Tuesday, May 1, 2012

epiphany in intercultural studies

That's me, age two, in my "aerocopter"in Inchon, Korea. My first venture across cultures, and I've been doing it ever since. You can do something so often you begin to feel like you know all about it. Growing up in a shame-based culture (Korea) and having a passport from a guilt-based culture (US), I thought I pretty much "got it." Even though I understood the difference, I didn't realize that the gospel needed to speak into that part of the culture, too.

I was all too aware, though, that western tidbits like the four spiritual laws just didn't communicate. If folks don't feel that their sin is all that terrible to keep them from God, they don't sense their need. I found this often when sharing with Muslims. They are simply trying to accumulate enough good things to outweigh the bad. Redemption isn't even part of the picture: I do my part, God does His.

But I've learned something and then added onto it and maybe, just maybe, this will help you share, too.

If you're acquainted with the guilt and shame based cultures, that helps. But there is a third culture and all three operate along a circular continuum. Along with guilt and shame, there are cultures controlled by fear.

Guilt-based cultures (like our western ones) ingrain a sense of personal guilt when one breaks the taboos, even if one does not get caught. So many are wracked by painful emotions brought on by disobeying the rules.

Shame-based cultures (like the middle eastern ones) make upholding the honor of the family (community) paramount and when someone is caught disgracing the group, retribution is swift and brutal.

Fear-based cultures (like many African ones) operate on a level which controls behavior through fear of spiritual forces which must constantly be appeased, often without understanding.

Most people operate primarily out of one of these models and have fringes of at least one of the other two. By hearing where a person is, we can have an idea of how to bring liberation to a broken heart.

The father of lies has utilized these cultural elements in his warfare against our race. He fills our heads with doubts which stem from our cultural heritages.

The guilt-based he tells: "You are a failure. You never will be good enough. But keep trying harder, because if you don't you'll never find peace." To those with stronger self-images he lies this way: "You are a very righteous person, you try hard, you have a great reputation and image. Keep up the good work, you're doing fine compared to the others."

The shame-based he tells: "You are shameful and unworthy, terribly unclean. But try to get ritually clean and stay that way so you will be able to do your prayers and give alms that will gain credit." To the more legalistic he says: "Wow, you are keeping all the rituals properly. You are impressive and ought to find secret ways to fulfill your private needs so that others won't be affected by your actions."

The fear-based he tells: "You are alone, an orphan, and no one loves you. You can depend on no one and there are evil ones out to get you. Find a safe place to hide and crawl into it or find some spirit to appease and manipulate for your own purposes." To those dependent on their own strength he says: "You cannot depend on anyone else, so you have to build a power base from which to operate and maintain your own strength regardless of the situation of any others. Do whatever it takes to get the powerful spirits on your side."

Amazingly, these models each reflect an unbalanced understanding of the Trinity. Each model tends to cling to a Person of the Trinity more than the others, and the lack of weight on the other two is serious when sharing the gospel.

Guilt-based Christians identify strongly with Jesus, the Son. They have a legal understanding of their sinfulness and He has paid their debt. He is one they pray to, trust in, adore, and are grateful to. They see their position as one of restored innocence or being forgiven.

Shame-based Christians identify strongly with the Father. Much like the father of the prodigal son, God the Father is willing to risk the shame of receiving back a disgraceful son and restoring him to family position. They have a familial understanding and appreciate the restoration of honor.

Fear-based Christians identify strongly with the Spirit. The Spirit is often perceived as a Comforter in the West, but many biblical passages show the Spirit as a Power. The Sword of the Spirit is an offensive weapon. These people see the importance of power encounters and trust in the spirits which manifest mightiest power, and the Holy Spirit is the One.

So, when we share our faith, we have to be careful what we communicate. There are three persons in the Godhead. One God. And He can reach into the needs and lies and make us all new. Let us be aware of how best to do that.


OldMommy said...

That was fascinating. Thank you.

Jerrene Watzel said...

Much food for thought, Karen. Trying to be good enough for heaven is profitless and brings no peace or joy. I hear it often though. "I hope my good deeds outweigh the bad." That's where Muslims and the western world are similar, seems to me. Now I would like to hear you talk about the different approaches in sharing the Gospel with these different mindsets.