17 March 2008

Why I Don't Like the C-Word

A Short Prologue to a Discussion on Paul's Mars-Hill Strategy
by Phil Johnson

Contextualization? Why Not?
Here's a handy index to this entire series:
  1. "Why I Don't Like the C-Word"
  2. "Context and Contextualization"
  3. "Paul on Mars Hill (part 1)"
  4. "Paul and Culture"
  5. "Paul and Conversation"
  6. "Paul and Contextualization"
  7. "Paul and Charitableness"


remarked in a message at the Shepherds' Conference two weeks ago that I'm not a fan of the word contextualization—or the set of ideas usually associated with that word. Although the message was generally well-received by the pastors who heard it in person, it unleashed an avalanche of forceful reactions from people in the blogosphere—ranging from shocked disbelief to angry derision. The former reaction came from people who gave me the benefit of the doubt. They were merely stunned at my astonishing naïveté. The latter brickbats came from less sympathetic folk, a couple of whom said that they have pretty much always thought of me as a fundamentalist cretin anyway.

My favorite response was from someone who basically said, Sure, the word contextualization is misunderstood and much-abused today, but so is justification. Rather than simply discarding these terms, we ought to fight for their biblical meaning.

See, the thing is, contextualization isn't a biblical word like justification is. Although lots of people now think of contextualization as one of the most essential and elementary terms in the theological and missiological lexicons, it's a word no one ever even heard of until 1972, when Shoki Coe used the term in a paper delivered to the World Council of Churches. (Prior to that, the favorite fad in missiology was indigenization, which was a little more passive approach to tweaking the gospel than contextualization, but a similar idea in some ways.)

Anyway, critics in the blogosphere are nothing if not predictable. They intoned the baby/bathwater cliché; they recited mantras selectively adapted from 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; and they suggested that whether I knew it or not, I myself employed a kind of contextualization when I compared the Athenian philosophers of Paul's day to people who surf the Web and watch YouTube for viral videos.

As if I hadn't already addressed all those "arguments."

So I intend to begin a series of blogposts which will contain the heart of that message (including, especially, a close look at Paul's Mars Hill strategy). But first let me reiterate a few crucial things I said at the very start in my session at the Shepherds' Conference:
  1. Definitions of the word contextualization tend to be murky and far too open-ended. It's one of those currently-popular jargon-words like missional that gets defined differently every time, depending on who is trying to explain it.
  2. People explaining contextualization usually start by making the (obvious) point that in order to cross linguistic and cultural boundaries effectively, we need to translate and illustrate our message in a way that is suited to the understanding of the people or people-group we want to reach. Quite true. And if contextualization entailed nothing more than translation and illustration, the word would be superfluous. It practically always means something more—and that "something more" is what I object to, not the translation and illustration of biblical truths.
  3. The idea of contextualization first gained traction among evangelicals in the realm of Bible translation, and it's easy to see why. Obviously, if you take the word of God to an Eskimo culture where they have no clue what sheep are, you need to find a way to explain all the pastoral references in terms that Eskimos can understand. Something like Psalm 100:3 ("We are His people and the sheep of His pasture") is naturally harder for an Eskimo to relate to than it is for a New Zealander. So in one famous instance, a group of Bible translators working in an Eskimo language translated the word "sheep" as "sea lions" throughout Scripture. (I can't imagine what that does to the 23rd psalm or why it wouldn't be a whole lot easier just to teach eskimos what sheep are, but there you have a classic example of verbal contextualization, showing how it can actually obscure more than it really clarifies.)
  4. In postmodern missional strategy contextualization always seems to involve embracing the values of the target culture. Listen to those who talk most about "contextualizing" the gospel and it becomes clear that their actual goal—sometimes deliberately and sometimes unwittingly—is to make Christianity seem more familiar and more comfortable and less counter-cultural.
  5. Many advocates of contextualization expressly state that proper contextualization involves temporarily adopting whatever worldview is held by the people we are trying to reach, so that we can speak to them as one of them, and not as outsiders and aliens.
  6. In the real world, therefore, contextualization usually goes far beyond translating and illustrating truths. It also goes far beyond adopting the language and the social conventions of polite culture while avoiding certain cultural taboos (which is what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and 10:32-33). Today's contextualizers are trying to adapt the content of the gospel message as much as possible to the worldview of whatever subculture they see as their target audience. Not only do sea lions become an acceptable substitute for sheep; postmodern tolerance becomes an acceptable replacement for Christian charity.
  7. In fact, people who are enthralled with contextualization nowadays tend to turn the "give no offense" principle of 1 Corinthians 10:32-33 on its head. Rather than avoiding cultural taboos in order not to obscure the gospel unnecessarily, they sometimes purposely try to flout as many taboos as possible. Unlike Paul, who wanted to avoid anything considered impolite or uncouth so that the gospel could be heard without unnecessary distractions, they want to maximize the shock-and-awe effect, thinking that is going to gain them a better hearing with the South-Park generation.

To sum up: proper cross-cultural translation and illustration ought to aim at making the gospel clear. Listen closely to the typical missiologist or church planter who champions the idea of contextualization—and what you'll usually hear is someone trying desperately to make the gospel more palatable. Unbridled enthusiasm about this sort of contextualization has dramatically changed the evangelistic strategy so that the number one goal in contemporary evangelical outreach is for the church to assimilate into the world as much as possible—and above all, be cool—so that the world (or some offbeat subculture) will like us. That is actually the driving idea behind both seeker-sensitivity and the Emerging church approach.

The idea of "contextualization" by adjusting Christianity to existing beliefs, values, and traditions was probably the twentieth century's most significant contribution to ministry strategy—and it is not a good one. It has made the church indistinguishable from the world, indistinct in its message, and (frankly) ineffectual as an evangelistic force in an unbelieving culture.

But the whole idea is actually unbiblical, counter-productive, and contrary to the real strategy the apostle Paul modeled and advocated. That's what I'm planning to demonstrate in a short series of posts beginning later this week.

Stay tuned.

Contextualization

Phil's signature

99 comments:

Highland Host said...

The trouble I have with too much 'contextualization' today is that it resembles the old 'concessive apologetic'. The idea being that you give up as much as possible to win the unbeliever (who is in fact a disbeliever). But, as William MacGregor of Trinity College, Glasgow, noted:
"The victories of the Faith have commonly been won not by the proclamation of a bare minimum of belief but rather of things strange and hard to accept, because they are so full of God." (Person and Ideals, p.5).

RFlight said...

Wow. Yeah, I can definitely see why you would have a problem with contextualization when it is stated that way. Personally, I hadn't realized that that is what people meant by contextualization. I always just thought of it as putting the Bible in terms that people can understand, explaining things for people today. This of course would just be good expository preaching, as in read, explain what it means to people. But what you are talking about is definitely going way, way, way too far. Looking forward to more on this.

-Robert

Carla said...

Phil,

I've heard your message at the SC was a very good one, but I'm still waiting for the mp3. I do hope that is available soon.

Your reasons for disliking this word are the same exact reasons as mine, you just said it so much better than I ever could. I'll definitely be staying tuned.

Mike Riccardi said...

I'm right there with you on "not liking the C word." I think the series will do well to expose a lot of false ideas about the Bible, missions, and ministry. I look forward to it.

One thing I can already hear, though, are the hoards of people saying that that's not what they mean by contextualization, and then give a far more "conservative" definition. For example, you said that they change the content of the message often, but I can hear someone going, "Yeah, see, I don't do that. I adapt the presentation and leave the content alone."

So maybe as a final or follow-up post or something, you could talk about those who know it's wrong to adapt the content of the message still miss the mark when they talk about adapting the presentation.

greglong said...

Good post. Looking forward to the series.

P.S. You're right..."Behold, the sea lion of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Leberwurst said...

Contextualizing usually means Changing and does not result in greater understanding. The final result is usually just a Softening...

But, the Gospel is the Gospel is the Gospel. A stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek.

Problem is, if they don't understand it they cannot even stumble.

So let's make the new "C" word Clarify.

Any so called Contextualizing that goes beyond that is simply unhelpful and does damage to the Gosple

The Doulos said...

Phil,

As I read this, the term that keeps coming back to me regarding the aim of today's contextualizers is "acceptability." The objective seems to be to make the Gospel of Christ acceptable in the context of the culture they are dealing with. And of course, in a semi-Pelagian view as most of these types of folks have, that is the over-arching goal - to convince people to "accept Jesus." But the real true Gospel and the real true Jesus are not so easily accepted. In fact, they are more often rejected. Not because of lack of conextualization, but because of the eternal plan and purpose of God.

And what's the result when the Gospel is contextualized to the point of acceptability? As James MacDonald once said, the Gospel becomes "so watered down that the non-elect can't even reject it."

Rileysowner said...

I very much appreciated this post. I have this thing against contemporary jargon. All I ever seem to hear right now is "missional" and "contextualization." I also know that if I wait long enough (probably no more that 5 or so years) this jargon will have all changed to something else. I do not find that it makes conversations on evangelism clearer, but rather muddies the water even more. Thanks again for this post I am looking forward to more.

Frank Turk said...

It seems to me that the NT tells us to "declare" the Gospel, not to "repair" the Gospel.








You can quote me on that on, but only with proper citation.

Frank Turk said...

Because I don't post for the comments anymore. I'm reformed.

Everyday Mommy said...

I tend not to like made-up words. Not long ago no one googled anything and now it's in the common vernacular. Pfffft to contextualization!

Everyday Mommy said...

I'm all about witty and intelligent comments today.

Don Fields said...

Greg,

Wouldn't that actually be "the sea pup of God..."? :)

Team Tominthebox News Network said...

Hmm,

Going to be interested to see what you have further to say here. On the surface it seems rather "Throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwatherish," but I'll give you the benefit of a doubt.

I've used the term for years. In the circles I'm in it's simply been used to mean finding a point of reference within a particular culture in order to explain and communicate the fundamental truth of the gospel, but not changing the original story. Is that simply "good preaching?" Well, of course, but "good preaching" in one culture can be senseless in another if the illustrations, metaphors, and parables of Scripture are not properly explained by one who has also come to understand the target culture.

So, call it what you will, there is a process, a method one might could say, to learning how to properly, accurately and faithfully communicate the gospel in culture (and possibly even in a language) that is not one's own. Perhaps there is a better way to describe this process with a simple term.

DJP said...

Good word my brother, as always.

Should we have a separate article with the meta set aside for apologies from everyone who misrepresented you, then pounded you on the basis of the misrepresentation?

dac said...

"People explaining contextualization usually start by making the (obvious) point that in order to cross linguistic and cultural boundaries effectively, we need to translate and illustrate our message in a way that is suited to the understanding of the people or people-group we want to reach. Quite true."

Which is where many "contextualizers" live

To quote C Micheal Patton

We must understand the way people think before we can make the Gospel relavent to them in their own context. This is called contextualization. The missiologist will ask many questions:

1. What is the history of this culture?
2. How do they think?
3. What are their norms?
4. What are their taboos?
5. What is their communication style?
6. What is the best way to get the message of the Gospel across?
7. What is the best context to transition into so that our message is incarnate?

So, it is not contextualization which is the problem, it is the abandonment of the gospel that is the problem.

Michelle said...

Thanks so much for this excellent post.

Making the gospel message CLEAR is one thing. Making it COOL is quite another.

Short Thoughts said...

I am looking forward to reading this series. I have not heard the SC message, but I am hoping you will say something about what qualifies as a "culture" in biblical terms.

Phil Johnson said...

Tom Slawson: "Perhaps there is a better way to describe this process with a simple term."

What, precisely, is invoved in "this process" beyond the translation and illustration of truth? And if there's no other valid or necessary elements in "contextualization," given the fact that this is currently perhaps the second most abused example of superfluous jargon in the evangelical dictionary, why is a new word needed? Why can't we just say exactly what we mean? Have we reached the point where we really believe saying what we mean is an inferior tool when it comes to communicating ideas?

dac: "To quote C Micheal Patton. . ."

If you grasp what I'm saying above, you'll realize I have no problem with the questions Patton lists. My beef is with those who answer such questions without really thinking through their implications, and solemnly declare that if we don't translate the gospel into hip-hop and make all the characters in the gospel stories wear big baggy shorts that are about to fall off, we can't reach the inner city. And then they think think because those questions are profound and important, their thoughtless answers to the questions must likewise be profound and important.

(PS: If necessary, Frank Turk can contextualize that comment by rendering it in comic-book graphics for our younger readers. It comes down to one word: Pheh!—or something like that.)

Team Tominthebox News Network said...

Phil,

Not necessarily disagreeing with you, but working in and living on the mission field currently I've seen a lot of people fail to "say what they mean" because they have a complete and total lack of understanding of the culture in which they are living. They often tend to assume that as long as they have a translator they can simply prepare their sermons in English and have someone translate. But some analogies and illustrations just don't make sense to people because they have no basis of understanding. Therefore, the gospel doesn't get communicated because terminology, idioms and phrases are not explained in a way that makes sense to the people.

Your sheep and eskimo illustration was a perfect example. I would most certainly be against changing the translation of Scripture, but I would most certainly befor a missionary finding a culturally relevant way to communicate that truth.

Now I'm looking at this specifically from a cross-cultural missiological perspective, where one is trying to communicate the gospel message to a culture not remotely his own. There is an extra measure of work involved to do this, an extra measure that, I think, many have missed in the work of foreign missions.

If to "contextualize" simply means "to put something in context," why the resistance to telling a prospective foreign missionary to "Contextualize what you say. Don't assume you can simply translate everything from English." so long as you've taught them what you mean by that word? That's how it was taught to me, and that's how I understand it. The word means what it means, not what the Emerging Church or Postmoderns say it means.

John Privrat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LeeC said...

I think everything you have said in this post can be summarized by your biblezine *shudder* "The Gothpel".

dac said...

Phil

Simply because some misuse the concept does not mean we should then declare the concept wrong. It means we should encourage others to use it appropriately.

KarenH said...

I wonder if Jason Robertson from Fide-O will apologize now.....

Stefan said...

Greglong:

Yeah, "Sea Lion of God" doesn't sound quite right. "Sea Lion of Judah" is getting a bit closer to something that actually sounds biblical. ;)

Little Shepherd said...

"Contextualization" is a real word with a real meaning that's almost the exact opposite of the way it's being used in this post. That some people would abrogate with it, twisting it to mean its opposite, is sad. To them, contextualization is decontextualization is contextualization, and I can't imagine what -- other than sheer ignorance -- could lead them to make such a huge linguistic error.

S.J. Walker said...

Sea lion.
Sea lion run.




(And I know it's a different spelling) :)

Stefan said...

Standing on the sidelines of missiology, all I know is that the words "context," "contextualize," and "contextualization" have at least the propensity to be loaded up and deployed as codewords by folks for whom the Cross of Christ is not the organizing focus of their worldview. As long as the organizing focus is even something as high and noble as "winning souls"—rather than simply testifying to the work of Christ on the Cross, and letting God effectually call His elect—then "contextualization" can start down the slippery slope of twisted meanings.

If it can express a valid concept—proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the sole means of reconciling sinners to God, in terms that are intelligible in the host culture—but other suitable terms exist to express that concept, I say dispense with the word.

S.J. Walker said...

Thanks Phil,

I get so tired when the only response from this is some folks saying "well, the Mactruthinator used an example that wasn't directly in the text. That's contextualization! He's a heretic too!" in an attempt to make the point you made in your sermon and this post look stupid, uncharitable, and unBiblical.

Sometimes, and I have been as guilty of this as the next one, all I see from folks is a childish and locker room mentality that simply mocks everything they hear. They get so used to simply turning everything they hear around and mocking back with it that they don't even notice when in doing so, they actually mock themselves.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

The problem with 'contextualization' is often the culture ends up influencing a person's preception of scripture and not vice versa.

Jugulum said...

dac said,
"Simply because some misuse the concept does not mean we should then declare the concept wrong. It means we should encourage others to use it appropriately."

I think you missed his point. He didn't say that we should declare the concept wrong. He suggested that all the valid elements of the concept are adequately communicated by "translation and illustration".

The question is, if that's the case, and if there's a lot of junk out there being put under the term "contextualization", then why use it? What's the point? Why not just talk about "translation and illustration", and ensure that people have a fully-fleshed understanding of what that means?


Regardless of which terms we go with, we have to define them carefully, or they'll be abused. Just using "translation and illustration" wouldn't cut it. For some people, those terms will require some "redemption"--to ensure that people have a a fully-fleshed understanding. (Having an English translator might not be enough "translation", and using the same illustrations they use in midwest America might not be good "illustration". Good translation & illustration requires a strong understanding of your audience.)

Now, if "translation and illustration" also requires some salvaging, then we should ask: Which terms should we salvage? Contextualization, or translation & illustration? Which terminology is more abused, and which is more easily salvaged? (Phil's pretty sure the answer is, "'Contextualization' should go." If you disagree, fine, argue the point, just don't misunderstand what he's saying--as the critics of his speech apparently did.)

In the process of salvaging terms, people have to actually listen, not being so hung up on their favored (or unfavored) terms that they can't figure out whether they actually agree on the concepts & principles. (It doesn't look like Phil has failed in that way, but some critics sure have. And, team-tominthebox, it looks like you might be missing his point, too.)

Phil Johnson said...

Jugulum:

Bingo. Thanks.

Team Tominthebox News Network said...

Jugulum,

I think I do understand Phil's argument. He is basically stating that he does not like the word "contextualization." The reason he does not like it is because it has been misused or has come to mean something wrong.

But my point is (and call me naive if you wish) that in the circles in which I work and minister the term is clear and well understood in an appropriate way.

Again, if you go back to my original comment I noted that I was looking forward to reading Phil's further posts, but that it initially came across in a "throw the baby out with the bath water" sort of way.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for Phil, so I'm not trying to be a troublemaker here, just trying to discuss and understand.

-Tom

Strong Tower said...

It is rather difficult to enculturate for the magistrate. Things like Christian Parody use a medium, which is different than the sense in which contextualization is being defined and used. Our mission should we accept it is to enculturate the cultures that we venture into, not vice versa. I find it interesting that the direction of contexualization is toward the low life and not the high life. Why is it that to reach the People Magazine people group, we are not encouraging the purchase of private jets and pursuing the high life? Didn't Jesus pay the penalty for rich who do not know that they are misrable and poor? But, then again maybe that is what is happening with the Hawaiian shirted Golf Tours for Christ Ministries types.

Paul's approach at Mars Hill was not to enculturate the gospel, it was rather to confront the secular culture head on with its own idiocy to destroy it by enculturating it with the Gospel. Which is one of the things that many appreciate about TBNN. It is an equal opportunity basher, using the medium of parody, to show the ludicrous nature of many of the things within the church. A wonderful medium.

Paul used a medium in engaging the Philosophers by examination of their beliefs (who were by the way not your street level sleezoids, but the rich elite of the city). He did not become the Philosophers, however, so that he might reach some. Far different from the contexualizers of pop-tart Christianity which presents junk-manna as heavenly bread, or as it has been characterized: becoming a prostitue so that some prostitutes might be won. One shudders at how to reach the transgendered. No, it is here, this is the Gospel. Take and eat, it will kill you, but then, there is no better way to live.

Now contextualize this: "Flee fornication and have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness." Or, "You wicked and adulterous people." Or, "You are of your father the devil. He's liar, you're a liar, he's a murderer, you're a murderer, and if it wasn't that God is preventing you, you would kill me for telling you what you are, steal my wallet and use my credit card to buy tunes on your stolen iPod with lyrics that closely resemble the dark perversions of the maggoty myogenic mangled mess you call a heart. Not only are you dead mens bones on the inside, you live like it outside." Contextualize, "You're damned to hell and so is the rest of rest of Seatle unless you repent and believe." Or, "I was once like you." Or, "There is nothing good about you or your context, He doesn't live in the filthiness of your dung houses you think are temples you've build for a god that you can attach any old meaning too."

I have to appreciate some of the things that CAMPONTHIS does. At least he has this right. Edwards didn't approach the people with a contextualized message to assuage the guilt of the people, but rather a wrecking ball to demolish the shanties people believed were mansions. And, where ever the Gospel is preached it surely will upset whole households. It becomes a threat, not a therapy, to the community.

The offense of the gospel cannot be made palatable by dressing it up in the context of the worlds perverse diversity. The systems, vogues, lives that people live, in their current context of fallen humanity must be condemned, because its currency is condemned. This world and its corruptions are doomed. Now, this is not a kind and gentle accommodating smoothie formulated to makes friends. To the contrary the Gospel is designed to make enemies which will cruicify the Messenger.

Interestingly the opposite of "contextualization" is the entire thesis where 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, is found. The context is this: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." Paul did not present himself to be considered kuul, or homey. Instead, his presentation was, here is where I am at, if you want it cut yourself after the pattern I present which is patterned after Christ.

The point being where the Gospel is offensive it cannot be made innocuous without compromising the message. It should stand then in appearance in stark contrast to the prevailing winds of contemporaneity. It should say to the culture: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

"Your sheep and eskimo illustration was a perfect example. I would most certainly be against changing the translation of Scripture, but I would most certainly be for a missionary finding a culturally relevant way to communicate that truth."

I think this is missing the point. We do not need to find a way to explain the Gospel that is culturally relevelant. We need to educate. If a culture does not understand sheep, we tell them what sheep are, about shepherding, and when that is complete the understanding of the passage will follow. The reason being, is that we are not dealing with transferrable texts. The cultural of the bible is not translatable. It is explained. We are explaining a real time, historic event in its context. Not the context of the culture into which Gospel is being introduced.

We do not approach the inculcation of language in our children by entering into baby lingo. We start with our context. An undeveloped language of an infant is word mush. We don't make our words porigde so that they can learn to say them. We begin instruction by giving them our context, our words, and explaining the meaning to them so as not to leave them in their culture, but to draw them out from it.

dac said...

Jug

No, I did not misunderstand Phil - I think it is goofy to substitute four or five words (proper cross-cultural translation and illustration) for one word (contextualization), when the correct understanding of the one word is sufficient. No reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

As you say, "Regardless of which terms we go with, we have to define them carefully, or they'll be abused" So I argue to preserve the correct interpretation of the one word, rather than try to substitute five words, and then in all likelihood end up with the same problems.

An example - many people have different definitions of what a Christian is - should we throw out the word and come up with a new set of words or a phrase just because of that abuse of the word? No, of course not. We fight for the correct definition.

Of course, I am still proud to call myself an Evangelical, while many others have thrown out that word also.

So perhaps I should change my nick to don quixote.

LeeC said...

yet again, the difference is that Christian is a biblical word.

Contexualization is a word we have done just fine without for centuries.

dac said...

Leec -

so right. Of course, so many words are not in the bible - Trinity, for example. Yet believers "invented" that word, because it was a useful descriptor.

Jugulum said...

Phil,

Just doing my part to contextualize your words.

dac,

I'm not sold on the idea that the "contextualization" should go, either.

1.) As you point out, it's compact.

2.) Having a distinct term to express the need for proper cross-cultural awareness has the benefit of smacking people upside the head. If people see the sentence, "You need to translate and illustrate well," they might not stop and listen to find out what you mean. They might just assume, "I do it well," and not hear the full definition. But if they see a new term, "You need to contextualize," they won't be able to move on and mistakenly assume they know what you mean.

But...

1.) If "contextualize" is not a new term for them--if they come from a background where that term has a bunch of junk--we're going to have exactly the same problem of misunderstanding.

2.) You said, "...when the correct understanding of the one word is sufficient." Sure, if we can ensure that everyone has the correct understanding, then I think "contextualize" is a great term. But not everyone does have the correct understanding. What do we do?

The question is, as I said, which terminology is more abused, which is more prone to abuse, and which is more easily salvaged?

You and team don't think that the terminology is as badly or as often abused as Phil thinks. Who's right? I have no idea--but if it comes down to this pragmatic question of the demographics of its use, then to figure it out, both sides have to find a good, objective way to figure out how often the terms are abused or used rightly.


BTW, if you didn't misunderstand Phil, then you shouldn't have said, "Simply because some misuse the concept does not mean we should then declare the concept wrong. [bold added]" He was declaring the term problematic, not the concept wrong. If you thought he was declaring the concept wrong, you misunderstood. If you didn't, then you misspoke.

Jugulum said...

dac,

You lexicographical liberal.

SolaMeanie said...

I sometimes get the feeling that those who hawk the extreme end of "contextualization" are presupposing the stupidity of the culture they are trying to reach. Isn't it funny that a young child can understand the simple Gospel and receive it gladly? It only gets complicated to an adult mind, no matter what culture you're in.

I don't mean to gloss over certain cultural quirks where concepts might need different examples to help illuminate them. But the way some seem to engage this subject today, the Gospel and basic Christian teaching are unrecognizable after they've gone through all the templates and filters.

S.J. Walker said...

sola,

Zactly. I am reminded of that quote I shared over my blog from John Leadly Dagg:

“In religion, men appear naturally fond of the difficult and the obscure; perhaps, because they find escape from the disquieting light of clearly revealed truth."

Nuf said.

Stefan said...

The argument about Inuit and sheep is kind of a red herring, come to think of it.

I mean, after all, in our 21st-century culture, the whole idea of atoning sacrifice—vicarious animal sacrifice as atonement for our sins—is utterly foreign, yet we must wrestle to understand it, in order to understand the full significance of what Jesus Christ came into this world to do.

So to understand penal substitutionary atonement—which is very near the heart of the gospel—requires a good deal of explanation to make sense of in this culture, anyhow; it should only be marginally more difficult to take the additional step of explaining what a lamb is. And anyhow, it's not as if the Inuit in the far north don't have access to TV, books, etc. They probably know what a Snuffalupagus is; they can figure out what a sheep is!

dac said...

lexicographical liberal

wow. It is not often that someone comes up with a phrase that I have to google to find out what it means

I salute you jug.

I am not sure it is the right application, but its fun learning something new

Phil Johnson said...

Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

dac: "No, I did not misunderstand Phil - I think it is goofy to substitute four or five words (proper cross-cultural translation and illustration) for one word (contextualization), when the correct understanding of the one word is sufficient. No reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak."

That's an odd comment on numerous levels. Please permit me a few thoughts in reply:

1. You are doing the exact opposite of what we prolly agree is the one small tincture of legitimacy in the vast corpus of ideas and strategies usually labeled "contextualization" when you insist on a using a widely misunderstood word in the face of overwhelming evidence that the word simply doesn't communicate what you think it communicates. And especially when you know full well that person you are addressing doesn't think the word you're using means what you claim it ought to mean. Is anyone else stricken as I am by the irony of that?

2. It compounds the problem when you insist that your own very specific but idiosyncratic definition of a questionable and recently-coined term is "the correct understanding"—especially when your understanding of the word is 180 degrees at odds with the stated intentions of those who first coined the term.

3. Actually, I'm not proposing that we "substitute four or five words" when we're tempted to say contextualization. My point is more subtle and more carefully nuanced than that: I'm suggesting that we think more carefully about what we mean when we use the word, identify the legitimate ideas and strategies that we are trying to describe (I said I see two of these: translation and illustration), and then that when we're trying to describe these ideas and strategies, we should speak plainly about what we mean and not fall back on jargon borrowed from the lexicon of the World Council of Churches' notions about missiology, justice, culture, and whatnot.

4. Here's an enlightening excerpt from a book addressing the origin of the word contextualization. It makes clear what were the original intentions of those who coined the term. While I don't agree with this author's conclusions about any of his supposed examples of "contextualization" in the NT, he does perfectly illustrate why I've suggested that the ones who are naive in this discussion are the evangelicals who have blithely adopted terminology and tactics from WCC and liberation-theology sources, thinking they can borrow and baptize the jargon of leftist, ecumenical missiology and automatically sweep away the rather obvious problems with it.

5. It seems to me that the desire to adopt and preserve the terminology of contextualization is strongest among people with SBC backgrounds. Is that an accurate perception? If so, why?

Stefan said...

Phil:

Wow. Well, the explicitly stated motivations for coining the term in the first place certainly puts "contextualization" into...er..."context."

Stefan said...

(Upon reading the opening paragraphs of the linked article....)

Jugulum said...

dac,

When having fun with phrases, I tend to use the word "lexicographical" to mean "having to do with words," not necessarily just "having to do with writing dictionaries".

I mean, I could have said you were a "Terminological liberal," but that's not nearly as much fun. And it lacks the alliteration.

Hmm... On second thought, I guess I was looking for "Lexical liberal." Oh well.

DJP said...

But not "Lexus Liberal."

Michelle said...

Eskimos have no sheep and we have no kangaroos. It seems that in this case an attempt to contextualize for the benefit of the eskimos wound up actually insulting their intelligence.

I can't help but think that a lot of the biblical "contextualizing" that goes on today does the same to the target audience (which isn't a remote tribe that dances around fires and speaks gobbledeegook). C'mon, how much "contextualizing" do the folks around us really need?

More obedient declaring and less contextual pandering is needed. The message doesn't require a Phd to understand (just the Holy Spirit), and it will never, ever be cool or popular.

Phil Johnson said...

Stefan: "Well, the explicitly stated motivations for coining the term in the first place certainly puts 'contextualization' into...er...'context.'"

Yeah, I especially liked this aspect of the original definition of contextualization: "using a prophetic reading of the times, not the exegesis of the text, as the beginning point for hermeneutics."

Incidentally, this old Pyro-post makes some good supplementary reading. See also this one, which is one of my all-time faves.

dac said...

Phil:

Re: #1 - You may be correct. It may be at the point that it is so misused as to be put to pasture. I am still willing to tilt at that windmill however.

2/3/4. I was unaware of the lexigraphical background, never mind the fact I am a "lexigraphical liberal" It does raise concerns for me as to use of the word.

5. It seems to me that the desire to adopt and preserve the terminology of contextualization is strongest among people with SBC backgrounds. Is that an accurate perception? If so, why?

That is a fascinating subset of this whole thing. Doesn't apply to me (EFCA is my background, although I am a SBC member now)I have no basis for determining if your correct, but it would be interesting to find out.

Jugulum said...

Psst.
http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/lexigraphical

Jugulum said...

But not "Lexus Liberal."

I've heard of that car. It promises a lot of good things, but in terms of actual performance, it fails to deliver--the design is shoddy at the core, with some pretty bad assumptions.

I hear it was engineered by committee, actually.

Strong Tower said...

"The contextualization practiced by the NT writers did not depart from the content of the OT... the Gospel writers also show Jesus contextualizing His message for the benefit of His listeners.
Contextualization is a must in our modern world. However, interpreters must desist from departing from the content of the Bible. The demythologizing program of liberal NT scholars and theologies which emphasize acculturation at the expense of biblical truth, must not be followed..."

(radical)acculturation = departing from the content of the Bible = demythologizing program of liberal NT scholars... = bad contextualization...

That was a nice summary Phil. It has been a while since I read "indigenation"... I once heard of men who were translating the NT for a culture that had no concept for bread. They substituted a word for the like concept which meant the essential daily food. Now that is good indigenation. In fact, that is what Jesus did with the interchangeable concept of manna/bread. Still, at some point we explain what those term were and mean in their original context. In other words, when Christ used the terms he further explains the equivalency, John 6. However, none of his audience would have known what manna was by experience. It wasn't as if it was just laying around everywhere.

"using a prophetic reading of the times, not the exegesis of the text, as the beginning point for hermeneutics"

Is this like saying, this is what happening here, this is what it means? Or, when we are speaking to someone and we are using our own words to explain in a vernacular that is common and not Biblese?

michelle said- "More obedient declaring and less contextual pandering is needed" = good contextualization...

SolaMeanie said...

Phil,

I wish you could find an alternate word to "nuance." I'm sorry, but every time I see or hear it, the image of John Kerry comes to mind.

That is very scary this time of year.

VcdeChagn said...

55 comments (and I read them all I think..my scroll bar on my mouse is jumpy) and no one mentions that the Gospel is about sin and salvation..and sin is universal....sea lions or lambs notwithstanding.

You are a sinner. (this one is easy..everyone has hated and lied and wanted and lusted)

You deserve God's wrath, and you're going to Hell.

God poured wrath out upon his Son so that if you will trust in His righteousness rather than your own for salvation, you will be saved.

What sort of context do we need exactly?

Lambs and Sea Lions are irrelevant to the core Gospel. Of course the illustrations are important, but in the end, Jesus' parables didn't save anyone.

His shed blood did.

Stefan said...

Vcdechagn:

Okay, I didn't use the word "Gospel," but I wrote this somewhere way up above:

"If ['contextualization'] can express a valid concept—proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the sole means of reconciling sinners to God, in terms that are intelligible in the host culture—but other suitable terms exist to express that concept, I say dispense with the word."

But your point is well taken: the Gospel at its core should transcend all cultural specificities. In that, my comment bears correction.

S.J. Walker said...

Vcdechagn:

Aww, now you done did it. We were all having fun in our "conversation" and you come barging in with Gospel this and Gospel that, talking about sin and wrath.

How dare you!

What I mean to say is, thanks. We need that.

Later

Time said...

Great to hear the message at the SC and great to hear that you are going to put it here in print... looking forward to it!

Phil Johnson said...

Short Thoughts: "I am hoping you will say something about what qualifies as a "culture" in biblical terms."

In the meantime, here's a postmodern contextualization of the word to tide you over.

Bethany said...

i think that cons. comes in big with the pneumotology movement. The ideas of what the Holy Spirit actually does peoples lives and How He is presented in Scripture very from translation to translation and person to person.

Stefan said...

S.J. Walker:

Yes, that was very mean and uncharitably modernistic of vcdechagn. The nerve!

Strong Tower said...

VC- you didn't read my book ;)

I even threw in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God for your listen pleasure.

Oh well...

Beside that if you don't agree with us, we've got nothing to say to you...

Phil Johnson said...

Solameanie: "I wish you could find an alternate word to "nuance." I'm sorry, but every time I see or hear it, the image of John Kerry comes to mind."

Just for you.

SolaMeanie said...

Gee, thanks!

Now this imaginary phrase will ring in my ears tonight:

"I actually did believe in contextualizing before I believed against it."

I think I'll take some Valerian root and go to bed.

Stefan said...

Posters on request? This is a value-added blog!

S.J. Walker said...

Yeah,

Posters on demand! Cool! Me next me next! I want my own poster NOW!

Thanks Phil. I know you feel like you're running a day-care sometimes.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

I assume most here are not fans of Eugene Peterson's "The Message"?

Jugulum said...

I think of "The Message" like any other version that far on the "paraphrase" end of the translation spectrum:

You just shouldn't regard it as a translation, and you shouldn't think of it as the Bible.

If you regard it as a commentary, it's fine--no different than a preacher paraphrasing what he thinks is the sense of a verse. Used in that manner, it might be very edifying--depending on how good the commentary is.

Jugulum said...

P.S. With that in mind, it's unfortunate that Peterson himself thinks of it as a translation--his philosophy of translation seems to involve too much interpretation.

Strong Tower said...

I suppose the discussion of translations is germane to the C word controversy so:

EP says:

"Extreme literalism insists on forcing each work into a fixed immovable position, all the sentences strapped in a straightjacket”

Which interpreted means: My translation frees you from the white straight jacket of literalism. Mine is fuchsia...

It should be remembered then that when we are translating into the cultural context, that we do not forget where the wormhole was through which enter the parallel universe...

Michelle said...

The Message is a good example of contextualization bringing change, not clarity. The real Word of God was too boring for this generation so Peterson gave then a spiced-up, hipper version. Problem is that it doesn't even resemble the original. Oh, well, it seems to be a crowd-pleaser.

VcdeChagn said...

VC- you didn't read my book

Actually I did and it was good...but.... (there's always a but)

I think this is missing the point. We do not need to find a way to explain the Gospel that is culturally relevelant. We need to educate.

I think we need to just tell them they're sinners. Everyone understands lying lusting and hating....there's no need to contextuculturalize it (new word...trademarking it tomorrow).

An eskimo or a kiwi or joe six pack at the steel mill all know (if they're conscience hasn't been seared beyond recognition) that these things are bad.

Explaining that they are an affront to a Holy God who holds the keys to Heaven and Hell exists outside of any temporal context.

You can get to rods, staves and sheep later.

In the end I agree with what you're saying..but I always think of someone who once talked about getting the Gospel to someone in 30 seconds...because they are lying on the side of the road dying or somesuch..no time for context or education, just the basics.

I think that someone was Bill Fay or Ray Comfort but I could be wrong.

If ['contextualization'] can express a valid concept—proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the sole means of reconciling sinners to God, in terms that are intelligible in the host culture—but other suitable terms exist to express that concept, I say dispense with the word

That's my point, lying stealing hating and lusting are intelligible in any culture....sin is Universal.

really enjoyed the article and the comments :D

Strong Tower said...

VC-

Yeah, were thinking in a different context-

I've done street witnessing where I might have only had a few minutes before the light changed-

In the middle of festival crowds when bumping and shoving meant tell it quick to a face fading in the crowd-

I was thinking when I wrote more in the terms of presentation from pulpit or study-

You're right of course, sin knows no boundaries... God knows no barriers...

thanks for your imput, much enjoyed

tt

Stefan said...

Vcdechagn:

Your point is well taken.

Stefan said...

...Or translating from the passive voice:

I get your point.

Strong Tower said...

This is context!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Unbridled enthusiasm about this sort of contextualization has dramatically changed the evangelistic strategy so that the number one goal in contemporary evangelical outreach is for the church to assimilate into the world as much as possible—and above all, be cool—so that the world (or some offbeat subculture) will like us. That is actually the driving idea behind both seeker-sensitivity and the Emerging church approach.

...

But the whole idea is actually unbiblical, counter-productive, and contrary to the real strategy the apostle Paul modeled and advocated.

My assumptions:

(1) PJ has accurately captured the sophistry and self-deception of the seeker-sensitive, post-modern emerging, and mainline liberal in both doctrine and practice.

(2) There are only two sides to this doctrinal/ecclesiastical-evangelistic chasm. Historic evangelical orthodoxy VERSUS liberal seeker-sensitive postmodern emerging mish-mash-mush.

(3) Liberal seeker-sensitive postmodern emerging mish-mash-mush is here to stay. Not a fad, won't die out, may evolve, but will remain as an indefatiguable Hydra-headed monster.

(4) Compromise with the Hydra-headed post-evangelical monster is an implicit victory for the Beast.

Based on these 4 assumptions, doesn't intellectual honesty compel us/me to state that there will be and is a doctrinal and polemic civil war going on right now within Christendom? And that it will be thus for the long forseeable future?

Tell me I'm mistaken. I wouldn't mind being wrong on this one.

Cassandra said...

Phil,

I am an expatriate working in Asia and (unfortunately) very fluent in C-jargon, which is spouted and taught by fellow workers in-country. Looking forward to more posts on the topic.

Mike Riccardi said...

I have two questions...

1) What is contextualization supposed to do? That is, why do it? What end is it accomplishing?

2) Does not the Gospel on its own, unbridled and untethered, unhindered by any too-clever-for-our-own-good, "scholarly" concepts and terminology, accomplish the end(s) for which we're trying to contextualize?

If yes, shut up and preach the Gospel.

If no, you either misunderstand the Gospel, or are trying to accomplish things the Gospel isn't intended to accomplish.

So shut up and preach the Gospel.

Bill Honsberger said...

Let me give you an example of how this is often used in mission circles. There are six different levels of contextualization among mission types (C-1 - C-6) At the most extreme, often advocated in Muslim countries, the C-6 new believer in Issa (arabic for Jesus) will recite the Shahada (There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet), he will pay the alms, pray 3-5 times a day depending on the Muslim context, do Ramadan, the Hajj and even fight in Jihad against his Christian brothers if called upon. But secretly he will pray to Issa in the Mosque on Friday. He will not get baptized, he will not meet with Christians at church, he will usually deny such teachings as the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the substitionary atonement and any other doctrines most offensive to Muslims.
One example of this was cited several years ago by a good friend Dr. James Bjornstadt (ministered with Dr. Walter Martin and was a philosophy teacher at Cedarville until they bought the pomo farm!) who attended a meeting of the EMS or Evangelical Mission Society, which is sort of a parallel to the ETS. One session he was in praised a West African church made up of Muslim "converts" as a wonderful model of Contextualization. This church's doctrinal statement explicitly denied the deity of Christ!!! But for many at the EMS, that is no big deal.
The contextualization argument is not new. You can see it in the alleged mission work of Ricci and Xavier some 500 years ago. One can make a good case that it was the thought process of Clement and Origin at the Alexanderian school, which sadly de-judiazed the faith and instituted the multiple joys of platonic thought as a foundation for the faith. But is has never produced actual Christian disciples, who have been baptized and "taught all things that Jesus has commanded you".
Some things to think about.
Bill Honsberger

wenxian said...

Mike,

You are dead on. Short and sweet =)

Daryl said...

Mike,

One question...

How does one "shut up and preach"?

Now that, I'd like to see!

S.J. Walker said...

Amen Mike!!

Stefan said...

TUAD:

Your vision is reductionistic and dystopic—and probably true.

It seems that the greatest threat to the Gospel comes not from outside the visible church, but from those who claim to be within it.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Definition of dystopia: "An imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror."

TUAD: Your vision is reductionistic and dystopic — and probably true.

Stefan, thanks for teaching me a new word... dystopic.

But please, anyone!, tell me that I'm badly wrong in my prognosis that there will be an intractable civil war within Christendom.

I grant you that the elephant in the room will be politely stepped around, and that the leaders-that-be won't publicly acknowledge this major internal war, but there will be sniping at each other from behind the unacknowledged elephant.

I hope I'm wrong, but TeamPyro, Triablogue, etc... are on the frontlines of this doctrinal/ecclesiastical-evangelistic/gospel war within Protestant christendom.

If war is the right metaphor, and if civil war (meaning an internal matter of utmost importance) is the correct refinement, and we have "true" shepherds contending against "false" shepherds, then what is the way forward and how should the way forward be conducted?

Stefan said...

TUAD:

It's all in God's sovereign hands. Remember that those who hold tenaciously to the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, for the glory of God alone and according to Scripture alone, are probably a small minority of the worldwide visible church.

We hang out on blogs like this, think of folks like Piper or MacArthur, and see the Reformed resurgence in the SBTS, and may forget in our fishbowl world that we are a small community. Outside of this narrow core, of course there are many (perhaps millions) of godly believers around the world; but many more than that who profess belief in Christ, who have been seduced by teachings that add to or subtract from the Gospel, that teach some variety of works-based semi-Pelagianism (or worse). ...And hasn't this always been the way, even since the days of Paul? The Adversary will never tire of deceiving Christians until the day that Jesus Christ finally binds him in chains.

What can we do, except stand upon the Word of God, and pray that in His eternal wisdom and providence, God is working out all things for His glory.

Stefan said...

(Eschatological note: the cat's out of the bag—I'm posttrib premill.)

Mike Riccardi said...

One question... How does one "shut up and preach"? Now that, I'd like to see!

Heh... yeah...

I guess shut up = "Stop with all the talk about contextualization and culture and missional and felt needs and relevance." I suppose I should say what I mean by "preach the Gospel" too, since so many folks don't get it, but Matthew 13:13-15.

Although, I could get pretty theological with the idea of shutting up and preaching. Think about it. Romans 10 says they can't believe in Him whom they have not heard (if you have the NASB). Not "about whom" or "of whom," but "Him whom." And how will they hear Him without a preacher. Plus, we have John 10 where it talks about the sheep hearing His voice and coming. So really, shutting up and preaching makes sense. I stop all my PhD cleverness and just let the Good Shepherd speak through His own Word.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

PJ: "... it unleashed an avalanche of forceful reactions from people in the blogosphere—ranging from shocked disbelief to angry derision."

This is why I really like PJ and Dr. John MacArthur who wrote "The Truth War".

They know they're in a war. They know they're going to get forceful reactions for uttering the discernments that they do. And they don't appease, and they don't acquiesce and compromise the message of their discernment about how others are distorting the Gospel. False ecumenical harmony is not for them. No apology for tone or substance. Just continued explanation for the reasoning undergirding the discernment offered.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

With regards to the divided state of evangelicalism, one person proffers this prognosis:

"In fact, there is a significant hardening within the Evangelical church that has lost its roots, not only those gained in the 40s and 50s, but in history. This Evangelical church is becoming more and more fundamentalistic. I won’t name any names here, but these would be referred to as neo-fundamentalists. Then there is the part of the Evangelical church that has completely lost its way and has lost the Gospel in favor of the Wally World of entertainment.

This is where the two stands of the emerging church come in. One strand is the Emergent that over compensates in response to the Fundamentalist side, in my opinion. And then there is the emerging-evangelicals, who I believe in a lot of ways are reclaiming what is best in evangelicalism.

I think that this is going to cause another separation, like that of the 40s. Those that have hardened in their categories will become more fundamentalistic. Those who over react to this will become the modern liberals. Those who fall in the middle will carry on the evangelical (now with a small “e”) principles with the Gospel."

It could be the case that this pastor is thinking of TeamPyro and John MacArthur as exemplars of those evangelicals who are hardening the categories and becoming neoFundamentalists. (But maybe not).

But what strikes is that while I think (and many others think too) that standing firm in the faith and delivering the faith once delivered to the saints is a good thing; others will paint it in a different manner and call it "hardening of the categories" and becoming neo-fundamentalistic.

An internal civil war.

Strong Tower said...

"But what strikes is that while I think (and many others think too) that standing firm in the faith and delivering the faith once delivered to the saints is a good thing; others will paint it in a different manner and call it "hardening of the categories" and becoming neo-fundamentalistic."


Let them call it what they will. Because they will call it what they want. I think that many do not draw the right categories. At P&P, the categorization of evangelicalims in my opinion further confused rather than defined anything. And, it misses the point that was attempted to be made on othodoxy. There is an orthodoxy and we best be about defining it, for that is the job, like it or not. And, when the boundaries are discovered they are not rigid because man has made them so, but God is the one who has placed them there, and has warned us that he does not take kindly the moving of the boundaries of the widow who is under his protection.

Galgaron said...

I think you're confusing contextualization with syncretism. If you look closely at what the emergent types are doing (Rob Bell, Brian McLaren), you will see they are being syncretistic, not contextualizing. Don't confuse the issue and do your research. Look at what David Hesselgrave and Phil Parshall have to say on the subject. Unless you think we should be building white-washed church buildings in the middle of the jungles in Africa.

Jason E. Robertson said...

I am in South Louisiana preaching in a 4 day meeting in a small country church that runs less than 100. Talk about contextualization going on... sheeesh... and I got a phone call that said I might want to read this comment thread. So I found a computer, dialed up the internet and read where someone named Karen said I should apologize to Phil (or MacArthur) in light of this post.

Phil and I are friends as far as I know. We have talked about this subject in private emails. And I have blogged about the debate over this word publically, expressing my understanding of Phil's position, expressing my complete agreement with his issues with the EC's and CGM's abuses of this word, and have expressed my opinion. Futhermore I linked to a list of very respected men whose opinions are more respected than mine -- who also see the necessity of contextualization in effective ministry.

As much as I love and respect our beloved pyromaniac, I believe the word in question is one that we should deal with, not ignore or deny or refuse to use. I think to ignore it is futile and to refuse to use it is vain.

I once told Phil in a private email that I have found that many Calvary Chapel preachers claim to be expositors of the Scriptures, but are not expositors at all. I think many of them have terribly distorted the true definition and practice of expository preaching. But that doesn't mean that I am going to stop using the word expository.

In the end, what is truly at stake is not just words or methodology but the EC and postmoderns have leveled a new attack against the sufficiency of Scripture. Their compromising of the gospel stems from a lack of faith in the sufficiency of Scripture. And I feel like focusing on whether we should use a word or not is just a gross distraction from this real issue.

So... I do not know for what I should apologize... or to whom.

Theophilus said...

So, do I understand correctly that statements like

[Since Israel was under Roman rule...] "Jesus knows what it is like to be a poor black man oppressed by rich white men" (etcetera) are the sort of Biblical misrepresentation you mean?

Or is that heresy a completely separate issue?

Phil Johnson said...

Jason:

No one needs to apologize for disagreeing with me. I disagree with myself sometimes.

I'm not looking for a debate over words, here, though. I don't think our difference can really be boiled down to the simple question of whether we should use a word or not. The issue I have raised is not a parallel to the question of whether fundamentalism (once a fine word) is useful any more or not, now that the media have demonized and redefined it. I'm suggesting that contextualization was a bad word and a bad idea from the start, and although some decent and generally sober-minded people like you want to stress only the elements of translating and illustrating truth for different cultures and language groups, the meaning of this word was never that simple. Search out the origin and history of the word in missions and see or yourself.

Moreover, the concept people generally have in mind when using that word is so laden with the baggage of postmodern relativism that there are real dangers in touting the idea uncritically.

I'll try to make another post later this week in which I'll explain some of those concerns in more detail.

Jugulum said...

Oh dear, the C-word really is widespread!

I just noticed that 17 minutes into the 02-07-2008 broadcast of The Dividing Line, James White says, "The problem--the main problem that Muslims have in hearing what we are saying is contextualizing their relationship to Christianity."

Oh, Dr. White, not you, too?

Jugulum said...

Hmm, but on second thought, I think he was saying that Muslims inappropriately contextualize, reading the Bible & various ancient Christian sources anachronistically. So he was using it as a bad word.

Never mind!

Jason E. Robertson said...

Thanks, Phil. I will definitely take some time to research this word and its concepts. God bless you, brother.