In the “Teaching across Cultures” class I took last month with Dr. Craig Ott, he had us read The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently . . . and Why by Richard Nisbett. The crux of the book’s argument is that Westerners and Asians think differently because of their different ancient roots. Westerners are highly influenced by the ancient Greek mindset, which is to make laws and formations for everything around them. Whereas, Asians are most influenced by the ideas of Confucius, which do not put so much emphasis on making laws or explaining everything with rules.
Within the realm of theology, Western theologians always need to have air-tight explanations and arguments to explain everything from the Bible. Whereas, most non-Westerners (Asians, Africans, Middle Easterners, Hispanics) are not as concerned about making air-tight theological laws, but are able to accept the mysterious and paradoxical parts of the Bible (i.e. Calvinism vs. free will).
Pondering these factors interests me greatly. I think of my best Chinese-pastor friend who leads a small house church in northwest China. He knows all parts of the Bible incredibly well, as well as any Chinese person I know. However, he has never been interested in discussing the more debated theological topics that Westerners normally discuss. Those debates just are not important to him.
In my Bible-related conversations with him, we talk about things he has recently preached on. We talk about things I have been learning from the Bible. We talk about stories from the Bible. But for him, a book of "Systematic Theology," where the information is organized in a list of common themes in the Bible, would be of little or no concern. This style of studying the Bible is targeted more towards a Western mindset, than a Chinese mindset. My Chinese friend would be much more interested in studying things that relate to his ministry. He has been encouraged much by the Chinese translation of the missions book Perspectives. It seems to me that overall his understanding of the Bible comes from reading the Bible itself, rather than reading books about the Bible.
Image credit: Books I'm reading this Spring by Alex Leung via Flickr.
Tabor Laughlin (pseudonym) is a PhD student in Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He received his MDiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Missions and his bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from Oklahoma State University. He has been serving in China for ten years, and is president of a... View Full Bio