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Critical Contextualization

“When you have a hammer in your hands, all you see are nails.”That’s certainly how I’ve been feeling with this book in my hands.

Paul Hiebert is quoted in the book, “The Shaping of Things to Come” with some brilliant insights into critical contextualization.

Frost and Hirsch, the authors share Hiebert’s thoughts (pp. 89):

A missional church ought to be filled with students of the Word of God. He [Hiebert] says: “This step is crucial, for if the people do not clearly grasp the biblical message as originally intended, they will have a distorted view of the gospel. This is where the pastor or missionary…has the most to offer in an understanding of biblical truth and making it known in other cultures. While the people must be involved in the study of Scripture so that they grow in their own abilities to discern truth, the leader must have the meat-cultural grids that enable him or her to move between cultures.”….

”(The gospel) is a me to which people must respond…It is not enough that the leaders be convinced about changes that may be needed. Leaders may share their personal convictions and point out the consequences of various decisions, but they must allow the people to make the final decisions in evaluating their past customs.”

He[Hiebert]wants leaders to trust the congregation, something that clergy have been notoriously poor at doing in the past. If the process is guided effectively, he suggests a number of ways a congregation might respond to old beliefs and customs.

  • Keep That Which is Not Unbiblical
    • Many cultural practices are neither Christian nor non-Christian. They are neither sanctioned nor condemned in the Bible, and therefore Christians can be ambivalent about them. Hanging certain kinds of art in the church building might be an example. In keeping such practices the church can reaffirm its own cultural identity and heritage.
  • Reject That Which is Unbecoming for Christians
    • Sometimes we might be surprised by what is rejected because we don’t understand the significance of the rejection of certain songs, customs, beliefs, and so forth. On other occasions to help the congregation remain aware of any cultural blind spots, the evangelist will need to probe why certain customs have not been rejected.
  • Modify Practices to Give Them Explicitly Christian Meaning
    • Hiebert mentions Charles Wesley’s use of popular pub songs to which he set Christian lyrics and the fact that the early Christians used the synagogue form of worship, but modified it to fit their beliefs. In our context, if we were trying to reach young people, we might reject “moshing” as an aggressive form of dancing that emphasizes individuality….Or we might validate it, but modify it to express togetherness, community, and vitality….
  • Reject Current Unbiblical Practices and Replace Them
    • People who are living together when they become Christians would be encouraged either to get married or to live separately. The close relationship is not rejected; it is simply replaced with a structure that is more in keeping with Christian morality.
  • Adopt Rites Drawn From Christian Heritage
    • Naturally the adoption of the Lord’s Supper and baptism connects any congregation with their new history as Christians. Culturally sensitive expressions of the communion feast and the rite of entry through baptism need to be thoroughly and biblically contextualized by the church.
  • Create New Symbols and Rituals
    • Finally, develop new, fresh expressions of the Christian experience. The Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s–forms of which experienced a revival in the 1990s–developed a series of hand signals, sayings, slogans, and even jewelry to communicate Christian beliefs…

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

4 responses to “Critical Contextualization

  1. elderj

    dude you’re on a posting spree this morning!!

  2. Lately, they come out at once. It’s like I have blog constipation…and all the reading I’ve been doing lately is like fiber.

    I apologize for the terrible metaphor.

  3. elderj

    that is indeed a nasty metaphor

  4. Drew ⋅

    Ewww… 😉

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