MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Just as the Christian faith intersects the language, location and cultures of people wherever they are, Christians are called to intersect with people — wherever and whoever they are — in the same manner as Jesus.
“Intersect ‘06,” a cross-cultural awareness event held in November at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., brought these issues to the table for discussion and exploration for dozens of students, faculty and staff.
One illustration of the focus of Intersect ’06 was found on the pulpit in the seminary’s chapel: a glass podium with a map of the world etched on it. The map revealed only the Western world, with North America placed prominently.
“Maps tell truths, and maps tell lies,” Rick Durst, faculty and director of the school’s eCampus, said. “We are accustomed to the orthodox and missional face looking like ours. That is no longer the case. Our eyes are programmed to see the world through the lens of America. But that’s not the world we live in.”
Then Durst shared the goal of the Intersect ’06 conference: “May we leave better equipped to share across cultures.”
The weeklong event featured Lamin Sanneh, professor of missions and world Christianity at Yale University; five seminars on intercultural issues led by intercultural studies students; a special “cultural worship” evening chapel; a culture shock simulation event; and a viewing of the film “Smoke Signals.”
“What does it mean to intersect?” Sanneh asked in the second of three chapel lectures. “It means to encounter, to meet. It involves getting up and going out. This grates against the tendency to settle down.”
During his lectures, Sanneh shared about the unique features of the Christian faith and how those features enable the faith to grow worldwide. Christians, he said, do not hold any language, place or culture over another in the practice of their faith.
“What language you speak does not matter. There is no language held above another,” Sanneh, who received a Ph.D. in Islamic history at the University of London, said. “Where you live does not matter. The place of our founder’s birth is almost negligible in the practice of our faith. We have no Mecca or Medina. Jesus may have been born in Bethlehem, but he is bred in the hearts of believers wherever they are.
“No time or place or culture or language has a monopoly on God and none is fully adequate to explain the Christian faith,” he added. “All offer the opportunity. None is so superior it can claim exclusive access to the truth and ways of God. And none is so inferior or poor that it cannot provide any way to the truths of God.”
Sanneh said that Christianity presses hard on cultures that claim superiority, while at the same time lifting up cultures that others consider inferior.
“To the Christian worldview,” he said, “equality does not mean we are all the same, but it does mean that we are all of us equally inadequate when it comes to the truth of God. We all need Christ equally.”
Daniel Ezell, a student at Golden Gate, said he appreciated what Sanneh said concerning the emphases that Christianity does not have in comparison to other faiths.
“There’s no emphasis in our faith on geography or language, no cultural high ground. This really affects how I think about church planting in particular,” Ezell said.
Faith Kim, chair of intercultural studies at Golden Gate, said the presentations helped challenge students in their thinking.
“The event heightened each person’s cultural conditioning and helped us see that all encounters are fundamentally intercultural, and they require intercultural skills in order to be understood,” she said. “It helped us recognize we are each ‘multi-cultural’ selves, and our identities are formed by intersections.”
Students in the Global Studies Program led seminars addressing cross-cultural issues such as seeing business as a Kingdom mission, why theology matters in Africa, and the changing culture of university-aged Indians.
“The presentations were at a high level of depth and preparation,” Gary McCoy, professor of worship and church music at the seminary, said. “The topics were interesting and each student obviously had engaged with their material and was living it out.”
Intersect is sponsored each fall by the David & Faith Kim School of Intercultural Studies.