One of the most important quotes I’ve read on contextualization

One of the most important quotes I’ve read on contextualization September 18, 2013

The following is one of the most significant quotes I’ve ever read about contextualization. I thought you would benefit from it all well. It is extremely relevant for anyone concerned for the gospel.

Regarding Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Dean Flemming writes,

“Paul’s approach to the Colossian syncretism reveals an artistry’s sensitivity, not a commander’s heavy hand. He refuses to impose a pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all theology and praxis as a guard against syncretism, as sometimes happens today.

We can learn from this. Some well-meaning Christians are afraid that any attempt at contextualization will automatically water down the ‘pure’ gospel and syncretize the message. Because some have altered the truth of the gospel in the name of relevance, they distrust the whole enterprise. But could it be that refusing to contextualize the gospel poses an even greater risk of syncretism?

Consider the situation today––not unlike that of Colossians––when the gospel meets worldviews that are burdened with fear of unseen powers thought to control practical realities such a crops, health, and family relations. In many cases, the Christian message that has been imported to these contexts from the West has failed to address such issues. As a result, people can easily assume that Jesus is powerless to overcome the forces that influence their daily lives. Like the Colossian syncretists, converts may look for supplements––shamans, amulets, rituals, or occult practices––to protect them from hostile spirits. Ironically, a gospel that neglects such worldview issues may unwittingly end up promoting syncretism instead of preventing it.”

Dean Flemming, “Paul the Contextualizer,” in Local Theology for the Global Church: Principles for an Evangelical Approach to Contextualization (ed. Matthew Cook et al.; Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 2010), 18–19.

What do you think? Agree or disagree?

Of course, we can’t avoid the problem by applying rigid methods that will somehow “guarantee” that we won’t syncretize the gospel. On the other hand, we can’t throw our hands up in the hand in hopeless despair.

How should these ideas affect the way we train missionaries?


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