Reflections on Contextualization

Among those involved in the world Christian movement is a term used to develop strategy for making the good news of Jesus Christ applicable to varying nations, cultures, and languages; to make the gospel applicable in a way that allows the individuals in the culture to remain a part of their culture by redeeming cultural practices for Christ.

This strategic planning is know as “contextualization.”

Those of us involved in world mission know and understand it well.

Those of us involved in world mission employ it regularly on short term trips, long term excursions, and with any interactions we have with internationals within our own country.

The goal of contextualization is to ensure that individuals within a culture remain an essential part of that culture in all things language, practice, and vocation.

In other words, Christians bring the good news of Jesus Christ to a people who have never heard about Him, and that is all that they bring.

Because culture does not equate to sin.

Because skin color and language do not equate to sin.

And because we believe that God has created all people for good works that He personally prepared for them before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10). And these good works include culture, language, and cultural practices.

However, why has contextualization of the gospel been primarily studied in relation to the world Christian movement?

What I am talking about here does not have to do with contextualization of the sinner’s prayer of salvation. The modern evangelical church has done a wonderful job of making the sinner’s prayer (that which brings people to “accept Christ”) applicable to various groups within American culture.

What I am talking about is the contextualization of the whole gospel- the gospel that is not just about salvation, but about the mind-renewing – life altering – gospel that reconciles every area of life that individuals are already involved in. The gospel that calls people to remain in their jobs, their arts, their doctoral studies, while consecrating all of those things to Jesus that He might use them to powerfully influence that sphere of the world for the Kingdom of God.

 It seems that within the evangelical church in America there is this idea that if individuals want to follow God they must “sacrifice” time spent on amoral (and even good) things such as work, school, and the arts and instead redirect that time to church based activities. So often I have heard the phrase, “individual ‘x’ does not want to follow God because he/she is spending too much time at work, at school, or participating in the arts.” More often than this have I heard, “a personal ministry requires sacrifice and time, therefore spending too much time at school, work, or the arts is, according to the New Testament, not following God.”

Why are we manipulating individuals who are trying to follow Jesus with their God given gifts and passions to instead give those things up and latch on to man-declared methods of “following God?”

When the Holy Spirit gifts an individual He gifts them for the purpose of expanding the Kingdom of God in that vein of culture. Without varied outworking of the gospel, the Kingdom of God will never expand beyond our man-made boundaries.

Jesus wants the world to come to Him with all of their gifts, talents, and desires, not some whitewashed tomb that has been manipulatively led to give up passions, gifts, and desires for the “sake of the gospel.”

That is not the gospel, that is man made religion.

The evangelical church in America needs to contextualize the gospel in such a way that individuals will sacrifice – for Jesus Christ – time, energy, and resources to infiltrate the darkest places in the world; the arts, the marketplace, and the positions of leadership within government, business, and community.

We are so good at pulling people out of those positions that the world is actually getting darker instead of lighter. So many I have met have given up desires to be musicians, doctors, lawyers, PhD graduates, CEO’s, because a leader in the church told them that following God requires giving up time devoted to those things (amoral, mind you) and instead redirecting that time to activities within the local church.

May Jesus have mercy on us for our foolishness and arrogance in this regard.

We should instead be commissioning followers of Christ to become doctors, to become musicians, to become governors, superintendents, lawyers, politicians, police officers, because Jesus wants to infiltrate all of culture, not just church culture.

We do not call people in to the church, we call people to become the church.

By limiting the Christian in education, vocation, and culture we effectually limit the spread of the gospel thereby preventing the Kingdom of God from expanding beyond arbitrary boundaries set up by the church.

We should rejoice when a committed Christian musician desires to break into the dark world of the music industry.

We should rejoice when a committed Christian film-maker chooses to make his life about telling great stories for Christ and meeting those in places like Hollywood where they are at that they might meet the Jesus who wants them to be even more competent in their field.

We should rejoice when a committed Christian prayerfully sacrifices his time to be educated in a way that will effectively enact justice in the world and expand the Kingdom of God through the use of arts, medicine, law, engineering, and education.

If we are to see the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven we must stop limiting believers in Christ to only being engaged in ministry in the local church and commission them to be fully engaged in the marketplace, the arts, and at the university level.

If we do not, we will continue to see American culture move further and further away from the “only Name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

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