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Jesus & Cultural Relativism

By April 8, 2019Theology2 min read

We live in a cultural time when being “educated” is synonymous with being agnostic, a time when people promote prejudice and bias about things of which they have no real experience. My favorite definition of cultural anthropology was penned by Edward Hoebel: “The sum total of integrated learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of members of a society and which are therefore not the result of biological inheritance.”

Even the physical anthropologist shows that man has developed “filters” by which stimulus-response is converted into acceptable cultural behavior. Every primitive society has valued “delayed gratification” for purposeful ends, which proves that man is more than a “responder” to random stimuli. We make hard choices. These choices involve values and beliefs.

Globally, each society has a definition of what is morally acceptable. These values are like absolutes, at least among that people group. Social psychology would term this “ethnocentric” acceptance of those like us, but rejection of those not like us.

You know the drill. Christian missionaries, the Peace Corps or Agencies for International Development, invade cultures and have proven that people groups can be changed and developed beyond ethnocentrism. The Jews expected the Messiah to come for them alone; the inclusion of Gentiles even shocked the twelve apostles.

To this world, Jesus brought “supra-cultural” values: “Love God with all your heart … love your neighbor as yourself.” This powerful truth is not of this world, yet is the cure for all its prejudicial perplexities. Jesus’ message is not limited to any one people group’s culture, or to any particular time frame, or to any geographical climate. It is cross-cultural in every sense of who man is. Augustine said of man made in the image of God: “Of all wonders, he himself is the most wonderful.”

Cultural relativism will persist until the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness until the God/man returns to rule and reign in “Supra-Royal” fashion, “loving God with all and loving His neighbor as Himself.” Let’s enter that kingdom now!

David Shirley is the vice president of the Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, CA. He also oversees the Bible college affiliate campus with the staff at CCCM.