if it’s big in Japan…

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Yesterday, I heard a Christian missionary speak about the challenges he’s facing in Japan. One of the big ones is that, apparently, in Japan to become Christian is to become un-Japanese.

It’s seen as a massive betrayal. Giving up on what’s most essential and distinctive to the Japanese culture and way of life.

And from what I hear this is a fairly common theme — especially in non-Western cultures.

But it’s got me thinking…

Why don’t we assume something similar about becoming Christian in Australia?

If it’s big in Japan, why isn’t it so big here?

Or, rather, why don’t we expect it to be so big here? (I’m less interested in a historical or sociological account of how Australian culture and Christian ‘values’ have become intwined. And more interested in why Christians in Australia are likely to find the thought that being Christian means becoming un-Australian in some essential sense.)

Is it perhaps that we’re too engaged — too deeply embedded in and complicit with the Australian way of life? Too uncritically accepting and unable to imagine any other possibility than being here, fitting in, belonging?

Are we too unprepared to own the kind of identity the Apostle Peter hails his readers with: “elect exiles of the dispersion”, “temporary residents”, “strangers”?

And if I’m onto something with these hunches, then I’d want to know what it is that’s got us here. Even if all I’ve got is questions. Questions like:

How helpful is our popular evangelical emphasis on ‘just praying the prayer’ and not standing on ceremony?

Not that calling people to conversion is a bad thing. But I worry about what happened to urging people to count the cost. Or to baptising people into the radical new identity and life-course Jesus launches us on — where we’re summoned to observe everything our Lord teaches…

Please don’t misread me. It’s not that I’m looking to place (or avoid) blame here. But I do think it’s worth trying to tease apart the matted ball of contributing threads.

Otherwise I doubt we’ll never disentangle ourselves from our culture long enough to meaningfully engage it with the gospel.

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4 comments

  1. I think we’ve started to notice somthing similiar amongst our friends this year. At church we;ve been praying that God would provoke a spiritual curiosity in people. Among our friends we’ve seen that curisoty this year, but they don’t know how to express it or have been surpressing it out of fear what their friends will think. Having grown up in a world where Christendom is no longer the norm, they see coming to Christ as a radical change.

  2. A couple of thoughts…

    Firstly, here in Aus we don’t talk about politics. Or religion. Footy is ok, cricket, sure. Religion? Shutup and keep it to yourself (this seems a cultural attitude). What my religion is is my business, and what yours is is yours….

    And if we become Christian, often we keep that attitude (It took me long to struggle out of it, and it still shows up 20+ years later). The Aussie ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude falls into our religion – we almost naturally become ‘hyper Calvinistic’ – if someone will become Christian, so be it…

    So I think it does make us ‘un Australian’ in some sense – but our society just doesn’t talk about it…

    1. Hi Drewe. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. And thanks too for the reminder that Christians are in fact counter-cultural in Australia already. In all sorts of ways!

      I’ve begun re-reading 1 Peter lately. And I’ve been struck by how, even in the letter’s opening salutation — which hails us as ‘elect exiles of the dispersion’ — Christian distinctiveness is not fundamentally a matter of our choosing or decision to engineer.

      First and foremost it’s a theological matter. Which is to say it’s about God and his action in choosing us as his.

      And secondarily our not-fitting and not-belonging is something imposed on us. From the outside. An exile.

      Which we discover, as the letter unravels, is manifested in the hostility Christians experience as we share the trajectory through life that our Lord himself travelled as the chosen and precious cornerstone who was nevertheless rejected by the builders…

    2. It really puts a hole in the ‘your best life now’ preaching!

      There are benefits though – in exile we learn why we are in exile. If we weren’t ‘forced’ to be different, chosen, we would easier fall into the ways of the world… It’s funny, people at work know I am a Christian – so choose to leave me out of certain conversations for example. They know I wouldn’t approve or be interested – so even if I wanted to (I don’t), I couldn’t!

      All it proves then is God is smarter than us 😀

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