What is culture?
David Livermore offers this insight: “Culture represents the way a group of people organize their ideas and hence their lives. It’s what lies beneath what we think and how we live.”
(Cultural Intelligence, p.83)
In Acts 17:16-34 we see that Paul has been navigating multiple cultures in his missionary journey. Arriving in Athens he finds himself stuck waiting for his companions. He takes in the sights, sounds, and significance of the context he enters as a guest. Paul notices their rhythms.
Waiting is the foundation for listening and learning.
It is too easy to project my own experience and concept of culture onto others. Whether the cultural mode is family, friends, church, generational, community, leadership, politics, or work. Especially where I live and too easily when I travel.
Smith invites us “to become aware of our immersions.” (Smith, James K. A. “You Are What You Love:” p.38.)
Paul also notices the immersions of the culture he is visiting in Acts 17:22-24. The idol “to the unknown god” exists in all our cultures. After listening and learning Paul enters dialogue among those he has the most in common. He was noticed by others and invited into conversation. He is asked questions.
The unknown god gave Paul an opening to point to Christ and share the good news. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to reference the poets of the culture to reframe the invitation of God into relationship through Christ in a way already familiar to the Athenians. Stepping inside their worldview Paul invites them to have their understanding of reality transformed in the hope of Christ. (Hiebert, Paul G. Transforming Worldviews, Kindle Locations 287-288.)
When we seek to listen and learn in culture, deferring to the relationships in the context as the experts, we gain insights and are ourselves transformed.
Being aware of our immersions is necessary to conform our own worldview to the kingdom of God. Embracing the creativity found in culture to share Christ allows a cultural bridge to be created from which mutual respect and friendship are likely to spring. This is the way for the missioner…
“In him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28