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sermon: Cultural Paradigms in Scripture

All Things To See Men

Given 01-Jul-17; Sermon #1386; 65 minutes

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Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on Paul's declaration that he would become all things to all men, suggests that Paul had the capability of seeing the truths of the Bible from several different cultural paradigms, namely an honor-shame continuum and a power-fear continuum, familiar to Hebrew and Middle-Eastern cultures, and an innocence-guilt continuum, familiar to those of us in the Western world, influenced by an admixture of Judeo-Christian ethic, Roman law, and Greek philosophy. Without a working knowledge of all three cultural paradigms, we have major blind-spots in interpreting and understanding the scriptures, culturally insulated like a fish out of water. Those of us in the Western world, steeped in the guilt-innocent paradigm, have a keen focus on right and wrong and tend to be highly individualistic, abhorring group-think and collectivist behavior. The language of this paradigm includes justice, pardon, works, wrath, mercy, right actions, doing what is right as measured against an abstract law. Those at home with the honor and shame paradigm define right and wrong in terms of group relationships. Whatever behavior brings shame on the group is to be shunned, as exampled by the shame the older brother felt as a result of the actions of "the prodigal son." In this parable, Christ enlightens us about the paradox that suffering shame for the sake of righteousness is in honor. A profoundly ingrained "pecking order" characterizes a power-fear culture, which is by definition fiercely hierarchical, with a strong man at the top. Each person below must either cower or put himself under the power of a protector. The language of Ephesians 1:15-23, combat language describing Satan as the adversary and Christ putting everything under His feet, resonates with individuals living in a power-fear culture. As we read the Bible, we find that God employs a blend of all three cultural paradigms, encouraging us to free ourselves from the bondage of cultural myopia and ethnocentrism in order to get more out the

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