Chapter 3 – A Better Way
This chapter begins by describing a time when the 2 authors were working together in preparation to teach a seminar on the book of Acts. They struggled particularly with Acts 2. McNeil noted the multiethnic dimensions stating “it was not by accident that God revealed his Spirit and proclaimed the gospel to Jewish converts who were from many nations and spoke many different languages.” (32) While Richardson felt that the many languages used by the disciples were necessary to share the gospel with all of the different people who came to Jerusalem. He felt that “God was just making a strategic evangelistic and communication move.” (32)
McNeil emphasizes that the gospel is not only about individual salvation, but also about reconciliation. Richardson, on the other hand, had been taught to “see the text through an individualistic lens and to focus on the salvation of individuals.” (33)
As they continued to study, they began to see that “the book of Acts is the story of how the Holy Spirit takes ethnocentric people, changes them and calls them to carry the gospel across every ethnic and cultural boundary.” (33)
The authors propose that God has a purpose for cultures . . .
“to fill the earth and bring it under the reign of God, requires that humanity in all its diversity reflect the image of God in the Earth. When human beings pursue this ‘cultural mandate,’ we participate in the coming of the kingdom of God.” (34)
So, as people began to multiply, they formed groups which spread and “created culture in response to many different environments.” (35)
“As human beings spread and diversified, racial differences also emerged. These racial differences were a part of God’s intention from the beginning. They were intended to be a part of the beauty and variety of the image of God on the earth.” (35)
In the story of the Tower of Babel, God forces the people to spread and diversify by confusing their language. Babel gives a picture of every sinful human and nation. Our achievements become a source of pride. “The precise shape of self-worship changes for each nation, but the ultimate purpose of idolatry . . . is to make a name for ourselves.” (36)
But, God says that He should be our most important identity. “This does not cancel or dismiss our cultural identity; it simply supersedes them as the most significant.” (39)
“We will never be fully used to help bring about the healing of people and of nations until we understand that God’s purpose and plan includes our racial and ethnic identity.” (43)
I’ve been thinking about God being my most important identity. It reminds me of our trip to Ethiopia to bring home our son.
We were provided the amazing opportunity to meet some members of his birth family. The beginning of the meeting was awkward at best. That was due to many things, but largely due to the language and cultural differences. We began communicating through an interpreter, and at one point, found ourselves sharing that we are Christians. From that moment, the entire meeting changed. Our son’s birth family is also Christian. We connected at such a core level. The awkwardness was gone. Our most important identity, Christ, connected us!
We shared our intentions to raise our son to know Christ, but also to know the beauty and culture of Ethiopia. And, we know that with God’s help, our son will know and accept both identities.
Questions from Study Guide (185)
Have you ever operated from an ethnocentric perspective? In what ways have you seen this evidenced in your life? How is this opposed to the message of the gospel?
Do you believe that there can be unity without sameness?
McNeil, Brenda Salter, and Rick Richardson. The Heart of Racial Justice: How Soul Change Leads to Social Change. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.