A culture is like a paradigm. A certain way of looking at things to which everyone subscribes. A whole community of people exploring truth, but constrained by certain norms. A planet with its own gravity, where ‘we’ are centre and everyone else is periphery.
Think of it like science. In the history of science, there have been paradigms. Pursuit of data and truth, but usually in one way, with one method. Scientists live in communities, are shaped by a shared cluster of concepts, and seek ‘truth’ according to certain rules of investigation.
Occasionally, along comes a Copernicus or a Newton or an Einstein, who brings a paradigm-shift. Someone who thinks so far outside the box that a new box is needed. A paradigm is not immortal. When the time comes, it must be discarded. This is rare, as Einstein stated;
Few people are capable of expressing…opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.
When confronted with a whole new paradigm, an entirely new worldview, perspective, and way of making sense of the world, it is very difficult to evaluate New in light of Old. According to Thomas Kuhn,
Contending paradigms are strictly incommensurable. There is no neutral ground that can be used to adjudicate between them.
The space between cultures is like that. Incommensurable. If you are seeking to enter into a new culture, it is impossible to evaluate it in the light of your own culture. Or possible, but wrong.
A communalistic culture can’t be appraised in the light of individualism.
An honour-shame culture can’t be weighed according to guilt-innocence bias.
A hierarchical culture can’t be judged by the merits of democracy.
A superstitious culture can’t be measured by materialistic presuppositions.
A feeling culture can’t be critiqued by rationalist standards.
To enter a new culture is to undergo a paradigm-shift. A Copernican revolution. It is to enter the gravitational field of a different planet.
To help people seek the truth of Jesus Christ cross-culturally, we cannot use our paradigms of truth-seeking; our logic, our pet arguments, our sermons, our “science.” We must use theirs.
And glorious it is that the One who said “I am the Truth” is an incarnate Person, One who enters in, One who makes himself present and at home within all cultures of the world. Jesus is not constrained by our paradigms, by our logic or proofs or polemics. So wrote John;
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—
the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—
that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. I John 1.1-3