Gospel & Culture blog
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.
© 2015 Kenneth Nehrbass. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor