Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ethnotheological Models - Practical Application

Before leaving the subject of Charles Kraft's ethnotheological models, let me share a couple of observations based on teaching the Bible in a church setting. Let me pick a recent subject: the food laws in Leviticus. Here's what I've found:
  1. Conservative Christians tend to see these laws as God's will and given to protect Israel from diseases by banning unhealthy eating practices, for example the danger of trichinosis is overcome by banning the eating of pork. But of course Jesus abolished these laws for his disciples, and they have no meaning for Christians other than providing some interesting historical information about God's care of his people.
  2. Progressive Christians tend to see these laws as a product of ancient Israel. The laws are based on a misunderstanding of God and are little more than a collection of primitive taboos. As with Conservative Christians, the laws have no application for modern Christians.
But now comes the studies of structural anthropologists such as Mary Douglas and the study of Leviticus by brilliant scholars such Jacob Milgrom and the food laws are seen in a new light. New questions arise. What do these laws tell us about the meaning of food in the culture of ancient Israel. And how did those meanings shape their concepts of purity and holiness.

Now transition to our culture and begin to think ethnotheologically about food. Consider:
  • What role does food play in your family? Your church? Your community?
  • How do your values shape your food choices?
  • In what ways might obesity be considered a theological issue as well as a health issue in America?
  • Are there foods you would not eat on ethical grounds? Why?
  • What choices did Jesus make about food?
  • Should his choices inform the choices of modern-day disciples? Explain why or why not.
Maybe, just maybe, there is something still to learn from those ancient laws that goes beyond form and cultural specifics? Could it even inform contemporary faith communities What do you think?

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