Intercultural Communication 101: Part 5

Effective intercultural communication should aim to gain the acceptance of the receptor’s affections, and not merely his intellect.

People are not only thinkers, but feelers, as well. Reception of a message always involves the affective dimension (Mark Young, Course Lecture, Spring 2008). Jonathan Edwards, aware of this aspect in the communication process, said:

“I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with” (Edwards, 387).

One’s values are probably more determinative in making a decision than are one’s allegiances (Mark Young, Course Lecture, Fall 2007).

Unfortunately, a lot of Christian communicators aim to gain merely the receptor’s intellectual assent to their own message. A great danger follows this line of communicating. For instance, an American missionary presents the gospel to a European unbeliever. The unbeliever listens intently to this message as he perceives its contents. After the presentation of this gospel message, the missionary asks the European for a response, to which the European says, “Yes, I believe everything you just said.” The missionary then says, “Pray this prayer and you will be a Christian.” One of the problems with this method of communication, James implies in his epistle, when he describes the intellectual orthodoxy of the demons: “Even the demons believe — and tremble” (2.19). The devil and his entourage believe Paul’s every word in 1 Corinthians 15.

One of the assumptions of this point is that everyone in this world wants to be happy, regardless of one’s culture or ethnic background. We are whole beings, comprised of the mind, heart, and will (though the limits of language often make it complicated when describing the interaction between the three dimensions). Everything we do, whether consciously or unconsciously naturally inclines toward getting happy. God knows this, because he made people this way. Jesus himself is the supreme example for effective intercultural communication that aims to gain the acceptance of his receptor’s affections. Some of his own last words aimed toward his disciples’ hearts for the purpose of increasing their affections in some way or another: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15.11). “I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away…But I have said these things to you, that when the hour comes you may remember that I told them to you” (Jn 16.1,4). I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16.33).

Perhaps, well related to this point is the important distinction that Jonathan Dodson makes between faith and mere belief.

Note: More to come on this very subject…

Intercultural Communication 101: Part 4

Effective Christian Intercultural Communication must be aware of the Meta-Culture in order to appropriately deal with the receptor’s response to the Communicator’s message.

According to Louis Luzbetak, “Culture is a design for living. It is a plan according to which society adapts itself to its physical, social, and ideational environment…Cultures are but different answers to essentially the same human problems” (Perspectives, p. 392). The Meta-Culture referred to here in this principle, is the Culture beyond all other cultures in this visible world. This Culture transcends all other cultures. It is God’s Culture, his design for living, and his answer to the same human problems that other cultures attempt to remedy.

God has communicated, and continues to communicate to us about himself. He wants us to know something about himself. “God made the world that He might communicate…his glory” (Jonathan Edwards). “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19.1). Psalm 19.7-11 speaks of God’s special revelation. Moreover, “In these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son (who is the radiance of his glory)…[and] through whom also he created the world” (Heb 1.2-3). So, God has given his creatures (receptors/perceivers) two books to communicate about himself: the Book of Nature (natural revelation, as found in the World), and the Book of Scripture (special revelation, as found in the Word).

The communicational interaction between a believer and nonbeliever is an intercultural interaction in this sense. The communicational interaction happening between them is mainly intercultural because their culture of citizenship is different spiritually. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4.4). Because of this, the Christian Intercultural Communicator should have the ability (in the strength that God supplies) to engage with the receptor’s response to his or her own message.

“The missionary may well find that his foreignness is at once an asset and a liability, but he should never forget that it set him apart. He is on trial. His message is from the outside” (Hesselgrave, p. 461). The apostle Paul tells of the foreignness of the message, and the receivers’ response to that message, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1.18). As well, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God…he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2.14).

God’s remedy to this problem of non-acceptance and inability to understand the Christian communicator’s message is to shine his supernatural light into the hearts of unbelievers to give them the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4.6). So, in the process of the intercultural communication between believer and nonbeliever, the believer must depend on the Spirit of God, and pray that the Lord would give the light of the knowledge of himself to the unbeliever.

Intercultural Communication 101: Part 3

Effective intercultural communication seeks a great degree of congruity between different systems of code in a variety of mediums.

The perceiver/receiver determines whether or not the two systems of code are intentional or credible based on their congruity, or lack thereof (Mark Young, Course Lecture, Spring 2008). For example, if the communicator attempts to share the gospel with a perceiver, without any sort of voice tone, hand gestures, or facial expression that seem congruent with the content of the gospel, the perceiver may see the communicator and/or message as not credible or appealing. John Piper tells of the importance of congruence: “Lack of intensity in preaching can only communicate that the preacher does not believe or has never been gripped by the reality of which he speaks — or that the subject matter is insignificant” (Piper, p. 103, emphasis added). He urges, “We simply must signify, without melodrama or affectation, that the reality behind our message is breathtaking” (Piper, p. 104, emphasis added). To further illustrate, he says, “Albert Einstein gave a devastating indictment of preaching fifty years ago that may be more true today: Charles Misner, a scientific specialist in general relativity theory, was quoted like this:

‘[The design of the universe] is very magnificent and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religion, although he strikes me as a basically very religious man. He must have looked at what the preachers said about God and felt that they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined, and they were just not talking about the real thing‘” (DesiringGod.org, emphasis added).

This phenomenon of congruity between different systems of code relates possibly more heavily to the significance of the code itself than to the message. The German poet, Klopstock wrote, “The tones of human voices are mightier than strings or brass to move the soul” (quoted in Samover, p. 214). This “paralanguage, which involves the linguistic elements of speech — how something is said and not the actual meaning of the spoken words,” was displayed in the apostle Paul (Samover, p. 214). He said, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2.1-5).

Notably, Jonathan Dodson illustrates this very point when he says:

In the end, the evangelist must first have faith in the gospel himself, this authenticates our words more than any saying, method, or defense. All too often we share the gospel without believing it.

Intercultural Communication 101: Part 2

Effective intercultural communication seeks to appropriate its message and code in a fitting manner to the context of the perceiver.

“Unless the message is within the receptors’ frame of reference (context), there is no guarantee that they will even be able to interpret it” (Kraft, p. 145). The apostle Paul exemplified this principle in his life. Particularly in Acts 17.16-24, while Paul was in Athens, waiting for Silas and Timothy, he was in a place where he could observe his receptors’ “frame of reference” (i.e., context). As he stood in the midst of the Aeropagus, he told them what he observed: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ After Paul gathered what he needed from the context of his audience, he crafted his message in a way that would be understandable to them; and he used a code (verbal) with which most of his receptors would have most likely been familiar. “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you,” was Paul’s beginning statement of his message.

From the outset of Paul’s message, he aimed to craft it in a way that would be appropriate and fitting to the context of his receptors in Athens. He observed his surroundings (their physical context); and, he understood how to adjust his message and communicational vehicle (language used) to obtain a valid response from his receptors. Like the apostle Paul, “the effective communicator should have more than one style, just as repair persons have more than one tool in their toolboxes” (Kraft, p. 147). Paul certainly had more than one tool in his toolbox, having quoted a Greek philosopher and a Greek poet, with whom his receptors would have been familiar. “Understanding does not, however, automatically mean acceptance by the receptors” (Kraft, p. 146). Though Paul contextualized his message, not all his receptors accepted it. Some mocked, others said, “We will hear you again about this.” And some joined him and believed his message (Acts 17.32, 34).

Intercultural Communication 101: Part 1

Effective intercultural communication must become personal to the receptor.

Theologically speaking, God sent his Son, Jesus, to personally interact with humanity that we might, by his example, learn to live and love as he did (c.f., Jn 13.12-20; 1 Pet 2.18-25). Jesus, being God in the flesh, gave us an example by becoming like us and transcending all cultures for all times through this means (though Jesus as example here is by NO means the only reason for the incarnation). As John says in his gospel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1.14a). God communicated and continues to communicate to us and the world through his Word, the Son of God (c.f., Heb 1.1-3). God has ordained the means of communicating to his world in his Son, that we might know him, love him, and love our neighbor (both locally and globally) by incarnating Christ with our lives and proclaiming Christ, lovingly with our mouths.

For example, we might engage a culture through telling the grand biblical story of God’s faithful work of redemption from Creation to the renewal of Creation. Or, more concretely, we may need to take on tent-making roles so that our presence and interaction with the culture makes sense to the natives and is mutually beneficial and teachable from both perceptions. When the apostle Paul stood in Athens (Acts 17), he engaged well with the Greek culture because he had already immersed himself in their own philosophical and poetic writings. We would do well to imitate Paul in this way, by walking into the world of the unbeliever (or, in other cases, realizing we presently live in their world): their world of literature, visual media, and audio media, that we may know what particular questions they are asking (a la Francis Schaeffer). For Paul himself said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor 9.22b). And, Paul calls all Christians everywhere to become personal to their receptors, as he himself did: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11.1).