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BOOK REVIEW
Change Across Culture
A Narrative Approach to Social Transformation
by Bruce Bradshaw
"Change Across Culture" (CAC) is a masterful exposition of the innate intricacies in transforming cultures using redemption as the "valid basis for cross-cultural ethics." Bradshaw rejects functionalism upfront insisting that for "innovations" to be implemented within culture in a "sustainable way" they must be integrated into the "cultural narratives" of the community.

"Bradshaw eloquently defines narratives as the "stories that govern our lives." They (the narratives) "are templates through which we interpret reality and the means through which we seek continuity in our lives." The Christian narrative, says Bradshaw, is centered "on Christ and his redemptive relationship with creation." He further argues that the Bible, rather than being a narrative, is in reality a meta-narrative because instead of making "all cultures look alike" reconciliation in fact is an "effort to offer all people in all cultures values that will empower them to enhance their lives." This is done, says Bradshaw, through the transformation of the "values that shape their cultural narratives."

"Bradshaw argues that redemption is "GodíŽs reconciling work in creation" and can be used as a basis for ethics because it is "universally valid and culturally specific." "The validity of redemption," says Bradshaw, "is that it is a unifying theory bearing witness to God as the agent of causation because it bears the meaning of itíŽs agent."

"Using redemption as an ethical basis for cultural change, Bradshaw moves on to tackle some difficult and significant problems facing the world today. He maintains that before cultures can be managed, the "worldviews that are buried within" them "need to be excavated." By "excavating" the worldviews of modern Christianity he concludes that "Gnostic creation stories" have had more influence than the "Biblical creation stories" in shaping contemporary Christian worldviews. He convincingly shows how this "Gnostic legacy" is the root of the "ecological crises in Christianity" today.

"In later chapters the author shows how redemption can liberate people from serving their cultures and how positive transformation enables them to become masters of, rather than slaves to, their culture. Bradshaw asserts that "theological doctrine" alone is not able to create sustainable change. "Encounters with people of other faiths," says Bradshaw, "do not begin with discussions of doctrine. Instead they begin when people express their faith through their efforts to cope with the struggles of daily life." He concludes that "lasting change only occurs when people are empowered through the redemptive work of God through Christ to transform the elements within their culture that disempower them."

"Bradshaw shows how the powers that be are redeemed when the "Church challenges their authority by exercising their moral agency and empower people to transform the narratives of their cultures to embody the redemptive work of Christ in creation." He argues that this type of transformation can only be achieved through subordination to the authorities and accepting the consequences of exercising their moral agency. Christians and the Church cannot compromise and must be the moral voice that challenges society and governments to act in an ethical manner. Bradshaw shows how redemption has the ability to empower women and to liberate them from cultures that oppress and abuse them. He argues that early Christianity did not discriminate against women but rather enabled them to be leaders in the early Church.

"In a later chapter Bradshaw tackles economic exploitation and acknowledges that "people who have any hope of achieving economic viability in the modern global economy can no longer assume that nature is the source of their wealth." He argues that Small Enterprise Development (SED) is the way to tackle exploitation and that "Christians establish SED programs on the assumption that the redemptive work of God is embodied in the mundane structures of society." Bradshaw affirms that SEDs can be redemptive and can contribute to the well being of the whole community.

"CAC is a book that addresses a broad range of problems but retains the centrality of Christ and never loses focus on God as the agent of redemption. Throughout this volume the central role of Christ in the transformation of demeaning and oppressive cultural values is never lost.

"CAC is a stunning achievement written by a man of experience. It is not a theoretical treatise, but an intelligent, practical aid to understanding how to achieve sustainable transformation of cultural ethics that disempower, degrade, deceive, control, and exploit millions of people today. Bradshaw writes with compassion that is rooted in reality. He has been an eyewitness to some of the most devastating human tragedies of our era. By using specific examples of real people he returns humanity to those who have been downtrodden and abused by the cultures in which they live. His understanding and desire to help change those things that de-humanize humans is a lesson to us all, and should be heeded. Whether we like it or not, we all live within narratives that govern our lives. The only question is will we have the courage to change those values within our own narratives that de-humanize others and make us slaves. Will we, as individuals, allow the redemptive work of God to redeem not only ourselves but also those values that destroy us, our friends, and even our enemies?

-PKS (03-Dec-2002)