|Biblical Cultural Transformation|
|Written by Ronald Kalifungwa|
Culture is one of those thorny issues that is difficult to define, but a careful look at the word reveals that there are three crucial ideas inherent in it, namely: cultivation—the nurture of human nature, colonization—going out to benefit every new place in creation, and cult (in the best sense of the word)—bringing in the fruit of our labours to God as an act of worship to Him (Gen. 1:28 ff.). Way back in the Garden of Eden, after God created Adam and Eve, he gave to them the cultural mandate, which some refer to as the Christian's social responsibility. In that mandate, God required them to: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing” (Gen 1:28ff).
This mandate has not changed in its fundamental substance, despite the fall. The fall however, has drastically limited man’s ability to fulfil it. In Africa, we feel this limitation acutely. In a sense, like the Israelites of old, we are still in slavery in Egypt where we are being hindered in our bid to make progress in every sphere of human endeavour. This slavery has cast a shadow upon our mindsets and left us consigned to perpetual backwardness. How do we explain the fact that in 21st century rural Africa, people still insist on living in small unattractive huts—small enough not to be able to accommodate a bed and the architect himself, in the midst of an abundance of free wood, grass and twine? How do we explain the fact that people who are made in the image of God are quite content to live in dirty environments and dark streets, and also to drive on dusty and potholed roads? And how do we explain the fact that many who live in old colonial houses are unwilling to improve on the innovations of their colonial masters—they cannot so much as put a new coat of paint on them? It seems to me that the earth tends to subdue the average African rather than the other way round.
In addition to this there are so many moral shortcomings that eat away at the very fabric of our potential to progress. Our culture is diseased and scarred by fraud and bribery, corruption and witchcraft, marital unfaithfulness and teenage promiscuity. Theft and sloth are the order of the day, and so are selfishness, dishonesty and lack of patriotism. Our educational system seems to be designed to produce bosses rather servants. These vices have coloured much of what we do as a nation—our business, our politics, our sports, and I am afraid to say even our religion.
The problem does not lie in a lack of technology, nor is it in the genes or a function of fate. I believe that the problem lies in our sin-ridden and biblically-deprived mindsets—mindsets that are not prepared to go beyond Egypt, the Red Sea and the desert.
Our culture is awfully obstinate. No amount of preaching, over these 140 years since the pioneer Christian missionaries arrived, has helped to move us sufficiently far on the road to the restoration of African dignity. Although missionary effort did succeed in introducing salvation, it seems to have brought us only as far as the shores of the River Jordan without salvifically affecting our culture at the core of its being. Like water off the feathers of a duck, even so, the gospel has by and large dripped off the feathers of our mindsets which for the most part are still deeply steeped in superstition and humanism. Cynics can be forgiven for saying that there’s little hope that anything can change in the African mindset. Accordingly, some simply give up on change, telling their constituencies to sit quietly and wait for the end.
But despite the inertia of our culture, is it possible to see it as dynamic? How may we change it? Or, rather, how may God change culture through us, in order to make his kingdom come to earth? The challenge is to remain biblical in our approach. This means identifying both the battle lines and the necessary methods according to scriptural principles.
I passionately believe that a big part of the answer to our woes lies in imbibing and developing a Christian and biblical worldview—that is to say, a Christian and biblical way of looking at life. Such a worldview will find its genesis in the experience of true salvation. Surely, the starting point must be to get rid of the chief element that stands in the way of progress, namely sin. According to the Bible, Christ is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Indeed he does not only take away sin, he also turns us into ideal men. To him we must cry as a matter of first importance. In the words of Jonathan Edwards: “The really pressing issue is penetration of a culture with the glorious God-centered gospel of Christ, because without penetration there is not the slightest hope of transformation.” Many social activists and culture-watchers in Zambia don’t seem to know or care that culture and societies and peoples who have no Christian presence at all in them cannot even begin to experience social or cultural transformation. Man cannot be changed fundamentally by a mere outward change of culture and the conditions of society. Instead culture and society will be changed when men are first changed inwardly by the gospel, and then seek to apply that change to the spheres of life in which they are involved such as marriage, families, churches, business establishments, the legal profession, education, economics, journalism, the media and civil government. But how exactly will this change come—change that will take us beyond Egypt, the Red Sea and the desert?
Having observed and read about cultures that have in the past progressed through coming under biblical influence, I am persuaded that transformation will come as we rivet our minds and consciences upon what I am calling biblically-based, dignity-arousing truths. They include: A biblical view of man as created in the image of God—such a view will give us a sense of dignity, stimulate our creative abilities and regulate our thinking about the place of true human rights, technology, etc. in our bid to create an environment that corresponds with the dignity of man as the image of God. We also need to have a biblical view of sin. In the fall man’s competency was marred. He came into the world as an ideal gardener, but through the fall, he became a frustrated gardener. He came into the world competent, well-equipped, and ideally suited to his appointed task of governance, but through the fall he became a frustrated developer and possessor of those qualities. Sin is no doubt what hampers our usefulness. Along with this understanding we must also have a biblical view of redemption. The gospel teaches that God is reconciling men to himself, making them new men in Christ, the new Adam. In Christ we do not just find a narrow escape from perdition. Rather, we find a new way of being human under a new, better, federal head. Gospel education endeavours to contribute to that process of making people into restored Adams. We need to produce and nurture in ourselves this ideal man. We also need to have a biblical view of work. We need a work ethic that is driven by a belief that we are created to work, never mind whether we are being remunerated for it or we are so called retired. In addition to this, we need a well-grounded conviction that the Bible is a sufficient guide in all matters of human endeavour.
In other words, we need a mindset that will help us exploit our full potential as image bearers of God; one that, inspired by an understanding of what is consonant with human dignity, is moved to proceed from under-development to development, from Garden to City, from Egypt & the desert to a land flowing with milk and honey—a land fit for a man created in the image of God to live in.
My plea to every reader, and every Christian in our country is this “Don’t just read—act! Do something about changing your own mindset as well as that of other persons, groups, cultures and trends according to the pattern set for us in the Bible. Let us work together to bring this about, until the kingdoms of our country, have become the kingdom of our God.