Contextualization in Missions: A Biblical and Theological Appraisal -- By: Richard W. Engle

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 004:1 (Spring 1983)
Article: Contextualization in Missions: A Biblical and Theological Appraisal
Author: Richard W. Engle

Contextualization in Missions:
A Biblical and Theological Appraisal

Richard W. Engle

Evangelical missiologists have debated the validity of using the termcontextualizationin cross-cultural ministries. This article explores the matter from the perspective of one who is not a missiologist but is concerned about world-wide church planting. The recent history of the term is surveyed and the concept is traced through selected events in biblical history. While the term as originated is encumbered with problems, the basic concept has significant strengths.Contextualizationmay be defined as showing the whole Bible to be relevant to the total individual in all his relationships of life. The term is appropriate to use in an informed, biblical manner in relation to separatist missionary effort.


Unity and diversity as a complementary pair are inherent in the trinitarian God. The one God (unity) brought into being a variegated creation (diversity) and the two are in complementary relationship. In Gen 1:31 God evaluated his creation, “Very good!” These seeming opposites, unity and diversity, also complement each other in the first social institution—”and they shall be one flesh” (Gen 2:23, 24).

Tension between unity and diversity asserted itself in the fall, demonstrating man’s desire to be like God, not different from him. The recently coined term “contextualization,” current in missiology, mirrors this as a tension between traditional formulations of doctrine (i.e., traditional unity) and contemporary applications of biblical

This article was first presented as a formal paper at a missions consultation sponsored by a group interested in independent Baptist missionary effort, convened on the campus of Grand Rapids Baptist College and Seminary, December 28-30, 1980.

truth in the variegated creation (contemporary diversity). Part of the problem may be a tendency to view tradition as radically distinct from current application, rather than as the opposite end of a continuum.

“Contextualization” is a new word, although contextualization has taken place from the time of the fall. Throughout history, fall-plagued minds have distorted what is good in both the idea and its implementation. This paper explores and evaluates “contextualization” as a current concept in missiology. Part I summarizes the history of the term and offers a definition. Part II traces aspects of contextualization as a biblical idea. Part III identifi...

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