Hi from Dubai
Steve Hu on Newbigin

Context [Part 3]: Between Absolutism and Relativism

The subject of contextualization and the example of Paul in Athens (Acts 17) has been lingering here and popping up on other blogs. Daryl Dash just mentioned that John MacArthur at the T4TG conference referred to this conversation [other details deleted]. Phil ends his series on Paul and Charitableness, to which I also see a need both charitableness AND confrontation rather than forcing to take sides. Gentleness and respect go a long way in winning a hearing . . "I see that you are religious in every way"

Here is where I end up. I cant say much more about responsible contextualization without repeating myself in Part 1 and Part 2. But I do want to bring it down to land with this final installment.

I am writing from an internet cafe in the downtown city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. All the men around me are in turbans and are smoking Sheeshas. I have just drunken a long fruit drink as I contemplated what would happen if I just stood up and starting sharing about Christ without any regard to context. How would I communicate it? What have they heard already? If they decided to submit to Isa and follow him, would they still remove their shoes to pray or wear them like the westerners? Could they call him "Isa" as in the Quran, or should they use the English name "Jesus" and would he then be a blue-eyed blond-haired Jesus?

Much to think about. Carelessness kills.

Some propositions that are absolutely certainly true:

1. We all have a contextual position. “Contextualization allows a missionary to separate a people’s traditions from our doctrinal foundations and apply an appropriate trellis that shapes the new church in its most indigenous form. This allows new believers to grow within a cultural framework that is true to biblical foundations. It helps us avoid building rectangular buildings for people who live in round huts.” IMB

Sidenote: To employ an innerrancy position, according to missiologist David Hesselgrave, is to participate in a contextual theology.

2. Not every contextual theology is a good one. Some contextual theologies tend towards relavitism and others towards absolutism which, according to a Wesleyan article, dogmatizes one's own particular interpretation or theological position, "making it applicable to everybody and demanding that others submit too." I would describe the view on contextualization of John MacArthur the the Pryos as absolutist - a view developed during 1800 - 1950, that period of church history defined by Paul Hiebert as the "era of non-contextualization"
We need to move beyond an absolutist position on contextualization and we need to avoid the excesses of a relativistic position.

3. Most Protestant missionaries teach a balanced view of contextualization and this has been a healthy water-spring for the emerging-missional church movement to draw from. Por exemplo:
- The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptists not only promotes responsible contextualization, but also use Acts 17 as an example.
"We affirm that there is a biblical precedent for using “bridges” to reach out to others with the Gospel (Acts 17:22-23). The fact that Paul mentioned an aspect of the Athenians’ idolatrous worship was not a tacit approval of their entire religious system. He was merely utilizing a religious element of their setting (an altar to an unknown god) to connect with his hearers and bridge to the truth. Similarly, our personnel may use elements of their host culture’s worldview to bridge to the Gospel. This need not be construed as an embracing of that worldview."
Principles of Contextualization, Number 2
- Lausanne has a number of good articles on responsible, comprehensive contextualization on one page.
- The The Iguassu Affirmation of the World Evangelical Alliance which "The Gospel is always presented and received within a cultural context. It is therefore essential to clarify the relationship between Gospel and Culture, both in theory and practice, recognizing that there is both good and evil in all cultures."

The view I have presented is, I believe, the majority position and is in no way "revisionary". The absolutist position put forward by MacArthur and Phil Johnson is a minority position, which does not in itself make it wrong, but it does make it suspect and worthy of a healthy comparison with other positions more readily accepted in the global missions scene.

- Steve Camp not only posts on the subject but also battles Darren Patrick on the Mike Corely Program. Listen to MP3
- John Piper weighs in with some thoughts. "Preaching as Concept Creation, Not Just Contextualiation". All very good and applicable points but not immediately specific enough to develop a mature response to missional contextualization.

This Series on Contextualization:
[Part 1]: Does it Matter?
[Part 2]: Between Mindlessness and Recklessness
[Part 3]: Between Absolutism and Relativism