? The purpose of this exercise is to increase your awareness to anthropological in sociological dynamics in our staffing, volunteerism and leadership.

CULTURE & An Overview of Richard Niebuhr & Charles Kraft’s 4 Views of “Christ & Culture”

by Bob Whitesel, excerpted with permission from Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (Abingdon Press, 2006, pp. 55-57).

Since modern culture is constantly adjusting and metamorphosing, the task of translating the Good News without surrendering its truth or disfiguring it is paramount and ongoing. This arduous task begins with thorough and careful examination of a culture. Anthropologist Paul Hiebert described culture as, “an integrated system of learned patterns of behavior, ideas and products characteristic of a society.”(1) Scrutiny of such an elaborate system is not for an immature Christian, since it requires investigating and evaluating a culture without being tainted by its more sordid elements.

There is a tension between Christ and culture that must be examined. Richard Niebuhr in his classic treatise Christ and Culture suggested that there are several ways to look at Christ’s interaction with culture.(3)

Christ … Against culture.

One is “Christ against culture” a view embraced by the early church father Tertullian. In this view culture is seen as evil, thus requiring Christians to withdraw and insulate themselves, resulting in a monastic response. Charles Kraft exposes three fallacies in this view, demonstrating it is not in keeping Paul’s view that “nothing is unclean of itself” (Romans 14:14).(4)

Christ … Above Culture (in Synthesis or in Paradox)

Another view Niebuhr called “Christ Above Culture” which he divided into sub-categories.(5)

  • Christ Above Culture in Synthesis” was held by Thomas Aquinas and views Jesus as the restorer of institutions of true society. This view believes that Christianity will one day totally transform culture, perhaps into a millennial peace. In another sub-category,
  • Christ Above Culture in Paradox,” Christ is seen above but in such tension with culture that a messy, muddled relationship results. Martin Luther grappled with this perspective, as did modern writer Mike Yaconelli who called this “messy spirituality.”(6)

Christ … Above but Transformer of Culture

However, a more valid sub-category may be “Christ Above but Transformer of Culture.” Embraced by Augustine, John Calvin, and John Wesley this view sees culture as corrupt but convertible.(7)

Christ … Above but Working Through Culture

Kraft built upon this his position called “Christ above but working through culture,” explaining that “God chooses the cultural milieu in which humans are immersed as the arena of his interaction with people.”(8) Eddie Gibbs further elaborates that “such an approach represents a deliberate self-limiting on the part of God in order to speak in understandable terms and with perceived relevance on the part of the hearer. He acts redemptively with regard to culture, which includes judgment on some elements, but also affirmation in other areas, and a transformation of the whole.”(9)

If the “Christ above but working through culture” truly defines the tension and nexus between Christ and culture, then the job of the Christian communicator becomes challenging if not precarious. Therefore, our strategy must not conclude simply with step 1, investigating and examining culture, but also must continue through step 2, sifting and judging its elements. Here the prudent communicator must make qualitative judgments based upon Scripture, ethics, personal belief and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

…The end result of this examination or sifting, must be a rejection of elements in conflict with Christ, but also an affirmation of those elements that are not so. I found that leaders of the organic church usually sift carefully through the movies, television shows, music, games, online resources and literature of young people. And they routinely explain in their sermons how God judges some aspects of postmodern culture, accepts other elements such as an emphasis on helping the needy, and has as a goal the transformation of the whole.(10)

The Christian communicator wishing to make the Good News relevant today must carefully examine the media barrage engulfing young people, understand its messages, while at the same time sifting elements that are opposed to Christ and identifying touchstones that can make connections with unchurched peopled.

Footnotes:

1. Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1983), p. 25.
2. Bob Whitesel, Growth By Accident, Death By Planning, op. cit., p. 26.
3. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1951). A second view is beyond the scope of our discussion. Labeled by Niebuhr “Christ of culture,” it was embraced by early Gnostic heretics. They interpreted Christ through cultural trends, rejecting any claims of Christ that conflicted with their culture. Counter to this, Isaiah 55:8 reminds us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, or our ways his ways.
4. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1979), pp. 105-106.
5. Kraft, ibid., pp. 108-115 sees five subdivisions of the “Christ Above Culture” position. However, for this discussion only three are required. The reader seeking more exhaustive insights will benefit from a careful exploration of Kraft’s work.
6. Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002). Yaconelli’s viewpoint has been popular among postmodern Christians, And, before his untimely death, Yaconelli was in demand as a lecturer. Young people often saw in his perspective one more in keeping with their untidy journey towards discipleship. To understand the angst and anxiety many young people sense today between their Christian understanding and their vacillating demeanor, see Yaconelli’s insightful volume.
7. Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, p. 113.
8. ibid., p. 114.
9. Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, (Grand Rapids, Mich,: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 92.
10. In my travels through the organic church, I found it’s leaders usually approached the rejection or affirmation of cultural elements in a circumspect and serious manner. Whether it was the “discothèque clubbers” of England who had to decide at what point youthful fashions became lewd, or the film clips that Freeway employed to illustrate a point; young organic leaders typically see the rejection of base elements of culture as not only required, but judicious.

MISSIONAL & Are You a Mission Station or a Missional Community? #DonaldMcGavran

by Bob Whitesel, 3/17/15. 

Missiologist Dr. Donald McGavran often criticized the “mission station approach” to missions. Still, if this is the first time you’ve heard the term it doesn’t sound so bad. But a little history about the term and how it was abused can help us be more effective in helping others today.

The “mission station approach” to outreach became a fairly common term to describe how in mission work, a foreign entity (like the Lutheran Church of Germany for example) would set up “mission stations” (such as in South Africa) to reach indigenous peoples.  

The mission station was a little enclave, sort of a transplanted European walled-city, that would provide a microcosm of European Christian culture amid the indigenous peoples of the mission field.  The language in the mission station was the language of the missionaries, and the culture was as well.  The missionaries at the mission station expected the indigenous peoples to come “into” the mission station, learn a European language, dress in European clothes, be taught about Christian culture and accept Jesus.  Needless to say, this was terribly ineffectual.

However, it was not until the great missionary awakening that people like William B. Carrey, Albert Schweitzer, and others popularized the more effective contextualization approach. They argued that you “sift” or evaluate culture, rejecting some elements that are anti-Christ and accept other elements that are morally neutral (see Charles Kraft’s “Christianity and Culture” and Lesslie Newbigin’s “Christ and Culture” for an extended … 300+ page… discussion on this).

A colleague of mine, Dr. Ryan Bolger pointed out in a white paper to the American Society of Church Growth (2002) that today most churches have become “mission stations” in North America: we speak a different language, live a different culture and we expect the unchurched people to come “into” our mission stations and adopt our culture.  This is why Darrel Guder in “Missional Church” (1998) points out that in North America we live in a culture that is hostile to Christianity … thus effectively making churches in North America missionary organizations.  (Guder’s book is an excellent introduction to the missional church … it is a modern contextualization of classic Church Growth principles.  And, it is the most highly regarded book outside of the Bible by emerging post-modern church leaders.)

Thus, I think it strategically judicious to embrace the life of missionaries in the North American context (doing so while embracing strategies that are effectual and successful in missiological experience and contexts).

HUMOR & Has the church become “a culture itself?” So, what if Starbucks marketed like the church? [video]

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Below is a humorous video about how church culture can unintentionally confuse people who are not part of our church-going culture.  Since most of our churches are trying to reach out to non-churchgoers, it is important that we look at our behaviors, ideas and products that can confuse (and even potentially turn off) people with whom we are trying to share the Good News.

I sometimes share this with my students at their residential.  Now, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be changed when Jesus saves us. We should.

But when we create an artificial culture we erect cultural barriers to people outside of that culture.  This video gives a humorous way of looking at how, if we are not careful, our churches become confusing and irrelevant ‘church cultures.’

That is why newly planted churches often grow faster than older churches.  New churches don’t have that Christian culture developed as strongly in them yet, and so unchurched people can relate more to them.

But, if they are not careful, even planted churches will eventually mutate into a separate ‘church culture.’  Now, you might think, ‘Well, we need to plant more churches.’  And, we do.  But, if we don’t also help established churches from becoming disconnected ‘church cultures’ then the Devil will have succeeded in keeping us irrelevant to unchurched people.

Charles Kraft, in his book Christianity and Culture (1979) said that ‘the church has become a culture itself.’  Thus Eddie Gibbs said that church leaders must receive missionary training, to understand those outside of our culture and learn how to present Christ to them in culturally relevant ways that will not compromise the Good News (Church Next, 220).  Kraft also warned that ‘cultural conversion’ is wrong, meaning missionaries are to convert others to their beliefs, not to their culture, for cultural conversion smacks of colonialism and empire-building (Christianity in Culture, 339).  Rather, the Good News is ‘supra-cultural’ (Kraft 1979), meaning it is a way of holy living that is above culture.  It changes culture, but it also (like Jesus in the incarnation) may take on non-sinful behavior, ideas or products … but without sinning.

#PowellChurch