An Etic/Emic example in Christian theology

Etic, rather than simply emic views, can help us understand reality.  I wrote about etic and emic perspectives here: https://toddrisser.com/2014/01/22/etic-not-just-emic/

Here’s a simple example concerning etic and emic approaches. Someone approaches a pastor and says “What does the Christian faith believe about ________?” An emic answer would be a pastor who says “Christians believe _______,”  and answers purely and only from his church’s tradition/ his denomination’s theology. He doesn’t act as if this is one faithful Christian answer among many, he simply states his tradition’s stance as if it is the one and only genuine Christian answer. No caveats, no addendums.

An etic response would be for the pastor to say, “That question has been answered several ways by Christians of various branches of the Christian family tree down through the centuries. Our tradition believes the correct answer is _____ and here’s why. Our Catholic friends believe______.  Our Presbyterian friends believe ________. The Mennonites figured ________. So this has been an area with a variety of faithful Christians trying to be faithful to Jesus in understanding what the Scriptures convey. But like I said, here’s our view, and here’s why…”

Answering this way helps avoid turning people into sheeple, is honest, and values the thoughts of Christians throughout history and across the family tree, not just my tribe. I also think it avoids future situations where someone feels like the pastor was less than forthcoming in their answer. It avoids the “If you don’t think what we think, then your answer isn’t even a Christian one” lunacy. It avoids assuming people are not smart enough to sort things out. It helps avoid leader-worship.  Perhaps pastors stick with emic answers because they believe that a person will only get to heaven with perfect theology, or because they are insecure that someone may choose another church? I’ve noticed people like being treated like adults  rather than children. They like full disclosure, even more than “the party line.” I believe people can be respected enough to tell them the big picture, not just our slice. Truth is truth.

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