Consciousness One Two Three

Harvie Conn wrote the book. Eternal Word and Changing Worlds: Theology, Anthropology, and Mission in Trialogue back in 1984, based on lectures he gave at Fuller Theological Seminary. It has been noted by multiple people, that Conn was limited by a tendency to use rather unclear language. That is one reason I have tended to like the work of Paul Hiebert. He often did much better in making complicated concepts… well… less complicated.

However, one strength of this book is thatapplication-communication2 although written in 1984, it does appear a bit prescient in identifying some trends that have continued to develop over the last 30 years.

Conn chose terms Consciouness One, Consciousness Two, and Consciousness Three. Frankly, I did not feel they were explained well, but they seemed to point to generally valuable insights in the rlationship between theology and anthropology (as well as mission).

Below is how I tried to explain these three concepts to my students. If someone says “Bob, you got that completely wrong,” I would welcome correction, as long as you can make it clear…

————————————————————–

Consciousness 1. Ethnocentric Mindset. A non-Western culture is seen as a “Disease to be Cured.” Non-Western arts were commonly seen as devilish. Missionary work is seen both as an attempt to Share the Gospel, and to “Civilize” (bring in line with Western culture). In fact, it was difficult for many to separate the Christian faith from Western culture. Three reasons for this difficulty:

  • Western culture was assumed to be the highest culture, and the “most Christian.”

  • Other cultures were seen as lower cultures, and bringing them in line with Western culture was seen as aligning them with the Christian faith.

  • Commonly those of other cultures were also deemed to be lower– both intellectually and morally.

Mission work was seen as sharing the gospel in non-Western lands, because the Western world had “already been reached.” Because of this Americans and Europeans are active missionaries, and other peoples are to be passive receivers of the message.

Christianity will always look foreign to people from non-Western cultures.

Consciousness 2. Indigenization Mindset. There is now no necessary presumption that the West has all of the answers. Rather different cultures are legitimate. Christianity may exist in a different culture through appropriate TRANSLATION of the message and theology from the West.

Religion is seen more positively in a culture (Consciousness 1 tends to see religion as a problem… both by secularists and even by Christian missionaries). However, there is a tendency to see culture as made of of individual institutions… including religion. Therefore, to transform culture means to replace (indigenize) those things that need changing, and leaving alone those things that don’t.

Greater focus is placed on plurality of cultures (rather than “cultured” versus “uncultured.”) Also greater recognition that cultures and languages are fluid… changing.

There is a recognition of “Contextual Theologies,” but often see them as existing in local competition of sorts to “Real Theology,” based on the presumption that the theological formulations of Europe and America are in some sense supra-cultural.

While cultures are more respected in Consciousness 2, the agenda still is primarily driven by the West, in terms of theology and missions.

Consciousness 3. Contextual Mindset. Harvie Conn never really defined this one well. He focused on problems in the early 1980s and what he hoped would change.

Not only are there many cultures, and they exist dynamically, but each exist holistically. That is, one can’t just break the culture apart into different components or institutions. Religion is an integrated with the culture, not a separate part.

All theology is contextual. There is no such thing as supracultural theology, only well-contextualized theology and poorly-contextualized theology.

The translation model of of theologizing and ministry is inadequate because it is uni-directional. Rather, there needs to be dialogue between cultures, as well as tri-logue between theology, anthropology, and mission.

Different contextual theologies (and expressions of faith) are challenged by the canon of Scripture. But different contextual theologies need to be in dialogue– challenging each other and allowing the possibility of learning from each other.

Missions is now a whole world task to the whole world.

 

Advertisements

The “Fish” Model of Project-based Outreaches

A model for doing not only medical missions, but many forms of short-term projects (partnered with a long-term ministerial presence) looks a bit like a fish (or an ICHTHUS if you prefer). It is based somewhat on the model used for CPM (Church-Planting Multiplication). The same basic principle can be utilized.

Visioning/Organizing

Rapid Seed Sowing

Filtering

Consolidating

Expansion

This comes from my book “Principles and Practices of for Healthy Christian Medical Missions: Seeking the Church’s Role for Effective Community Outreach in the Philippines and Beyond”

ICHTHUS

A: The idea of a medical mission comes to one person or a small group, and there is the decision to attempt to move forward with the idea.

B. This is the team-building phase. Buy-in is developed within the community and with outside help. Partnerships are developed and plans are worked out.

C. Others are told about the mission. The community is invited and the outside team supporters are told and encouraged to pray and help in tangible ways. Eventually a maximum number of people are involved as the entire community (ideally) is involved or invited, and the outside team is sent off.

D. This describes those involved in the medical missions. This number is smaller because not everyone who is invited actually comes. In the Philippines approximately half to 2/3s of those invited actually come (at least in rural areas).

E. This describes those who respond to the Gospel based on assent. In some cultures, this assent is to the Gospel (expressed perhaps in saying the “sinner’s prayer,”) In some cultures, such as the Philippines, this sort of response may be made without any real conviction. As such it may not be the most useful guide for follow-up. However, it is important to keep records of all who attended and all who made this decision.

F. It is also useful to find a narrower filtering of those who come. This may be with a desire for Bible Study, or for home visitation. In the Philippines, for example, many will express an interest to “pray to receive Christ” as a way of expressing gratitude for the medical care provided. However, there is no such feeling of debt to agree to a Bible Study (for example) so it is often a better guide for community spiritual response.

G. After the medical mission, the hosts can do follow-up. They would probably start with Group F as priority, then to Group E, and finally Group D. However, in all likelihood those who actually act on their spoken decision will be smaller than the other groups. So for example, in the case of a Bible Study, one may have hundreds attend the medical mission, with dozens responding in faith, and perhaps 2 or 3 dozen desiring a Bible study. Of these, perhaps 10 or 15 actually respond. These can be put into 1 Bible study, or perhaps 2 growth groups, or maybe a handful of accountability groups.

H. It is from the core group G that growth will occur with multiplication of small groups, or development of house churches, or creation of a church, or whatever.

Our Racist Church

segregation

I am going to start with religion, not race… but I think it comes together. A few weeks ago, there was a seminar here on Christians reaching out to Muslims, particularly in sharing their faith. An interesting statistic was brought up. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but relationship of the numbers makes exactness unnecessary. A survey was done in the United States with Muslims who had converted to Christianity. The main question was what led them to embrace the Christian faith. There were several reasons given. The top three (given in no particular order) were:

  • Miraculous signs
  • Revelatory dreams
  • Love expressed to them by Christians

If one wants to shove things into the Encounter Model, Miraculous Signs and (to a lesser extent Revelatory Dreams)  could be seen as Power Encounter, while the third one could be labeled Love Encounter. It is not surprising that Truth Encounter wasn’t really on the list… almost no one changes religion due to arguments. Apologetics is more to comfort the faithful than to confound the opposition. I was well aware that dreams are seen as a powerful motivator for Muslims to convert. I had a copy of the DVD “More than Dreams” until it disappeared— like a dream. I have heard some suggest that Muslims will only convert through Power Encounters (clearly well-schooled in “Charles Kraft” theology). What made the survey interesting was the extent to which the statistics contradicted that assumption. The number of people who converted through Love Encounter was more than 4 times greater than those who converted by Power Encounter.

You know, that should be awfully exciting!! If we want to reach out to  people of other world faiths, or different cultures or races, we have real hope of eternal impact by expressing Christian love to them.

But there is a problem…

Christians are not all that good at expressing Christian love to people who are unlike themselves. (Frankly, Christians are not all that good at expressing Christian love to people who are quite similar to themselves– as evidenced by the ridiculous interdenominational and intradenominational squabbles we see). The Syrian refugee crisis is a case in point, where so many Christians have sought governmental policies that would perclude even the opportunity to express Christian love, on any level, for this national-ethnic group.

There have been all sorts of studies over the last several decades attempting to determine whether being religious makes one more prejudiced or less prejudiced (regarding race, or any other grouping). Much of the studies were done in the United States, so much of the data can also help to determine whether being more religiously (American-style) Christian makes one more or less prejudiced.

The results? Mixed. I will have to point you to Angela Sabates’ book “Social Psychology in Christian Perspective” since it really gets too complicated to boil down in a way that is both accurate and simple. In chapter 8 there is a section on this very issue. Lots of factors were added in, including the reason for one’s religiosity, or the intensity of the person’s faith. In the end, it seems like the more religious one is, there is a slight tendency to be more prejudiced than one who is less religious.

So let’s put this into perspective for a moment, and then apply it to Christians. The typical non-religious person is, frankly, a bigot. He will identify himself by a number of labels or groups that establish a complex set of dualities– US versus THEM. He will tend to attach positive traits to those he identifies as being in the US side of the duality, and more negative traits to those on the THEM side.

So if we acknowledge that non-religious people are bigots, we then must face the uncomfortable truth that it is likely that devout Christians are even more bigoted.

Why is this? Paul said that in Christ, there is no Greek nor Barbarian, Jew nor Gentile, Male or Female. Seems clear enough within the church. Jesus said that we are to love everyone, even our enemies… that includes everyone else. And the Imago Dei in Genesis 1 seemingly would erase any more questions about race. But problems remain. Why is that? I don’t think saying that it is due to sin is really enough. Presumably (hopefully at least) devout Christians are not more sinful than the non-religious. Since the psychological studies don’t give clear-cut answers, here are a few tentative thoughts.

  1.  Many devout Christians see answers in the past, rather than the present or the future. Many idealize other times. Despite the warning of Ecclesiastes 7:10, many Christians see an absence of today’s problems in the past… whether it is the New Testament (first century) church, or it is the 1950s, the 1780s, or the 1620s. Why would this matter? Well, with the exception of the first century church, where racism was a major concern, the other times in history did not prioritize racism. Many Christians during this time both practiced and defended systematic racism. So for example, if one thinks that things were wonderful in the 1950s and different races related to each other just fine by staying on different sides of the railroad tracks and attending different schools, then racism is not really a concern.
  2. Some Christians misunderstand the Biblical metaphors. A number of dualistic metaphors are used in the Bible, such as the Narrow Gate vs Wide Gate, The Way of Life vs the Way of Destruction, and Children of God vs … those who are not. While useful metaphors, they can be easily confused with the cultural tendency to create US vs THEM… and from there to prejudices of various forms. After all, if we are the US in church, who are the THEM? Typically, they are “the Lost,” “The Unrepentant,” and “Sinners.” The same issue applies towards the War metaphors in the Bible. In war, who are the THEM? The Enemy. Many Christians like the War metaphors to describe their attitude to dealing with the world. War stigmatizes and divides, and it is not surprising if Christians forget that we do not war against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12-13). Misusing metaphors can often lead to stigmatizing others, and it is a small leap from there to all different forms of prejudices.
  3. Many Christians confuse their Christian faith with Nationalism. I see this problem a LOT in the USA. But it can happen elsewhere as well. I say this with a bit of caution, because I have many friends who are wonderful people in so many ways, but take their honor of and duty to country to rather… ummm… disturbing ends.  (Google “cross and american flag images” if you doubt this.) Strong nationalism tends to breed strong prejudices.
  4. Religion is the biggest institution in America, the Philippines, and many other countries that has resisted racial integration. Tony Evans has stated that in the United States, Sunday Morning is the most segregated time of the week. Some of this comes from very active and intentional racism. Some on the other hand flows more passively from Protestant values of Individualism and Voluntary Religion, as opposed a parish or community understanding of the church.  In the end, the result is the same, that churches, unlike schools, government, military, and business has maintained the right (and tendency) to segregate. Is that wrong? Hard to say, but a survey of military personnel will to some extent demonstrate the influence of how the military operates. In the same light, a survey of church members is likely to reflect how churches operate.
  5. Poor Theological Anthropology. While many Christians may look to the church and to the Bible for a clear understanding of God and salvation, they often go to culture for an understanding of humanity. I teach cultural anthropology and recognize considerable value in it. But there is much to be gained from theological anthropology. Interestingly, although many Christians have problems with prejudice and racism, even those who would describe themselves as devout, it has been found that those who  are “orthodox”– theologically, biblically grounded– in their Christian faith do have less of a problem with prejudice/racism.

So what to do? Not fully sure, but some obvious things would be to:

  • Confess to God and others our sub-biblical understanding of mankind. Related to this, we need to take Theological Anthropology more seriously, to see Mankind as God made it. (At risk of annoying some people, the move in different parts of the world for the so-called “Biblical Manhood” and “Biblical Womanhood” appears to be more of a tug-of-war with culture (pulling towards an idealized cultural past, and pushing against a less-than-ideal present) rather than a theologically integrative understanding of God’s revelation as to the nature of Men and Women.
  • Stop making things worse. I am not against Ethnic Churches, and in some locations they have provided a strong sense of support and community where there was and is oppression from the outside. Additionally, as noted by many, people prefer to worship in their own language and in their own context. That being said, there are downsides. Consider this– I know a churchplanter who establishes ethnic (single race) churches. He does it by finding Christians of that ethnicity who are active and integrated members of multicultural churches and convincing to leave to join the new homogeneous church. I must say that I have problems with that. If multi-ethnic multi-lingual worship is described, and extolled, in Revelation 9, it seems like it should be seen something not to reverse. Churches should learn how to embrace those who join regardless of their ethnic background. If a church is not ready to actively reach out to other ethnicities, at the very least they should LEARN to passively accept and then to embrace those who come in. When my wife and I were in Virginia, there was a church in town that most of the Filipino Protestants attended. My wife is a Filipina, and if she really wanted that, I would have gone along. But instead we attended an almost completely “White” church. Despite its lack of diversity, she was not only welcomed but seen as a potential asset to the church.
  • Embrace dialogue and an ecumenical view. For many Evangelicals, “dialogue” and “ecumenicism” are ugly words. They point to a weak, wishy-washy, lowest common denominator type of relationship. But that understanding of those terms developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We no longer live in that time period, We can grow up. The view from the 60s and 70s is due to the problem they had with dualism. If we are seeking to interact with others and talk with them while still maintaining a strong US versus THEM dichotomy, the common solution is to find some sort of common ground, while ignoring differences.  But properly done, ecumenical dialogue is creative and accepts and wrestles with differences, rather than white-washing them. Connect with others of other denominations, and with people from other ethnicities and nationalities. It is an enlivening experience.

None of this is easy. I am a member of two separate churches separated by 12 timezones. One of them was racially integrated over 160 years ago, but being in a “slave state” in the United States, there were deep inequities underlying the integration. After  the American Civil War, the church became segregated as African-American members formed their own separate church. That might be seen as healing at the time, but it has taken over a century to work towards a multi-racial church of equals. I am also a member of an intentionally multi-ethnic church here in the Philippines. It is far from perfect. But it does see its strength and unity coming from its diversity. That is not such a bad place to start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herodotus and Monumental Hubris

Herodotus (born around 485BC) was a Greek traveler and chronicler of stories. He was quite open to sharing tall tales… intermixed with solid history. In his book “An Account of Egypt” Herodotus recounts his conversation with Egyptian priests. In that account, the priests tell the story of the building of the great pyramids of Giza, especially the pyramid of Cheops (aka Pharaoh Khufu, 2589–2566 BC)  gpgoodshot

According to the priests, Cheops was a heretic and a tyrant.

“Egypt was excellently governed and very prosperous; but his successor Cheops (to continue the account which the priests gave me) brought the country into all sorts of misery. He closed all the temples, then, not content with excluding his subjects from the practice of their religion, compelled them without exception to labor as slaves for his own advantage. Some were forced to drag blocks of stone from the quarries in the Arabian hills to the Nile, where they were ferried across and taken over by others, who hauled them to the Libyan hills. The work went on in three-monthly shifts, a hundred thousand men in a shift. It took ten years of this oppressive slave-labor to build the track along which the blocks were hauled– a work, in my opinion, of hardly less magnitude than the pyramid itself, for it is five furlongs in length, sixty feet wide, forty-eight feet high at its highest point, and constructed of polished stone blocks decorated with carvings of animals.”

The story goes on as far as the extravagance of the pyramid for his own sepulchre and pride. According to the priests, he even had his daughter prostitute herself to get more blocks of stone for the pyramid. (Yes, this sounds more than a bit apocryphal… though not impossible.) According to Herodotus, between the reign of Cheops and his son, the temples were closed for 106 years. This is most likely an exaggeration, but regardless suggests a great audacity and lack of concern for the people. The Egyptians of old were highly religious. This religion manifested itself in concerns for the future, and the sacrificial system and rituals maintained by the priests gave the people a sense of hope and control over what lay ahead. The shutting down of the temples, and shifting of all forms of labors to building a necropolis to himself, arguably suggests that Cheops saw himself more than simply being part of the divine cycle of Egyptian theology. He was, rather, above and more important than the pantheon. It also suggests that his own well-being, especially in the afterlife, was more important than the well-being of the entire population of Egypt. There has been a disagreement as to whether the pyramids were built by slaves or by freemen. The story of Herodotus suggests a mediated position. The workers were commonly not slaves in a legal sense, but served as slaves in a practical sense as conscripts.

Herodotus goes on to speak of Cheops and his son Chephren:

“The Egyptians can hardly bring themselves to mention the names of Cheops and Chephren, so great is their hatred of them; they even call the pyramids after Philitis, a shepherd who… fed his flocks in the neighborhood. The next king of Egypt after Chephren was Mycerinus, the son of Cheops. Mycerinus, reversing his father’s policy of which he did not approve, reopened the temples and allowed his subjects, who had been brought into such abject slavery, to resume the practice of their religion and their normal work. Of all kings who ruled in Egypt he had the greatest reputation for justice in the decision of legal causes, and for this the Egyptians give him higher praise than any other monarch; for apart from the general equity of his judgments, he used to compensate out of his own property any man who was dissatisfied with the result of his suit, and so leave him with nothing to complain of…”

Diodorus Siculus (90-30BC) was a Sicilian historian who added to the stories of monuments in Egypt.

“It is generally agreed that these monuments [the pyramids] far surpass all other constructions in Egypt, not only in their massiveness and cost but also in the skill displayed by their builders. And they say that the architects of the monuments are more deserving of admiration than the kings who furnished the means for their execution; for in bringing their plans to completion the former called upon their individual souls and their zeal for honor, but the latter only used the wealth which they had inherited and the grievous toil of other men.”

There is something rather refreshing in the Egyptians’ attitude. Despite granting divinity to their rulers (which is quite a thing to grant), they found ways to undermine their leaders’ hubris. For Cheops and Chephren future leaders avoided using their names, and referred to their pyramids by the shepherd who lived in the vicinity. They also noted that the architects and the workers were more deserving of praise than those that sought praise by forcing others to design and build these structures for themselves. For Pharaoh Mycerinus, who also had a (smaller) pyramid built for himself, he is given praise two millennia later, not for his monuments, but for his compassion and justice for his people.

It is rather a shame that we lack such wisdom today. Even in Christian circles (or perhaps ESPECIALLY in Christian circles) we commonly feed the hubris of those who seek to build monuments to their own gods… themselves.

In line with that, I will offer two bits of literature

tumblr_inline_nsk9pchoc81sfjjkp_1280

Stature Fragment of Ramesses II in the British Museum

on Ozymandias (Ramses II). The first is Diodorus (again), and the second is the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

“Ten stades from the first tombs… in which, according to tradition are buried the concubines of Zeus, stands a monument of the king known as Osymandyas… beside the entrance are three statues, each of a single block of black stone from Syene, of which one, that is seated, is the largest of any in Egypt, the foot measuring over seven cubits, while the other two at the knees of this, the one on the right and the other on the left, daughter and mother respectively, are smaller than the one first mentioned. And it is not merely for its size that this work merits approbation, but it is also marvelous by reason of its artistic quality and excellent because of the nature of the stone, since in a block of so great a size there is not a single crack or blemish to be seen. The inscription upon it runs: “King of Kings am I, Osymandyas. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.”

Ozymandias
I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

<The quotes, except for the poem by Shelley were from Herodotus and Diodorus, as quoted by Leonard Cottrell, The Horizon Book of Lost Worlds, 1962, starting around page 288.>

 

 

 

 

The More Difficult Task

A relevant question that could come up here is which is more difficult? Is it harder to to make theology relevant to a community, or faithful to God’s Word. At first glance, it may seem that it really depends on the person. For example, an untrained person who is fully enculturated (born into) culture “B” would be quite well-suited to providing a relevant theology– but one that is likely to be not true to God’s Word.

On the other hand, a seminary student enculturated and trained in culture “A” could be reasonably thought to be able to provide a theology that is true to God’s word, but is not relevant in culture “B.” But this is a mistake.

Consider the following figure.   While there are some definite limitations to this figure, it does show a couple of things fairly well. Culture “A” has within it a number of theologies that are relevant to it. The same is true of Culture “B.” Overlapping God’s Revelation with it, creates smaller regions. God’s Word as canon, provides a standard or limiter of what is acceptable to God. theologies culture

Region 1 is Theology that is well-contextualized to Culture A. It is relevant to the culture and is faithful to God’s revelation. Region 2, is a culture “A” that is conformed to or fulfilled through God’s Word. Similarly, Regions 4 and 3 are well-contextualized theology and fulfilled culture with respect to culture “B.”

But, of course, these are not all of the options. Region 7 is Culture “A” that is not conformed to God’s Word, and Region 8 is the similar situation for Culture “B.” Regions 5 and 6 are Theologies that are not conformed to God’s Word in Cultures “A” and “B,” respectively.

For a new believer enculturated in Culture “B,” poorly versed in God’s Word, it is much more likely that a theology developed by him (or her) would not properly be conformed to God’s Revelation. That is why Region 6 is shown as much larger than Region 4… God’s Word provides a limitation on all theologies that may be seen as relevant to that culture. It is much easier, and more likely, for this person to develop a theology that is relevant, but heterodox, and work towards developing a sub-culture that fails to be fulfilled by God’s Word.

For a seminarian enculturated in Culture “A” and trained in theology from that culture, the challenge is different but no less challenging. The seminarian would be challenged considerably in ministering in Culture “B.” He (again, or she… but I will use he here for simplicity of language) will be tempted to simply transport his theology over based on the presumption that it is the “correct” theology. The same struggle will occur with culture. He will be tempted to simply see the culture of his upbringing and training as the correct culture… and teach it. Unfortunately, the culture brought will seem foreign to the potential respondents, and the theology is likely to not deal with the situation of people in Culture “B.”

But suppose that the seminary graduate does intentionally seek to contextualize. He will be hit by two major limitations.

Limitation #1. His relative ignorance of Culture “B” will make it hard to find a Biblically sound, relevant theology (Region 4). It is a target easier to miss than to hit.

Limitation #2. His relative ignorance of God’s Revelation. One might assume that the seminarian is well-versed in Scripture. But he is versed in God’s revelation as it applies to his own culture (or sub-culture). God’s revelation is much greater than that.

(You may now be noting why I sort of apologized for this figure earlier. Overlapping contextual theologies, cultures, and God’s revelation is sort like overlapping varieties of apples with different forms of government– they are different types of things. Still, I hope that the relationships of the regions can make sense on some level.)

But which limitation is greater for the seminary graduate? It is the second one. Spending time in Culture “B” will gradually reveal the nuances of the culture… and subtleties that are beyond him can be filled in by host believers eventually. However, the expansion of one’s understanding of God’s Revelation to the point that it is clearly seen as it relates to a different culture is much harder. One might even suggest that without the Holy Spirit’s illumination, the task would be impossible.

An Example from the Bible

A.  As the Israelites escaped from Egypt, they eventually arrived at Mt. Sinai. There Moses went up to commune with God, while the Isrealites and the other non-Israelits who had escaped with them waited. When Moses failed to come down from the mountain after a long time, the people feared and asked Aaron to deal with the situation. In Exodus 32, Aaron makes an altar and a golden calf. Why would he do this?

In Egypt, the bull is sacred, and so he may have been drawing answers from the culture he was raised in (heterodox theology from culture A). On the other hand, knowing that they are heading to Canaan, where the bull is a symbol of Baal, “the local god,” this may have been a heterodox theology seeking relevance in culture B.

Before one get’s too critical, it must be noted that there are considerable similarities between orthodox Israelite Theology (as guided by the Mosaic Law) and Egyptian theology. According to Herodotus (The Horizon Book of Lost Worlds, by Leonard Cotrell, page 288ff), the Egyptians:

  • Practiced circumcision

  • Had a priesthood

  • Practice rites of cleanliness

  • Had rules regarding “clean” and “unclean” foods

  • Had animal sacrifice with requirements that the animals are unblemished.

  • Maintained rules of endogamy

In Egypt, the Bull was sacred to Apis, a god popularly worshiped in Memphis (Egypt) and often seen as a go-between of man and the higher gods. It is hardly surprising that Aaron might go in that direction. In Exodus 32:6, part of the worship was to “play,” suggesting the sexual activities associated with the Canaanite faith. This sympathetic magic was tied to fertility of families as well as the land. Apis, in Egypt, was also often seen as a god of fertility.

Aaron, with limited understanding of God’s will, made a pretty good attempt at guessing what God would want based on his understanding of Egyptian culture, and perhaps his limited understanding of Canaanite culture. It wasn’t all that hard.

But he was still wrong. It took God’s Word, coming through Moses, to clarity what God expected of them. The result was something that would “make sense” to most of the people, while still deeply challenging them to change.

Interestingly, God’s revelation to Moses actually was not simply to one culture, but to two. The revelation was to Israel, a nomadic people– but also to Israel, a sedentary people.

B.  In the New Testament, we find the Apostles and church leaders struggling with the issue of how God’s revelation would apply to non-Jews. The Apostles and church leaders would be seen as well-versed in Scripture, as well as the words of Jesus. Yet, they truly struggled with this. The Jerusalem Council was where this was dealt with as a body. The action of the Holy Spirit helped to sway the body to the understanding that Greeks do not have to become Jews to become Christians. Even after the council, however, struggles remained, as seen in differences between Paul’s understanding and the council decision (there is no indication at least that Paul rejected the eating of blood for Gentiles). It is also seen in the Epistle to the Galatians (if one accepts that that letter was written after the Jerusalem Council), where people who were apparently well-versed in the Hebrew Bible differed considerably from Paul and the Apostles in its application to Greeks.

Knowing Scripture is not enough. It is a huge challenge to understand Scripture to see its relevance and application in a different culture than one’s own. In truth, understanding a different culture is “the easy part.”