Thursday, May 15, 2008

'Context happens'

[Disclaimer: You are about to read a polemic]

I've been thinking some about missions lately, and the idea of 'context' has come up repeatedly. Some say we need to 'contextualize the Gospel' in order to make it understandable to others. The problem is that the context or culture of any one person, much less an entire group of people, is infinitely removed from yours. There is no such thing as the "University context" or the "Nigerian context" or the "Palestinian context." There are only specific people, places, events, resemblances, and analogies. That's not to say we can't generalize, but we should always check and chuck our generalizations when they cease to describe well.

Instead of contextualizing the Gospel, let's just be mindful that context just happens. Be mindful and stop worrying so much.


Anonymous said...

Context is EVERYTHING.

Each and every generation inevitably interprets (All) the Sacred Scriptures according to, and within the limitations, of the parameters of the common mind of the time.

The parameters of the common mind our time are "profoundly" reductionist, or have been created by the reductionist ideology of scientism which has ruled (and formed) the Western "mind" for at least two centuries now.

The origins and consequences of this power and control seeking reductionist mind-set are described in this essay.

Plus related references on the origins & consequences of this reductionist mind-set. Chapter one titled The Purification of Doubt.

Unknown said...

thank you for your comment. In the future, know I'm not going to allow anonymous comments on the board.

In response, I think you're right that context is everything and precisely because it is everything we shouldn't worry about it so much. This is, as I said at the beginning, a polemic, and certainly not my ordered and considered view of the matter. To treat it as such is to ignore the context! ;-)

Joy and Josh said...

I have two thoughts on this:

1. Context when it comes to the pragmatic practice of communication and interaction is primarily about the delta rather than a complete description. For instance, while living in the Philippines the predominance of community and music are very noticeable and I have to approach ministry a little different because of those values. But aspects that are similar between American and Filipino culture don't even make it on my radar.

2. the four gospel accounts are themselves significant contextualizations in the choices of what to tell and how and are probably a good start in thinking how to communicate the gospel cross-culturally.

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