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Chicken and egg

"You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world..." Matthew 5. 13-14

Is it faith that influences culture or does culture shape our faith? Jesus' exhortation in his Sermon on the Mount suggests the former. However, in his Hibbert Lectures for 1888, English theologian Edwin Hatch demonstrated how the Semitic nature of Jesus' teaching had taken on an unmistakably Greek flavour by the time the Apostles Creed was formulated. Ever since, theologians have wrestled with the reality, implications and imperative of the faith/ culture dance.

In his 'Systematic Theology', American-German Paul Tillich insists that faith must be culturally intelligible to be effective. Could his approach suggest that faith is merely society's spiritual poodle? Not according to other contemporary thinkers who envisage a punchier role/ reality, such as the champions of radical and liberation theologies - who want to recruit faith to their agenda for change, seeing in Christ the key to equality, freedom and justice for those currently oppressed.

In 'The Crucufied God', German scholar Jurgen Moltmann, traces the impact of faith on culture along 5 avenues of need: economic deprivation, political oppression, cultural alienation, ecological crisis, meaningless of life. Does this not take us all the way back to the Sermon on the Mount? Even if it does, the journey has not been wasted. For along the way we have learned that, to be intelligible and therefore effective, faith must be shared in a way which makes sense to its audience, which means taking into account its cultural context. Time and again through the ages, the Christian Gospel has proved its unique and extraordinary adaptability: to assimilate cultural norms while continuing to deliver the essential message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.



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