Intercultural Mutuality

Intercultural mutuality is a missiological perspective for interpreting and relating to intercultural dynamics, in particular between Western missionary agencies and African contextual agencies (e.g. churches etc).

  • The text below provides an academic summary
  • The concept is explored in a graphical presentation here.

Intercultural mutuality embraces a missional stance that looks beyond colonialism, post-colonialism, independence and even inter-dependence and partnership, as typically understood.

Intercultural mutuality implies a working relationship between people of different cultures, based upon a mutual inter-cultural appreciation and compatibility of gifts, talents, characteristics and culture—all of which is rooted in a shared, vocational commitment to serving God’s eternal purpose, the missio Dei.

I defined and neologised the concept of intercultural mutuality, in my doctoral dissertation,“Facilitating a Renewal of Discipleship Praxis Amongst Burkinabé Leaders and Learners.” (Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Intercultural Studies), from which the following is extracted:

The juxtaposition of a burgeoning Christianity in the Global South with a Western church awakening slowly to countenance a future of engaging in “mission from the margins” (Bediako 2004, 104) is increasingly being recognised as providing the potential for a new phase of mission marked by authentic relationship and interdependence (Satyavrata 2004; Hiebert 2008; Hiebert 2009, 187-199).

However, if such an engagement is to be really free of the shackles of the past, it implies a relational (not merely rational, or academic) acknowledgement of the West’s colonial past and hegemonic legacy—without any attempt to either exonerate, or atone for Western guilt, in so doing. Such a relational stance means being open to engaging with the history, lives and uncomfortable histories of those who suffered colonial rule and, missiologically speaking, it implies upholding cultural insiders ordering of the narrative, pace and direction of contextual ministry (Hiebert 1991, 272; Bosch 1978).

Wilbert Shenk refers to this in terms of a need for the lingering dysfunctionality of post-colonial relationships to give way to a new synthesis represented by the “establishment of new relationships based on equality and interdependence…” in order that “…a satisfying partnership can be effected…” recognising “…the integrity of both parties and their mutual need of one another” (Shenk 1999, 83).

My research has suggested that the term intercultural mutuality has the potential to usefully encapsulate a sense of shared, intercultural appreciation and compatibility of gifts, talents, characteristics, vocation and culture, which is rooted in a mutual, vocational commitment to the Missio Dei (Bosch 1991, 349-362).

The terminology potentially improves upon current concepts of “interdependence,” which are by definition rooted in “dependence,” which is to say: human need. Particularly where intercultural relationships are concerned, respective human needs are either significantly imbalanced, or simply indeterminable, so that striving for interdependence can become a contrived process (see Raj 2002).

By contrast, intercultural mutuality is rooted theologically in the Abrahamic covenant, through which, in the Messiah, every family, tribe, people and nation bears both the potential and the responsibility of being “blessed to be a blessing to all the families of the earth,” as each and every ethnos bears a unique contribution towards God’s eternal purpose, the Missio Dei (Clements 2007, 52-62). This shifts the focus from human needs onto the divine need—of a servant community—resulting in a shared, intercultural recognition of our mutual, vocational calling to serve the Missio Dei.

As Christian communities consider their vocation and allegiance within a globalised world, a conception of intercultural mutuality will surely become increasingly pertinent (Shenk 2001, 99), facilitating a spiritual, rather than structural catholicity and a fresh vocational paradigm of mutuality between co-workers of differing cultures, sharing equal status (Bosch 1991, 362; Lotz 2008, 15-21)—until together our intercultural mutuality reflects the biblical unity of the apostolic declaration:

God has put the body together in such a way that he gives greater dignity to the parts that lack it, so that there will be no disagreements within the body, but rather all the parts will be equally concerned for all the others. Thus if one part suffers all the parts suffer with it; and if one part is honoured, all the parts share its happiness—1 Corinthians 12.24-26

Intercultural mutuality is explored in a wide-ranging graphical online presentation here, authored for a intercultural mission conference, in 2014.

Cited References

Bediako, Kwame. 2004. Jesus and the Gospel in Africa : History and Experience. New York, NY: Orbis Books.

Bosch, David J. 1978. “Towards True Mutuality.” Missiology: an International Review VI (3) (July).

——— 1991. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Clements, John B. 2007. “The Eternal Purpose of God.” Llanelli: New Covenant International University & Theological Seminary.

Hiebert, Paul G. 2008. Transforming Worldviews. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

——— 2009. The Gospel in Human Contexts. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

——— 1991. “Beyond Anti-Colonialism to Globalism.” Missiology 19 (3): 263–281.

Lotz, Denton. 2008. “Paradigm Shifts in Missiology.” Evangelical Review of Theology 32 (1): 4–21.

Raj, A R Victor. 2002. “In-Ter-Dependency.” Missio Apostolica 10 (1) (May): 41–44.

Satyavrata, Ivan. 2004. “‘Glocalization’ and Leadership Development for Transforming Mission in India.” Transformation: an International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies 4 (21): 211–217.

Shenk, Wilbert R. 1999. “The Priority of Mission for Renewal of the Church.” Direction 28 (1) (Spring): 101–112.

——— 2001. “Recasting Theology of Mission: Impulses From the Non-Western World.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 25 (3): 98–107.

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