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Crossing Cultures: Ethnocentric Conversion

From the series Ministering Cross-Culturally

Ministering cross-culturally aligns with God’s panta ta ethne purposes. God’s mission has always been one of blessing, and the scope of his blessing has always been all peoples, all ethnicities, all the families of earth. From the beginning God sent blessed people to bless others and those blessing agents often crossed geographic and cultural boundaries as they lived out their callings: Abraham left his homeland and moved to Palestine; Joseph brought blessing from Palestine to Egypt; Jonah announced blessing to Nineveh; Daniel’s exile in Babylon brought blessing; and our Lord Jesus left his home and crossed the greatest barrier of all with the greatest blessing ever given.

Ministering cross-culturally requires what Darrell Whiteman calls ethnocentric conversion, the kind of transformation Peter experienced in Acts 10 (See below: Whiteman 2018; Whiteman 2022; and Whiteman 2023).

The Apostle Peter’s ethnocentric conversion exploded into fullness through an unanticipated personal interaction with Cornelius, a gentile military officer who lived out his fear of God in household leadership, generosity, and constant prayer (Acts 10:1–2). The Lord, always on the lookout to extend his blessing to all the families of the earth with the good news of Jesus Christ, saw Cornelius’ devotion and sent an angel to him. The angel called Cornelius by name affirmed his prayers and generosity and gave detailed instructions leading to a personal interaction with Peter. Cornelius’ responsiveness to the Lord’s invitation was remarkable: he immediately commissioned one soldier and two servants to go to Joppa, find Peter, and escort him to back to Caesarea.

The same Lord who sent the angel to Cornelius appeared to Peter in a vision, a confusing vision of something like a sheet full of ritually unclean animals descending from heaven. Even more confusing to Peter was the Lord’s command to kill and eat these unclean creatures. In contrast to Cornelius’ immediate positive responsiveness, Peter response was No! That vision was repeated three times and Peter’s response was the same each time: “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” The Lord’s reply was the same each time: “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (See Acts 10:13–16.)

Why such instinctual and unbending resistance to the Lord’s explicit directions? Because the Lord had invited Peter to violate one of his culture’s most deeply embedded religious convictions, the conviction that ritual purity secured God’s unique partiality for his chosen people. Their religious convictions had become a more, a cultural value that was “accepted without question” (Richards and O’Brien 2012, 29-50). 

Three times Peter said no to the Lord’s invitation. None the less, he listened to the Spirit, responded in faith, and accepted the risks of breaking accepted religious rules and cultural demands. As a result, Peter saw the Holy Spirit fall on Cornelius and his entire household. And the Spirit fell directly, not by laying on hands, but directly on those “unclean” people, just as it had fallen on the apostles in Acts chapter two.

Peter experienced ethnocentric conversion: he no longer accepted his cultural mores without question. Peter experienced enduring quantum change (Miller and C’de Baca 2001). He was never the same, changed forever, saying “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34–35). That same declaration influenced the decision of the council at Jerusalem to include gentiles, an inclusion later described by Paul as “the mystery of Christ” that all peoples—Jews and Gentiles are “members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:4–6). And that inclusion has spread over the decades and centuries to embrace all peoples to the ends of the earth.

Ethnocentric conversion is just as critical today as it was in Peter’s day. Ministering cross-culturally invites us to examine and let go some of our own deeply embedded religious convictions as we participate with God in his mission to extend blessing in Christ Jesus to any one in any nation who fears him. Like Peter, we will experience “aha” moments as our cultural mores and expectations are transformed by the mysterious membership in Christ’s panta ta ethne kingdom.

Ministering cross-culturally happens in the going, for us as for Peter: it was in the very act of crossing cultural barriers that Peter experienced ethnocentric conversion. And this is God’s design: that in serving, we are served; that in losing our selves we gain new life and a new family where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

May our Lord hasten that day!


Miller, William R. and Janet C’de Baca. Quantum Change: When Epiphanies and Sudden Insights Transform Ordinary Lives. New York: Guilford Press, 2001.

Richards, E. Randolph and Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Whiteman, Darrell L. “2022 ASM_Darrell Whiteman: The Conversion of a Missionary.” American Society of Missiology 2022 Annual Meeting. June 17, 2022. Video, 33:03,

Whiteman, Darrell L. “Cross Cultural Communication.” Training Seminar, 2018. Asia.

Whiteman, Darrell L. “The Conversion of a Missionary: A Missiological Study of Acts 10.” Missiology: An International Review 51 (no. 1): 19–30.

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Ken Anderson

Ken Anderson

Dr. Ken Anderson serves as board chair for ChinaReach, an indigenous missiological training effort intended to help China move from a mission field to a mission force. Dr. Anderson holds DMiss and MAGL degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary. From 2011–2021 he served as an itinerant extension biblical training missionary in China …View Full Bio

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