Some Cultures Need to be Ruined

Daniel Everett is a celebrated linguist who started off as a missionary, but eventually abandoned his Christian faith. His mini-bio in Mastery makes this drift sound noble, because a big reason for his growing doubts was the realization that the Gospel would ruin these cultures in which he had been immersed. In particular, the Pirahã’s concept of truth and how it affected their language.

But the truth is that some cultures should be ruined. They are not all equal. While it is possible to “plunder the Egyptians” as Augustine put it, we should not look with longing and awe at the pots of meat back in Egypt, wishing to gorge ourselves.

That same Pirahã tribe forced alcohol down and infant’s throat to kill it, an infant that Everett and his wife were attempting to nurse back to health. That was their truth.

Some cultures need to be ruined (And if we’re honest, we’ll just look at our own culture and agree with this.) They need to die, so they can be resurrected. The Gospel does not ruin cultures to leave a smoking crater in its wake. It ruins so it can bring about a new birth. So it can create something new.

That doesn’t mean everything should be the same, one big morass of indistinguishable humanity. The glories of the Chinese church, for example, will look very different from the glories of the Western church. Those pilgrims will travel the same path, but they might go a different speed, notice different things along the way, manifest strengths that we had never thought about, sing songs that leave a different taste on the tongue. Their language and culture will be part of the rich tapestry of nations that God brings streaming to the Celestial City.

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