Paul G Hiebert wrote the book Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, where he builds up different scenarios and cases pertaining missionaries and the cultural baggage they encounter and bring along with them to their respective regions of ministry, and how to be better ministers of the gospel wherever we are. I love this book, and being already “culturally savvy,” I’ve been able to relate to many of the things mentioned in the book, and understand what I have been through and what I still am going through. As I explained in my previous post A Life of Pilgrimage, I’ve lived in Puerto Rico, Mexico and the United States. Moving to culturally different countries has helped me change my perspective in many ways. Life doesn’t look the same for everyone, and that’s okay (It’s actually better than okay, it’s pretty fascinating.)
Anthropological Insights for Missionaries should be called “Culture for Dummies.” Did I mention I love the book? Well, it’s been my favorite read so far. Ever since we started discussing the different things Hiebert talks about, I can see my classmates expanding their understanding on how to approach different cultures, the contextualization of the gospel, and even shining a light over the fact that our way of doing things is not always the only way and it doesn’t work for everyone. Culture is something I am very passionate about, and being able to study culture is not something I was expecting to do in Bible College. Needless to say how confident I feel leaving the classroom knowing I am learning all sorts of truths that impact my every-day life and not only focus on creating an intelligent religious robot. (P.S. Apparently the structure of this last sentence is not common, but remember I think in Spanish, so it makes sense to me. *smiles*)
In the book, Hiebert states:
“We think that our studies of the Bible are unbiased, that our own interpretations of the Scriptures are the only true ones. It disturbs us, therefore, when we begin to discover that our theologies are also influenced by culture… The fact is, all theologies developed by human beings are shaped by their particular historical and cultural contexts–by the language they use and the questions they ask.” (198)
Our theology is biased, and this is, firstly because we are sinners and our knowledge is incomplete; and second, because we live in a specific time and we are part of a specific culture. How is theology related to culture? In every way. Even the books of the Bible have been written in a specific historical and cultural context, and we study that context in order to understand the message being communicated. Yes, the gospel message transcends culture, but our theology is shaped by it. We are not asking the same questions about God, that the Christian community in China is asking. It’s pretty simple, and being aware of this has, in a way, made me feel less pressured about having the answers to every question being asked in today’s world, because I don’t even have knowledge of every single one of those questions.
Another big thing that hit me is the influence language has on our theology. As I was sitting in class today, I noticed we skipped through discussing how language impacts our theology, and I guess it is a tough concept to grasp. Speaking Spanish is different than speaking English. Sentences are structured differently and words may have other connotations and meanings when translated. So I don’t think like most of my classmates because I think in Spanish, and my language has influenced my theology. Ever since school started I don’t go a day without hearing a word for the first time. In many occasions there is no translation to Spanish for that word I just learned, or I have also never heard the word in Spanish nor know what it means. With this I only want to show that what Hiebert is talking about is true and we must be aware of it. I converse with God in Spanish, so I use words that English speakers may not use or don’t even exist in the English language. Can you imagine how different from ours Zambian’s conversations are with God? I think you get the idea.
To be honest, the fact that my theology is now being shaped in English makes me extremely nervous. I’m starting to think in English about theological matters, and go back to Spanish when it is a “less complicated” thought. I have no idea how this will affect me when I go back to Spanish speaking countries, but I guess I’ll find out soon!