How do fallible people contextualize God’s infallible word?
To put it more sharply, does it matter that the Bible is infallible if fallen sinners are interpreting and applying it? Yes. It does.
(This is week 1 of the book giveway. I’m giving away free Kindle books every week. Click here to enter the giveway. For the next 4 weeks, I’m writing about the topics covered in the four major sections of my book, Saving God’s Face: A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame.)
However, this tension must be taken very seriously if what we do and teach is to carry the weight it ought. Consider this simple fact that I think most people would agree with: “The Bible” and “our theology” are not equivalent terms. Our theologies are all fallible. The Bible is not. Although people may admit this, how often does this realization practically affect what we do?
The difference between our theology and what the Bible says can make a huge difference in contextualization. Accordingly, our contextualization methods need to account for that gap in one way or another.
Consider the simple fact that we all read the Bible from a limited cultural vantage point. This naturally affects what we see in the Bible, which then shapes our theology. What if we broadened our cultural perspective, both historically and globally? What else might we see? By noticing a range of news details, our theologies will of course be altered. Sometimes this will mean correcting old views. Other times, the additions will shift what we think is the major and minor idea within a passage.
In the process of contextualization, we don’t change God’s word.
However, in the process, the contextualizer may well be changed. Assumptions will be challenged. New questions will arise. Priorities will shift.
Consider how you read the Bible when you first became a Christian. Then, after 10 or 20 years, how did your views change? Were you also able to discern better applications? The difference was not the Bible. The difference was the lens through which we read the Scripture. Increased life experience––our changing context––broadens our lens for reading the text.
Contextualization is possible when we are humble and mature enough to question our assumptions.We all have assumptions. Why is it humble to questioning our assumptions? To do so acknowledges that we are sinners and that even our heroes (who have shaped our views of the world) don’t get everything right.
In my book, Saving God’s Face, I begin by consider whether or not evangelicals “assume” the gospel and if this assumption actually gets in the way of contextualization.
I recognize that such questions sound provocative. After all, isn’t there only one gospel? Also, if we can’t assume the gospel, then what can we assume? This is a critical point to grasp: our understanding of the gospel is never in the abstract. It always uses metaphors, expressions, symbols, and emphases that comes reflect our culture experience. After all, I certainly can’t understand and communicate the gospel in ways foreign to my own experience.
We have to mind the gap between our understanding of the gospel (our theology) and the Bible’s more robust view of the gospel. Otherwise, we essentially will confuse the two. The consequence then is that we could begin to “judiaze” our listeners in that they will have to accept the gospel on the terms of our own cultural expressions. The terms and concepts we use import with them all kinds of assumptions and values we must be aware of.
Therefore, I suggest a simple idea in my book. If we assume the gospel, then we have already assumed what it is we claim to be seeking––a contextualized gospel. After all, all gospel presentations are contextualized to some context. This raises the question––what is contextualization.
More on that in the next post.
- Contextualizing the One Gospel in Any Culture – – A Model from the Biblical Text for a Global Context (www.patheos.com/blogs/jacksonwu)
- Taking the Context out of the Bible? (www.patheos.com/blogs/jacksonwu)