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“If you want to know what water is like, don’t ask the fish” is a Chinese proverb whose point is that being a fish that has lived in water it’s whole life it has no common point of reference with us to explain to us what water is like—Water, to us, is wet. We can’t breathe in water. It’s life giving, but potentially life taking too. But to the fish? Does it consider water wet? A fish is intimately acquainted with water. It knows all about it. But, could it explain it to someone who knows nothing about water? Water is their very essence of its life. In a sense, it’s their, to stretch the analogy a bit, culture. 

If you want to know what water is like, don’t ask the fish. –Chinese proverb

Someone who is intimately involved in their culture is probably not the best person to critique it. They are too involved, too intimate with it.

The New Testament call to be “in the world, but not of it” comes to mind here. As Christians, we live in this world—the world being the system of beliefs that govern the culture. There is no one such system, as it varies from region to region—but, their common thread is one of being diametrically opposed to God. That’s why we’re called to be “not of it.”

So, let’s all run off and be Amish. Is that the call? I would argue that is not the call. Neither is it to be so immersed in the culture that we become a “fish” and can’t critique it, can’t live without it.

It seems to me that the middle ground is found in verses like Romans 12.2a—”Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” or Ephesians 5.1-2a—”Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love…”

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind

Being a Christian in this culture is hard. In order to be able to relate to others, we need to know the culture. In order to be effective in showing others the love of Christ, we need to know God and His ways. In other words, we need to know all about the water the fish lives in, but we can’t become the fish.

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