FAITH NEWS SERVICE – When people move from one cultural system to another, they get caught in the dissonance created by the collision of the two systems for survival. Many are not aware of what is happening.
They have brought their own culture to the host situation, and it is not working for them. The host people wonder why they are so strange. Culture shock is a real possibility for these sojourners in a foreign land. But awareness can change all this.
A similar problem confronts Christians when they read the Bible or implement its teachings in their own culture. They do not realize the powerful influence of the original culture on the words and then of their own on their observations of the text or its application to their lives.
The results create a gap between God and their expression of Christianity. This is the crux of the discussion in this book. The journey may cause discomfort for some. It is a sensitive topic to talk about one’s own culture and its influence on us when all along, we thought we were in charge of our lives and preferences. It may give us a sort of reverse culture shock.
Western culture is one of the most challenging perspectives from which to see and grasp the intent of biblical truths. Its search for logical information, institutional survival, and Christian celebrities does not lend itself to trusting relationships central to the biblical message.
The English language, shaped by this culture, is highly in contrast to Middle Eastern ways of thinking, reasons for communication, and views of people. The typical reader does not allow the text to change their individualist view of themselves but rather reads it through individualist eyes that often filter out what God intends for them.
The result is a highly developed superficial Western Christianity with what is believed to be the information but often misses the meaning and personal engagement with God intended. That leaves a Gap Between God and Christianity.
The Gap Between God and Christianity comes out of decades of observing Western Christianity in the United States and Europe and non-Western Christianity in Africa, Korea, and Native America and years of teaching applied cultural anthropology and intercultural communication. Through it all, I became deeply concerned for today’s churches, Christian schools, and mission agencies.
We have ignored this enormous influence of culture, and ours has played tricks on us, invading our way of thinking about God, godliness, and ministry. It is time to close the gap.
This book speaks to the interference of our Western culture in reading and responding to God’s Word. Until recent times, Christians have not paid attention to the effects of culture on people, especially their own on them.
But this has been our error and weakness as Western people in understanding ourselves and others in the world around us. A further result is that we have neglected to see that reading the Bible is a cross-cultural experience, and we are ill-prepared for it. The Gap Between God and Christianity opens our understanding of the influence of our culture when we read the Bible.
We have a Western prescription in our cultural lenses, helping us interpret our experience and communication in our own situation but distorting the meaning of experience and communication in other cultures, including the Bible. If we let it, it creates a gap between us and God’s intentions for us in His Word. Although it is a sort of high treason to talk about culture’s influence on us individualists, it is time we met God on his own terms and let him speak for himself.
The Gap Between God and Christianity helps us cross the chasm.
“Because all ministry is intercultural, The Gap Between God and Christianity has a foundational and fundamental message for all Christian workers at home and abroad: know first who you are. Why? So that you don’t superimpose your culture on the Biblical cultures or the host culture. Forged out of the crucible of cross-cultural ministry in numerous cultures, the reader can expect to find informed ways to ‘let God be God.’ Don’t overlook this jewel.” —Tom Steffen, Biola University, emeritus.
“This book is a rich and needed cultural critique of American conservative Christianity, by a lifelong member of that community who has served half of his life as a foreign missionary, and the other half as a seminary professor. . . . Stallter concludes that cultural expectations, theological systems, and personal needs filter American views of Scripture and God, with the result that we ‘know a lot about self-assertion but little about humility and, therefore, little of the fear of God.” —Sherwood G. Lingenfelter, Fuller Theological Seminary, emeritus.
“Tom Stallter has faithfully and pointedly served those of us who comprise his Euro-North American audience. Building on his extensive international experience and painstaking scholarly pursuits, Stallter offers here not only a penetrating critique of our enslaving Western individualism but—perhaps even more importantly—constructive pointers toward living freely as followers of Jesus Christ. Stallter’s analysis of our skewed notion of ‘conscience’ is only one of several enlightening discussions that push us to ‘let God be God.’” —J. Nelson Jennings, Mission Pastor, Onnuri Church, S. Korea
“Thomas Stallter has provided the church an extremely valuable tool to help understand the role culture has played in the initial giving of God’s revelation, the subsequent understanding of that revelation throughout the ages, and the communication of that revelation by Christians across cultures. This understanding enables us to “let God be God within our cultural frame of reference’ and avoid the ‘intrusion of self between God and us.’” —John R. Lillis, Pacific Theological Seminary