Sunday, March 24, 2013

Exegeting Culture with Lingenfelter

For those who want to be be able to exegete their context and the cultures they live in, including their own, I recommend Transforming Culture: A Challenge for Christian Mission (1998) and Agents of Transformation: A Guide for Effective Cross-Cultural Ministry (1996).  Transforming Culture lays out the blueprint of culture and the roots of cultural bias, and Agents of Transformation goes deeper and provides tools for analysis.

According to Sherwood Lingenfelter, there are five “social games” people play based on their culture and personal bias (1998). This theory is based on the “grid-group” classification of cultures proposed by Mary Douglas. The classifications run along a continuum and the two axes are plotted against each other to form four dimensions. The “grid” dimension describes the place and role of individuals, and the “group” dimension describes the degree of social solidity. In weak grid cultures, people can interchange roles easily and are more homogenous in their place in society. In strong grid cultures, people are distinguished and classified according to roles, and there is a sense of entitlement. In weak group cultures, people are more isolated from each other, whereas in strong group cultures there exists a strong sense of unity and people are bonded together.

The first culture, Authoritarian (the Social Game) and Bureaucratic (the Environment), is a defined by weak group, strong grid. Here there are great differences between people, but they do not feel close together. The second culture, Hierarchist and Corporate, is defined by strong group, strong grid. This is the collectivist culture that feels a strong solidarity with one another, and each person has a defined place in society. The third culture, Collective and Egalitarian, is defined by strong group, weak grid. Here there is less difference between people, and they all share a common identity. The fourth culture, Individual and Individualist, is weak group, weak grid. In this culture, individuals are less controlled by a central authority, and each person is free to create her own identity. The fifth culture is known as Hermit or Autonomy and this person lives in isolation as a social dropout. Important to note is that all cultures play multiple games depending on the context, and each cultural above should be viewed as a “prototype” because in reality there are endless variants. “Each of these five social games is potentially present in every sociopolitical context, often in variant cultural forms… The individualist and hierarchist games are typically the central and dominant paradigms, while authoritarian and egalitarian games constitute border or peripheral options” (Lingenfelter 1996, Kindle Location 295 - 316).

According to Lingenfelter, a Christ follower is a pilgrim in the sense that she can serve the gospel while participating in any of the four social games above. “Once you have an understanding of your social values and the social games that you prefer, you will be able to identify the social roots of situations of conflict and tension and apply Scripture in an appropriate way to help you and others live transformed lives” (1998, 38). The Christian pilgrim’s goals transcend each culture because they oriented towards the Cross and serving others.

Lingenfelter’s main thesis…

“…is that Christian cross-cultural workers will desire to be agents of biblical transformation, rather than agents of sociocultural change. An agent of sociocultural change brings new economic, social, and cultural interests and facilitates the change process so that members of a local community adopt ways of education, economy, and lifestyle common to the industrialized nations of the world. While change agents may have a positive effect in the development of communities in the two-thirds world, and some Christian workers may legitimately serve in this role, the primary objective of much Christian cross-cultural ministry is to help people come to know Christ, and thereby to become his disciples” (Agents of Transformation: Kindle Locations 16-20).

These two books though are about more than just context analysis; they are actually a cross-cultural hermeneutic to understand Scripture.  Lingenfelter uses many Biblical case studies as examples and has challenged my thinking on many key issues of theology.  His writing style is dry, and the material is complicated, but Lingenfelter helps us include a much needed (albeit small) slice of anthropological theory in our missiology.

No comments: