How Much Contextualization Is Too Much?

Today in missions there’s a lot of talk about contextualization. The “C scale” developed by John Travis makes a case for so-called insider movements—professing believers in the Islamic world who follow Jesus, yet remain culturally and religiously Muslim. Is that biblical? How can we adapt the gospel to new cultures—and how far is too far?

We spend the first half of this jam-packed episode unpacking the C scale and defining contextualization, syncretism, and insider movements. Then, we offer 6 biblical principles for sound, gospel-centered missiology in an atmosphere where the temptation is to downgrade our definition of conversion or the church. Don’t miss a moment of this episode.

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2 thoughts on “How Much Contextualization Is Too Much?

  1. FIRST, you need to DE-contextualise yourself, by learning to recognise which beliefs and practices of YOUR OWN are syncretism. How?
    1) Read the Bible in original language WITHOUT any reference to sermons or other ‘commentaries’ from your own culture. Imagine you are a prisoner who has had no prior Christian education, and has no other media available, then try to read the Bible to see what it says without allowing any of your prior Christian education to bias your understanding. It’s an impossible task, but you have to try. Write down all questions you have as you read, especially ones which have to do with cultural meanings that you don’t understand.
    2) Live for at least one year in a very different culture to where you grew up; WITHOUT maintaining any contact back to your culture (other than safe return options). The goal here is NOT to do ‘evangelism’, but to be a student yourself, so that you are understanding the culture. You do NOT need to submit to practices which you believe are not Godly, but nor you do not need to try to ‘convert’ people with crafty sermons, stories or apologetics. Just be a servant by doing a useful job, learning the language, and having ‘normal’ conversations, whilst politely declining offensive religious practices (this will be huge testimony in itself).
    3) Translate the Bible from original language into the local dialect of the new culture where you live; you do this as much – or more – for your own understanding, as for your audience. When William Carey’s original Hindi translation was destroyed by fire, he eventually praised God for it because he realised that his own understanding during the first translation had been flawed. Thus the fire pushed him to a deeper level of learning before publishing the first Hindi Bible. Again, the primary goal of doing the translation is to convert YOURSELF to a true understanding of the Bible, so that everything you do and say – including the translation work – becomes a more TRUE TESTIMONY of God.

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