Contextualization (The Long Version)


to place (a word, event, etc.) into a particular or appropriate context for the purpose of interpretation or analysis

~Webster’s New World College Dictionary

I’ve recently listened to a good message on contextualization by Tim Keller.

I took some notes, so I though I’d write them out here.


*Contextualizing consists of adapting and challenging.

*When you enter into a new culture (be it a foreign nation, or a sub-culture within your own nation) you will need to adapt to it in some ways, and you’ll need to challenge it in other ways.

*You will have to adapt to certain ways of thinking and doing things. This is unavoidable. Every “version” of Christianity throughout history is deeply rooted and adapted to some culture. Your version of Christianity is adapted to your culture, and if you move on to another culture you’ll have to adapt to that.

*This is a good thing. Christianity, while not turning away from its Biblical foundations, can adapt to different cultures. Other religions do not have this ability. Islam, for example, looks exactly the same no matter what country it’s found in.

*Christianity can contextualize. So, don’t be so quick to criticize another’s Christian practices, since they have simply adapted to their culture, while you have done the same. Someone is looking at your practices and is criticizing you.

*Every different culture has its own world view (how it answers the deepest questions about God, the meaning of life, etc).

*Every culture has a general revelation of who God is (Roman 1:18-20), but the people resist this revelation through idol worship (Romans 1:21-23).

*Christianity will enter into these cultures and use the existing world view to reach the people. Christianity does this by adapting to some parts of the culture and resisting other parts–this is contextualization.

*There is no non-contextualized Christianity anywhere in the world.

*All Christianity has to be based on Biblical teaching, but it will take the shape of the culture which it is in. As you choose to do something a certain way you move closer to some people, and move further away from others; you draw people closer to you, and you push others away. The music you choose, the language you choose, the style of teaching you use–every aspect of what you do will be shaped by the culture you are trying to influence, and will determine what people will be within your sphere of influence.

*Contextualization is a two way process: You change the culture, and the culture changes you. The non-Christian people you are interacting with will teach you new things about yourself. They will challenge you with questions that you have never thought of before, and thus cause you to search for the Biblical answers to those questions–which you would not have done if you had never engaged that new culture.

*There are many different Christian practices, many different theologies.

*Your theology is shaped by the questions you are asking. All the different theologies don’t really contradict each other–they are trying to answer different questions.

*Each different culture will develop its own theology. One theology from one culture need not be forced upon another culture.

*Each culture has its own basic “story line”: [1] there is way things should be, there is a good mission to accomplish [2] something has thrown the mission of course [3] there are people who are trying to put the mission back on course.

*When you want to enter into, and engage, a new culture for Christ, don’t ask what the culture’s beliefs are. Instead ask what the culture’s “story line” is.

*Learn their “story line”. Respect their “story line”. Show them that Jesus is the only happy ending to their “story line”.

*Read 1 Corinthians 1:22-25. “The Jews saw power as the answer to many of their cultural questions. But the cross was utter weakness, and offensively so. The Greeks craved wisdom as their cultural plot. But the cross was complete foolishness. Paul challenges the cultural narratives (or “story lines”) of power and wisdom and then points people to Christ, who embodies true power and wisdom.”~Darrin Patrick (Church Planter, pg. 200).

*”In true contextualization, there is both a yes and a no, an affirmation and a denial. The questions people ask are heard and addressed, but they are challenged by the answers supplied by the Gospel.”~Darrin Patrick (Church Planter, pg. 200).

*Jesus resolves all cultural “story lines”.

*Don’t fall into the dangers of “over-contextualizing”, or “under-contextualizing”.

*You know you are “over-contextualizing” when you are giving into the idols of the new culture.

*You know you are “under-contextualizing” when you are giving into the idols of your own culture.

*If you want everyone to like you, you are probably “over-contextualizing”.

*If you want everyone to be like you, you are probably “under-contextualizing”.

*One of the awesome things about Christianity is that it can move from culture to culture and, without being compromised Biblically, it can adapt to each new culture. And with each new culture, new revelations of Christ come forth for all to see.

You can listen to Tim Keller’s message on contextualization yourself by clicking here: “Contextualizing – Wisdom or Compromise”

One response to “Contextualization (The Long Version)

  1. Pingback: Chin Tribe: A Case Study of Contextualization « MMM — Munson Mission Musings

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