Universalism vs. particularism (What is more important, rules or relationships?)

From Fons Trompenaars, post number one in a series looking at different cultures and a Biblical worldview.

The Universalist attaches great importance to the observance of rules. The behavior tends to be abstract. In universalist, rule-based societies there are certain absolutes that apply across the board. They apply regardless of circumstances or particular situations. What is right is always right in every situation and for everybody. A Universalist tries to apply the same rules in all situations. To remain fair a universalist will not make differences between people from the narrow environment, such as family, friends or members of the so-called ingroup and the wider community, such as strangers and members of the outgroup. Wherever possible, personal feelings and emotions are put aside and the Universalist prefer to look objectively at the situation. To remain always fair everyone is equal as there are no differences. Finally, rule-based behavior refers to the tendency that exceptions in the rule construct could lead to weaknesses. It is feared that once exceptions are approved, could be a door down the system.

The Particularist assesses more the specific circumstances or the personal backgrounds. In particularism societies in any situation behave depends on the circumstances. What is right in one situation may not be right in another. A Particularist must therefore sustain, protect or discount this person no matter what the rules say. People in such societies treat their family, friends and members of their ingroup as best they can. The other people around them are on their own. Their ingroup will take care of them. The in- or outgroups are clearly distinguished. A particularist always differences between individuals. No one is seen as the same, everyone is treated as unique. Personal feelings are down here, in contrast to the Universalist, not aside, but as a support. In practice both kinds of judgment is used. In most situations it is encountered that they reinforce each other.

Countries who can be seen as universalism societies: USA, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Belgium. Countries who can be seen as particularism societies: Brazil, France, Japan, Singapore, Argentina, Mexico and Thailand.

Is the Father a universalist or a particularist. Both, the laws and justice of the Father is universal. The sin of man is universal and stands in complete opposition to relationship with Him. This seperation is universal. His invitation is universal to all. Matthew 22 shows the universalist and particularist Father. His invitation is sent to all who will hear. “Come eat and drink at the table of the Lord.” But when they came he with great particularity let some stay and others were found lacking and rejected. “Many are called but few are chosen.” There is certainly much precident for those he has chosen to have a seperate inheritance than that of the others. The God of the bible is grieved by the pain of the whole world but His ingroup is certainly sitting in different standing than those who are in the outgroup.

Typical cultural reactions to the outgroup are different than the biblical reaction in this age. The typical reaction to the outgroup is isolation, distain or atleast apathy. The reaction shown by the Jesus and thus the Father is one that is different than that response. It is pursuit and compassion. Parables like the 99 sheep and pursuing the lost and the broad invitation to the Wedding feast are an example of a loving, compasionate and opeen response to all is shown as the character of how the Father and Jesus are. Also, we see that Jesus broke into the “out-group” with the lady at the well, the leporous colony, the tax collectors, many more. In fact Jesus condemned those who were seemingly on the “in-group” for not reaching out and extending love to those around them.

What do we do?
The universalist must be reminded that not everyone is the same. There is and ingroup and an outgroup in the Kingdom. The judgment of that group is not for us but to God but those groups exist. Denying that denies that God judges each uniquely and individually. There is an inheritance for the ingroup and there is eternal punishment for the outgroup. This core biblical concept is hard for a staunch universalist to accept when they adimantly believe that “all men are greated equally”. Though that may be true, not all men make the same decisions or have the same eternal inheritance.

The particularist must be reminded that the word of the Father is true and unchanging and all laws, perceptions and desires will be broken if they stand in opposition to the word of God. The word of God is absloute and not subjective. They also, need to be reminded that even though there is an ingroup that group is not based on inheritance, family line or entitlement but only on the admission of God’s absolute word and His gift of a sacrafice for our sin through Jesus Christ. That absoulte rule allows what they inherently know as an ingroup. The other reminder of for the particularist is that, “many are invited.” Your inheritance and promise of being on the ingroup only encourages you more to reach out to the outgroup. This is counter to the typical culture of a particularist culture but is completely biblical.

If you have thoughts please comment or link to another blog post!


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