Archive for the ‘context’ Tag

Context is Critical   3 comments

God Is Nowhere

God Is Now Here

Exact same letters written with a slight change, but the context changes the whole meaning.

We’re looking at Christianity in the context of culture and why it’s okay to allow culture to influence Christianity … to a point.

The scholar Paul Hiebert suggested there are four levels of contextualization.

The no contextualization approach understands the Christian faith as something that is not a part of human culture; it rejects the notion that culture shapes how one receives and practices Christianity.

The minimal contextualization approach acknowledges the differences existing between cultures, but it tries to limit cultural adaptation as much as possible. Under this model, missionaries might translate the Bible into a foreign language but will likely arrange new church plants in a fashion similar to the churches in their home country. This would be the example in the movie Hawaii where the pastor has learned to build a church that won’t fall down under the wind’s onslaught, but his converts now dress in heavy black suits and hoop skirts.

Uncritical contextualization tends to prioritize culture over the Gospel. It minimizes the eternal truths found in Scripture in order to emphasize cultural convictions and practices. These folks mean to bring European thoughts and society to native cultures and tend not to care if people know Christ so long so they give their money to the church and act like good “Christian” people.

Critical contextualization seeks a balanced approach. In the words of Hiebert, in critical contextualization the Bible is seen as divine revelation, not simply as humanly constructed beliefs. In contextualization the heart of the gospel must be kept as it is encoded in forms that are understood by the people, without making the gospel captive to the context. This is an ongoing process of embodying the gospel in an ever-changing world. Here cultures are seen as both good and evil, not simply as neutral vehicles for understanding the world. No culture is absolute or privileged. All cultures and their members need Christ’s redemptive message.

Out of all of these approaches, contemporary Christians should prefer critical contextualization. This approach preserves the truths found in the Gospel while also taking into account cultural differences.

There are many different ways to do this, but what I have seen working here in Alaska and on the short term mission trips I’ve taken is that when examining a culture, Christians must decide what parts to accept, what parts to reject, and what parts to redeem for Christ. That is a broad assessment tool that will allow Christians to contend for the faith as they contextualize the Gospel message.

The goal is to create gospel-centered churches filled with indigenous people who think of Jesus Christ as their God, not as a foreign deity. When they do things, they do them unto the Lord, meeting the needs of their culture, worshipping in patterns they understand, functioning as a body of believer in indigenous structures.

Contextualization is an important component of effective Gospel ministry.

Though this indigenized church might look radically different from a church in a different culture, it can be a faithful ambassador of the Gospel within its own cultural context.

And, yet, we must always be careful to not allow culture to overwhelm the gospel message.

This is part of a series. Check it out

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