Tag Archive: inculturation

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.


It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others – even our enemies – is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.


We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings, even those regarded as enemies.


We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

I found this version of the Charter on the official website for the Charter for Comapssion


This is the space in which things are happening. To quote Carl Sagan (1994:6-7):

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

In this space we find all known created life together with a vast array of different ways of thinking, talking, doing and relating. Allow me a few thoughts on the way missions are understood in this broader context. I will give a brief background on the concept of inculturation followed by a bit of critique of the concept. In conclusion I would like to introduce a new concept which, at least so I hope, would enrich the conversation regarding missions.

Inculturation (Bosch 2009:447) is a modern word for an ancient practice, one that reaches as far back as the early church. Lamin Sanneh states that “in straddling the Jewish-Gentile worlds, [the early church] was born in a cross-cultural milieu with translation as its birthmark” (Stackhouse 1988:58 cf Bosch 2009:448). The history of the church, however, is marked by a move away from this translation into cultures. In contrast it became the perpetrator of a culture, what we know as the Corpus Christianum.

It is in this context, of the church having forgotten her translation roots and having become an institution that is marked with culture-snobbism, that Pierre Charles borrows from cultural anthropology the term “enculturation” and introduces it to missiology. The term gained popularity and in 1962 Masson coined the phrase inculturated Cathoclism (Catholicisme inculturé), resulting in the term “inculturation” which soon became popular amongst the Jesuits. The term continued to gain popularity and is today one of the most widely used concepts in missiology across ecumenical boundaries (Bosch 2009:447-448).

The question arises, however, whether the concept inculturaion is still sufficient for the special need(s) of our day and age, centring especially on the continuous evolving and increasingly urgent crisis of climate change (cf McFague 2008). For the purposes of our discussion it is the historical roots of the crisis and its implications, rather than its complexities, which are at issue (White 1967). Dramatic technological advancement during the Middle Ages resulted in a change of the relationship of (wo)mankind to soil and hence nature as a whole. With the dawn of technology; we moved from being part of to being exploiters of nature (White 1967:1205). Lately it seems that there is a gear change in (wo)mankind’s exploitation of nature. Tom McMillan remarks that “for 200 years we’ve been conquering Nature. Now we’re beating it to death” (Lyman 1990) In the resulting dualism, (wo)man became the (perceived) master, and we lost our tsaheylu, to borrow a phrase from the movie Avatar. Tsaheylu can be described as the essential connection with one’s surroundings. Technological advancement upon technological advancement, the discovery of ancient sunlight (cf Hartman 2004), oil, and the Industrial Revolution all added up to our current, and future, predicament.

In light of this ever-widening dualistic chasm between humankind and nature, we propose that the concept inculturation be revisited. The term “culture” stems from the Latin cultura with its roots in colere which means “to cultivate”. The concept “culture” evolved from being used in terms of agriculture to a description of human phenomena, pertaining to both individualism and nationalism, amongst others. The concept “inculturation” therefore is inherently focussed on human creative efforts on the one hand, and the translation of the Good News into different cultures on the other. As such inculturation engages the “other,” understood as other human being(s).

Opposed to such an anthropocentric view of the “other”; I would like to argue for a more inclusive approach. As such the very term “other” needs to be redefined in terms of Creation as a whole. This becomes possible if missions is understood more in line of Schmitz’s (1971) description of missions as “God’s turning to the world” and not the salvation of the individual heathen’s soul per se. Such a redefinition of the “other” leads one to the inevitable conclusion that the concept inculturation with its anthropocentric core needs reconceptualising as well.

It is with this challenge of reconceptualising in front of me that I would like to introduce a new concept. I briefly touched on our loss of partnership with the soil we live on, the resulting hierarchical dualism and the ensuing loss of tsaheylu (Avatar 2011) with creation. I think that Avatar (2011) offers a powerful metaphor in this context of estrangement.

Please allow me a short break from my argument to make a small disclaimer. The use of Avatar is not without peril. It condones violence as a viable, maybe the only, solution, it romanticizes the indigenous people as noble savages and paints the White Man, once again, as the saviour. However, I do not think the metaphor is without redemption and I am of the opinion that it visualizes something of our disconnection with Creation and the need to rediscover it.

Jake Sully, a human from earth imbued with a functional view of natural resources, arrives on Pandora to take part in an avatar program. His mandate is to participate in scientific missions whist learning as much as possible from the local Na’vi in order to assist his employers (a company very willing to make use of military stratagems), to effectively extract unobtanium, a scarce and highly-prized (expensive) mineral from under the clan’s home tree (Avatar 2009).

Let the inculturation begin. Jake is taken into the Na’vi clan, the Omaticaya, and is tutored by the Neytiri, the tribal leader’s daughter (it is a movie!). He eventually presents the Omaticaya with the company’s ultimatum, albeit for different reasons than those he set out with initially. The magic, however, occurs during the time that he is taught by Neytiri. Jake is initially described as a full cup, a person who sees even less than a rock. Jake’s introduction to sight (kame) is when he forms a tsaheylu with a horse and Neytiri tells him to feel the mare, to feel how her heart beats and to feel how she breathes. From his state of ignorance Jake is taught to see the world, to become ingrained in the network of energy that flows through all living things. Jake Sully, the blind outsider, is not only accepted as part of the Omaticaya clan but his tsaheylu with the natural world is fully restored (Avatar 2011).

It is this concept of becoming part of creation again, that I would like to highlight. For the lack of a term to describe it and in the tradition of incarnation and inculturation I would like to suggest the term increation. This term is difficult to grasp for modern Christian minds who understand the salvation of the individual soul as the redemptive pinnacle of, what Brian McLaren (2010:50) calls the Greco-Roman narrative, and who habitually view the created world as a functional thing to be used in pursuit of individual wealth. Our modern difficulty with the concept of increation is further complicated by the loss of primal cultures that might have exhibited something of these values, for example the San of South Africa and the Inuit of the Arctic circle. Once again, without nobilizing them nor refuting the impact that they had on their environment.

I propose that the challenge facing missions is not so much inculturation as increation: to re-establish the connection between (wo)mankind and Creation, to bridge the dualism between nature and history and to transcend the Greco-Roman salvation narrative. The increation of the Gospel message will without a doubt help (wo)mankind address social injustices and ecological destruction, and will contribute to the recognition of God’s sovereignty over all of Creation. The incarnation of Christ was a moment of increation: he became flesh, a creature first and foremost. It happened to be in the form of (wo)mankind.

Concluding. In our context of an ever growing disconnect with the “other”, both other-humanity and other-creation, we are in desperate need of inculturation and, in my opinion, even more so of increation; not to the exclusion of the other but rather as complimenting ways of approaching missions. Both requires an intentional critique of the status quo, of our perception of superiority as humans, as consumers, as westerners and where applicable as whites. I thank you.

Bosch, David J 2009. Transforming mission: paradigm shifts in theology of mission.

Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Hartman, Thom 2004. The last hours of ancient sunlight.New York : Three River


Lyman, Francesca 1990. The greenhouse trap: what we’re doing to the atmosphere

and how we can slow global warming. Michigan: Beacon Press

McFague, Sally 2008. A new climate for theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press

McLaren, Brian 2010. A new kind of Christianity. London: Hodder&Stoughton

Sagan, Carl 1994. Pale blue dot: a vision of the human future in space. Michigan:

Random House

Schmitz, Josef 1971. Die Weltzuwendung Gottes: Thesen zu einer Theologie der

Mission. Freiburg/B: Imba-Verlag

Stackhouse, Max 1988. Apologia: Contextualization, globalization, and mission in

Theological education. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans

White, L 1967. The historical roots of our ecological crisis. Science 155, 1203-


Avatar 2009. Film. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Originally posted on http://gsw820.purpletoolbox.co.za/groep6/ retrieved on 22 March 2011 at 11:26