He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" - Romans 8:32

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Thursday, May 20, 2010 

Contextualization - What Are We Really After?

Contextualization is perhaps one of the most controversial things that all of us do in our churches every day. At its most basic level whether we will contextualize our church is not really an option – anyone here speak fluent Aramaic or Greek, for example? But will we do it wisely, biblically, in the fear of God or will we let our fear of man become the controlling principle?

A friend of mine once gave me some great advice regarding contextualization, whether in my home culture or abroad. Rather than starting with specific practices to analyze, he advised that I start by looking at my own heart and particularly at my motivation as I approach the conversation. Was I attracted to a contextualizing idea because I thought it would help make both the glory and the offense of the gospel in the church more clear to my community…or was I motivated by a desire to mitigate the offense of the gospel and to try to make my listener more comfortable with my message and less put-off by a biblically counter-cultural church. Clarity vs. comfort? Time and again I’ve found that to be a helpful and painfully convicting metric.

Often I’ve realized I’m more tempted than I want to admit to contextualize the church with the primary aim of making others comfortable. It’s less natural for me to work carefully to remove cultural accretions with the aim to make the pure (often offensive) gospel message of the church more clear. How about you? What’s your real aim in your contextualization – a church and gospel that look more like your culture or establishing a foreign embassy from heaven that judges every earthly culture?

How this plays out in day-to-day examples is something I’d love to see some of the cross-cultural guys on the blog speak to. So what say you? How have you tried to navigate the “comfort vs. clarity” tug-o-war in contextualization in a missions setting?

- Andy Johnson

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