Acculturation is the change made by a person or group of people when they adapt to a foreign culture or adopt aspects of another culture. Acculturation can also refer to the merging of two cultures to create a new mix of ideas, customs, food, dress, and traditions. As our world becomes smaller through air travel, satellite communication, and the internet, acculturation is occurring at a faster pace than ever before. It is common to see photos of impoverished tribesmen wearing Nike shoes or Americans adopting Eastern religions and practices. Although acculturation is common, is it right? Does the Bible address it?
Acculturation has always been a part of human history. In ancient times, acculturation was expected when one nation defeated another in war. Those of the losing party were often taken as slaves or wives and were assimilated into the culture of the victors. However, when God created a people set apart for Himself from the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3; Isaiah 43:21), He set boundaries for them that would stop their acculturation with pagan nations around them (Leviticus 18:3; 20:23; Deuteronomy 12:29–31). God wanted the Jews to remain distinct. It was Israel’s continued acculturation in religious and moral matters that brought the judgment of God (Jeremiah 44:23; 1 Kings 9:9). Israel wanted idols like the pagan nations had (Micah 5:13), demanded a king like those around them had (1 Samuel 8:19), and intermarried with godless people groups. This type of acculturation brought consequences upon Israel for rejecting God’s commands (Deuteronomy 7:1–4).
Acculturation is natural for expatriates in any country. For example, it is good and proper for a Bulgarian living in Brazil to learn Portuguese, learn Brazilian customs, and adapt to the culture. In any place, acculturation can be a healthy and beneficial practice when we adopt the best of other cultures as a way of honoring and appreciating what they have to offer. However, when we allow any culture, even our own, to shape our values and worldviews, we could be headed for trouble. Culture should never be the loudest voice in our lives. God’s Word must be the foundation for everything we think, say, or do. As a culture magnifies or enhances that truth, it can be embraced.
Acculturation with the world—that is, the adoption of secular views as embraced by the ungodly in this present existence on earth—has always caused trouble for God’s people (1 Corinthians 3:3; Romans 13:13). We are to live as “sojourners and exiles” by abstaining “from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11, ESV; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:17). We are not to adopt the world’s ideas or practices when they conflict with God’s standards. When acculturation supports biblical truth, it should be celebrated. If it contradicts morality, integrity, wisdom, or God’s Word, it must be rejected (1 John 2:16).