Insights from
Anthropology for Christian Witness
(Chapters Fifteen to Twenty-eight)
Matthew Ropp
MB520 (IDL), Anthropology
Midterm Paper
Charles H. Kraft, Spring 1998
Fuller Theological Seminary, School of World Mission

    In this paper I will reflect upon one or more concepts or insights that were important or stood out to me in each of the last fourteen chapters in the second half of Anthropology for Christian Witness and from the corresponding lectures. These may not necessarily be the most important concepts in those chapters, but those that were new for me. While for the paper for the first half of the book, I illustrated my understanding of these concepts by reflecting specifically on the Irish culture, herein I will illustrate from primarily my own context as an American student and Christian, as well as my experiences in Japan.

Chapter 15 - Communication: Language

- This chapter discussed the great importance of language and its relation to culture. Indeed, language is shown to mirror culture at every point. Language can therefore be used in discovering worldview structures because it embodies those assumptions. One example of how language mirrors culture is with the Japanese. The Japanese people are very in-group, out-group conscious, as well as status conscious. This is heavily reflected in the various levels of politeness in Japanese. Not only are there various levels of politeness depending on the status of the person with whom you are talking (far above you, above you, equal to you, below you, child, stranger), but there are also different honorific patterns used for humbling someone in your in-group or honoring someone in the out-group.

- Language learning is also ministry. This can be true not only in foreign cross-cultural contexts, but also here in a very diverse city such as Los Angeles. At Fuller, for example, there are many Korean students and lately I have been making an effort to learn a few phrases in their language. Students I ask for help are usually more than glad to do so, and others are pleasantly surprised when I can say a few words here and their in their native tongue.

Chapter 16 - Communication: Beyond Language

- We can further mission by valuing indigenous art forms. The tea ceremony and calligraphy in Japan are sometimes linked with Shinto, in which they have their origins. They are primarily, however art forms, and I believe they can and should be incorporated into Christian expression. These forms capture the essence of Japanese aestheticism and validating them in Christian contexts will help for the Japanese people to see God as validating their culture.

- Art also serves to enculturate and educate children. Here in the U.S. we have many songs, stories, and rhymes for young children that, although entertaining for the children, are also teaching them about how to live life "properly" as a member of this culture.

- Oral presentations are often more powerful than visual, because they require more participation, especially imagination. Even a literary presentation can demonstrate this dynamic here in the west. Reading to oneself is in effect a type of oral presentation as reading basically consists of repeating the words to oneself off the printed page. This allows for much more imagination and effort than watching a television show or movie. It may also explain why many people are often disappointed when they see a movie that was made out of a novel they have read. Not only might they not like any plot changes that have been made, but the characters and scenes as depicted will not match up to the ones they had imagined.

Chapter 17 - Education

- "Teaching" and "doctrine" in scripture refer to behavior inculcated more than just information. We are often really good in evangelical circles at discussing what scripture means without ever applying it practically to our own walk as believers. We need to learn how to do, not just learn information, and when learning information it should be relevant to real life. In a seminary context, I enjoy most of the classes in the School of World Mission at Fuller because they are practical and relevant. Many of the classes in the School of Theology, although teaching valuable information, do not teach us as those preparing for ministry how to do ministry in that subject area. We learn what we do! I am getting fairly good (I hope!) at taking lecture notes and writing papers, but this is not very relevant for ministry. One pleasant exception are Dr. Ray Anderson's systematic theology courses, where the paper topics are directly applicable to situations that will likely arise in our own ministry contexts.

- Also, in school we learn to depend upon the pressure of external conditions to motivate us, often leading to poor self-motivation. I know it is true in my own life that it is often difficult to be motivated without these external deadlines!

Chapter 18 - Family

- It is very important to consider family patterns in evangelism. In Japan, the failure to realize this has affected Christian mission quite negatively. Western missionaries have come with individualized concepts of conversion and tried to convert individual Japanese persons. Most Japanese are not willing, however, even if they think Christianity sounds appealing and are moving toward belief, to make an allegiance commitment that will in some way separate them from their family. Evangelism focused on witnessing to family units would likely be much more effective.

- For most of the world, a wedding is more for the sake of the relatives and children than for the spouses. Although I think that weddings are also very important for the spouses here in the United States, it is true that the wedding ceremony can be a very important family social occasion which goes beyond just the aspects of a marriage.

Chapter 19 - Status and Role

- Statuses and roles come in pairs. I have many statuses and/or roles: son, grandson, brother, nephew, student, teacher, leader, choir member, roommate, et cetera. These are paired with other peoples' statuses and roles in relation to me as mother, grandfather, sister, uncle, teacher, student, follower, choir director, and roommate.

- We can choose to take on the role of either a cooperator or a competitor when addressing other cultures. It seems obvious that we should try to cooperate rather than compete if we hope to have any sort of positive impact. We should seek the role of an insider as much as possible, cooperating to better the lives of those to whom we minister.

Chapter 20 - Grouping

- Problems result if sociocultural concepts of appropriate groups sizes are ignored for churches. Our mega-churches of today here in the United States are probably too large. If we were attending some sort of social club intended for fellowship or participation in a common interest, we would not likely go to a regular meeting of thousands of people. Rather, we would attend a local group near our home. This dynamic may be largely responsible for the growing number of cell group based churches.

- I found it exciting to hear about the success one minister had in planting churches near subway stations in Japan. This makes a lot of sense to me! In my experience, Japanese people do not mind commuting to go somewhere, but it is nice for the place you are going to be near the train station!

Chapter 21 - Social Control

- The most effective basis for social control is the relationship basis! I believe this is because relationships are powerful. Someone that has a relationship with us is much more likely to truly affect our lives. We gain respect for them and care what they have to say. Thus if they want to influence us (social control) we will be listening to them. I usually greatly respect authority figures that have taken in an interest in my own or other people's lives.

- Gossip is possibly the most important social control mechanism in most places. As Christians we need to consider in what situations gossip is or is not appropriate, however. In at least sometimes it is not appropriate (see e.g. 2 Cor. 12:20).

- There are often degrees to the type of social control implemented in a particular case, depending on the severity of the behavior. The type of control implemented may also depend on how often the behavior occurs. In a high school classroom situation, for example, a student may just get a stern look the first time he or she does something, be reprimanded verbally the second time, and sent to the principal's office the third time. The type of control used escalates due to the cumulative effect of the offense.

Chapter 22 - Stability and Change

- Most normal social change is usually from the present practice to a known but slightly disapproved practice. Perhaps this pattern can be used for good in churches which do not accept many aspects of the spiritual world. Slowly these churches can be changed by people within them engaging in slightly disapproved practices, which then become approved or normal. These implementors can then go a little farther to another practice which is now only slightly disapproved but would have originally been completely unacceptable.

- Often people protect certain parts of culture while gladly changing others. In the United States we strongly protect our individualism, especially anything we think has to do with our personal rights. The technological and many material forms of our culture, however, are constantly changing and most people are open or even embrace this change.

- Christianity is often accepted by the desperate/marginal, thus becoming suspect. This was to some degree the case in the early church, as some opponents of Christianity defamed it by stating that it was only foolish women and slaves that became Christians. The record in Acts, however, indicates that Christianity did have a broader appeal.

Chapter 23 - Change Barriers and Facilitators

- We can look for dissatisfaction and felt needs as keys to facilitating change. Many peoples of the world are tired of having to placate evil spirits. A Christian witness that frees them from this will likely be effective in introducing change in their lives. Closer to home, the conservative church could have much greater impact in changing people's lives if it would reach out to meet the needs of those in the surrounding communities.

- The prestige of the donor group in change is an important factor. This has been another barrier to Christian witness in Japan. In the post-WWI era, many missionaries were sent to Japan from the United States. They saw this time as a great opportunity for mission. Unlike Korea, however, which had been liberated by the Americans in the war, Japan was now receiving Christianity from its "conquerors." Although it was probably appropriate to approach the Japanese with the gospel at a time when they were demoralized by the defeat of war, it was unwise for Americans, who had been the agents of this demoralization, to be the messengers!

Chapter 24 - Advocates of Change

- Implementors can demonstrate; advocates can only recommend. A speaker may come to a church as an outsider and preach about how things should be done this way or that way. He or she is only an advocate, however, and unless someone inside the church implements these ideas so others can see their effectiveness (or lack of ), change will not result. The outsider cannot himself implement the change.

- There is a need to study the culture of donor organizations, especially their world-view assumptions. What are my assumptions as a potential missionary to Japan or to Indonesia? And what will be the assumptions of the organization I work with? These are important questions and will affect every aspect of my missionary service. If the organization, for example, assumes that churches should look like those in the west, this will cause clash with me and also lead to syncretism. Or are they more open to exploring what churches should look like within the cultural context?

Chapter 25 - Ethics of Change

- What may seem ethical from the communicator's perspective may be interpreted as unethical by the receptor. When we come in as outsiders advocating another "religion" (which is hopefully more of a relationship than a religion) do we seem arrogant? We may think, "We are changing these people for the good." The receptors may think, "They are trying to impose their foreign ideas on us." We must begin with relationship and help people to see we are interested in more than just their conversion - we are interested in them personally. Our message is a personal message - all we really have to offer is ourselves and to become a person according to the receptor's definition. When we live with and work with and love the people we are called to ministry among, whether in urban Los Angeles or in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, we will be ministering as Christ ministered.

Chapter 26 - Dynamics of Worldview Change

- Belief that God has had something to do with our present knowledge keeps us from learning anything new. Our churches often fall into this problem, which is an arrogant deception. We are limited by our tradition which has taught us the supposed truth that certain gifts, for example, are no longer available today. If we get beyond our own church culture, however, it becomes obvious that these gifts are active here and now. It becomes obvious that we "knew" to be true was not true at all.

- The Christian change agent should concentrate on planting a few worldview seeds. Can we get Americans or Westerners today to accept that there is a very real and powerful spiritual dimension in our lives? We may get them to accept some customs or superficial changes in the way we think, but this will likely not be effective unless the rationalism at the heart of our worldview is somehow challenged.

- Conversion is partial in terms of the extent of assumptions that change, but significant because of the importance of those changes. The primary change needed at the worldview level is that of an allegiance change to God through his son, Jesus Christ.

Chapter 27 - Theological Implications of this Approach

- We must have balance between power, truth, and allegiance encounters!

- The battle between God and Satan takes place within every sociocultural context, not between sanctified ones and pagan ones. We are often blind to the sins of our own society because we are too close. Perhaps as we advocate and subtly recommend changes in other cultures (but allowing them to change in their own time), we should invite others to come and critique our own walk before the Lord. They are likely to see things we do not.

Chapter 28 - Research and Study

- Churches/missions need to research and study their approaches and then implement them! I see a need for this in my own church context. While we talk about evangelism and witnessing to neighbors, et cetera, by far the largest part of what we do is for maintenance of the existing church. Is this really our primary goal? If research is done and proposals for change that would benefit the church's mission made, would the church be willing to implement them? I am, unfortunately, doubtful. We have become too comfortable.

- We are tempted to hold people to too high of a standard too soon and are not patient for God to work in their culture. This dynamic is often true on the personal level in the Western church context. When someone comes to Christ, we often expect them to immediately be completely different, rather than letting God slowly work in their lives for behavior changes to follow their allegiance change.


Kraft, Charles H.
  1996    Anthropology for Christian Witness. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis.

 Return to top

 Return to paper index