Missions needs to engage the Third Culture differently than the First Culture

up:: This Cultural Moment MOC

The (provocative) sociologist Philip Rieff divides cultures into three broad types:

  1. The First Culture: It is characterised by polytheism and fatalism.
  2. The Second Culture: Scriptural cultures, rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethic. Religion is creedal, the world is ordered and predictable. Peace and security is found by worshipping the one true God and obeying his commands.

Most of missiology focused on the interaction between the First and the Second culture (Missions MOC). Through Contextualisation cultural bridges get created. Missionaries are careful to communicate Gospel truth and not impose the second culture upon the first.

  1. The Third Culture: They define themselves against second cultures. There is no belief in greater truth, no sacred order. Instead it focuses on deconstructing the sacred, transgressing on the commandments and prohibitions. The only authority is found in the individual. There is constant flux as new authorities and rules appear but are soon deconstructed. Meaning and purpuse is up to individual interpretation.

The third culture of the West is ultimately a post–Judeo-Christian culture, not reverting to a pre-Christian paganism but rather is a culture bent on disfiguring the second culture.

We can’t do “relevance” the same way we did when working with a First Culture. Because there is barely any culture to engage with.

It propagates its own creed, one which believes in no creeds, except the creed of self.

The danger is as we seek to communicate the gospel, we might find ourselves drawn into the deconstruction. In a First Culture there are stories, community, rituals to engage, a Third Culture is as evasive as smoke. When adopting the “marketing strategies” of the business world, our churches might be full, but have huge turnover with little resilience. The Third Culture’s mission is to prohibit anyone from prohibiting, its dogma is that no one should have a dogma. It is corrosive by nature: the pressure is to abandon orthodoxy just a bit to be warmly embraced. We are tempted to find the “quick fix”. But what if our response ought to be patience and faith? Relevance, conciously or unconciously, aims to reduce the tension felt with the wider culture.

The church needs to go deep in gospel resilience, not wide in cultural relevance

God always brought redempting to the culture through a remnant, a “creative minority”. When seeking relevance to the contemporary cultural myths, the church falls prey to it steady allure:

Those who have pursued a policy of relevance in their theology—attempting to reshape their theology into unorthodox forms to suit the contours of contemporary sensibilities—suffer the fate that liberal churches have throughout church history: inevitable decline and eventual disappearance. Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church – From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience

We need to focus on concrete people

Jesus went deep with a few rather than shallow with the public.


Missions needs to engage the Third Culture differently than the First Culture