Transforming Culture Sherwood Lingenfelter the Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

"Be not conformed to this world" means that while we have to live in it, we do not have to believe in it or be led by it. We cannot free ourselves completely from the influence of culture (we live within it, after all), but we can achieve a high degree of insight about it. We can learn to let our lives be guided by God and thus be free-er than those people whose lives are guided by cultural assumptions, norms, practices, opinions, attitudes, and moral standards. Those people who are influenced and guided by the often conflicting forces of culture, without the mitigating guidance of Christianity, are the most enslaved. Jesus described them as "like sheep not having a shepherd." An extreme example of cultural enslavement is middle-eastern youths who grow up to become suicide bombers. They absorb from their culture the idea that they can be heroes by dying for a just and noble cause. In contrast, pilgrim life, although it takes place in a cultural context, is not culture-driven; it is gospel driven or God-directed.

Lingenfelter shows with a number of examples how the underlying values and assumptions of the social game we are coming from may pose obstacles to evangelizing. Particularly, our assumptions about the value of property which spring directly from our Western culture may hinder us in our relationships with the people we hope to evangelize. He councils us to depend on God for supply, as Jesus directed, and give up cultural pressures to own property, save money, and maintain the social status which goes with them. If we find it terribly difficult to live by the scriptural command to "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you," it is because we have been brainwashed by our culture that it is dangerous to give too much or depend on God for sustenance. Giving does not impoverish us; neither does withholding enrich.

To know this and depend on it can be tremendously freeing, whether practiced at home or abroad in the missionary field. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17) is a reassurance that God will, indeed, supply us at all times and in all places with all we need. It is important to remember that supply is not always money. When we place our reliance on God as the source of all good, we are freed from the fear of losing everything, being taken advantage of, being sued, being poverty stricken, etc. And we don't have to spend a lot of time maintaining property, preserving its value, and keeping things running if we don't have it in the first place. Adopt a simple lifestyle! Then, we are free to do the work God calls us to do.

Work and how it is conducted is another area that varies from culture to culture and reflects social structure. The author cites examples in the Bible of each of the four social games. For example, Nehemiah takes on the job of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem in a culture of work that is organized along hierarchical lines. He plays the "hierarchist game" to get the job done. Jacob and Laban who compete with each other as sheep herders reflects an individualist game. Jacob's youngest son Joseph, on the other hand, works within an authoritarian / bureaucratic structure for Pharoah. In the New Testament we find the disciples organizing themselves after Jesus is gone around egalitarian principles in which unity and collective interests are paramount.

Thus, it follows that Christian missionaries should seek to find out the social game of a new culture and work within it, rather than try to make the culture conform to a social game that the missionary prefers. The Bible does not state one particular social game or world view is better than another. Christians are supposed to be pilgrims and work within the structure that they find. It follows that pilgrims at home, too, (such as teachers and counselors, for example) with missions to accomplish need to recognize and understand the characteristics of whatever social game is being played by the people they hope to help. We aren't supposed to change the social structure. We are supposed to bring Christ Jesus into the mix and let his holy influence accomplish whatever changing needs to be done.

Examples of all four prototype social games are again found in the Bible as underlying structures of family life, marriage, and child-parent relationships. Jesus' family, for example, can be seen as hierarchist/corporate in which the father has authority, family activities are regulated by Jewish law, and the eldest son inherits the estate. Jacob and Esau, another example, show individualist family structures where the two brothers were competitors, as were Jacob and his father-in-law Laban also. There is no single Biblical model for family relationships and no particular family structure is endorsed by God.

Family units (even big families) are small social units. The goal of family organization is always the survival of individual members. Children learn in the family how to live in the greater culture. The family reproduces the structures and values of their social environment. Success and failure of its activities (feedback) will also lead family members to change their values and attitudes. The family is thus an adaptive structure which allows members to survive and perpetuate themselves.

Lingenfelter believes that by understanding family structure in the context of social games, we can predict what a family's problems (or sins) will be, since particular structures lead to particular weaknesses. As we noted before, Jacob's family, for example, was organized on individualist lines. Each member behaved in a manner calculated to enhance self-interest. Deception for personal gain was common. "The end justifies the means" seems to express the ethic behind Jacob's financial practices (stealing his brother's birthright, breeding his father-in-law's sheep to increase his own, etc.). This kind of amoral behavior is typical in individualist families who try to function without Christ. Likewise, in hierarchical families property may become all too important, and parents may teach their children to avoid showing tenderness or compassion. In authoritarian families discipline may become more important than love. In egalitarian families where the good of the group is paramount, conformity may be taken to the extreme. Children, for example, may be forced to marry or to break up their marriages when they do not advance parental interests.

When it comes to families, each social game may produce its own form of oppression and abuses. For a more spiritual view Lingenfelter suggests that we use Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son (which takes place in a hierarchist family) and recreate the story in each of the other three social games. What would the son want in each of the other three structures? How would the older brother respond? In Jesus story, the father met the behavior of both sons with love. How would a father's love be manifested in the other social games?

Success in every avenue of life depends, not upon leadership or the adoption of a particular social game, but on respect for God and faithful service to Him. Only God can deliver us from evil. Not kings, governments, or armies. When we start to place our faith in cultural systems and human leaders, instead of God, this is idolatry. We need to be careful that we don't idolize our own ways of doing things and try to carry our own social system into other cultures. The message of the Cross is death to the things of the world, including our own cultural assumptions. We change the world and transform culture first, by setting an example of love, faith, patience and hope -- by loving people. Second, when we bring the good news of the gospel to others, their lives, their hearts, are transformed. They begin to express the Holy Spirit and to love everyone they come in contact with. Jesus described this lifting of human consciousness into spirituality as similar to yeast raising bread. A small amount of yeast (a metaphor for truth) gradually lifts the whole of human consciousness. The lifting occurs one person at a time until the "whole" is leavened.

We don't have to travel far from home to do this. Look around. "The fields are ripe for…

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