Three ways to live

Which is your way?

Contextualization – summary of study

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 11:05 am on Thursday, September 13, 2007

Contextualization is adapting communication in the body of Christianity to the culture by selecting some practices, some concepts, some words, as appropriate vehicles to convey your ideas. Some parts of the culture you use and adapt, others you reject. It means becoming like culture in some ways, yet challenging it in other ways.

I did long post on Contextualization back in June, but would like to add a few things based on the last bible study on this topic.

One of the best definitions of contextualization I’ve ever come across is due to Tim Keller:

Contextualization is not giving people what they want. It is giving God’s answers (which they probably do not want) to the questions they are asking and in forms they can comprehend.

Here are the main distinctions between a contextualized and non-contextualized presentation:

  1. Not contextualizing the gospel message means presenting it without any embellishment, whether the recipient finds it relevant or not. The underlying idea is to confront the person with the truth, make him understand that whether he is interested or not, this is the most important message he needs to hear.
  2. In contextualization, the emphasis is on the message being relevant. For example, this can be achieved by presenting a part of the gospel that is relevant to the person or answers some of his/her questions, while omitting the rest of the message, which the person might find irrelevant at the time of conversation. Or by putting the message in the form that the person can better comprehend (simpler language for a common person, embedding in a story, providing a relevant example).

Almost nobody would argue today that contextualization is a must for missionaries. But it’s still an open question whether it is necessary to contextualize inside your own culture. I don’t think the answer is a simple yes or no. What attracts people to Christianity is highly individual. Some are attracted by Christianity being relevant to their problems, others by its distinctiveness from the world, yet others are drawn in by a show of love. I have met people who converted because of one single simple (non-contextualized) gospel message. Yet my own conversion took two months of questions and answers.

When choosing to contextualize, one must be aware of the potential danger of over-contextualization, when we address the people’s needs with the gospel and yet do not challenged their other, potentially wrong, beliefs.

So here is a contextualization plan in a nutshell:

  1. Find out the questions that the person is asking or things that he finds most desirable or relevant
  2. In most cases there will be nothing wrong with these. Most things we desire are good in themselves. What’s wrong is how we go about trying to achieve them
  3. Show how the gospel can address these questions, how it can help achieve the person’s desires in the right (God’s) way
  4. wait for some time
  5. wait some more
  6. maybe a little longer
  7. Challenge the wrong beliefs that the person has. Point out those questions that he is not asking or does not find relevant.

I am planning a series of posts that show how steps 1-3,7 can be done for most common issues that our culture raises. These will include the following:

  1. Typically raised by traditional people – Why do I need Christianity? What’s important is to be good!
  2. Typically raised by modern people – I don’t like Christianity because of all its rules and regulations – I really value my freedom!
  3. Typically raised by modern people – Is Christianity based on blind faith? Or is there a logic to it?
  4. Typically raised by post-modern people – I don’t like Christianity because it claims to have the truth. There is no such thing as the truth – what’s true for me might not be true for you. What’s important is to be tolerant to different views.

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