Surprised by Culture
by Phil Martin
One of the most frequent questions I get from Christian friends in the U.S. goes something like this. In what ways does Chinese culture make evangelism difficult? Essentially, what is unique about China that presents obstacles in the path to faith. There are certainly some questions that come up often, and our team has written about them before. I was most struck by the way some people obeyed their parents every wish well into adulthood. This was not the norm, most people were independent from their parents. However, it was still very different from my American friends. I can’t think of any American friends who rejected Christianity solely because of their parents disapproval.
But, it would be misleading to share that without the full picture. The most surprising thing to me was how similar the usual objections are. If you were to make a list of the top ten objections, my guess is that only one or two would be materially different than my American peers. The list would include the questions that Tim Keller answers in NYC and that we encountered while at the University of Maryland.
It wasn’t from Buddhism or Taoism that most questions arose. I think I had two conversations about reincarnation in one year. It is the empty tomb that causes people to think twice. The all encompassing, exclusive nature of Christianity is much harder to accept than giving up beliefs in reincarnation or Taoist idol worship. People are people. The thread that runs from Adam to each one of our hearts is a rejection of the authority of our creator. The cross is offensive to every man and in that way we are all in the same culture.
The implication for missions is that training for global ministry might not need as much cross-cultural emphasis as we often suppose. Reading scripture, explaining biblical concepts, and answering questions is a skill that can be practiced anywhere. I found that my lack of boldness was a much bigger hindrance than the ways that I misunderstood Taiwanese culture. We are more similar than we are different.