How Christian Faith Relates to Culture — And How Not

As a really good beginning to understanding that way Christian faith relates to the various other categories with which we find ourselves identifying and being identified, I would point to these words by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove:

[T]here is little evidence that most of American Christianity actually believes that the gospel offers us a new culture—a new ethnic identity in our sea of multiculturalism.
But if God really has made us part of a holy people, then we have been baptized into a new family whose way of living calls into question all the practices of our different cultures. This is not to say that black Christians have to become white or that Latinos need to act black, but rather that black, white, and Latino must become Christian. First Christian, then white. First Christian, then black. First Christian, then Latino. For Christianity is a culture—a set of beliefs and stories and practices that shapes our vision of the world around us and the decisions we make about ways to act in the world…. it is a culture that calls every human practice into question.

Obviously, this also means that we should be thinking of ourselves first as Christian, then as American. But as Wilson-Hartgrove points out, there is little evidence that most American Christians really think that way in their day-to-day life.
Again, I would call on all of us American Christians to ask ourselves who we normally mean when we say “we” and “us.” Do we mean we Americans or we, the church?


5 thoughts on “How Christian Faith Relates to Culture — And How Not

  1. Hey Cub,

    First let me start by sharing that I am by no means an expert on the subject but will share my opinions anyway.

    When Americans say “we” they me Americans. Being an American is a complexed idea in its own right. American values on individuality and their form of “Tolorence” conflicts with many Christian values.

    The other issue that has been blown out of proportion is the seperation of church and state. I do not believe our fore fathers meant to get Christian values out of our politics. I believe their intent was to not bring in the arguments from the seperate denominations into politics and not let one denomintaion start to take charge of the country. I think as time has gone the American people have pushed the seperation further and tried to remove God from politics period. I believe this has created larger differences in our political theories.

    It more complicated than this though. We are not just a nation of Christians. We have Muslims, Budist, Mormans and many others. Though some of the ways of life are similar, there are differences. How do we govern with so many different views? The answer is easy for Christians becuase they have Jesus but what of those who don’t?

    I think as far as the difference between white, black and Latino is a little easier for me to understand and harder for people to stop. I feel like it is easier for people to see what is different about others than to focus on what is similar. Once we start focusing on what is different we cling to the things we know more. It is easier for people I think to focus on things that we know worldly than the things that we know spiritualy and I think that is what Johnathan Wilson- Hartgrove is saying we need to change.

    Thanks for sharing.
    love ya bro

    • Piotr —
      I agree with you at each point.
      The point which stands out to me right now, though, is your point about differences and similarities. This is both true and wise. I think it’s what we see in Genesis 11 at the Tower of Babel.
      What fascinates me about the Scripture’s Babel story is that it shows us the origin of racial and national division; but it makes LANGUAGE the crucial issue, rather than skin color or eye shape or any of that. It is the sharing of WORDS in common that unites people, and its absence which divides them. But what you say is exactly right: “it is easier for people to see what is different about others than to focus on what is similar. Once we start focusing on what is different we cling to the things we know more.” The moment before YHWH changed the languages, they were all focused on their common humanity. The moment after, their fractured linguistics became their focus. Were they not still all human beings? Is not their common identity as human more important than their language problems? Apparently not.
      I think that’s why, when we read Acts 2, we find the Lord beginning his church with another miracle of language. But this time, instead of dividing people via language, he unites them. And it is the preaching of Christ and His cross and resurrection that brings people together across all boundaries. In fact, one might say that that is the message of the rest of Acts.
      Thanks, my good brother!

  2. What book is this from? I really respect Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I think he will probably be coming to Calvin in November, which I am really excited about!

    • Hey, Jasmine —
      Good to hear from you!
      So far, I have only read one book by JWH–actually, he only wrote one chapter in the book. It’s called Inhabiting the Church. The other authors are Jon Stock and Tim Otto. I have been slowly working on a review to post here on TLW in the interstices between various other activities. Hope to get that posted soon! 🙂

      • In 2008 I went to a conference in Portland with those three guys. Really cool! I didn’t know JWH was famous then… He’s a tall, slow, southern speaking guy. Reall cool. I would recommend the “Schools of Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism” if you like their stuff. I’ll be looking forward to seeing your review!!

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