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.
Ok, I’ve been out most all week deer hunting in my spare time, so finally here it is:
(names are changed)
Rhoda is a single mom struggling to make ends meet. Her brother and sister in law used to worry about her involvement in New Age spirituality or Wicca. She became a Christian at our church around 5 years ago. Almost immediately she became a Super Inviter, drawing all kinds of people in.
Jimmy and Fire arrived in our town about a year ago with their 3 children, the clothes on their back and five dollars. They put their kids up at Fire’s mom’s place since they had no way to take care of them; they had no home, no jobs, no food. They had smashed their life against the rocks of addiction in Florida. Rhoda had known Fire in school, so this single mom with two kids of her own struggling to make ends meet said to Jimmy and Fire “move in with me until you can get life together.” Rhoda put out word and people at our church started gathering things this family of 5 would need.
Rhoda invited Jimmy and Fire to church. They decided this was a point in life to make a change. Within a very short time they had tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and turned their lives over to Him. Prayer and a new life of faith became the norm for them. Their repentance (metanoia – about face) was the real deal. They both got jobs, started living responsibly and got their kids back. They got an apartment. Rhoda put out word and the people of our church outfitted the place from top to bottom with what a family of five needs to live. We’re talking furniture, kitchen gear, bedclothes, you name it. Our congregation showed them love. A family in our church gave them a minivan. (Keep in mind the people in my church are not rich! Many, if not most, of them would qualify for government assistance). All this happened without anyone asking me. The pastor was not the one who orchestrated all this.
Jimmy and Fire are at Sunday morning small group, Wednesday nights and Sunday worship. They are engaged in learning and growing. They’ve made relationships with other couples and brought people to church. They renewed their lease recently for the first time in their married life. “That felt good,” Jimmy told me. They’ve received their one year sobriety coins. They help other people. They ask me for ways to give back to the church. They are both enrolled in college on-line. When I told Jimmy I happened to have a battery for his van, his reply was “Thanks man, but let me be a man and get my family our own battery.”
God is very clearly doing wonderful things in Jimmy and Fire’s lives. Rhoda was a gift of God to them, gave them a base to get their feet under them. As part of that, I can’t help but think that our church reaching into their lives tangibly beyond Sunday worship had something to do with their incredible turn around. I know we hesitate to prescribe things all churches should do, however I believe this is exactly the kind of thing churches should be doing.