Monday, June 10, 2013

How Are You Contextualizing The Gospel?

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
-1 Corinthians 9:22

Contextualization is becoming all things to all people that we might see them come to know Christ. Cross-cultural missionaries have been doing this for years and it is expected of them, but many times people in their own context struggle with contextualization the most. For some fundamentalist groups they see it more as a compromise if you contextualize the gospel. I've written on here before about the school that I attended for years that would fall into this group where they want to look cultish within themselves as a backlash to not resemble the world in anyway. For others they see and understand that in order to reach those in their own culture they must practice the art of contextualization without over-contextualizing.

Chuck Colson said it this way, "We must enter into the stories of the surrounding culture, which takes real listening. We connect with the literature, music, theatre, art, and issues that express the existing culture's hopes, dreams, and fears. This builds a bridge by which we can show the Gospel can enter and transform these stories."

Sadly the church often does not do a good job of contextualization, but many others do a great job of it. Although, I am not a fan of McDonald's, my family has eaten there a couple of times recently in Delhi, which is a primarily vegetarian, non-beef eating culture. One of the first questions I get from someone in the US is, "Wait...what does McDonald's serve if there is no beef?" Exactly, McDonald's has done an excellent job of contextualization and packaging their product for an audience that otherwise would not eat it. There are no beef hamburgers on the menu (One wonders if there is beef in the patties in the US), many chicken items, and a full menu list of 100% vegetarian items.

McDonald's gets it, in order for it to work here they had to contextualize McDonald's. In my current context this means that I have had to contextualize my own life, eating habits, dress, etc. for a season in order to become all things to all people in order to win some to Christ. What is the goal in contextualization? Contextualization without compromise. So, in your own context take a look and see what areas could you do a better job of contextualizing the gospel for all people? Even in your daily routine this may look different for your neighbor, work, and in your hobbies. We must be flexible in our contextualization and constantly become all things to all people.

1 comment:

  1. I like the McD's veggie burgers in India. We did eat some beef hamburgers at a restaurant in Bangalore. They were huge and the seasoning made them look a bit raw, but otherwise, very tasty.

    As for contextualization, one side goes too far one way by marginalizing the gospel in favor of producing style that attracts people. So they come for a concert and a feel-good message, but leave without meeting Christ.

    The other extreme is to hold to some tradition that in the minds of the practitioners must be somewhat close to the way that Jesus did it, or at least in the way grandma would have been comfortable with. The argument is that the old hymns and the old timey preaching is some kind of better theologically. Even if it is, the message isn't communicated effectively.

    In both extremes, the message doesn't get to the people who need to hear it. The transcendent culture is that of the Kingdom of Heaven. There are the cultures of the Bible which we must study to understand the message of the Bible. Then we need to convey that message into the culture of the people we are trying to communicate with. That target culture will have some elements that are ungodly and some elements that are appropriate to adopt for communicating the gospel. But at all costs, the message rather than human culture is what is important.