The Ethics of Contextualization

It may not seem like I need another series going on the blog. Yet, after some of the recent conversations I’ve heard about The Elephant Room both past and upcoming, I decided for my own clarity of thought, it might be good to explore contextualization. Specifically, I’d like to explore the ethics of contextualization. This series will not be so much a “how to” guide as much as some boundaries or guardrails for our reasoning when we embark on our various contextualization tasks.

If you are involved in ministry, you will contextualize. No, scratch that. If you are a Christian and you talk to non-Christians ever, you will contextualize. No, scratch that. If you talk to anyone ever about anything, you engage in contextualization. As soon as you start explaining anything, you’ve begun contextualizing some item of knowledge in order to make in more understandable to whoever you’re talking to.

As Christians, our general task is to contextualize the gospel in order to present it to our surrounding culture. On the one side, you can under-contextualize and lack not connecting the gospel to any point in the life of your hearers. The extreme of this would be to simply read the text of Scripture to your congregation in the original Greek or Hebrew, offer a prayer, and then end the service, hoping the Holy Spirit applies the Word to their hearts.

Fortunately, I’m not aware of anyone that fails to contextualize this poorly. We contextualize Scripture to our American culture by reading it in English. We try to explain the text using illustrations from daily life that people are familiar with. We seek out application points that relate to the way people in our culture actually live. All of this is contextualization, and all of it is necessary.

What I’m going to concern myself with in this series has more to do with over-contextualization rather than under, since I think with both seeker-sensitive churches, and even the hipper young, restless Reformed churches this is more of a problem. We’ll start by exploring contextualization a bit further before examining the nature of ethical choices and then working through a few case studies.

So far, it should look something like this:

That’s where we headed, let me know what you think and maybe even give me some ideas for topics to examine!

Author: Nate

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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