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Cultural Forms of Christianity

February 28, 2019

Recently, I've been reading the book Becoming Sinners by Joel Robbins, an ethnography that describes a small tribe in Papua New Guinea called the Urapmin. Robbins provides a rich account of how this community underwent charismatic revival in the late 1970s, abandoning their traditional beliefs and instead turning to a Baptist-influenced Christianity that stresses human sinfulness and the imminence of Jesus' Second Coming. The book provokes questions about how Christianity interacts in different cultural contexts, how it interacts with culture, and how it ultimately affects our worldview. On one hand, the gospel has removed many cultural barriers. As the Urapmin send out their own missionaries and are no longer dependent on Western help, they reduce their perceived inferiority to 'white men' and establish an identity of their own. On the flipside, Christianity brings a cultural arrogance towards other indigenous peoples in the region, because they have not 'seen the truth' yet and have not been Christianised to the same extent.


Reading this made me think about Christianity in my own cultural context. The positive side of the gospel is its declaration in Galatians 3:28 that there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor male and female, but that we are all one in Christ Jesus. Christianity is culture-blind in its ability to point people to Christ. The universal truths in the gospel are relevant to all peoples. The question I then have to ask myself is: How willing am I to cross cultures to share the truth of the gospel?


At the same time, sometimes we can be overly comfortable with our own cultural forms of Christianity, whether through our choice of denomination, worship style, Bible translation, or ethnic group. This doesn't mean that we have to embrace everything at once, or go to a different church every week, but I do think this involves putting effort to understand different perspectives. There is a beauty to seeing the body of Christ come together in unity not in ignorance of difference, but in spite of it. Again, the question I have to ask myself is: How willing am I to cross cultures to understand different cultural forms of Christianity?


As I ask myself these questions, my hope is that we can all ask ourselves the same, and start to see a bigger picture of Christianity that we can labour together for.

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