From Faith Pulpit, Summer 2016. Used by permission.
The very mention of the word “contextualization” in evangelical circles has engendered a variety of reactions. For some, contextualization is absolutely indispensable in cross-cultural ministry. For others, it is a word fraught with compromise that diminishes the purity and clarity of the gospel message. What accounts for these two opposite reactions? In this edition of the Faith Pulpit, Professor Mark Lounsbrough, chair of the Missions and Evangelism Department at Faith Baptist Bible College, examines the issue and gives clarity in this important debate.
By definition contextualization is putting a word, a thought, or a concept in its proper context. That concept seems innocent enough, so why do some object to its use? Part of the reason for the objection is that the word was popularized in an ecumenical context and so broadly applied that essential elements of the gospel were altered or omitted for the sake of making the message of Jesus more palatable to unwelcoming people groups.
I saw a slight criticism of Tim Keller’s book Center Church about a month after it was released this September, but there was no way that the critic could have read the entire book so fast! The criticism got my attention and after reading what Keller had to say about his own book, I decided to buy it and check it out. I had my doubts after having read a few comments from people who voiced their reservations about Keller’s direction. So, I want to lay out a report of what the book is about and what some of the key thoughts are that drive the direction of this book.
The first and most important issue that Keller addresses is the gospel, it’s content and it’s exclusivity. He also makes it clear that incarnational gospel living isn’t enough, words are necessary! It must be preached verbally. The gospel is a story that begins with creation and ends in the consummation. Different parts of the plot line of the story of the gospel are better starting points to share with unbelievers than others depending on the culture. There is no “one size fits all” presentation of the gospel that fits in every time and place. Neither is the gospel just a hoop we jump through to get converted: