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In May 2001, Canadian Mennonite University hosted the inaugural NAIITS (North

American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies) Missiological Symposium. The

Symposium's purpose was to address issues concerning faith and culture with regard to the

newly recognized role of indigenous people in God's mission. The ensuing discussion was to

seek “to build with and on the foundation of Biblical orthodox, evangelical scholarship and

mission practice as found throughout the Evangelical community of Christ.”1 This dialogue over

faith and culture continues and represents an intersection between the wider Aboriginal cultural

recovery and revitalization movement (currently taking place in both the U.S. and Canada) and

the faith of Christians who have an Aboriginal heritage. As these Christians move to reclaim

their ethnic identity, questions and objections arise as to the compatibility of Aboriginal culture

with an evangelical Christian faith. This has lead to Aboriginal Christian leaders (such as

NAIITS) to critically reflect on the contextualization of the Gospel within Aboriginal culture.

Within the evangelical Christian community, contextualization efforts have prompted

various responses ranging from optimistic encouragement to outright rejection--both from Native

and non-Natives alike. The most pronounced objection to an openly-styled contextualization

from within the Native community comes from the Report of the Native Theological Task Force,

in a booklet entitled, “Boundary Lines,” commissioned by The Native American Association of

The Christian and Missionary Alliance (The Native Alliance).2 This report adopts a definition of

syncretism posited by CHIEF (Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship) in their 1998 document

entitled, “A Biblical Position by Native Leaders on Native Spirituality,” which states,

By syncretism, we refer specifically to the subtle attempt to integrate Biblical truth and faith
in Christ with non-biblical Native religious beliefs, practices, and forms. The result is an
adulteration of biblical truth and the birth of “another gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).”3

The Task Force's interpretation of “non-biblical Native religious beliefs, practices and forms” is

later clarified to include specific sacred objects, such as, “[a]ny geographical feature (mountains,
1 Terry LeBlanc, “About the Issue,” Journal of North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies 1, no.
1 (2003): 1.
2 “Boundary Lines,” The Native Alliance, <http://www.nativealliance.org/resources.htm> accessed April 19, 2009.
3 “A Biblical Position by Native Leaders on Native Spirituality,” CHIEF (1998),
<http://www.chief.org/spirituality.html> accessed April 19, 2009.
stones, rivers, valleys, etc.) that a particular tribe has ascribed to it spiritual significance and

power,” “[k]ivas, sweat lodges, longhouses, tobacco, peyote tipis and sticks; smoke from cedar,

sage, sweetgrass or other mediatory incense,” and, “[f]etish masks, drums, rattles, whistles,

Kachina and Yeibechi dolls, carvings, bundles, medicine pouches, dream catchers, totem

poles.”4 The report goes on to conclude that, “...the teaching of redeeming of sacred objects

used in traditional or contemporary Native American practices and worship constitute unbiblical,

heretical, and false doctrine.”5 The document also affirms a form of contextualization, but only

within the confines of Aboriginal cultural artifacts that have no sacred associations.

This approach is practical within a Western culture, where the sacred and secular are

clearly defined, and the bulk of cultural artifacts (work, leisure, food, art, etc.) occupy the secular

realm. But what about highly sacralized cultures in which almost all cultural artifacts are

deemed sacred? The Aboriginal Christian's move to recover her/his ethnic identity is stifled

under this approach, their ancestral heritage becomes virtually untouchable.

Aboriginal Christians Adrian Jacobs, Richard Twiss, and Terry LeBlanc respond to the

Report of the Native Theological Task Force in an article entitled, “Culture, Christian Faith and

Error.”6 Addressing the polarizing reaction of the report and affirming the report's stance against

syncretism, they state, “Syncretism is the most feared response to Native culture among most

Evangelical Christians. No one wants to compromise his or her commitment to Christ and the

importance of His redemptive work.”7 They then qualify this affirmation by taking exception with

report's sweeping definition of cultural artifacts that are beyond redemption,

As Native leaders it is we who must be careful that we do not allow Biblical ignorance to
lead to an unfounded fear of syncretism among ourselves. We must counsel, pray and
dialogue to prevent syncretism from becoming an emotionally defined standard for a type of
modern day inquisition meant to root and burn out of Native Christians any tie to their
culture and tradition. When we do this, what we are doing is basically denying God's
handiwork in us.8

4 “Boundary Lines.”
5 Ibid.
6 Adrian Jacobs, Terry LeBlanc, and Richard Twiss, “Culture, Christian Faith and Error,” Journal of North
American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies 1, no. 1 (2003): 5-35.
7 Ibid., 18.
8 Ibid., 31.
What they suggest in place of outright rejection of items with sacred associations is a process of

“sanctification,” in which “the Word of God, as guided by the Holy Spirit and discerning

Christians, critiques Native culture. Aspects of Native culture that need to be changed are

examined by a sound hermeneutic process and experienced Biblically literate Christians.”9 In

an earlier separate article, Jacobs clarifies the positive goal of sanctification, “Sanctification

means setting something or someone apart for God's purpose. I believe sanctification is the

proper biblical response to Indian culture. Every culture has good, godly elements and bad, evil

elements.”10 The implication here, along with Jacobs', LeBlanc's, and Twiss' cultural exegesis

and socio-cultural hermeneutic11 is that even cultural artifacts with previously sacred

associations are not beyond the scope of God's redemption.

In this essay I will affirm with Jabobs, LeBlanc, and Twiss that a contextualization of the

Gospel in Aboriginal culture can include cultural artifacts with previous sacred associations, and

that those artifacts can in turn be used for the glory of Christ. Such a contextualization is in fact

made possible by the freedom of the Gospel.12 I will argue that an aspect of God's missional

activity is the transformation of worldview (be it Ancient Near Eastern, Western, or Indigenous

North American) which (in part) enables the believer to regain peaceful dominion over creation,

and thereby is afforded the freedom to participate in the ministry of reconciling all things to

Christ. Finally, I will demonstrate the principle of demythologized cultural artifacts recovered for

Christ's glory in Paul's treatment of idol food in 1 Corinthians 8-10.

Worldview Transformation

At the heart of the opinion that cultural artifacts with sacred associations cannot be

recovered for Christ is the belief that demonic personalities and powers can inhabit inanimate

9 Ibid., 19.
10 Adrian Jacobs, “The Meeting of the Two Ways,” in Native and Christian: Indigenous Voices on Religious
Identity in the United States and Canada, James Treat, ed. (NY: Routledge, Inc., 1996), 186.
11 Jacobs, LeBlanc, and Twiss, 19-21.
12 I define “Gospel” according to Romans 1: the revealed righteousness of God, “the power of God for the
salvation of everyone who believes.” Thus, the gospel is God's saving missional intervention in human history,
culminating in the work of Christ.
objects and places. In section entitled, “Demonology (Power Encounter),” in the above

mentioned “Boundary Lines” document, the Task Force lists several passages narrating the

destruction and abolishment of the physical symbols of idolatry in Israel's conquest of Canaan,

followed by several NT warnings against Satan, his intentions, and his demons. This section is

concluded with, “The material artifacts (sacred objects) used by animists are never neutral, but

dedicated to the demons. In most instances they are actually indwelt by demons. There is not

the faintest hint in the Bible that it is God's intention to redeem such objects”13 Again under the

section, “Sacred Objects,” they write, “[sacred objects] are often used as mediators between

man and the spirit realm. In this role, they are indwelt by spiritual beings or powers. Sacred

objects can be animate (living) or inanimate (non-living) objects made animate by indwelling

demonic powers.”14 With this belief that a drum, rattle, or whistle with sacred associations is in

most cases the actual dwelling place of a demonic being or power, it is quite understandable

that the Task Force would suggest to keep them far away from their Native Alliance churches!

While the Native Alliance cannot endorse the recovery of sacred objects in good

conscience, there is another voice in the contextualization discussion that advocates the

neutrality of such objects--but only after they have been exorcised of their demons. Fuller

Seminary missiologist Charles Kraft writes in his book, Anthropology for Christian Witness,

“often in cross-cultural situations we come across food, amulets, items used in worship, idols,

and the like that have been empowered by satanic power and cannot be regarded as merely

neutral cultural forms. These must be destroyed or freed from the empowerment they carry if

the work of God is to go on unhindered in that area.”15 So while the Native Alliance disagrees

with Kraft's opinion about God's work in the context of cultures,16 they actually share a very

similar worldview with respect to the role of demons in culture. Under Kraft's view, the Native

Alliance's fear of syncretism is well founded, but is the worldview of both biblically founded? To

13 “Boundary Lines.”
14 Ibid.
15 Charles H. Kraft, Anthropology for the Christian Witness (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), 149.
16 The Task Force takes specific exception with Kraft in “Boundary Lines.”
put it in a cultural perspective, is the average Godless Aboriginal, surrounded by artifacts that

her culture has deemed 'sacred,' more in the presence of the demonic than an average Godless

Westerner, surrounded by artifacts that her culture has deemed 'secular?'

In an article entitled, “The Third Wave Worldview: A Biblical Critique,” Pierre Gilbert

addresses the Third Wave movement of which Charles Kraft is a founding proponent.17 Gilbert

argues that the Genesis creation account delivered at Sinai presented God's newly gathered

people with a worldview that would free them from the hostility and fear of the spiritual realm of

warfare and conflict.18 It was this chaotic and uncertain world that the surrounding nations

sought to mitigate with idolatry, but God's people were not to even engage this world--Genesis

destroys this world at the conceptual level. As Gilbert states,

According to the narrative, the universe is not populated by evil powers bent on the
disruption of human life, and physical objects in no way represent the essence of the divine.
In the biblical story, the universe is no longer an object of worship, fear, or terror. By its
repeated reference to the 'goodness' of creation, the author explicitly proclaims that
humanity lives in a friendly universe.19

Therefore, to engage in idolatry was to deny the Creator's power and goodness. Yahweh could

not be incorporated into a world populated by a pantheon of countless other deities, as if

Yahweh was yet another player in the cosmic warfare paradigm.20 Instead, His people were

invited into a world of shalom restored via the gift of the Law. Canaanite idols and religious

paraphernalia posed a threat to God's people not by the demonic forces they contained, but by

their ability to lure the Israelites back into the old ways of fear and divine appeasement and

away from the grace and shalom of the Law--where an idol was a mere “block of wood.”21

An important distinction needs to be made at this point as Western missionaries have

often misunderstood the demythologized worldview of the Bible for the materialistic worldview of

17 Wonsuk Ma, “A 'First Waver' Looks at the 'Third Wave' : A Pentecostal Reflection on Charles Kraft's Power
Encounter Terminology, Pneuma 19 no. 2 (Fall 1997): 189-206.
18 Pierre Gilbert, “The Third Wave Worldview: A Biblical Critique,” Direction 29 no. 2 (Fall, 2000): 158-159.
19 Ibid., 159.
20 This view is often expressed in the popular God vs. Satan paradigm: God is diminished and Satan is elevated to
God's level, so that God's victory over Satan is a battle of the deities, won with cunning and power.
21 Isa. 44 poetically expounds this notion of a demythologized universe ruled by a one-and-only deity, and goes as
far as to mock the notion of physical objects mediating a supernatural essence.
Western culture. In Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues in a section entitled,

“The Flaw of the Excluded Middle,” missiologist Paul Hiebert recounts his lack of preparation to

deal with spiritual encounters in a cross cultural missional setting.22 He attributes this to the

blind spot of his Western culture regarding the spiritual nature of the universe, the “middle level”

of this-worldly, spiritual aspects of creation that are beyond human perception. While it is

beyond the scope of this essay to fully delve into Hiebert's ideas surrounding the theology of

ancestors and spirits, it is important to maintain that God's goodness and power pervades all

levels of creation--God rules; He is not locked in cosmic warfare. As Hiebert states, “If the

central message of the Bible is not that a cosmic struggle between God and Satan will

determine who will rule, what is it about? The battle rages within the human heart, which God

and Satan seek to win.”23 The presentation of Jesus' ministry in the gospels is depicted this

way: demons pose no resistance or formidable opposition to Christ, it is the hearts of lost

people that Christ wrestles with.24

Unfortunately, an overreaction to this blind spot of the Western worldview can lead to

what Hiebert calls “a Christianized form of animism in which spirits and magic are used to

explain everything.”25 Therefore, there is a danger of syncretism on both extremes of the

cultural recovery debate: there are those who would use traditional ways to engage and

manipulate the spiritual world as an augment to their Christian faith, but there are also others

who would outright reject the traditional ways because they are infested and overrun with

demons. In this latter sense, Christ's victory has been claimed but the believer's world remains

untransformed: they have not fully moved into the world of God's shalom, they remain in the

world of chaos.

The “Knowledge” of 1 Corinthians 8-1026

22 Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 189.
23 Ibid., 211.
24 Gilbert, 167.
25 Hiebert, Reflections, 200.
26 This bulk of this research and synthesis comes from a previous study, “The Unity of 1 Corinthians 8-10: A Love-
Motivated Limitation of Freedom,” a Sr. Seminar critical research essay presented and defended at Heritage
College, Cambridge, Ontario, in April 2006.
In this passage of 1 Corinthians, Paul is dealing with the issue of eating food that has

been sacrificed to an idol. Here the food is an inanimate cultural artifact with pervasive sacred

associations, a perfect scriptural case study concerning cultural engagement! This section will

examine the “knowledge” to which Paul refers to confirm that the “knowledge” is the particular

demystified perspective of idol-food that is a part of the larger demythologized worldview of

Genesis. I will state at the outset of this examination that Paul's primary concern here is not to

demythologize idol-food, the Corinthians were already there. Paul's concern is that the

Corinthians limit their freedom out of love for the fellow believer who's allegiance to Christ may

be at risk--this is his primary focus in chapter 10. This risk leads Paul to cast the “knowledge” in

this passage in a very bad light (indeed, anything outside the meta-ethic of love would be

detestable to Paul). Nonetheless, the fact that Paul affirms their “knowledge” of demystified

idol-food confirms the demythologized worldview of Genesis.

Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to give up idol-food if the faith of another believer is

in jeopardy, and therefore wants to stress the danger of idol-food in that respect. At the same

time he does not want to reintroduce superstition back into their worldview, and so he attempts

to affirm their knowledge even though it poses grave danger to some believers in Corinth. This

inevitably contributed to a highly nuanced and complicated argument, so much so that the

dominant theory concerning this passage until recently was that it was a compilation of

disparate Pauline writings.27

Most treatments of this text fail to account for the apparent contradictions in Paul's

argument: “we know that there is no idol in the world and that there is no god except one,” set

against, “there are many gods and many lords;” and “eat anything sold in the market without

worrying about conscience,” versus, “you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the

table of demons” (among many others). Why is Paul affirming the eating of idol-food based on

27 See Margaret M. Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language
and Composition of 1 Corinthians (Louisville, KT: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993). Based on Mitchell's
doctoral dissertation, this work convincingly argued for a unified text and opened the door to serious exegetical
work on this previously neglected passage.
the knowledge that there is no god except one while at the same time warning against eating at

the table of demons? Recent archaeological and textual evidence has suggested that Paul is

referring to two very different activities in this passage that both relate to idol food. The demonic

aspect was not in the eating of the idol-food itself, but the scenario of the eating.

Excavations at the Asclepius temple complex28 and at Demeter and Kore29 reveal Greco-

Roman and Hellenistic temple dining that involved varying levels of cultic involvement. The

excavations reveal temples with inner and outer courts, whereby casual participants of a

sacrifice could enjoy cheap meat in the outer court while the cultic officiants would offer the

sacrifice in the privacy of an inner sanctum. This inner and outer court distinction between ritual

officiation and peripheral participation is supported by David Gill's research into the role of the

Table in Hellenistic sacrifice.30 Cultic sacrifices and participation were delineated by those few

who ate the sacrifice at the Table of the idol (usually the inner organs), and those who ate the

bulk of the slaughter in the outer courtyard. Everyone ate the idol-food, but only a few would eat

at the Table.

This distinction intersects with Paul's warning against idolatry in chapter 10. The image

of the Table would be in the imagination of the Corinthian as a place that was more ceremonial

than a matter of filling one's stomach--it was the place to declare one's allegiance to a god

through the act of eating idol-food. That's why Paul's diatribe against idolatry in chapter 10

centres not around demonic power, but around a loyalty divided between God and demons.

The consequences of turning one's allegiance away from God are dire (i.e. Paul's

example of Israel), and that is why Paul's heart aches for the weaker brother. The weaker

brother is one who's conscience might be injured by witnessing a fellow believer eating idol-

food. This is not the offended conscience of Rom. 14, where an action causes one to feel

28 Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “The Corinth that Saint Paul Saw,” Biblical Archaeologist, 47 (September, 1984):
156.
29 Nancy Bookidis, “Ritual dining at Corinth,” in Greek Sanctuaries: New Approaches, ed. Nanno Marinatos and
Robin Hägg (New York: Routledge Inc., 1993): 45-46
30 David Gill, “Trapezomata: A Neglected Aspect of Greek Sacrifice,” Harvard Theological Review, 67 (1974):
117.
naughty; this injury involves becoming, “emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols.”

This is an injured conscience in the moral lawgiver sense of the word, where one's moral

compass is damaged.31

Thus, one's eating idol-food in the courtyard might embolden a fellow believer to eat idol-food at

the Table, implicitly declaring their allegiance to that deity.

Therefore, while Paul is maintaining that idolatry does not do anything in a magical

sense, he is forcefully arguing that it does everything in a loyalty sense. There are no gods

except one (who is the source of all spiritual significance), but there are still many gods and

many lords (imagined or not) that clamor for our allegiance. The cultural artifact of idol-food is

only as dangerous and demonic as it threatens the believer's allegiance to Christ.

Conclusion

It would seem as though the positions of some in the cultural restoration debate would

reject Paul's approach in 1 Corinthians. Indeed, citing no evidence, Kraft simply emotes that,

“The food spoken of in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 does not seem to have been dedicated

to (and thereby empowered by) Satan or evil spirits.”32 Even Gordon Fee's semantic range33

argument cannot afford Kraft the liberty to make this statement--the food was indeed dedicated

to an idol (thus also Satan or evil spirits). Therefore, the biblical narrative still calls for a

transformation of worldview.

This essay has highlighted only a few portions of that narrative, yet they remain

consistent: the Gospel shines a light on every frightening dark corner of God's universe to show

that he is in control and is restoring shalom through the work of his son. A lost people called

into God's shalom can recover and reclaim their cultural heritage without fear of any

Satanic/demonic attachment to drums, whistles, or blocks of wood. In Christ there is freedom.

Cultural recovery in the name of Christ should not be forced or fake. Commenting on the
31 C.S. Lewis, Studies in Words (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967): 184.
32 Kraft, 149.
33 For a fair handling and critical response to Fee's theory, see Bruce N. Fisk, “Eating Meat Offered to Idols:
Corinthian Behavior and Pauline Response in 1 Corinthians 8-10 (A Response to Gordon Fee),” Trinity Journal
10 (1989): 49-70.
recovery and place of Aboriginal myths and fables in the Christian faith, Raymond Aldred states,

This is not about understanding how ancient aboriginal myths and fables might substitute or
accomplish a contrived utilitarian purpose but how real aboriginal history, the real stories,
can be understood to have a place in the biblical narrative and how the gospel story, the
canon of scripture, can encompass and be reconciled with aboriginal people so that an
aboriginal Christian spirituality can thrive.34

There is an image here of the richness and depth of culture, with all its flaws, as a bed in which

the Gospel can grow and flower. The mission of God would not simply view cultural restoration

as permissible, but necessary. In this respect, a whole new area of missional opportunity is

opening before North American churches as they assist a lost people in reclaiming and

recovering what God has created them to be.

34 Raymond Aldred, “The Resurrection of Story,” First Peoples Theology Journal 1 no. 3 (January 2005): 71.
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