I have posted some pieces about inculturation earlier and the posts have been receiving on average 3 views per day ever since. I am currently writing a paper on ‘redefining inculturation’, attempting to propose a more comprehensive definition for inculturation. My previous posts were mainly a combination of thoughts and theology from the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches. They were basically not critical work and has very little academic value.
In my present research, I have managed to review a whole range of definitions of inculturation and the ways in which those definitions have come into being. All that I would like to say here is this: inculturation is a huge subject.
Currently I am still working on the definition of ‘culture’ – that is after months of studies.
In my further research into the subject of ‘inculturation’, I have found that ‘proclamation’ plays a key role in the whole process. I have also found the following, which I think is useful for Protestants (especially Evangelicals) in their attempt to re-examine their attitude towards evangelism.
20. The Church in Asia is all the more eager for the task of proclamation knowing that “through the working of the Spirit, there already exists in individuals and peoples an expectation, even if an unconscious one, of knowing the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death”. This insistence on proclamation is prompted not by sectarian impulse nor the spirit of proselytism nor any sense of superiority. The Church evangelizes in obedience to Christ’s command, in the knowledge that every person has the right to hear the Good News of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ. To bear witness to Jesus Christ is the supreme service which the Church can offer to the peoples of Asia, for it responds to their profound longing for the Absolute, and it unveils the truths and values which will ensure their integral human development.
Deeply aware of the complexity of so many different situations in Asia, and “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), the Church proclaims the Good News with loving respect and esteem for her listeners. Proclamation which respects the rights of consciences does not violate freedom, since faith always demands a free response on the part of the individual. Respect, however, does not eliminate the need for the explicit proclamation of the Gospel in its fullness. Especially in the context of the rich array of cultures and religions in Asia it must be pointed out that “neither respect and esteem for these religions nor the complexity of the questions raised are an invitation to the Church to withhold from these non-Christians the proclamation of Jesus Christ”.
Phan wrote a very good summary of the above, combining also the thoughts of John Paul II from the Ecclesia in Asia:
Among the many activities of the church‘s mission there must no doubt be proclamation. There was a rumor that at the Asian Synod, which met in Rome 19 April-14 May 1998, there was a fear that in Asia “dialogue” had replaced or at least overshadowed “proclamation,” Perhaps for this reason, in his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Asia, the pope reafﬁrms not only the necessity but also the “primacy” of proclamation: “There can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord. The Second Vatican Council and the magisterium since then, responding to a certain confusion about the true nature of the church’s mission, have repeatedly stressed the primacy of the proclamation of Jesus Christ in all evangelizing work” (EA, no. 19).
What is meant by “proclamation” here? If past missionary practices are any guide, we tend to take it to mean verbal announcement of the good news. written and/or oral, Protestants mostly by means of the Bible. and Catholics mostly by means of the catechism, The emphasis is laid on the verbal communication of a message or a doctrine, and the preferred if not exclusive means are words. The main content of the proclamation is the truth that Jesus is “the only Savior,” “the one mediator between God and mankind” (RM, no. 5).
Though this is admittedly the common meaning of proclamation, it is most interesting that John Paul II, in Ecclesia in Asia, where he reaffirms both the necessity and primacy of proclamation. nowhere emphasizes the exclusive use of words or doctrinal formulas to convey the message that Jesus is the only savior for all humankind. On the contrary, he says that “the presentation of Jesus Christ as the only Savior needs to follow a pedagogy that will introduce people step by step to the full appropriation of the mystery. Clearly, the initial evangelization of non-Christians and the continuing proclamation of Jesus to believers will have to be different in their approach” (EA, no. 20). As examples of these approaches. the pope mentions stories. parables, symbols, personal contact. and inculturation (see EA, nos. 20»22). More important. he also mentions “Christian life as proclamation.” a life marked by “prayer, fasting and various forms of asceticism . . . renunciation, detachment, humility, simplicity and silence” (EA, no. 23). No less important is John Paul lI‘s remark that in Asia “people are more persuaded by holiness of life than by intellectual argument” (EA, no. 42). Furthermore, the pope notes that in many places in Asia where explicit proclamation is forbidden and religious freedom is denied or systematically restricted, “the silent witness of life still remains the only way of proclaiming God‘s kingdom” (EA, no. 23). In sum, the pope recognizes that there is a “legitimate variety of approaches to the proclamation of Jesus, provided that the faith itself is respected in all its integrity” (EA, no. 23).
I am a product of early Chinese education, Malay high school and British tertiary education. A Malaysian. Read theology, philosophy and a little history. Loves the Bible. Interested in how China would become had Ricci’s effort survived the Rite Controversy, and how today’s churches can learn from this particular relationship between faith and culture. This brings me to another interest – the Emerging Church movement. As a computer science graduate I am also an analyst and a generalist. So I like to relate, consolidate and integrate ideas.
Lin Khee Vun
From my MA Dissertation:
Inculturation is centred on culture. This marks the primary difference between inculturation and contextualisation. Most Protestants consider inculturation as a subset of contextualisation. Bosch for example, placed inculturation under contextualisation together with liberation theology; with inculturation the primary concern is the relationship between faith and culture, while liberation theology includes the larger context, namely the socio-political situation. So although there remains close ties between culture and the socio-political context, when inculturation is in question, the focus should always be ‘culture’.
Much has been said about contextualisation and the contribution of anthropology and social studies to the work and theology of mission. In this post, Dr. Priest argued that these disciplines should be incorporated into the art of preaching. According to him, such contextual preaching has been around for a while, in the example of Billy Graham:
People around the world are human in variable ways, shaped by variable cultural discourses, confronting diverse realities. Billy Graham, like John Stott, recognizes late in life that effective preaching requires both an understanding of the world of scripture AND an understanding of the human worlds of those to whom we speak. And this is precisely what missiology works towards.
And, John Stott was the inspiration:
According to Stott, only preachers who ground their sermons in deep and profound understandings of Scripture and also deep and profound understandings of the life-worlds of their audience, are able adequately to fulfill their calling. He suggested that many theological liberals ground their sermons in understandings of the contemporary world, but fail to ground their sermons faithfully in a biblical God-given message. Their bridges connect, he argued, with only one side of the chasm. But, Stott continued, evangelical preachers typically preach sermons grounded in Scripture, but which go “up in the air on a straight trajectory and never land on the other side. For our preaching is seldom if ever earthed. It fails to build a bridge into the contemporary world.”
And yet, despite such powerful homiletical exemplars, homiletics has not had a sustained conversation with the human sciences and with human settings in quite the same way that missiology has. Both disciplines would benefit, in my view, from a sustained engagement with each other.
Do check out the post, which is worth reading.
This clip is not only hilarious it should also serve as good material for studies of inculturation. ‘Get down’ of a car is a proper Chinese expression (下车), as in Chinese one does not get ‘out’ of a car but get ‘down’ from it. In fact the word ‘car’ means a whole range of vehicles – from the ancient chariot (马车, which literally means horse-car) to the automobile (汽车). So naturally, when a Malaysian Chinese thinks of getting out of the car, his Chinese mind directs him to the literal meaning in Chinese, which translates ‘get down’.
Of course this contextualised English is not to be considered as proper or standard English. However, it makes sense to Malaysian Chinese. In this case they hijack the language, break it down and ‘re-arrange’ it to express a meaning proper to the syntax of their mother tongue. In other words, the foreign language is modified to express the local concept, which produces the phrase ‘getting down from a car’.
Language is part of culture. When it is introduced to a community, it may come across lacking in expressing the meaning of what it intends in the ears of the locals. When the locals finally understood the meaning of a foreign word, the process of adopting and changing the way the language is used begins. So in this case once the local Malaysian got to understand what it means by ‘get’ and ‘down’, they naturally mapped it to their local language’s syntax and modify the English usage for their own use.
When the missionary arrives at a foreign land he will also face the same problem. What does it mean by ‘sacrifice’, ‘sin’, ‘atonement’, ‘kingdom’, etc? But once the locals grab hold of the meanings of these they will start using their own language or local expression to describe them. If they adopt the language which the missionary brought, they may substitute some of the words or their usage with their own expressions.
Recently one of my friends wrote about the ritual of kissing the communion table – of which is certainly strange to any Chinese Christians. This is because Chinese has no ‘kissing culture’. Furthermore if by ‘Christian’ here we mean the evangelicals, the issue of transubstantiation will certainly be raised. So how would an evangelical Chinese Christian to express his or her passion and love for Christ which is on par of the intimacy shown by those ‘high church’ brothers who kiss the communion table? Which body language can they use to substitute this act without losing the meaning of it?
So the case of the Malaysian English is similar to that of the inculturated practices of worship. Missionaries come with their cultural practices, of which the truth and the gospel are intertwined, but their practices may not make sense to the locals. Once the locals understand the message of the gospel, they will in turn develop their own ways of expressing those truths, and often this is done by modifying the practices brought in by the missionaries. Thus the ‘standard language’ is then replaced by a ‘local language’ of worship or ministry.
The standard explanation for the meaning of inculturation is from the REDEMPTORIS MISSIO:
Incarnating the Gospel in Peoples’ Culture
52. As she carries out missionary activity among the nations, the Church encounters different cultures and becomes involved in the process of inculturation. The need for such involvement has marked the Church’s pilgrimage throughout her history, but today it is particularly urgent.
The process of the Church’s insertion into peoples’ cultures is a lengthy one. It is not a matter of purely external adaptation, for inculturation “means the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures.”85 The process is thus a profound and all-embracing one, which involves the Christian message and also the Church’s reflection and practice. But at the same time it is a difficult process, for it must in no way compromise the distinctiveness and integrity of the Christian faith.
Through inculturation the Church makes the Gospel incarnate in different cultures and at the same time introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community.86 She transmits to them her own values, at the same time taking the good elements that already exist in them and renewing them from within.87 Through inculturation the Church, for her part, becomes a more intelligible sign of what she is, and a more effective instrument of mission.
Thanks to this action within the local churches, the universal Church herself is enriched with forms of expression and values in the various sectors of Christian life, such as evangelization, worship, theology and charitable works. She comes to know and to express better the mystery of Christ, all the while being motivated to continual renewal. During my pastoral visits to the young churches I have repeatedly dealt with these themes, which are present in the Council and the subsequent Magisterium.88
Inculturation is a slow journey which accompanies the whole of missionary life. It involves those working in the Church’s mission ad gentes, the Christian communities as they develop, and the bishops, who have the task of providing discernment and encouragement for its implementation.89
53. Missionaries, who come from other churches and countries, must immerse themselves in the cultural milieu of those to whom they are sent, moving beyond their own cultural limitations. Hence they must learn the language of the place in which they work, become familiar with the most important expressions of the local culture, and discover its values through direct experience. Only if they have this kind of awareness will they be able to bring to people the knowledge of the hidden mystery (cf. Rom 16:25-27; Eph 3:5) in a credible and fruitful way. It is not of course a matter of missionaries renouncing their own cultural identity, but of understanding, appreciating, fostering and evangelizing the culture of the environment in which they are working, and therefore of equipping themselves to communicate effectively with it, adopting a manner of living which is a sign of gospel witness and of solidarity with the people.
Developing ecclesial communities, inspired by the Gospel, will gradually be able to express their Christian experience in original ways and forms that are consonant with their own cultural traditions, provided that those traditions are in harmony with the objective requirements of the faith itself. To this end, especially in the more delicate areas of inculturation, particular churches of the same region should work in communion with each other90 and with the whole Church, convinced that only through attention both to the universal Church and to the particular churches will they be capable of translating the treasure of faith into a legitimate variety of expressions.91 Groups which have been evangelized will thus provide the elements for a “translation” of the gospel message,92 keeping in mind the positive elements acquired down the centuries from Christianity’s contact with different cultures and not forgetting the dangers of alterations which have sometimes occurred.93
54. In this regard, certain guidelines remain basic. Properly applied, inculturation must be guided by two principles: “compatibility with the gospel and communion with the universal Church.”94 Bishops, as guardians of the “deposit of faith,” will take care to ensure fidelity and, in particular, to provide discernment,95 for which a deeply balanced approach is required. In fact there is a risk of passing uncritically from a form of alienation from culture to an overestimation of culture. Since culture is a human creation and is therefore marked by sin, it too needs to be “healed, ennobled and perfected.”96
This kind of process needs to take place gradually, in such a way that it really is an expression of the community’s Christian experience. As Pope Paul VI said in Kampala: “It will require an incubation of the Christian ‘mystery’ in the genius of your people in order that its native voice, more clearly and frankly, may then be raised harmoniously in the chorus of other voices in the universal Church.”97 In effect, inculturation must involve the whole people of God, and not just a few experts, since the people reflect the authentic sensus fidei which must never be lost sight of Inculturation needs to be guided and encouraged, but not forced, lest it give rise to negative reactions among Christians. It must be an expression of the community’s life, one which must mature within the community itself, and not be exclusively the result of erudite research. The safeguarding of traditional values is the work of a mature faith.
Evangelical’s Definition of Inculturation
Statements from the Edinburgh 2010, in general representing worldwide Evangelical voices, also refers to the above definition, while including other Protestant and Evangelical Conferences’ reports. This is summarised in the section titled ‘Contextualization, inculturation and dialogue of worldviews‘ under the Transversal Topics of the Conference.
My own observation informs me that the main difference between the Roman Catholic and Protestant’s understanding of inculturation is in the belief of St. Justin Martyr’s theory of spermatic Logos and the Paschal Mystery. Spermatic Logos means that Christ’s presence is with human cultures since creation, and Paschal Mystery means that Christ’s presence is with human cultures after His resurrection through the Holy Spirit. These are the areas where most Protestants disagree with. Apart from that latest Protestant and Evangelical scholarship in general recognises the importance of inculturation.