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Christians and Cultural Difference

David I. Smith and Pennylyn Dykstra-Pruim


Paperback: 100 pages
Publisher: The Calvin Press
Publish Date: June 1, 2016
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1937555151
ISBN-13: 978-1937555153

Encountering cultural differences in the classroom, in the workplace, in the church, and in the public square is an everyday part of contemporary life. The chances that we will live our lives interacting only with those who share our cultural identity and ways of thinking are shrinking. Understanding culture and how cultural difference affects how we understand one another and live well together is no longer just for travelers. It has become a basic life skill.

Past Christian ways of thinking about cultural difference as most important for missions to far away places do not harmonize with today’s realities. This book offers a brief, critical overview of how Christians have been rethinking their relationship to cultural difference. Creation and fall, the image of God, the body/temple that is the church, neighbor ethics, the trinity, the incarnation and cross of Christ, and the call to welcome strangers – each of these offers distinct challenges to think in Christian ways about how we deal with differences.

Exploring the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches, this book provides a concise guide to current Christian discussions of otherness. It points to rich ways in which Christians can responsibly and graciously embrace cultural difference.


David I. Smith

David I. Smith started his career teaching French, German and Russian in secondary schools in England before moving into higher education. He currently serves both as Director of Graduate Studies in Education and as Director of the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has published extensively in the field of Christian educational theory and travels widely to speak at educational conferences and work with groups of teachers in both higher and K-12 education. He is editor of the International Journal of Christianity and Education, and has been involved with a variety of curriculum projects.


Pennylyn Dykstra-Pruim

Pennylyn Dykstra-Pruim has been nationally recognized for her work in culture and language teaching. Her publications include two full-year German curricula focusing on intercultural language learning, and Cultural Intelligence (CQ) Building Curricula for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. In addition to teaching and serving as the associate dean for diversity and inclusion at Calvin College, she is a series editor for Yale University Press.


Table of Contents


–Series Editor’s Foreword

–Additional Resources

1. What is Culture?

2. Culture and Who We Are

3. Wisdom at the Well

4. Culture and Reaching Out

5. More than Good Intentions

6. A Bigger Hospitality

7. Engaging with Grace

8. Encouragement 



“[David Smith and Pennylyn Dykstra-Pruim] do a remarkable job of offering substantive content in a way that is interesting and accessible. … There’s an excellent balance of theoretical concepts, illustrations and application. I think this is going to be very useful.”
—David Livermore, PhD, President of Cultural Intelligence Center


“In Christians and Cultural Difference, David Smith and Penny Dykstra-Pruim provide us with a clear and yet challenging call to scrutinize, understand and constantly adjust the cultural lenses through which we engage with others. As our worlds continue to be entangled in webs of diverse cultural and faith identities we need guidance from such scholars whose penetrating truth comes not only from their caring hearts but what they have learned through their own cultural faux pas. David and Penny have given us a great tool to work with.”
—Mwenda Ntarangwi, PhD, Author of Reversed Gaze: An African Ethnography of American Anthropology


“The Calvin Shorts series just keeps getting better. David Smith is widely recognized as one of the best teachers anywhere, and one of the best teachers of teachers. Penny Dykstra-Pruim is a master teacher, too. Together, they’ve written a brief and timely note about how Christians should respond to differences.

It’s critical we self-examine our faith commitments as we wrestle with our discomforts—transgender people relieving themselves in ‘our’ bathrooms, hijab-wearing Muslim children sliding in ‘our’ waterparks, Wiccans attending ‘our’ ecumenical gatherings, Hondurans and Syrians and Burmese crossing ‘our’ borders. I’m confident David and Penny will help you do that with wisdom and wit.”
—Neil Carlson, PhD, Director of the Center for Social Research at Calvin College


“While the lens of this book is cultural, the notions of a bigger hospitality and the need to engage with grace are relevant to creating inclusive communities no matter what the defined difference is. This book is a quick and accessible read.”
—Marji Voetberg, Teacher Consultant at CLC Network