What is culture and why is it so important?

What is Culture?

Culture and Worldview

Many people assume that a culture is just outward behavior, different customs, language, different foods, traditions, dress, ways of doing things.  But these behaviors are the surface level of a culture.  The deeper parts of culture are the values and beliefs that underlies the behaviors, and the deepest aspect of cutlure is the worldview, that informs beliefs, which results in values, which then results in external behaviors and customs.  

Culture :  “The integrated system of learned patterns of behavior (customs, language), ideas, values, history, traditions, feelings, beliefs, and worldview assumptions that binds a group of people together.”  (modified and expanded from Lloyd Kwast’s article on culture in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, edited by Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne, pp. 397-399; and the study guide.)  

Worldview:  Deepest part of culture; assumptions; philosophy, religion; the deepest assumptions about reality and life; the ultimate questions of life and death, God, meaning, heaven and hell, right and wrong. In order to share the gospel in another cutlure, one has to understand their worldview and beliefs and how the gospel of Jesus Christ confronts that worldview and beliefs.  

Behaviors; form (external) vs. meaning (internal)

Understanding Different Worldviews

Buddhism – Pantheism

Hindus – Polytheism, Pantheism

Tribal societies – Animism

Islam – Anti-Trinitarian monotheism, legalism, society and politics and religion one unity; Jihad- and Islam’s view of war

Materialist worldview



Marxism / Communism / Socialism 


Why important?  Because without understanding their worldview and culture – where the people we are trying to reach are coming from, we won’t be able to understand them completely and why they respond to the gospel the way they do, and we won’t be able to communicate the gospel very well to them.  

Repentance and Faith in Christ begin at the worldview level; and then work outwardly to effect beliefs, values, and behaviors.  So, one can see how important it is to understand the world view and culture that one is going to in order to effectively communicate the need for repentance and faith and the truths of the gospel. 

Observing behavior is the most superficial part of culture.  We need to go deeper into values, believes and world view in order to reach out effectively with the gospel.  

The Diagram below is from Lloyd Kwast, “Understanding Culture” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, pp. 397-399 and John King’s blog.  John King wrote exactly what I wanted to write.  I have taught the Perspectives course every year since 1985, except for the 3 years I lived oversees in Turkey; and I was able to find John King’s blog without having to struggle to reproduce the diagrams by myself.  

The ultimate answers to these “What is real?” questions are found in the Creation to Christ stories of the Bible. Each person was created in God’s image. As Paul notes in Athens, “The God who made the world and everything in it…made every nation of men….Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:24-31).

[NOTE: Diagram comes from Lloyd E. Kwast’s article “Understanding Culture,” pages 397-399 in the 2009 Perspectives Reader, which was edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthore.]

The above is from John King’s web – blog:  


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One thought on “What is culture and why is it so important?

  1. The Willowbank Report defined culture from a missiological perspective as “the patterned way in which people do things together….Culture is the beliefs, values, customs, and institutions that hold a society together.”[1]

    Culture is critically important in missions because one of a missionary’s major tasks is to deliver the gospel in a way as free as possible from his culture. Leonard Sweet compares the gospel to pure water; it can be faithfully poured in a coffee mug, sippy cup or goblet as long as the water remains pure.

    Yet culture influences all of us so powerfully yet subtly that it is sometimes difficult to separate the gospel from our culture. For example, German Christians believe it is Biblically allowable to drink beer but frown on drinking soft drinks. What does the Bible say about this issue? This drives the need for contextualization, the process of determining how to share the gospel in a way that fits in another culture yet remains faithful to the Bible.

    Differences in beliefs about contextualization sometimes lead to controversy. The most powerful example in missions today is the “Insider Movement” approach to evangelizing Muslims. Proponents cite the Bible to justify encouraging Muslims to continue to worship in the mosque and calling themselves Muslims. Opponents disagree with the contextualization that arrives at this belief about the Bible.


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