Contextualized Gospel Discussion
In the midst of contemplating how diligently I’ve been engaging in the great commission, the need for gospel contextualization settled on my mind. A part of me fears that many Christians are content to share the gospel through sharing Bible verses, but they have minimal regard for whether the recipient actually comprehends the content of those verses. It is important to understand what exactly is gospel contextualization, the need for contextualization, and how to contextualize.
Because there are negative connotations associated with the idea of gospel contextualization, we must define the term. When I use the term “gospel contextualization”, or just “contextualize” in reference to the gospel, I refer to explaining the gospel in a way that is understandable to the recipient in light of their cultural norms and ways of thinking. I don’t refer to modifying the content of the gospel to make it more palatable to people of varying cultural backgrounds.
Now why should Christians be concerned about contextualization? Simply put, writing from the perspective of a 21st century Californian, it is because many foundational Judeo-Christian beliefs that were once culturally conditioned into Americans in decades past can no longer be assumed to be present. In the past, say prior to the 1960s, the majority of Americans were church-going and had a basic understanding of and belief in ideas such as God, sin, and moral standards. Fast forward to the 21st century and many Americans, anecdotally speaking, claim that morals are relative and disagree with the idea of sin. In the past, one could build on already held ideas in sharing the gospel and presume the topics in Bible verses were understandable. Nowadays, Christians may often need to have discussions about ideas such as sin and moral standards before they can effectively share Bible verses.
Now how exactly do we contextualize our gospel presentations? Let me provide three suggestions. First, strive to understand how the people you share the gospel with view topics such as God, sin, and moral standards. If necessary, have discussions on those topics to establish a shared understanding going forward. Second, understand and utilize the styles of reasoning persuasive to those you talk with. Some cultures are quite logical and appreciate sequential displays of reasoning. Other cultures are more receptive to arguments infused with emotional passion. It is also key to understand which metaphors and illustrations are most readily comprehendible by those you talk with. Third, discern cultural values you can use when sharing the gospel. For example, in the Western world, the belief in human rights is very widespread. Historically speaking, the idea of human rights appears to have been birthed out of people reflecting on the meaning of humans being made in the image of God. This idea of human rights also runs against the principles of natural selection, which dictate survival of the fittest. So, when discussing Biblical truths, you can affirm the idea of human rights and show how it finds its foundations in Scripture and subsequently discuss how that cherished idea conflicts with a belief in natural selection. Discussing cultural narratives that are agreeable to Biblical principles allows a Christian to show how various other cultural narratives may contradict with that belief. This platform can then be used to more explicitly share the gospel message.
Let us remember the need for contextualization and strive to do so when we share the gospel. We cannot be content with merely sharing verses regardless of recipient comprehension. It isn’t just what we say that matters; it is also the accurate comprehension of the gospel message that is important. So, I challenge you; contextualize your gospel discussions by establishing shared understandings of key ideas, using culturally persuasive styles of reasoning, and by discussing cultural narratives agreeable to Biblical principles as a platform to further share the gospel.