Gospel & Culture blog
Why old "dyadic" cultural categories like "hot-cold" or "individualist-collectivist" may no longer be (as) relevant
The excerpt below comes from my book God's Image and Global Cultures
Cross-cultural theorists have come up with a number of ways of describing the differences between cultures. Usually these comparisons are based on dyadic (two-element) categories of value-orientations.
Early “value orientation” theories polarized certain values like competition vs. cooperation, shame vs. guilt; or short-term vs. long-term planning. The data seem to suggest that many dominant national cultures will lean heavily toward one end of the spectrum rather than maintain the polar opposites simultaneously. For instance, a culture will not be both hierarchal and egalitarian, or competitive and cooperative—though some cultures are far more polarized than others. For instance, the USA has the most individualistic culture on the planet; Australia has the most egalitarian national culture. Argentina is right in the center between individualism and power distance, and between egalitarianism and hierarchy (The Hofstede Center).
So these value-orientations are tendencies or generalizations; they are not descriptive of everyone in a given society. As Hofstede collected his data, he worked mostly with professionals in the host cultures. Subsequent theorists have noticed that there is a significant amount of variation within the societies that Hofstede studied. For example, a study of women, children, or ethnic minorities in some societies would return different results for variables like being/doing, or individualism/collectivism (see Tanno 2008). And we are seeing variation to a much greater degree in highly heterogeneous (“melting pot” or “salad bowl”) cultures in this era of globalization. Also, while the “culture difference” theory of Hofstede (and others) uses a model with polar opposites, no culture is entirely polarized. Cultures lean (sometimes heavily) one direction while maintaining some tendency toward the value on the other pole. For example, members of culture X may promote a strong “in group” mentality and may exhibit very hospitable behavior toward insiders, and yet be far less hospitable toward strangers. So it is difficult to plot Culture Xers on a continuum either as “spontaneous hospitality” or “planned hospitality” since the orientation changes depending on the context. Or they may be very expressive of emotions to insiders, and very stoic toward outsiders. So it is not that people of Culture X are incapable of hospitality and are always stoic; their orientation to both values depends on the social context.
Theorists such as Lingenfelter and Mayers employed a six-fold model of dyadic value orientations, including time vs. event orientation; task vs. person orientation; dichotomistic vs. holistic thinking, status vs. achievement, concealment or exposure of vulnerability, and crisis vs. non-crisis orientation. Still others have introduced the ideas of polychronic or monochronic time reckoning. Geert Hofstede’s dyadic categories included the idea of “masculine or feminine” cultures, which described the degree of aggression and competition in a culture. Other theorists have re-named this category “tough vs. tender”. Quite recently, Hofstede’s researchers introduced a pragmatism scale, rating some cultures as resistant toward change while others embrace it.
Even though the theoretical orientation of dividing ethnic or national cultures into dyadic categories is increasingly contested, it is important for World Changers to be aware of the canonical cultural variables that are discussed in the field of intercultural studies. And these variables allow us to think through God’s plan for cultures in light of their vast differences. Theorists have put so much effort into understanding these value orientations because, quite often, cross-cultural misunderstandings and conflicts are related to a clash of value orientations.
 Mead, Cooperation and Competition among Primitive Peoples.
 Piers and Singer. Shame and Guilt.
 Hofstede, Geert, et al., Cultures and Organizations.
 Hofstede, Culture's Consequence.
 Lingenfelter and Mayers. Ministering Cross–culturally.
 Hall and Hall. Understanding Cultural Differences.
 Hofstede, Culture's Consequences.
 Hoppe, “An Interview with Geert Hofstede.”
 Lingenfelter, Agents of transformation; Storti, The Art of Crossing Cultures.
Some pastors and even theologians preach that "ethne" in “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Matt 24:14; Rev 7:refers to "ethnic people groups" or nations . The excerpt below, from my book God's image and Global Cultures, addresses this issue:
This implies that there is ethno-cultural continuity between earthly cultures and eternity. The “nations” are apparently represented in heaven, in these verses. An interpretive problem immediately presents itself: Which nations? Does this mean only nation-states recognized by the United Nations? What about nations that have gone extinct, like the Ottoman Empire and Babylon, or nations that have reinvented themselves like Egypt and Greece? What about nations that are yet to be born? It is quite problematic to link ethne (translated as “nation” in the passage above) to the modern nation-states.
Unfortunately, rather than solving a problem, rendering "ethne" as nation or "people group" further reinforces an error in popular evangelical theology of culture. Think of the difficulties in interpreting ethne as ethnic groups: Is the child of an African-American father and Korean mother a member of a distinct ethne—yet another ethne that must be evangelized and will be included in the “all cultures in heaven” list? Would reaching a Korean-African American be considered as one new ethne or two or three ethne? What about people like Tiger Woods—“Cabalasians” who have numerous ethnicities in their background (as in fact, we all do)? Are they included as a distinct ethne? Are Caucasian Americans in the twenty-first century—with the innumerable combinations of Scandinavian, Mediterranean, Eastern European ancestry—to be understood as a single ethne? If we extend ethne to mean “however people identify themselves ethnically” or “all possible ethnic permutations” then we are left with so many possibilities that we may as well just say “all people.” In fact, that is exactly what many theologians conclude: We must interpret “every tribe and nation” as a metaphor for many people from all over the world.
This way of looking at ethne may seem like splitting hermeneutical hairs, but it has profound implications for an evangelical theology of culture in the twenty-first century. It should radically change the way we think about race and ethnicity. Ethnic boundaries are gradients and porous, not defined and static. Now, even if the Greek term ethne means “all people”; in practical terms, I would still maintain the conventional missiological wisdom that the best way to reach “many people from all over the world” is to focus on their self-identified ethnic groups! But those lines are always shifting and are contested.
 USCWM. "Who are the Unreached?"
 Some scholars have suggested that ethne in Matthew refers only to Gentiles. There are times when context does indicate this rendering. However, in these eschatological verses, the meaning seems to be extended to all people (see Meier “Nations or Gentiles”). Note that (ta) ethne is rendered 12 different ways, depending on context, in popular English translations: nation(s), people, country (or countries), province, Gentiles, heathens, pagans, peoples, world, foreigners, mankind, race (see Muthuraj “The Meaning of Ethnos and Ethne”) but never as “ethnicity.”
As Y2K approached (remember that?) Louis Bush popularized the idea of prioritizing missionary efforts in the 10-40 window: latitudes 10 to 40 North, where the world's majority of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists live. At that time missionary boards began focusing on Unreached People groups (as defined by David Barrett's Encyclopedia of World Christianity and popularized in the Joshua Project). The idea was that if fewer than 2% of a people group were evangelical Christians, there would be no indigenous church strong enough to evangelize its own people, so missionary efforts would be necessary. This push for missions among the least-reached in Asia (that's where the 10-40 window is) not only helped prioritize sending-country efforts, but it ensured that other parts of the world could become self-supporting, as expatriate leadership and resources were pulled out and redirected elsewhere.
However, the effect that this push toward the Unreached People Groups (UPGs) had some negative effects in churches and among missionaries. As pastors and mission leaders became passionate about the UPGs they began de-legitimating the very important missionary efforts of their very-skilled personnel who were working in Africa, South America, the Pacific, Europe, not to mention the USA, or anywhere else that wasn't considered "least reached." The push for "UPG-only" missions alienated the majority of missionaries these churches were sending out! I remember a supporting church called me to verify that our Bible translation project was indeed in an unreached people group, otherwise the church wouldn't support our work. I responded that the language group we worked in was least-reached, but not how the Joshua Project defined it.
It looks like mission boards and churches have moved away from the myopia of "UPG-only" missions. I think it's time to make missions global again. The reality is that in each of our sending churches (no matter what country) the people God raises up and whom we send out have too many varied callings and giftings to limit them to one region, or one particular type of work.
Of course, the real goal isn't to make Missions Global, but to make God's name Great Globally. #makeJesusGreatAgain
Below is an excerpt from my book God's Image and Global Cultures:God's Image and Global Cultures
When systematic theologians ask about the nature of human beings, they are exploring, “What does it mean to be in God’s image?” Questions about the nature of humanity belong to a specific branch of systematic theology that is referred to as theological anthropology. Anthropologians (theologians of anthropology) focus primarily on what it means that humankind was created perfect, because God cannot create an imperfect creation. Jesus, the perfect God-man is the model for this inquiry. Anthropologians also look at the essence of humankind: the relationship between the human body, soul, spirit and heart (or inner person). In a broader sense, they are concerned with the role of humans in respect to creation at large, as well as questions of race, free will, sexuality, and economics. An evangelical theological anthropology recognizes that humans are tempted, but are morally accountable, and because of the Fall, currently exist in an abnormal state.
There are substantive, relational and functional aspects of being in the image (or shadow or reflection) (Hebrew: tzelem) and likeness (Hebrew: demus) of God. Theologians have described three possible explanations for what it means that we are in God’s likeness: 1) we share characteristics, like rationality; 2) we are relational, and in relationship with God, or 3) we function in ways that God does. I cannot develop each of these ideas here, but I will point out that my argument that bearing God’s image means cultural behavior emphasizes the functional image. We function in ways that God does, as we rule, create, express and relate to others, and even rest. Of course, functioning in God’s image does not mean that we mirror his image. The cultural ramifications of the Fall are that we function in cultural systems (economics, social structures, expression, etc.) but are immensely creative in the way we corrupt each of these systems.
If we employ any number of definitions of culture, it would be accurate to say that culture is rooted in the very nature of God. Culture is fundamentally about communicating, creativity, society, and norms. And the Trinity is eternally engaged in these activities we call culture. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit communicate—though the Trinity is not confined to any particular language. God has tremendous (unlimited) creative potential. The Trinity has recently been described as a society of three, eternally existing in communion. Jürgen Moltmann, who focused especially on the social aspect of the Trinity, understood that this view of God would have political and social implications—that is, it would have to do with culture. And God has norms of behavior we see reflected in His Law (Ps 119).
T. F. Torrance has masterfully tied the act of creation/culture, as well as its purpose and design, to the Trinity. “The very plurality of God serves as the basis for the unified and creative agency of God”. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit fellowship in creative activity. Humans, as image-bearers, are mediators or stewards of the order of creation, and that is really what culture is about: “ ‘The creative re-ordering of existence’…This is by its very nature a socio-cultural activity”.
Granted, the eternally existing culture in the Trinity is not perfectly analogous to culture on earth. Our cultures seem to be inextricably linked to the environment in which we live, and it would require linguistic gymnastics to say that God exists in an environment.
 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 22.
 Geisler, Systematic Theology, 50–53.
 Cortez, Theological Anthropology.
 Leech, The Social God.
 Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God.
 Unfortunately, the metaphor of the Social Trinity can admittedly be hijacked by any social agenda. Specifically, socialists coopt the notion of a perfect heavenly society and mandate that the people of God, as representatives of the Trinity, must reconstruct this perfect society. See Chapman, “The Social Doctrine of the Trinity.”
 Flett, Persons, Powers and Pluralities, 18.
 Ibid., 114.
Below is taken from my book God's Image and Global Cultures:
Not everyone sees cultural diversity as a plus. Having taught on culture to numerous audiences around the world, I have encountered two objections to “diversity.” First, some people come from fairly mono-cultural backgrounds and are either afraid of other cultures or even presuppose an amount of cultural superiority. “They should just learn English,” or “We have more freedoms here in America” are typical statements from mono-cultural folks. A sub-culture in the US holds to “American exceptionalism” (see chapter 2), conceiving of the US as particularly and uniquely blessed above all other nations.
Some detractors of “diversity” are not against multiculturalism per se, but see diversity as an agenda which is hollow or self-defeating. They mainly point to research that indicates that cultural heterogeneity reuces interpersonal trust and causes people to isengage from society (Putman 2007). The more that civilizations meet each other, the more clashes there will be, as a result of differences in ideology and religion.
Part of the ambivalence evangelicals have about multiculturalism comes from our interpretation of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Because the confusing of languages and subsequent scattering of nations appears to be a punishment, Christians may tend to paint multi-culturalism in a negative light. Our argument may look like this:
Sometimes we build a theology of cultural diversity by arguing that diversity is extended to heaven. The argument is mostly based on the book of Revelation, in passages like Revelation 7:9–10, which say heaven includes “every nation, tribe, people and language” (NIV). We reason erroneously as follows:
However, as I showed in a previous section, it is asking too much of the passage to take “nation, tribe people and language” as proof of cultural diversity in heaven. The emphasis here is more on the fact that God’s grace is extended to all of humanity rather than on the eternal permanence and static identification of ethnic categories. The passage shows that God’s promise to make Abraham the father of many nations (Gen 15:5, 32:12) has been fulfilled.
So if we are to build a theology of diversity, it is more advisable to find evidence of cultural diversity through the Old and New Testament than to use Revelation 7:9–10 as a proof text. Even a cursory reading of the Psalms shows God’s interest in people from all backgrounds and languages (see Ps 2:8, 33:12, 67:1–7). In fact, numerous theologies of mission have shown God’s interest in all people groups throughout the Old Testament. Despite Jesus’ enigmatic argument that he was sent to the Jews, his ministry was notably multi-cultural. The plot of the book of Acts is that the church will expand from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The historical narrative moves along as God’s grace extends to the southernmost part of the known world, Ethiopia (Acts 8:26–30), and then to the Greeks, ethnic minorities in the Mediterranean, and on to Rome. Diversity is a major theme in Acts, including (and often blurring the lines between) linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity.
This multi-culturalism is in the DNA of the church; as Andrew Walls put it, the cross-cultural process has been the lifeblood of the church. Some theologians have even suggested that cultural diversity is rooted in the Trinity. A revised, exegetically-substantiated line of reasoning would look like this:
 B. Carson, America the Beautiful; Rauchway Blessed Among Nations.
 Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order; Rundle and Steffen Great Commission Companies, 78.
 Trial, Exegetical Summary of Acts.
 Hughes, The Book of Revelation; Mounce, The Book of Revelation.
 Kostenberger and O'Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth; Richardson, Eternity in their Hearts; Verkuyl “The Biblical Foundation.”
 Barreto Ethnic Negotiations.
 Walls, The Cross–cultural Process in Christian History, 67.
 Campbell, A Multitude of Blessings.
 Parler, Things Hold Together, 218.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor