Inculturation vs Acculturation

Here’s a sober caution for the Emerging Church Movement. Writing on inculturation Aylward Shorter notes:

“Our first task in approaching another people, another culture…is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy.” So wrote Max Warren, Secretary of the Church Missionary Society from 1942-1963. As we have seen, human cultures are vehicles of divine truth and theatres of God’s salvific action. Like Moses before the burning bush, we must take off our shoes. Cultures must be respected. Disrespect for culture is an abuse of a human right and not even evangelization can ignore this obligation. The transformation of culture that is worked by evangelisation should lead to its enhancement, not its diminishment.

A common form of disrespect for culture is to refuse to take it seriously as a coherent and whole system of images and values. Instead, an eclectic, “pick and mix” approach is adopted, whereby cultural elements are lifted from the culture and inserted incongruously into otherwise culturally foreign contexts. This happens, for example, when African cultural elements are incorporated in a liturgical celebration that is otherwise entirely western in character. This is acculturation, or the borrowing of disparate elements, but it is not inculturation.

Hmm. Pick n Mix not true inculturation? Methinks we need more than sampling and iPod shuffling to enculturate into postmodernity too.

Take note also about his comments on ascendant Christologies amongst African nature religionists. I trust you’ll be able to join the dots as to how this applies to Nature Religions and Earth-orientated spiritualities in the West. If not … well you can always ask.

2 thoughts on “Inculturation vs Acculturation

  1. Matt, thanks for the interaction and posts on the topics of contextualization and Christology related to emerging church and missional church concepts. I appreciate your distinction between differing emphases on ascending vs. descending Christologies. N. T. Wright has provided a helpful corrective on evangelical tendencies toward descending Christologies that overemphasize Christ’s deity (in my view) in contrast to his humanity. It would seem better to start with the human aspect, as did the early church, before moving to a higher Christology, with differing emphases determined by the people groups one is working with.
    I also appreciate the link to Radical Congruency you provided on Christology, missiology, and ecclesiology. I posted a comment on this related to the question of “non-missional contextualization” on my blog for folks that might be interested.


  2. Thanks for your comments John. I also want to make it clear for other readers that I am not proposing ‘ascending’ Christologies as a panacea.
    I recognise that ‘descending’ Christologies may still be more appropriate in mission amongst other global subcultures – like the Mormans as you have noted elsewhere. It occurs to me that descending Christologies may also be appropriate amongst Gnostic reconstructionists, though don’t hold me to that, it’s a suspicion only.
    So to sum up, I wouldn’t go so far as to say ascending Christologies are appropriate for ALL emerging misisonal communities, just that Christological contextualizaion is an issue and amongst some neotribes it may take this form.


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