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Cross-Cultural Communication

What difficulties in communication do cross-cultural workers face? How can these best be addressed in various settings?

Book Review: Biblical Multi-cultural Teams

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WCIU Journal: Cross-Cultural Communications Topic

August 17, 2017

by Sunny Hong

The book, Biblical Multi-cultural Teams, by Sheryl Silzer, was written to help members of a multicultural team recognize and understand why cultural differences exist among members of their team and to apply biblical truth to cultural differences. Silzer starts this book by stating that we are all created in the image of God. The image of God is presented in three views: substantive, functional and relational. The substantive view of the image of God describes the image of God as the ability to make decisions by using human will. The functional view of the image of God explains the image of God as the function of taking responsibility of creation. The relational view of the image of God addresses the image of God as the ability to make relationship with God, other human beings and creation. The image of God in us is distorted, however, by following cultural practices rather than biblical truth.

To explain how the image of God is distorted, Silzer introduces the “Culture-based Judging System” (CbJS) which is the way people decide what is right and wrong based on their culture. Silzer uses Mary Douglas’ concept of Grid (structure) and Group (community) and categorizes cultures into four types: individuating, institutionalizing, hierarching and interrelating. Individuating culture has both weak structure and community, and promotes individual rights. Institutionalizing culture has strong structure and weak community, and is governed by rules and regulations. Hierarching culture has both strong structure and community and places high value on obedience and loyalty to the authority and group. Interrelating culture has weak structure and strong community and fosters egalitarianism. Based upon cultural types, a society prefers doing things in a certain way and rejects doing things in different ways. Without any bad intention, people believe their way is the right and biblical way. Cultural norms are practiced at home as people grow up, which influences people’s worldview and behavior.

Silzer takes the reader through a journey into a childhood home and family tree to show how one’s upbringing shapes culture. The cultural practices of visiting, eating, working, resting, and cleaning are reflected to show how these behaviors reveal the values of one’s culture. The reader is challenged to look at his or her own cultural practices and biases in such a way that it will lead to better understanding of not only his or her own culture but also the culture of others. How to apply biblical truth to cultural differences among multicultural teams is examined by explaining CbJS at the end of the book. The answer is putting the cross in the middle of cultural differences.

At the end of each chapter, exercises help the readers to understand their walk of life in their home culture. Questions are prepared to understand a reader’s CbJS, and reflection questions examine how CbJS has shaped people and what the Bible says in order to align CbJS to biblical truth. Individuals can gain a deeper understanding of the cultural impact of his or her life by doing these exercises. It will be even more helpful to share the exercises and questions with people from different cultures to broaden cultural understanding.

The personal stories of the author offer a glimpse on how CbJS had harmed her life and ministry when she worked as a cross-cultural worker for over 40 years as a Japanese American and how understanding culture redeemed and restored her. A reader could easily concur with her experiences and have a deeper understanding of how culture, not necessarily biblical truth, could dictate his or her life.

This book is rich in anthropological examples and Bible verses to help a reader to understand cultural differences and biblical truth. Various aspects of culture are explained in a practical manner, which helps one to understand his or her own culture. That understanding can be expanded to understand other cultures.

This book is a welcome addition to the few resources about multicultural teams that are currently available. It could be used in training for a multicultural team, which is becoming increasingly important in the 21st century. If an organization is seriously looking for resources to handle multicultural team issues or if someone wants to understand cultural struggles, this book is a good choice.