“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22
The title of Dr. Michelle Ami Reyes’ new book come directly from Paul’s words on culture and evangelism. Becoming All Things: How Small Changes Lead to Lasting Connections Across Cultures is a timely, thought-provoking, and practical guide for Christians who genuinely want to know how to love others across racial, ethnic, and cultural lines. (For similar resources, please see here.)
Reyes addresses a broad audience, appealing to Christians of color as well as whites. She shares a range of stories from her own experiences as a second-generation Indian American woman: as a new professor of German on a predominantly white faculty, as a mom shopping for groceries in a white part of town, as a pastor’s wife meeting criticism for organizing a gathering to hear stories of immigrants. Her experiences are painful and shocking to a white reader like me – they will likely resonate with readers of color – and I am grateful to Reyes for her vulnerability because these stories need to be both told and heard.
But Reyes does not share her story for shock value. Instead, she invites the reader into her experiences of being made to feel other, diminished, and unseen. Reyes commends to her Christian readers the approach of the apostle Paul, who frequently set aside his own cultural preferences to accommodate the culture of the people he was ministering to. For us, this is not a matter of being “woke” for woke’s sake, but of getting to know a neighbor as a friend, so that we can fulfill God’s command for us to love them as they are – and that includes understanding something about who they are and where they came from. She explains:
“What I’m talking about is not adopting the latest cultural trend or trying to be alternative. The reason Paul neither holds on to his culture tightly nor fears cultural change is because it is more important for him to adapt for the sake of the gospel than to demand that people of other cultures become like him. The practice of cultural accommodation lowers the cultural barriers to the gospel by meeting people where they are, thereby enabling the maximum number of people to hear of Christ without giving them additional grounds to stumble…”
In no way does adaptability mean compromising the gospel:
“Of course, it’s important to be clear what this does not mean. This is not about reducing Christ to a palatable mixture of love, kindness, and peace. The message of the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead, must not be changed. Even though becoming all things to all people requires a great deal of change on our part, we still need to measure whether our changes are being made for the sake of the gospel. Paul would never distort the gospel to accommodate cultural preferences.”
With this foundation, Reyes prompts her readers to action motivated by love. She defines cultural appropriation and the harm it causes but suggests alternative approaches to appreciating and enjoying other cultures in the context of relationship.
Reyes asks her readers to persevere, work for justice, and above all love for the sake of Christ and all he has done for us. Written in language accessible for older teenagers, this book would be an excellent resource to help a teen understand the biblical approach to loving across cultures. Parents who are hoping to pursue love of neighbor across racial and ethnic lines will also benefit from ways to model Paul’s approach in their families. Finally, for youth pastors leading diverse youth groups (or those hoping to welcome teenagers of other ethnicities to their gatherings), Becoming All Things is an invaluable tool for talking with teens about what it means to reach across cultural divides and embrace our brothers and sisters in Christ.