Gospel & Culture blog
By Ken Nehrbass
This is a series of blogs on the theology of culture, which really can be seen as a "theology of everything" if culture is everything we think, have and do as members of a society. In this post, I introduce ideas that are central to a theology of government. This field is also called "public theology" or a "theology of the public square." As with other aspects of the "theology of culture," I am looking at God's intended purpose, structure and authority for government.
God's intended purpose for government
Some pacifists argue that government was not present in Eden- only after the Fall. They see government as a necessary evil for this present time, rather than as something innate to God's nature. Others, such as Skillen, argue that government, like other aspects of culture (family, language, communication) is rooted in the image of God: God is orderly, authoritative, even coercive, and that even in a perfect kingdom on earth, as people "filled the earth and subdued it" they would have necessarily developed complex societies with creative and diverse forms of government-- all which led to flourishing.
"Citizenship in earthly political communities is thus as much a part of the revelation of God and of our identity as God’s image bearer as are marriage family, friendship, discipleship and shepherding.” (Skillen, p. 37)
The Fall, of course, has resulted in our continual corruption of all forms of government, as we turn power and freedom -even justice - into idols, and we use "order" as an ends that justifies the means.
The purpose of government is to do things that individuals cannot do on their own-- to organize, regulate, and distribute tremendous - even unthinkable - amounts of resources (like the 640 million acres of public land in the USA, equalling about 28% of the nation's surface area). In a fallen world, government also exists to carry out punishment and to ensure security against threats. For example, government - at an ideal size - when it is functioning properly - can help guarantee that a menace to society will be caught, tried fairly, and punished justly, so that he does not return to my home and kill my children. If he does, I may personally choose to forgive-- and I should. It is not my right or responsibility to hunt down menaces to society, to determine their guilt, and to punish them. Imagine what the world would be like if we all took on the government's role of such "coercive authority!" Yet even as I forgive the murderer or thief, the criminal has not only committed a crime against me personally, he has stolen something from the people-- from the state. He has stolen their sense of order and security. Therefore, the government must bring about justice and guarantee their safety. Some of the purposes we see for government in scripture:
What is God's intended structure for government?
In the Old Testament, God was heavily involved in government. God went ahead of Israel's armies to extend the nation into Canaan. God interrupted the unjust slavery in Egypt to establish Israel as nation-state. He insisted that Israel resist the temptation to create a monarchy. When Israel turned toward Monarchy, God told prophets which men should be anointed king.
But the scripture is not clear about which structure for government is "biblical." That is, as Filipino theologian Melba Maggay pointed out, the Bible answers the "why" for government, but not the "how." God knows that the appropriate government for a developing nation in the 20th century, for example, is different than the best governance for Western Europe in the 16th century, or Israel in the first century, and so on. There are so many economic, environmental, technological and other factors that impact what a flourishing government would look like at any given time and place, that scripture does not seem to have a clear blueprint.
What is the authority for government?
The penchant toward dualism in evangelicalism has caused us to believe, mistakenly, that Jesus' agenda was not political. For centuries, the church accepted a "two sword" mentality: God is the king of the church, and political rulers have their "earthly sword." After all, Jesus said "my kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). But most theologians recognize that Jesus didn't mean that his kingdom has nothing to do with this world-- if that were the case, He wouldn't have made so many enemies, and early Christians would not have been fed to the lions. Jesus meant that His kingdom does not derive power from this world. If his authority came "from this world" then his followers would have to defend him. Instead, his authority comes from Heaven (John 19:11).
Early on Christians had to balance their understanding of obedience to authorities (Romans 13) and Jesus' claim to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" (Mark 12:13-17) with the claim that "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 4:19). In fact, as DA Carson pointed out (p 200), all religions rely on a "higher" authority, and are therefore somewhat subversive to governments. Php 3:20-21 describes us as citizens of heaven-- this has caused many evangelicals to think of their Christianity as non-political.
Most evangelical theologians today argue that government must be pluralistic. It cannot function properly when it endorses one religion or denomination. In fact, it can reflect biblical principles without endorsing a specific religion.
By Kenneth Nehrbass
"Identity" "Identity politics" and "cultural identity" are hot topics now. Anyone involved in intercultural studies who wants to study "identity" must think through two major issues: 1) the relationship between identity and ethnography (the description of ethnolinguistic groups), and 2) the relationship between identity and racial awareness.
Identity and ethnography
All over the world, people seem to reify their behaviors as cultural facts. For example, I have heard Aussies avow their cultural identity in terms of informality ("We are so informal that we don't even call our physician 'doctor') and collectivism ("Don't be too puffed up: When a poppy stands out from the others, we clip it"). Or my East Asian students occasionally avow their Confucian penchant for self-improvement through education. So it is not just outsiders who attest to cultural stereotypes (perhaps to freeze the cultural expressions of the Other as backwards, or inferior); but cultural insiders also embrace, or freeze these cultural expressions when it is advantageous to them. The identification of these cultural differences has been a preoccupation of intercultural studies since Edward Hall popularized the field through the Foreign Service Institute.
Anyone who has spent time in other cultures recognizes difference. Yet, postmodernism has called into question all "facts" including "cultural facts." In fact, Wicker (in Werbner and Modood) argues that earlier anthropological notions of culture were too essentialist when describing the differences-as if culture was a portable "rucksack" that could be carried around as a bounded whole. They viewed ethnolinguistic cultures as homogenous and static. Instead, many sociologists and literary critics argue, all ethnolinguistic cultures are the hodgepodge of hybridities (and that's all it ever has been, as societies borrow "culture" from others). Wicker calls this hybridizing process "creolization"-- taking something from the other, and making it your own. The process of "enculturation" then is not transmitting a bounded culture wholesale to our children, but simply all the hybridization of cultures that we all go through, throughout our lives. And Wicker argues that this creolization is not as much tied to ethnicity as it is to social class-- ethnic Chinese in the USA who have lots of social opportunities to hang out with the majority culture are going to hybridize to White culture more than poorer Chinese in "ethnic enclaves" will.
Interestingly, the discussion of hybridity is polarized: critical, postcolonial theorists (like Bhaba) see hybridity as a way of asserting differentness, uniqueness, of saying "we aren't assimilating to the global norms that are exported especially by the West." Yet "globalists" (fans of globalization), see the same data, yet interpret the hybridity of global trends (McDonalds, Christianity, etc ) as a way of ENTERING the global culture, not as a way of rejecting it.
To give a simple example of how culture is a hybrid rather than a static fact, I just came across a youtube video on the difference between public displays of affection in Japan compared to the USA. Yet postmodernism, and common sense in this globalized age, has caused us to question whether it would be possible to speak of a "Japanese attitude toward public displays of affection." Surely attitudes in the country of a 120 million vary widely, depending on religion, age, background, exposure to other cultures, etc. And this goes for Japanese, or American, attitudes about punctuality, authority, or any other feature we may consider "cultural." In short, postmodern (or critical) theorists argue that any reduction of behavior to "culture" is essentialist-- reifying culture as fact, rather than a social construction.
As Werbner pointed out, enthusiasts of multiculturalism are guilty of the same problem that racists are guilty of: assigning more value to "culture" than is due.
Instead, many postmodern interculturalists and sociologists are interested in an emerging field: cultural identity: how people continue to avow and attest stereotypes as "cultural facts." Cultural identity is not as much about the discovery and description of shared experiences, histories, values, beliefs and images-- that is the content of cultural studies or ethnography. Cultural identity is about how people who belong to certain socially-constructed groups think about their own similarity and difference in relation to the Other (this experience is called alterity). Cultural identity studies are about the continual negotiation - especially at a public level- of discourse about race, ethnicity, gender, etc.
Cultural identity, then is a study of racial awareness. This is especially evident in Helms' (1995) model of "white racial identity development." The model has little to do with the shared cultural values and images of a "white culture"-- that would be the content of an ethnography; instead, the discussion of "white identity" looks at how white people become aware of their own whiteness in respect to other ethnicities (Rowe, Bennet, Atkinson, 1994). Cultural identity studies are also often about the experience of subaltern identity (being seen as lower, or being marginalized).
Cultural identity delves into political studies (especially identity politics). Bauman (in Werbner and Modood) argues that nation-states tend to annihilate or assimilate "strangers", in the effort to rouse up a sense of nationalism and peace. So they either totally assimilate the stranger (annihilate their cultural difference) or they totally marginalize.
But if, as postmodernism would argue, culture can no longer explain our differences, what can? Crenshaw argued that our identities are more than cultural, they are the synergistic result of the intersection of our class, gender, and ethnicity. Crenshaw's idea of intersectionality has taken on a life of its own in academia- generally trying to avoid the flaw of essentialism, but moving away from Crenshaw's original vision of social justice for doubly or triply-marginalized peoples (for example, the intersection of a gay African American male leads to greater marginalization than for a straight white female). And intersectionality has run into theoretical problems, like the difficulty of naming how many roads intersect (is it three, six, nine, or more?) But more significantly, intersectionality still relies on ethnicity as a "fact"- one that groupings actually share-- and thus in an attempt to avoid the error of reifying culture, it relies on culture as a fact.
Those interested in crossing cultures are likely to continue to be interested in ethnography-- describing and understanding shared experiences of different ethnolinguistic groupings. But such cross-cultural workers should also understand the field of cultural identity, since racial awareness is a salient experience of being "the Other" in this hybridized and globalizing world.
Anthias, Floya (2011) Intersections and Translocations: New Paradigms for Thinking about Cultural Diversity and Social Identities European Educational Research Journal, v10 n2 p204-217.
Helms, J. E. (1995). An update of Helms's white and people of color racial identity models. In J.G. Ponterotto, J.M. Casas, L.A. Suzuki, & C.M. Alexander (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural counseling (pp. 181-198). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Rowe, Wayne; Bennett, Sandra K.; Atkinson, Donald R. (1994).White racial identity models: a critique and alternative proposal The Counseling Psychologist. Jan, Vol. 22 Issue 1, p129, 18 p. table; Sage
by Ken Nehrbass
This is a series of blogs on the theology of culture, which really can be seen as a "theology of everything" if culture is everything we think, have and do as members of a society. n this post, I introduce ideas that are central to a theology of education. As with other aspects of the "theology of culture," I am looking at God's intended purpose, structure and authority for government
The purpose of education as a cultural system
The cultures of the world have competing ideas about the purpose of education: in the USA education is increasingly about career advancement rather than to make people well-rounded thinkers or to encourage personal enrichment. The seeing in emphasis from liberal arts to STEM is a result of the trend to align higher education with career, rather than knowledge. Other cultures emphasize that education is about socialization, guaranteeing social welfare (a populace needs to be literate to ensure the growth of GDP), or simply about making good citizens. All of these are legitimate purposes of education, as long as none becomes an idol. In early missionary work around the world, education was primarily about teaching people to read so they could know scripture and discern Christian worldview but also focused on increasing the economic lives of those in poorer parts of the world.
Like all cultural systems, the ultimate purpose of education is for humankind to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Kuyper argued that education has been God’s plan along- building on the knowledge of previous ancestors. There was no way for one generation to fulfil the command to fill the earth and subdue it, so education is necessary for us to transmit the accumulation of knowledge as we make something great of the world God created.
Scripture balances the tendency to make education an idol, on the one hand, with ignorance or foolishness on the other:
•He who increases knowledge increases sorrow –Ecc1:18
•For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness” (1 Cor3:19) quoting Job 5:13
The structure of education as a cultural system
Education is neither entirely the task of the parents, nor entirely the task of the state. Some may be reluctant to allow state involvement at all with the education of a Christian community. Yet an education that is wholly separate from the state will not be able to achieve all the purposes that God plans for education. A fully functioning educational system would lead to cures for cancer, mapping the human genome, designing better bridges, interpreting history in ways that dignify diverse peoples. Many of these advancements are possible because of state involvement.
Others might argue that the private enterprise should take on the task of education-- let the free market determine which majors are valuable enough to offer at the university. Let people pay for education what it is worth. But in reality, virtually no government wholly accepts this notion-- the state must get involved to ensure that those who do not have money can still become literate and even upwardly mobile.
The authority for education as a cultural system
The authority for education is firstly located within the family, as parents "train up their children" (Prov 22:6). But as I mentioned above, the authority for education must also be located within the state, which has resources for research-one institutions that can train up specialists like aerospace engineers and epidemiologists. Only the state - not the family- can ensure system-wide literacy and vocational training.
By Ken Nehrbass
This is a series of blogs on the theology of culture, which really can be a "theology of everything" if culture is everything we think, have and do as members of a society. In this post, I provide some direction for the theology of family, which begins (as with all other cases in the "theology of" culture) by asking about the purpose, structure and authority of family.
The purpose of family as a cultural system
The purpose of all aspects of culture, more generally, is for humans to flourish. Marriage, being one of the first institutions God instituted (in Eden), was explicitly for our flourishing. Somehow the "leaving and cleaving" (Gen 2:24) when a man and wife are committed to each other unto death guarantees flourishing. Primarily, this seems to relate to the fact that there is no other social relationship where we see distinct persons referred to as "one." In this sense, marriage reflects the Trinity better than any other relationship; and this reflection is for our own instruction. The Father Son and Holy Spirit are eternally creating, communicating and loving; and marriage is where this sort of intimacy is to be found primarily, among all relationships. Note that the term for wife, "helpmate", is not derogatory- in fact, God refers to Himself as a helpmate more than 15 times in the OT.
What about the purpose of other relationships in the family? Family, including extended family relationships, are God's way of ensuring elderly are taken care of when they cannot take care of themselves (1 Tim 5:8) - of ensuring small children are "trained up in the way they should go" (Prov 22:6) so they can be flourishing members of society - of ensuring that wealth is produced and inherited (Prov 13:22).
Ultimately, the chief end of marriage and family, like the chief end of all humankind, is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The family is the locus of some of the greatest joy we can possibly experience, when we are experiencing the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Note that all the fruits of the spirit must be lived out in social relationships (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness all are social experiences). And when things go wrong in the family - from divorce to dysfunction to abuse at home, these are the basis for some of the saddest and most traumatic experiences we can face.
The structure for family as a cultural system
Family relationships are God's plan for us function "in the image of God" than any other relationship: The metaphor of the Father-son relationship reflects God's provision and protection of all people (1 Cor 8:6, Eph 4:6). The metaphor of mothers protecting their children reflects God's care and compassion for all people (Matt 23:37, Isa 66:13). The relationship of man to wife reflects Christ's sacrificial love for his Church (Eph 5:25-27; 2 Cor 11:2). The metaphor of being born to earthly parents represents our lostness without adoption into God's family (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:23); the metaphor of adoption represents moving from enemies with God to friends with God (John 1:12). And the relationship of brothers and sisters is a metaphor for our permanent commitment to Christians around the world, with whom we share one Heavenly Father (1 John 3:14; Mark 3:35).
A theology of marriage and family requires thinking through gender relationships. Many theologians have suggested that the New Testament advice about structures in family (1 Cor 7:14, 1 Tim 2:9-15) are meant to limit, not expand, a male's authority (Taber, in Stott and Coote, 1980, p. 126). Others suggest that the gender roles are not about capability, but references to the order of creation (1 Cor 11:8-11; 1 Tim 2:12-13).
Some have noted that God's intended structure for families is that they be full of children-- a theology somewhat pejoratively named "quiver theology" Because of psalm 127, 3 - 5
3 Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth.
5 Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate
This brings us to the issue of those who do not fit the prototype of "happily married with many children." If spouses and children are the sources of blessings, the way we function according to the image of God, then what about those who are unmarried or have no children? First of all, we are not designed to find our identity and ultimate worth in these relationships -our ultimate fulfillment and worth comes from being children of God. Paul's words in 1 Cor 7:27-29 show that spouses (or any other family relationship) should not become idols for us-- just as Paul learned to be content in all circumstances, the Holy Spirit enables believers to have the fruits of the Spirit in times of barrenness or childbearing, marriage and widowhood-- when marriage and singleness are easy and when they are hard.
The authority for family as a cultural system
The authority, then, for marriage, does not come from the state, but from God. That's why many church leaders are arguing that however the public sphere decides to define marriage (civil unions, or whatever), the state cannot define for the church what marriage is.
Variations of family as a cultural system
Families malfunction (that is, they fail to flourish) when they mar the image of God. For example, if the marriage union reflects the image of God as the two become one, then divorce mars that unity and intimacy (see Matthew 19:6). Many of the world's cultures espouse an ideal of lifetime monogamy; but some cultures, at least in practice, look the other way at divorce, infidelity, polygamy or polyandry. To recover the image-bearing aspect of a flourishing family ideal, cultures would need to emphasize marriage as a permanent, monogamous union.
What about arranged marriage? Note that scripture doesn't outright prescribe either arranged marriages or "love marriages." And both systems can be acceptable if they encourage flourishing rather than malfunctioning. For example, when arranged marriages make an idol out of wealth, alliances, or corporate honor, they can begin to malfunction. Remember that the ultimate purpose of marriage is not wealth, alliance or the accumulation of honor- it is to represent the intimate relationship of the Trinity, and to be the primary place we experience the fruits of the Spirit. "Love marriage" too can become an idol when it places individual happiness over these actual purposes for marriage.
What about endogamy? The list of taboo relationships is pretty short, and doesn't include cousins- in fact, the marriage of cross-cousins is common around the world, as it was in the Ancient Near east. Some Christians from cultures where the marriage of a parallel cousin is encouraged point out that Moses condoned such marriages in Numbers 27.
For an in depth look at 500 years of Christian scholarship on the theology of the family, see Brown, S. and Pollard, J (eds).(2014). Theology of the family. The National Center for Family Integrated Churches
What is so attractive about animism? As a guest on Dr. Darrell Bock's podcast, I discussed the challenges that animism poses to the church
By Kenneth Nehrbass
By Kenneth Nehrbass
Some popular authors (Dawkins, Hitchens) have argued that religious fervor is responsible for intolerance and fighting: if people would stop being so religious, societies would be more tolerant and peaceful. These advocates believe that the key to getting along is for religion to just go away. They imagine that highly religious societies cannot have religious freedom; freedom of thought must be correlated with the absence of religion.
But is there really a correlation between religious enthusiasm and religious pluralism? True, some countries like Indonesia notoriously have very high religious fervor (99% of adults in Indonesia- the world's largest Islamic country- said religion was extremely important) and Indonesia has very little religious freedom - Pew rated the government involvement in religion (GRI) index for Indonesia at 8.4 out of 10. On the other hand, Estonia is one of the world's most secular nations: only 17% said religion was important; yet the country rates only 1.2 out of 10 on governmental involvement in religion. Cases like these suggest that the more religious a country is, the less religious freedom there will be; the key to religious freedom must be to be secular like Estonia.
The problem with this thinking is that there are many counter-examples. Russia is fairly secular (35% said religion was important) but the government squelches religious freedom (7.4 out of 10); and this is about the same with Israel. And on the other end of the spectrum, Brazil and Malawi are some of the most highly religious nations, yet enjoy some the highest rates of religious freedom.
I correlated the GRI with levels of religious enthusiasm for 101 countries to test the null hypothesis that "there is no relationship between religious interest and religious freedom." The correlation coefficient r=0.10, which is a very weak correlation: There is only a very weak correlation between religious enthusiasm and degree of religious pluralism. The chart below shows the results:
It seems plenty of countries can be highly religious yet enjoy a high degree of religious freedom- like those in the lower right quadrant of the figure above, including the USA. It is possible for a country to be highly religious and yet highly tolerant.
Of course, the TYPE of religion significantly affects the openness. Are Christian countries much more likely to enjoy religious freedom, whereas highly Islamic countries do not? If that's the case, then the pathway to religious pluralism isn't for religion to take the back burner, but for us to take a serious look at which religions are good for society. I compared religious freedom in ten nations where the Christianity is the majority religion (Italy, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Portugal, Ireland, Kenya, Philippines, Argentina, Zimbabwe) against the religious freedom of ten of the world's most populous Islamic nations (Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan): The average religious freedom in Christian countries is 2.49 (SD=.97) and in Islamic countries is 6.55 (SD=1.44). The t-value is -7.74. The p-value is < .00001, which is considered highly significant. That means that the chances are one in a million that the higher levels of religious freedom enjoyed by Christians, compared to Muslims, are purely coincidental. It's not a coincidence: Christianity seems to encourage religious freedom, whereas Islam doesn't.
What about secular nations? Are they more likely to encourage religious freedom than Christian ones? I compared the same 10 Christian nations above against the ten countries that self-reported as least religious (Estonia, Sweden, Hong Kong, Japan, UK, France, Viet Nam, Belarus, Russia and Albania). Remember the average religious freedom in the Christian nations is 2.49. in secular nations it is 3.69 on the scale of 1 to 10 (SD=2.25). The t-value is 1.62. The p-value is .06. Secular nations do have slightly higher rates of intolerance than majority Christian nations, but at .06 (a one in 20 likelihood that the differences between governmental influence in these countries were left up to chance), this is considered insignificant: there is no reason to think that secular societies are more likely to promote religious freedom than Christian ones.
If you needed to know how I calculated the t-value in the above stats.
T-value Calculation for Christian and Islamic nations
s2p = ((df1/(df1 + df2)) * s21) + ((df2/(df2 + df2)) * s22) = ((10/20) * 0.94) + ((10/20) * 2.08) = 1.51
s2M1 = s2p/N1 = 1.51/11 = 0.14
s2M2 = s2p/N2 = 1.51/11 = 0.14
t = (M1 - M2)/√(s2M1 + s2M2) = -4.06/√0.28 = -7.74
T-value Calculation for Christian and Secular nations
s2p = ((df1/(df1 + df2)) * s21) + ((df2/(df2 + df2)) * s22) = ((10/19) * 0.94) + ((9/19) * 5.05) = 2.89
s2M1 = s2p/N1 = 2.89/11 = 0.26
s2M2 = s2p/N2 = 2.89/10 = 0.29
t = (M1 - M2)/√(s2M1 + s2M2) = -1.2/√0.55 = -1.62
with guest contributor Denis LaClare
The new GodTools app from CRU was designed to help people share the gospel in any setting from a phone or tablet. In addition to the iconic “Four Spiritual Laws”, there are 2 versions of “Knowing God Personally” and “Satisfied”, which explore the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
And the newest tool is called “Honor Restored" which is aimed at sharing the gospel among the more than one million international students who are in the USA. Many of these students come from honor/shame cultures. In simplistic terms, the first of three primary worldviews can be summarized as “Western”, which emphasizes an interpretation of the world through the lenses of guilt and innocence.
A second worldview element for many international students is based on fear and power. Any culture with indigenous peoples (Africans, Native Americans, etc.) or cultures that try to appease the spiritual world out of fear, fall into this category. A third worldview encapsulates almost all of the Asian, Arab and Persian world and is motivated by honor and shame. The avoidance of shame and the acquisition of honor for themselves and their families are their highest virtues. The Honor Restored digital tool gives them an opportunity to understand the good news in terms that make sense to them. Released in January, 2018, the tool has 2400 “hits” and at least one international student has given their life to Jesus after walking through Honor Restored with a fellow student. Cru hopes to see thousands of students understand and embrace Jesus as a result of this tool.
“Probably the most controversial idea of the Church Growth Movement was the elaboration of the Homogeneous Unit Principle (HUP)” (Pickett, 2015, p. 178). The HUP states “People like to become Christians without crossing racial, linguistic or class barriers” therefore “conversion should occur with the minimum of social dislocation” (McGavran, 1990, p. x). That is, church planting efforts should focus on “homogenous units” which McGavran defines as “simply a section of society in which all the members have some characteristic in common” (1990, p. 85). McGavran avers “the great obstacles to conversion are social, not theological” (p. 156). People will not give a church a fair hearing if they stick out in the congregation like a sore thumb. Birds of a feather flock together.
The HUP is a product of the discourse of contextualization and the notion of people groups: The gospel must be presented to people in ways that are culturally familiar to them, including indigenous language, worship style, architecture, and so on. The HUP suggests that church growth efforts will be most effective if they are directed at homogenous units (which can be taken to mean ethnolinguistic people groups).
It is significant that the HUP was conceived by missiologists who worked in India, since India is one of the most socially stratified nations. Caste identity can significantly limit South Asian’s interactions with others who are of higher or lower standing. Therefore, it would seem, church ministry would be easiest among people of the same caste. The HUP suggests that church planting efforts should focus on these homogenous units, like the Dalits or the Brahmins.
The HUP is so controversial because it seems to subvert the value of diversity, the cross-pollination of theological thought, and the unity of the body of Christ. This emphasis on distinct worshipping communities may seem to contrast Galatians 2:28, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV). Yet, Wagner (1978) argued, “Gentiles do not have to become Jews, females do not have to become males… in order to enter into and share the blessings of God's Kingdom” (p. 18). The HUP was meant to reify cultural difference, not to cause cultural divisions. As Steffen (2011) mentioned, “McGavran believed the homogeneous unit was a necessary starting point. He also believed it was not the end point. Homogenous churches could and should eventually become more heterogeneous” (p. 28).
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Associate Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor