The Cultural Relativizing Of Revelation -- By: Carl F. H. Henry

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 01:2 (Fall 1980)
Article: The Cultural Relativizing Of Revelation
Author: Carl F. H. Henry


The Cultural Relativizing Of Revelation

Carl F. H. Henry

Arlington, Virginia

Charles H. Kraft’s controversial Christianity in Culture (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1979, $12.95), a study in “dynamic biblical theologizing” in cross-cultural perspective, appears at a time when the volatile controversy over biblical authority is finding new focus. The issue of the culture-relatedness of the Judeo-Christian revelation has become a matter of high debate. Kraft, the professor of anthropology and African studies at the Fuller School of World Mission, writes in a day when some professedly evangelical spokesmen openly contend that the Koran is for Muslims an acceptable cross-cultural equivalent of the Bible.

Kraft has studied anthropology, has served briefly as a missionary in northern Nigeria, and has engaged in linguistic and ethnological research particularly among the Hausa tribespeople. Some of his Fuller colleagues view Kraft as a sensationalist whose significance should not be overrated. But his book is a well-documented and carefully organized work. It gains power through a rejection of extremist and unbalanced views and from a serious wrestling with many dilemmas that face the missionary task force.

Kraft assures his readers that he is an evangelical Protestant committed to biblical Christianity. He proffers “a culturally informed perspective on Christianity and Christian theology” (ibid. 18), one sensitive to the diversity of culture and to the mounting impact of the behavioral-sciences. He disavows “absolute cultural relativism” that precludes any and all evaluation of cultural behavior (ibid. 124); instead, he promotes “relative cultural relativism” (ibid. 125). His central concern is the cultural yet transcultural character of revelation and of Scripture, along with the related issues involved in communication and contextualization of the Gospel to and in some 6,000 cultures of the modern world.

The Bible is, as we know, itself a multicultural book. But the “cultural distance” between Hebrew culture and European cultures, Kraft holds, makes it “likely that American understandings” of Scripture “will be further from the intent of the original authors than African and Asian understandings” (ibid. 12). Kraft is disturbed that Western theology has posted a “heresy” sign over other approaches to Christianity than its own. He stresses the crucial importance of divergent “thought patterns” in different cultures, warns against “Greek-type thinking,” and sounds a call for conversion to a new perception of the nature of Christ’s work. Cultural perspectives differ because of different governing assumptions. But the assumptions of others may be “just as valid” as ours (ibid. 58).

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