Actually, I think I’ll stay tame for starters. Here is a piece of work (I can see the slams coming. Ha.) I did for a class on culture and ministry. As a bit of background, I had commented negatively on Volf’s language on culture but I was not rejecting Volf as a whole. In fact, I actually think Volf may be convinced about my argument if he ever stumbled across my blog. Wishful thinking! Enjoy.
I’m compelled to try to put down a few thoughts on culture.
First, I was not critiquing Volf. At the beginning of my discourse I mentioned quickly the desire to step back a bit and look at the overall picture. I mentioned that this was something I had been thinking about for some time but was inspired to look at it again in my reading of Volf. Volf doesn’t do anything differently than many others on the topic or frankly what I’m sure I’ve done on many occasions. During many conversations I’ve referenced the “culture of greed,” etc.
Second, my initial question was if there were any others (not just in the room but experts) who went down this road. If I’m alone in this way of thinking I have to seriously question it’s validity. Part of the reason for my search is to avoid the danger of term switching. I realize that I can not just make up my own definitions for things. If there are others, experts, who think this way, however, I may consider myself a bit more safe.
If there is no current distinction between culture and sin nature, should there be? We have such a vast array of words at our disposal because we want to communicate precisely.
Have we been using the term improperly the whole time? We do this with a number of words. If I said I was an aficionado of music I would be using aficionado incorrectly since one can only be an aficionado of some sort of sport according to the true definition.
What does it even mean to say that a country is greedy? Does it mean everyone in the country is greedy? If so, doesn’t that seem to be more of a sin nature issue than a cultural one? What if one person in the country is absolutely not greedy?
In my reading for this week it seemed as though Volf was dangerously close to siding with me. On page 70 he says, “Notice that the new center of the self is not a timeless “essence,” hidden deep within a human being, underneath the sediments of culture and history and untouched by “time and change,” an essence that waits only to be discovered, unearthed, set free.” He goes on to say that the center of the self is Jesus Christ, for Christians. This center, is beneath the culture and history. However, this new center has replaced something. I would argue that it has replaced the sin nature, not the culture.
I think of it as circles. The very center circle is either the sin nature or the nature of Christ. Outside of that circle Volf seems to think is the “sediments of culture and history.” Just like we don’t need to change history we don’t need to change culture because it’s the sin that so easily besets us.
Later on, on page 89 Volf talks about a “climate of evil” which I think follows my model. A climate of evil doesn’t carry the automatic guilt by association that a culture of evil does. A climate is perceived to be more external than a persons culture is.
Why is this all important? The main danger in not distinguishing culture from sin nature is that people will hear the message that we have to get rid of the culture and end up purging the neutral or good along with the sin. I discussed earlier that culture is neither good nor bad but neutral. Honestly, I think it can only be neutral. Our attitudes and actions that spring forth from culture may be good or evil but our culture itself is neutral.
I am leaning toward a definition of culture something like this (and I’m certain it needs a lot of work): Distinguishing characteristics of a group of people that are always neutral; never good nor evil in and of themselves.
My definition does not allow for anything that is universally good nor evil.
Culture in my definition can never include anything that is universally part of everyone’s sin nature. Culture, for me, are those elements that distinguish one group from another. To say America is a culture of greed is not distinguishing because everyone is greedy. If we say we have never had greed we lie. What if someone says that China doesn’t have the same culture of greed? I say they may not have the same level of greed but they do have greed. Greed is therefore universal and not culturally distinctive.
Most importantly, aside from all the discussion we can now have on the levels of sinfulness, one thing is true here that is not true of anything cultural. Sin is present in everyone everywhere. However, no matter how hard I try, I will never live long enough to embody every culture that ever was, is and will be.
The second reason for the importance of a distinction of culture and sin nature is the danger of blaming sin on my culture. With my definition that can never be done.
Finally, this is not as important as soteriology or worship or doctrines of servanthood.
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