September 16: Contextualization

I want to share with you what I learned in one last class from culture week before I dive into the beginning of week 2. On Wednesday we had a class titled “Culture, Contextualization, and Christianity” taught by Peter. It was my very favorite class of the week because it was jam-packed with valuable knowledge that can be applied no matter where you are or what you’re doing. I’m pretty much going to share all of my notes from the class, because that’s how great it was. So, sorry in advance for the lengthly post.

Peter began by listing these 6 characteristics of culture:

Culture is…

  1. A way of life of a society: not just an individual’s preferences.
  2. A regular of behavior: what is acceptable and what is not.
  3. An adapted system: people adapt to their environment to meet their needs, which creates culture.
  4. Learned.
  5. Past oriented.
  6. Complex.

He described the complexity of culture like an iceberg (I loved this analogy). Look at the picture below:

Image

What the eye sees is only the tip of the iceberg. This is the behavior (what is seen and done). The untrained eye will only see this tip, but it’s important to notice that the majority of the mass is actually under the surface of the water- and it’s therefore necessary to dive down to understand the enormity of it’s existence. In a culture, the section right beneath the surface represents values (what is good). Under that is the beliefs (what is true). And finally, the deepest underlying section represents worldview (what is real). Worldview is the “central assumption about the basic makeup of the world and how the world works which is learned from childhood (from people we trust like parents) and is held consciously or unconsciously in faith and shared widely by members.” Worldview deals with aspects of reality- so, what is truth? How do you know? Is there a God? Is there right and wrong? What is our purpose? Depending on worldview, these questions have different answers. Our personal worldview acts as the glasses through which our realities are learned and explained.

This is all very important to know- but the application of it is even more important. If we are to respond to the great commission in Matthew 28 to go and make disciples of all nations we NEED to understand these 3 things:

  1. Our home culture’s worldview- truths and neutral points.
  2. Biblical worldview- and with this we must replace our cultural worldview at points of contradiction.
  3. Host culture’s worldview (whether this is your home culture or is an entirely different culture)- We must know this in order to understand questions, needs, and how the Gospel applies to the specific culture.

In Thailand, 94.6 % of the population is Buddhist. Buddhists believe in transmigration- the movement of souls from body to body at death and rebirth. Their main goal in life is to achieve “nirvana”- an escape or freeing from this cycle of death and rebirth that they are caught in. In order to achieve nirvana they must leave the world by losing all attachment to the world. They believe in karma- so every karmic action is believed to have a cause and a moral result, which becomes the cause for another action. If something bad happens, they will put out offerings and pray to idols that are believed to house spirits. Therefore, the Thai people are very superstitious. In order to see the importance of understanding a culture’s worldview and contextualizing the Gospel within a culture, let’s see how a Buddhist would respond to the breakdown of a verse we use as the simple yet profound definition of the Gospel in John 3:16:

For God- doesn’t exist.

So loved- a passion that is to be extinguished in order to achieve nirvana.

The world- need to be detached from it.

That he gave his only Son- substitution is not possible for karma.

That whoever believes in him- self-effort alone delivers one’s soul, not faith or belief in something else.

Shall not perish but have eternal life- who wants that? The point of practicing Buddhism is to escape eternal life.

Literally every part of the verse-of the Gospel– contradicts what their worldview causes them to believe. This is why contextualization is necessary. In order to effectively communicate we must know that while the human condition and gospel remain the same, people have different worldviews that will directly effect the way they respond. So, the take away goal here is, “to retain the truth and integrity of the message while explaining and applying such things in the necessarily unique or specific ways that enable hearers to understand and respond.”

This is my challenge as I go into my ministry in just 3 short weeks. And it’s a challenge to you too- effective evangelism is the result of culturally contextualized, true to the gospel, Christianity. How do people in your culture respond to the gospel and why? Answer this, then move backwards- start with the why so that the how becomes yes.

Furthermore: love God with all your heart and have His passion for the lost; love people; be aware that they have a cultural lens through which they see; be confident that deep down all people long to know the Lord; know the Word which in itself is enormously powerful; be in constant prayer and open to divine appointments; walk in the anointing of the Spirit; and know that the Lord can and will use your feeble efforts to great effect.

-E

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