I have a student who has an obsession with reptiles and dinosaurs. If I asked for his perceptions about a movie, if it had much to do with reptiles or dinosaurs, this is most likely what he would tell me about. If this was not intended to be a major part of the movie; if they did not get much in the way of screen time; if there were other, more important matters… none of that would really matter. If I asked him about it, he would tell me that it was about reptiles.
Particularly If I did not know about his predilections, his assessment would likely shape my understanding of the movie. If I did not know the name of the film, perhaps I would ask for tickets to see “the reptile movie.” As I sat there, waiting, I would be watching for the reptile-parts. Probably, I would impart an extra importance to those parts that had it. After all, reptiles and dinosaurs is what I went looking for. I had expected them to be the best part. Perhaps, for me, they even would be… but only because I was expecting that in the first place.
I am trying to ease into a subtle way of explaining that the above is a metaphor. I hope you will forgive the lack of a smooth segue. Here it is: the boy with the thing for dinosaurs? He is a bit like culture. And the movie? it is a world view.
In my case, the culture is European, suburban(ish) American, circa 2016. The world view is Christianity.
I receive my Christianity via my culture, just as I might receive a summary of the movie via the student. Just as I can go from hearing a summary to actually seeing the movie, I can similarly move on to participate directly in a life, relationship, walk (call it whatever you feel like; there are ways that all 3 are apt and other ways that none of those 3 do it justic) with Jesus. But just as the summary will shape my experience of the movie, so to will my culture shape my experience of Jesus.
The metaphor probably does not do the reality justice, in that it is much easier to recognize and distance myself from the students assessment than it would be to see past my cultural predispositions. I suspect that Jesus was, in fact, warning us about exactly these kind of things.
This is a part of what He means, I think, when he says that those of us with ears to hear should listen. This is a part of what he means when he tells us about new wine and new wineskins. This is a part of what he means when he asks people who they think he is; often the response is ‘well, so-and-so say…’ and inevitably, Jesus reposes the question. It is as if he is saying, ‘yes, yes. I know what the culture says. But I want you to look past that.’