Andrew Spurgeon - "Twin Cultures Separated by Centuries"
5:25PM Jun 29, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
We are very honored indeed to be speaking today with Professor Andrew Spurgeon. Professor Spurgeon earned his PhD in New Testament studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, and teaches as a visiting professor in India, the Philippines, Nepal and Singapore, where we've reached him this morning. He is the author of of commentaries on First Corinthians and Romans, as well as the texts that we'll be discussing today, Twin Cultures Separated by Centuries: An Indian Reading of First Corinthians. Professor Spurgeon, thank you for your time today.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Professor Spurgeon. First of all, what gave you the idea for this unique project?
Jonathan, a lot of things that went into me writing this book, first of all, I am an Indian. So I grew up in India with Indian culture and had a longing after I came to know the Lord to reach out To the Indian people. And I often found that theological conversation including church preachings, were not meeting the people's needs. And so I wanted to write a book where I debated whether I should be a book purely on Indian culture are purely theology that is simplified. But then, when I started studying First Corinthians For accom, another commentary series called India commentary on New Testament, I realized there was a parallel between India and Corinth, and I thought this is a great avenue to write on cultural commentary. And I had friends and my wife was American often pointed out that Indian culture is in a way an ancient culture. It's like going to 2000 years ago and seeing and living culture for Mine, Joseph fantine said it's probably the only culture where Roman religion is still alive. And with that in background in my mind, I started writing the
book. Amazing. And Professor Spurgeon what are some of the ways that you identify these parallels between ancient Corinth and modern day India? Where did these surface culturally?
Yeah, one of the first first things that stood out of course then he had read food offered to idols, chapters eight nine and 10 First Corinthians we that's a very common practice in India. It's called prasada and are precise if it's singular, and parents take their children for example, to the temple and with fruit and other gifts for the gods and the priests takes them and offers them to the gods and the gods bless bless them and then The children eat them. And that's a very common practice. We were walking with my son a couple of years ago by a palace Indian palace and as you come around the corner, a priest was sitting there offering ghee, clarified butter for people to gather in their hands and drink right in front of the priest. Those are very common things. And so that was the first clue that I had. And now I'm not the only one many people have talked about how Indian culture and Korean food offered to idols are parallel. But there's also the concept of polytheism. Same as the is Romans that had many gods Indians have plenty of Gods then worship of many gods is considered more acceptable than worshipping at one God and monotheism. The third element would be the strata of people, especially the division between the wealthy and the landlord or the poor, wealthy and the poor, the landlords and the benefactors and the people who depend on them. And then when you come to come into Christianity in India, for example, that divisions that are between churches, and that's very prevalent in India. That's an issue I wanted to address. And Paul in First Corinthians dedicates the first four chapters to the divisions and I thought that would be a good biblical way of addressing the divisions that we have in the Indian churches, or the division so we're speaking in tongues. That's a very common issue. In India, one group for example claim so without speaking in tongues, you don't have Christian salvation. And the other group, of course, doesn't like that concept. And so, to me
these both a cycler
events and odds the Christian practices gave me the idea that there are many similarities between Korea and India.
Professor Spurgeon, I'm fascinated by your experience. And I'm curious in these places culturally where there appears to be a very close parallel between the culture that that St. Paul is addressing in First Corinthians and modern day Indian culture does the advice that Paul gives in First Corinthians translate in a one to one correspondence sort of way to the recommendations that you would give the church in India. So for example, in Corinthians eight where Paul is talking about idols in food offered to idols, does his advice there translate immediately to the Indian context?
That's one of those plays? By the way? That's an excellent question. There are a couple of areas where they don't transfer one to one resurrection, for example, and I'll explain that in a moment. But going back to First Corinthians eight First Corinthians eight. Paul first, first of all talks about people going into the temple, Christians going into the secular temple to eat the food. And he basically says, No, you can do that. But later on he talks about what if non Christian invites you to your house and offers food, then you say God created every food there is in front, then you don't ask a question. You just eat that both of that really fits in with Indian culture, because the Hindus themselves around us, don't expect us to go to the temple and eat with them. But on the other hand, they do get offended, offended if they invite us to their home and we would say, Oh, no, I can't come there because you worship Ganesh and maybe you offered the food to Ganesh. So I think in the first part, I would never go to a Hindu temple to eat food even if it is free, as some of my friends
do, but at the same time, Time.
If hinda asked me and offers the food, I'd never asked where the food come from. And so I think with the food offered to idle, he transfer one to one. But with the resurrection, Paul talks about not only there is the bodily resurrection, and then he talks about the new body that would be different from the old but at the same time, it is still a human body. Indian philosophy is so much for reincarnation rather than a resurrection. So, there's a lot of groundwork that needs to be done before we can teach them the concept of resurrection.
Professor Spurgeon, in the opening of chapter three of your texts between cultures separated by centuries and Indian reading of First Corinthians, you recount the story of the formation of the Church of South India. How and in what ways do you see the history of the church of South India as parallel to the church of ancient corn.
I think both the churches had a very humble beginning. And you know, when we look at x 18 and Paul going there all alone with that Titus, then Timothy and then he meets up with cola and Priscilla themselves have gone through trials being kicked out of Rome by Claudius, eviction. And so this is a group of people even though Paul is an apostle at this stage, he is alone. He had gone there as just as a Tanner, and working for them and starting the ministry. Kind of I would call it a humble beginning of the church in Corinth and possibly many of the people that are accepted, accepted Christianity first were poor people so that he can say in chapter three, not many of you are wise, not many of you are of noble birth, not many of you are rich, and so you You can see there would have been some wealthy people, some noble people, but the rest majority would have been poor. That kind of parallels with Indian church or South India. Not only did one man envision the birth of the Church of South India in his opening call that I talked about in chapter three, but also India first the India the country itself had gone through revolution, led by Gandhi peace revolution, and had gotten independence and it's a baby stage and it is trying to figure out its identity. Brits, Britain, English people have gone and it's formulating its own government with Hindus, a Hindu Muslim tension, and in the midst of it, it the church also tries to find its new identity. And so the first several years It did kind of like a baby church a new beginning and had lofty goals. It wasn't a denomination is it let individual churches function it but on one end to the umbrella of church or South India, unfortunately, it had gone through the same kind of division that I see in the Corinthian church. When they said, I'm up, Paul, I'm off the first time of Christ, that they to the church of South India to have gone through some changes. And I'm hoping, just as Paul hoped that the Corinthians would return back to unity that the Church of South India would also return back to unity.
Professor Spurgeon in chapter six of your text you introduce honor shame cultures, and this is a fascinating topic, especially with your life experience in mind. In what ways do you see the dynamics of an honor shame culture at work in the epistle to the first, the first epistle to the Corinthians
There are a couple of places where it's very obvious. For example, in chapter four, he says, I'm not saying this to shame you at the end of his discussion of church division. But he says, but yet as a father that instructs the children I do when I instruct so even though he could have scolded them for their division, but he doesn't ask that one ashamed them. It is possible that some of the people who caused the division were the leading leaders in the church and probably wealthy benefactors, then you don't want to shame them in front of the congregation, at the same time you want to instruct them. The other time that he does openly say in a positive way is in chapter 11, verse two and he says, I praise you for for you remembering the traditions justice have handed them over to you and so here Earlier, he said, I'm not shaming you later, he says, I am praising you for remembering that tradition. And then these two kind of kind of serve as the boogie bookends to show that Paul is operating on an honor, shame culture. And then even the factor that he says not many of your wise, not many of your mighty and all, even though he's saying not many, but he does still include that there were some wise people in chapter three talking about wise people. Again, he exalts them as people with Frank because public acknowledgement of one's worth is what honor shame culture does. And so Paul does that. But there are a couple of times where he does talk about the negative ones. For example, when he says it's not honorable, to a poor person, for the women to not cover their head or to speak in public First Corinthians 11 15 he is again talking something's very familiar with that culture, where in that particular culture very similar to Rajasthan culture in India, if a married woman were to be seen in public with that head covered, she is giving the impression that she is not submissive to her role as a wife role in the society. And so, you can see that that he does operate on the principle of honor shame. Now, India is not the anthropologists debate whether it is India a cultural culture of honor, shame culture, but even if India is not our neighboring countries are currently in Singapore it's a very much of an honor shame culture. But I'm of the conviction that even in India honor shame culture operates. So, for example, if two people are in an accident, the person that gets up and yelled the loudest is going to win the case, regardless of who has the fault. And that's because he had exercised more authority and put himself as the honorable person. And the other person had to take the submissive shame role. And so when you shame the other person, you get the upper hand, even though you aren't that wrong. And so you can kind of see that operating underhandedly even in India,
Professor Spurgeon, especially to us as Westerners. This whole concept of honor, shame is a fascinating one, and one that really is difficult to get our minds around. Are there other biblical spaces that you can see an honor, shame culture operating in?
There are lots of places
Gentlemen that's working in China have written a commentary on Romans exploring the idea how the book of Romans itself is God saving him his honor by providing an offer as salvation for the people
for pi Leeman when an Asian reads the book of filing menu again, see honor, shame. It's very underhanded. So for example, if Paul would have written the letter to FBI, Lehman alone about only CMS and none of the people knew only CMS did, file Lehman did not have to necessarily respond. But because he writes that as a letter to a church, and he addresses other people in the church like our PA, and then later he concludes by Mark being with them, Luke being with him and then the invites the church in the first five verses, and then addresses pi Lehman by Lehman's honor now is that steak if he doesn't obey Paul Then people would say Well, finally many put his personal interest over at the same time it's also saving face for five Lehman because now finally, when Paul says in the letter to FBI Lehman, I don't even have to tell you these things. You know these things you have already been very good to the people I know you would take the mute, have a room for me in your house and prepare it because I am coming with you. So he, even though he's telling him to do something, he is also exalting him so that that finally, finally men never lose his face in his community. He would say yeah, this is exactly what I had. Paul just reinforces my thinking. And so if he has a way to escape rather than having to be scolded by Paul Paul could but he doesn't does matter of fact, he says they appeal to you on the basis of love because five And as an honorable person so you can see in in couple of other books in in the New Testament.
We understand that in honor, shame cultures communication become can become quite indirect. Do we see this indirectness of communication at work in First Corinthians?
there are many places where, Paul, I think, I think the whole issue of women's role in ministry is especially based upon First Corinthians 14 is an indirect communication. Now, I had written an article that appeared in bib sack dealing with this concept when we come to the command, a woman should be silent. We take it as direct command because that's what we are very familiar with. And so we say, well, women should be silent and I had pointed out that it could have been a permissive command where he is saying women may remain silent if it is culturally offensive for them. To speak. My theory, as you would see in that article, and which kind of comes out even in the book is, is that
there were actually
there was a group of women at that time called the free women of color and who taught because they had the freedom they could. They could speak in public, they could have hair any way they wanted, and they argued with people and, and so Paul did not want the Corinthian women to be forced into thinking that especially having the gift of, for example, speaking in tongues, or praying in public or like Aquila and Priscilla being able to expand the scriptures, and that would have put attention now that I have this gift of prophecy, for example, like Phillips daughters, now that I had the gift of prophecy Should I do it in congregation even though I am very shy. So his communication there, we are so used to reading it the way that we are familiar with which is direct, it may have been indirect where he is not saying something in order to make a communication. Now, commentators do bring this up where, for example fee in chapter 11, to the passage that I talked about honor shame. Fees says that he is being sarcastic and possible that he is being sarcastic or even in chapter three when he says, All you're all very wise, many of you are more wise than I am or something like that, where he may be saying something that wasn't meant to be taken as they were wise, but it's kind of a underhanded way of saying you need to rethink your wisdom. And you kind of see that even in Second Corinthians what he says I wish You were rich so that you can take care of me kind of a concept to where
there's a little bit of underhandedness, but
but I also need to be cautious that we that we don't read into that text what Paul doesn't say, but stay with what Paul does say.
Professor Spurgeon This is an extremely insightful study that you have between the parallels between Indian culture and the ancient core culture of Corinth, to which Paul is writing in First Corinthians. What do we do as Christians today in contexts where our culture seems vastly different than Paul's culture? Of course, in our own day, the the sexual instructions that Paul gives for Christian sexual ethics, whether that's gender relations in chapter 11, whether that's the homosexual question in chapter six, these have become very controversial in our culture broadly, how does one adjudicate despite differences in culture, what continues To apply to the church today?
Well, that's a tough question but an important question.
There are a couple of things I can do one as a cultural element and then one as the theological element. Let me talk about both of them simultaneously. But but in sequence. First is the cultural element. When we first went to India as missionaries, my wife and I, and older gentleman said to me, You won't make any impact till you have been here 10 years. And I was almost like a prophecy because the first 10 years people were very suspicious, suspicious of my ministry, and my thinking, My dialoguing my nature. And then at the 10th year, I started to receive acceptance and of course, once you receive acceptance, it keeps moving on up, you know, and so the same way in culturally speaking, sometimes we had to take time with this Very difficult to do, especially graduating right out of seminary, you want to change the world, but it does take time. So there's the cultural element theologically. We have to be salt and light wherever we are. And and Paul, you can see as much as he will be flexible wherever he is, he would still put his foot down when it comes to truth. And, and with the gender issues the same we we had to take our stands because we have a conviction. But that doesn't mean we had to add there's a lot of things involved. For example, we don't have to be unnecessarily mean, we need to be necessarily truthful. And so Laurie and I have not only relatives but also have friends who are a bit different gender preferences then we are. And when I was in college, the difficult issue was abortion and, and the topic of abortion and we made a commitment at that time that if the Lord allows that we would adopt a child and we did our oldest son is an adopted child the same way, even now with working with gender issues. We don't shy away from it if we can shelter a person we do and we have and to help them. So I think it's a love that is motivated by truth. And he had to be honest and truthful and say, I don't agree with your stance, but at the same time, we can be mean, as many Christians in the past have been.
Professor Spurgeon, if I can ask you a question that I've been asking all of the interviewees on this program and the Is this what would it mean for the church to be united today? How would we recognize this unity? And what is it that we can do to pursue the unity of the church today? Yeah.
That's a good question. It would be wonderful if the churches were united. I mean, that would be awesome. It's like the Lord's Prayer coming true. I think people have lots of different views. And I still want to go back to what First Corinthians talks about. And he starts by as soon as he discussed the problems, the tensions between the four groups in the church, I am of Paul, I must see for some of Apollo some of Christ, he immediately jumped to the concept of the cross. And he says, You, I would, I would like for all of you to think on one thing was Christ, what was I crucified for you? Only Christ was crucified for you. So he wants them to see the concept. Of Christ and His cross, the only thing that we boast, and I think I'm citing two of my Indian theologians one is actually a Westerner in chapter three that talks about how crosses where we fall down. If I may read a line from APA Charmy, who was the Indian Christian who tried to communicate with Hinduism, he says, according to Christian teachings, the cross awful in its pain and suffering is the central fact of the Christian life. It is at the foot of the cross that age after age, millions of devout men and women have obtained a new bliss. The true person and Christian has approached the cross overwhelmed with the burden of his sinfulness or her sinfulness, but the Cross has made a new person off him the burden of proof sin has been taken away the soul is filled with peace and forgiveness. And the man has come out in different being meet live struggles, this is the most vital fact of the Christian experience. And so, upper Charmy worked in a really difficult time in Chennai, India, modern day Chennai, then Madras, India, and he, his solution to the tensions of Christians at that time was to bring people to the cross and see the sufferings of Christ. When I see the sufferings of Christ and see how he had endured pain for my sake, my pride, my rights, my honor, my doctrines, my church, my charisma, none of those matter. They're all of insignificance and that's what our army was presenting. If I make let me quote also, Stan Lee Jones, the amazing missionary to me The contemporary of Gandhi, and he said if we present Christianity as a rival to other religions, it will fail. Our position should be there are many religions there is but one gospel. We are not setting a religion over against another religion but a gospel over against human need, which is the same everywhere. The greatest service we can give to anyone in East or West is to introduce him to the moral and spiritual power found in Christ. India needs everything. We humbly offer the best we have. The best we have is Christ. I think it's Christ and the cross of Christ that could bring any church into Unity. A couple of years ago, I had a very tough church conflict with church in Australia and the pastor of Church and I were friends, and went through a very tough time. And we made one promise as we finished our time, regardless of how we part ways, and we did part ways, theologically, our friendships would not end. And even to this day, we write each other email and you plan to get together with each other because it doesn't matter theologically. We are in kind of opposite ends at this moment. But in faith, we are still both of us believe in Christ, and we are committed to the Unity regardless of the differences.
It's been our honor today to be speaking with Professor Andrew Spurgeon, author of the text that we've been discussing twin cultures separated by centuries in Indian reading of First Corinthians available from Langham global library, published in 2016. Professor Spurgeon, thank you so much for being with us today.
Thank you so much. Appreciate