For some years I have been saying to anyone who will listen that the Bible, and specifically the Torah, is a cultural manual for God’s people. If Christianity is inherently communal (and it is), then Scripture provides the outline for the culture that is to form and to characterize Christian communities.
It is encouraging, therefore, to read other believers discovering some of the same truths. This is an excerpt from an excellent book I’m reading right now titled, Inhabiting the Church: Biblical Wisdom for a New Monasticism.
John Alexander, who was for many years the pastor of the Church of the Sojourners community in San Francisco, once wrote an essay that he called the “Apache Document,” proposing this scenario to his readers:
Suppose a white person went to Arizona for a weekend and came back saying he’d become an Apache. He still talked the same, he still lived in the same place, he still related to nature the same way, he still talked to everyone he saw, and he didn’t spend much time with Apaches. The only change you could see was that he wore buckskin Sunday mornings and went around telling people he’d become an Apache.
What would you think? I’d think it was odd. I’d suspect he hadn’t joined the Apache tribe in any meaningful sense.*
Alexander’s point, of course, was that we don’t usually think about conversion as joining a tribe. Yes, we talk a good bit about conversion. And, yes, most Christians learn how to look like a Christian on Sunday mornings. But there is little evidence that most of American Christianity actually believes that the gospel offers us a new culture–a new ethnic identity in our sea of multiculturalism.
But if God really has made us part of a holy people, then we have been baptized into a new family whose way of living calls into question all the practices of our different cultures. This is not to say that black Christians have to become white or that Latinos need to act black, but rather that black, white, and Latino must become Christian. First Christian, then white. First Christian, then black. First Christian, then Latino. For Christianity is a culture–a set of beliefs and stories and practices that shapes our vision of the world around us and the decisions we make about ways to act in the world. Christianity is not a culture wholly incompatible with black culture or with white American culture, with Hindu culture or with Arabic culture. But it is a culture that calls every human practice into question.**
Like I was saying the other day, the Gospel is designed to permeate every fiber of our being and to transform us; from the way we talk to the way we think, from the way we eat to the way plan.
*Alexander, “On Becoming an Apache.”
**Wilson-Hartgrove, Jonothan, “Conversion” – an essay in the book Inhabiting the Church: Biblical Wisdom for a New Monasticism by Jon Stock, Tim Otto and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove