Gospel & Culture blog
By Kenneth Nehrbass
As a professor of intercultural studies, I read students' reflections about culture throughout each semester. Often, my students from the US describe American culture as "patriotic" and even assume that patriotism is not only strong in the USA, but a distinct characteristic of Americans.
My hunch, from traveling the world, and from teaching international students, is that most- virtually all- national cultures foster a sense of patriotism. I wondered how unique US patriotism is.
Luckily, we don't have to rely on hunches. In 2014, Gallup did a poll of 62,000 people in 64 countries to measure levels of patriotism. They narrowly defined patriotism as "willingness to die for your country" which is, of course, a disputable definition. But it may give a window into other patriotic sentiments.
It turns out that the USA was near the bottom, at only 44% willing to die for their country. Below the USA were "Germany, Netherlands, and Japan at 18%, 15% and 11% respectively". What were the most patriotic countries? Morocco and Fiji were tied in number one, with 94% willing to die for their country. Pakistan, Vietnam and Bangladesh were next.
In preparation for Pope Francis' historic visit to Ireland, one group converted a car wash into a drive- through confessional. While many Irish seem to understand the temporary confessional as a form of pop-up art, drivers have lined up to get a glimpse inside, and maybe even to silently confess their sins while driving through.
On NPR's "The World" the creator of the exhibit said he was just trying to help Irish people be self-critical about their own hypocrisy-- Irish are far less religiously committed than they used to be, but are still enthusiastic about the pope's visit: There is truth in the sarcasm of the "modern day confessional:" Why do we feel like we need to clean ourselves up when a religious leader visits, when it is more important to clean ourselves up for our own sake? We should repent from our sin because it's wrong, and because it breaks our relationship with God (1 John 1:5)-- not just to impress the pope or anyone around us.
The fact that the drive-through confessional is actually a car wash actually contains some unintended metaphors: All that cleansing and washing away of filth, for instance. And consider that our cars are emblematic of our contemporary sinful attitudes, such as
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
By Kenneth Nehrbass
"Identity" "Identity politics" and "cultural identity" are hot topics now. Anyone involved in intercultural studies who wants to study "identity" must be clear if they are talking about identity the way ethnographers mean it (avowals and attestations of a particular ethnolinguistic group), and identity the way sociologists mean it (the relationship between identity and racial awareness). Authors are not always clear which perspective they come from when they say "identity", so you would have to deduce their meaning of identity as you read through their work. The following gives you clues for how to deduce that meaning.
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. Fredrick Barth concluded that a description of individual cultures would turn toward "trait inventories" (p. 12) "overt signals or signs...that people look for and exhibit to show identity...such as dress, language, house-form" and
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
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:
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Associate Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor