Paul G. Hiebert And Critical Contextualization -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 30:2 (Fall 2009)
Article: Paul G. Hiebert And Critical Contextualization
Author: Anonymous

Paul G. Hiebert And Critical Contextualization

Eunhye Chang, J. Rupert Morgan, Timothy Nyasulu, Robert J. Priest

Eunhye Chang is from Korea but serves in Ethiopia as a missionary and theological educator with SIM, and is a Ph.D. student in Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. J. Rupert Morgan is a missionary with ABWM and a Ph.D. student in Intercultural studies at TEDS. Timothy Nyasulu is a Presbyterian pastor and theological educator from Malawi, and is a Ph.D. candidate in Intercultural Studies at TEDS. Robert J. Priest is Professor of Mission and Intercultural Studies and Director of the Ph.D. Program in Intercultural Studies at TEDS.

Contextualization may be defined as the process by which the gospel takes root in a specific socio-cultural context. A fuller definition is provided by Darrell Whiteman (1997, 2):

Contextualization attempts to communicate the Gospel in word and deed to establish the church in ways that make sense to people within their local cultural context, presenting Christianity in such a way that it meets people’s deepest needs and penetrates their worldview, thus allowing them to follow Christ and remain within their culture.

But while contextualization as a term is now ubiquitous in missiology and theology, it is nonetheless a relatively recent term, and poses unique challenges. What exactly does healthy contextualization look like? And how is it to be distinguished from unhealthy syncretism?

I. Early History Of Contextualization Discussions

Missionaries, of course, have always had to adjust their ministries to local languages and cultures, but self-conscious reflection on what that adjustment should entail has been relatively recent. By the late nineteenth century, mission leaders were calling for “indigenous” churches, but missiological reflection on what such “indigeneity” required primarily focused on “who” exercised leadership, “who” paid the bills, and “who” did the evangelism. That is, indigeneity had a sociological focus, rather than a cultural one. Issues related to cultural variability—to such things as puberty rites or musical instruments, for example—and to missionary

ethnocentrism, were not central to indigeneity discussions. By the 1950s and 1960s missiologically-oriented evangelical anthropologists (such as Eugene Nida, William Smalley, Jacob Loewen, and Alan Tippett) began to press the issue of cultural variability to the foreground of missiological reflection (Priest 2008), but it was not these anthropologists that introduced the term //contextualization.//

The term context...

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