Contextualization

Updated: 24 Jun 2020

The Incarnation of Jesus is a powerful event. Theologians have pondered this wonderful miracle for hundreds of years, drawing important lessons for doctrine and Christian life. One of the lessons we learn from the Incarnation is especially important for mission and evangelistic strategies. As Jesus humbled Himself in human form, we also seek to humble ourselves as we approach our brothers and sisters of non-Christian faiths.

What does it mean to share “contextualized” publications?

It means the unchanging truths of God’s Word are brought down and incarnated into forms that can be understood by people who are unfamiliar with it.

  • High, doctrinal jargon is replaced with simple explanations.
  • Hard-to-understand metaphors, like “blood of the lamb” or “fall on the rock and be broken” are intentionally explained.
  • Publications are “incarnated” by translation into the heart languages of even the smallest minority groups.
  • Biblical truths are explained step-by-step, taking into account the worldview and objections that non-Christian seekers carry with them.

“Contextualization” means to incarnate into a form that is understandable in a particular context. In the past, western-oriented materials that were originally written for a Protestant Christian audience were exported to the mission field. They have often caused misunderstanding and poor receptivity, since these writings assume the reader already has a dedication to Christ and the Scriptures. In most cases, readers in the 10-40 window have never even touched a Bible, and can be quite confused by materials that assume otherwise.

Ellen White spoke about the need of contextualizing books for the mission field that was closest to home in her day. She wrote, “Special literature should be prepared expressly for the Southern field. Publishing is to be done in the South, to prepare the style of books essential for this field.” Manuscript 5, 1903. She recognized that the same style of writing would not be suitable for all cultures and people groups.

The Bible, also, shows evidence of changing styles, genres, and topics according to the intended audience. Mark and Luke were written to Roman and Greek audiences, respectively, and these two gospel writers spend more time explaining Jewish customs and interpreting words that might be unknown to the readers. Matthew, on the other hand, plows through religious narratives without explanation, assuming his Jewish readers have enough prior knowledge to “get it.”

Missionally contextualized sharing resources do not “change” the gospel message. They faithfully explain the message in a way that can be properly understood by a radically different audience.