When I was a college student, God drew me into an InterVarsity chapter where the staff helped us understand the cultural dynamics in scripture. I cannot express what a blessing this was for me to be trained up as a disciple of Jesus who saw that crossing cultures with Jesus is a normal part of the Christian life.
Here are a few snapshots that stand out to me from my undergrad years:
- I remember being taught John 4. Jesus had to go to Samaria, even though all the other rabbis of his day never had to go there. Everyone else went around. But Jesus wanted to give his disciples an introduction to the power of his Gospel to break down all barriers. He wanted to help them taste the movement they would later lead. (Thanks Brenda Salter McNeil)
- I remember being taught Ephesians 2. The course of this world to divide us and set us against each other. And the invitation of God to live into racial reconciliation. I did not really know what racial reconciliation was, but I knew it was biblical.
- I remember studying the whole book of Galatians. I was amazed and transformed by the profound ethnic and cultural dynamics that Paul had navigate. I could not believe Peter shrank back from taking a stand on the Gospel’s power to cross-cultures. And I was so proud of Paul for confronting him publicly. I did not want a Gospel that was embedded in the distinctives of just one culture. And I prayed I would be courageous like Paul.
Because I was given a strong biblical framework on the power of God to cross-cultures, to heal racial pain, and to make us a blessing to all nations (ethnos), I was able to steer into the pain of the ’92 Los Angeles Riots with some degree of courage. The anger confused me. But my biblical mooring allowed me to proceed with hope. Hope that God was somehow at work in the chaos, somehow redeeming. And hopeful that God would speak to me through it. (For more on the LA Riots, see the Wikipedia page on Los Angeles riots. )
Fast forward to my first sabbatical, after 7+ years of serving with InterVarsity. I could study whatever I wanted. I picked the book of Acts. I knew there were amazing examples of God’s people crossing cultures in Acts, but I had never studied it for myself front to back. I slowly made my way through this life-changing book. I could not believe how intentional Luke was in telling this epic narrative to fill out the complexities of the Acts 1:8 vision, the thesis if you will: …you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Such a motivating vision statement, and such a wonderfully rich racial and cultural and ethnic journey to live that out. I realized that I cannot understand God’s work in this amazing book if I do not understand the power dynamics, the cultural barriers, the bias that held people back, and the power of the Holy Spirit to address all these things.
For more on God’s vision for moving us across cultures in the book of Acts, please see p. 57 of Being White.
How about you…what passages from scripture have been your stepping stones in crossing cultures? What gives you hope in the face of today’s racial pain and injustice?