What is Contextualization?

I want to talk about the importance of contextualization.  Contextualization is presenting and practicing the Christian faith in such a way that is relevant to the cultural context of the target group in terms of conceptualization, expression and application yet maintaining theological coherence, biblical integrity and theoretical consistency.  This may involve the use of stories, parables, illustrations or any such valuable and adequate compartments in other religious and philosophical systems to explain biblical truth to a specific culture so that they eventually internalize it into their own thought system.  This must involve the communication of the gospel not only in ways the people understand and are relevent, but in ways that also challenge them individually and corporately to embrace the transformational power of God. If the Gospel does not confront their condition apart from Christ it can leave the door open for Syncretism.  Syncretism is the mixing of Christian faith with secular attributes of culture that are incompatible with Christianity so that the result is not Biblical Christianity.

We have several examples of contexualization in scripture including Christ's approach to the Samaritans in John chapter four and the apostle Paul's ministry along his missionary journeys.  Paul summed up this approach to ministry when he wrote:
1 Cor 9:19-23 NLT
19 Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.  22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.  23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.

Paul understood that the Message of Christ was never to be limited to a particular people group or a particular time and with this understanding, he sought to communicate truth in such a way that is could be understood, conceptualized, internalized and passed along. Ultimately, our goal is to reach people.  We know that the message of Christ is powerful and life-changing so we need to make sure that we are not artificially creating barriers to people's acceptance because of the way in which we are communicating.  The Willowbank report reads, "Sometimes people resist the gospel not because they think it false but rather they perceive it as a threat to their culture, especially the fabric of their society.  Sometimes the Gospel is presented to people in alien cultural forms.  Then the missionaries are resented and their message rejected because their work is seen not as an attempt to evangelize but as an attempt to impose a foreign custom and way of life."  It should be our desire to seek the common ground, to find the bridge between people and Christ's message.  It should be our desire to become all things to all men, that at all costs and in any and every way we might save many by winning them to faith in Jesus Christ.

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