Howard Culbertson lists five reasons that we should study culture:

The Bible celebrates culture, often giving elaborate descriptions. God’s creative genius is reflected in the tremendous cultural variations of our world.

The Bible itself came to us as a product of culture (We wouldn’t have it were it not for languages, writing instruments, paper, etc.)

Paul was very conscious of culture as an issue in evangelism and even church structure.

The Incarnation: Jesus was not an anonymous Any-man of any culture. He was born as a Jew, lived as a Jew, died as a Jew and was buried as a Jew.

Heaven will celebrate culture (Revelation 9:7 – “every tribe, every tongue, every people”)

Much of your success or failure on the mission field will have to do with two culturally related things. How well you can adapt and adjust to living where things are so different and also how well you will be able to learn to communicate your message to a people that think differently than you do. You must be a student of people. You must be a student of culture.

We can’t judge their culture by our culture. There are things in our culture that are wrong when compared to God’s word and there will be things in their culture that are wrong also. The only absolute culture or absolute right and wrong is what God says. We must learn to adapt and adjust to things that are different but not wrong. We must determine what is wrong by what the Bible says and not what our own culture says.

An explanation of terms: (This section is important because as we prepare to work in another part of the world there are many things written even in the secular field that can be of a great deal of help to you if you will at least learn their terms.)

Acculturation: (n) socialization, socialisation, acculturation, enculturation (the adoption of the behavior patterns of the surrounding culture) “the socialization of children to the norms of their culture”

(n) acculturation, culture (all the knowledge and values shared by a society)

(n) acculturation, assimilation (the process of assimilating new ideas into an existing cognitive structure)

Both you and the people that you are going to try and reach have been raised and trained to believe and act in a certain way. Many of those things will be similar but many will be very different. The most important thing that you need to learn with this word is that you have been trained to act and believe a certain way by your culture and not necessarily from the Word of God.


Bicultural of, relating to, or including two distinct cultures Become bicultural! You will be neither totally American nor totally of your new country. The moment we got saved we received a new citizenship in heaven. Now we are called upon to enter into a new culture. We must become “one of them”.

Bonding and going native are not the same thing. Going native generally implies the rejection of one’s first culture. A reaction which is seldom seen and may not be possible for emotionally stable individuals. Nor is being bicultural the same as schizophrenic. The schizophrenic is a broken fragmented self.

The bicultural person is developing a new self, a new personality. Your goal as a missionary is not to forget your culture or become someone that you are not but to learn to fit in, to belong, to understand so that you can minister to and make a difference in people’s lives. You will actually begin to change so that it affects your thought patterns and behaviour wherever you are.

Bigot a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance The hardest move you are going to have to make now is to give up your selfishness and your being the center of the universe. You must decide that others have something that you do not have. You must realize that each person is an individual and should not be judged by what others of his race or nation do.

Bonding to form a close relationship especially through frequent association Many missionaries fail to bond because they never spend adequate time with the people that they have gone to reach. For some reason they believe that they will be able to make a difference from their pulpits but you will not change people to you live with them. You must practice “life on life” discipleship. Get in there and live with them.

Culture is who we are. We only think that we are not like our family, our neighbors and our training. To reach out and make a difference you will have to understand how much what you do is affected by the way you have been raised and trained and how much is affected by what the Word of God says. As Baptists we claim that the Bible is our only rule of faith and practice and we must live that out on the mission field. The new believers are not going to accept something because you say that this is the way we do it back home or in my country. They will want to do it their way unless you can show them what the Bible says about this truth.

CULTURE: Common beliefs and practices of a group of people. The integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon man’s capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.

Culture is an integrated system of beliefs (about God or reality or ultimate meaning) of values (about what is true, good, beautiful, normative), of customs (how to behave, relate to others, talk, pray, dress, work, play, trade, farm, eat, etc.), and of institutions which express these beliefs, values, and customs (government, law courts, temples, or churches, family, schools, hospitals, factories, shops, unions, clubs, etc.), which binds a society together and gives it a sense of identity, dignity, security, and continuity.

You can think of culture as having three levels.
· The top level is the outward manifestations, the artifacts: visible behavior, art, clothing and so on.
· In the middle level are the values. These are invisible rules that cause the artifacts.
· The most powerful dimension of culture is the implicit cultural assumptions. These assumptions lie so deep that they are never questioned, stated or defended.

Culture also exists in America, but what are the implicit cultural assumptions of Americans? The most distinctive characteristics of the American culture are: individualism, equality, competition, personal control of the environment, self-help concept, action orientation, informality, directness, practicality, materialism, and a problem-solving orientation.

Ethnic group, ethnos (people of the same race or nationality who share a distinctive culture) This is the word that is the basis for our word nations as when we are told to go into all the world and teach all nations.

Ethnocentrism. The Jews in the Bible were a very ethnocentric people. They knew that they were God’s people. They felt that they were superior to others and with good reason. This may be just the reason that in the New Testament book of Acts that they do not go after the entire world like the Lord Jesus had commanded them.

Ethnocentrism is the feeling that one’s group has a mode of living, values, and patterns of adaptation that are superior to those of other groups. It is coupled with a generalized contempt for members of other groups. Ethnocentrism may manifest itself in attitudes of superiority or sometimes hostility. Violence, discrimination, proselytizing, and verbal aggressiveness are other means whereby ethnocentrism may be expressed.

Definition of Ethnocentrism: Bond defines ethnocentrism as “the feeling that one’s group has a mode of living, values and patterns of adaptation that are superior to all others.” It’s also coupled with a generalized contempt for members of other groups. Sumner, in 1904 defined ethnocentrism as “the view of things in which one’s own group is the centre of everything and all others are scaled and rated, in reference to one’s group. Each group thinks that its own folkways are the only right ones. And if it observes that other people have other folkways, these excite its scorn.” Ethnocentrism may manifest itself in behavior such as warfare, attitudes of superiority, hostility, violence, discrimination, proselytization, and verbal aggression.

More to follow on Monday about this subject. Probably different reading for you but very important!

12 Comments
  • Posted November 7, 2014 9:10 am
    by Jess

    What do you do when you feel yourself going native or taking a particularly negative approach towards patriotism and your home culture? How do you make sure that you become bicultural instead of native?

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  • Posted November 7, 2014 3:20 pm
    by Robert Canfield

    This was extremely helpful as well as informative. Thanks!

    I feel like becoming bi-cultural is one of the hardest things to do. Sometimes I feel like it means I would have to renounce the culture that I learned and that has been engraved in me since birth. Sometimes it feels like it would mean that my parents were wrong and that everything I used to believe to be right is wrong. That is hard. I certainly don’t mean to rant, so my question would be, how do I become bi-cultural? I feel like even with living in America there are many subcultures. For example, where I was born and raised and where I live now are night-and-day different. There are things I do that I know aren’t culturally accepted or are frowned upon even right where I live now. So how does one change and become bi-cultural? Or is that part 2?

    • Posted November 10, 2014 11:20 am
      by Eric Elrod

      I seem to run along the same lines as Robert mentioned. Every thing I have been taught about how I look at things, thought processes, etc. fill my mind and a lot of times I feel like I am from a different culture from people even in the US. The more I know someone the better I see how they think, but not until I’ve spent time with them. When you are first getting to a new culture, what are you doing to soak up as much culture as possible? What types of places would you go to meet people, ask questions, and learn about the culture?

  • Posted November 7, 2014 9:46 pm
    by Tim Kelly

    how do we not impose our culture American on the people on the mission field?

    • Posted November 12, 2014 8:38 am
      by Paul Taube

      This is a great question Tim. I am wondering the same thing because many countries have a great desire to be as America. I understand that we should obviously not set up an American flag up in our church but what about singing American music (even translated) in the service?

      also, I am wondering where the best place to study true culture would be? TV, celebrities, sports figures, politicians, common people?

  • Posted November 7, 2014 10:18 pm
    by Mackenzie

    As a student in the training center and not knowing what country I might end up in are there things I can do to prepare myself for the different cultures?

  • Posted November 12, 2014 11:18 pm
    by Ben Thomas

    How can we teach “non-ethnocentrism” while ensuring the person you are teaching doesn’t think you are undermining their culture?

  • Posted November 14, 2014 1:24 pm
    by Sergey

    Great article. Growing up in a Russian culture home, I remember how important it was to my parents that we took off our shoes at the door as we come in. And thought that if something so little could offend someone, thy how important it is to learn their culture. Enjoyed this!

  • Posted November 14, 2014 7:22 pm
    by Nancy Kelly

    If you don’t know what country you are going to. When should you start to learn about the country cultures?

  • Posted November 18, 2014 9:59 am
    by Kanon Bloom

    How do you figure out when cultural assumptions of another cultural are different from the culture that you grew up with? It is easy to notice the different outside things and values but how do you discover different cultural assumptions?

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