Contextualization is not simply about adapting to the culture. It is also about identifying where the gospel is different from the culture. One way of identifying this difference is to think about the ‘salvation stories’ told in your neighbourhood. As yourself:
- What gives people identity (creation)?
- How do they account for what what’s wrong with the world (fall)?
- What’s the solution (redemption)?
- What are their hopes (consummation)?
Each of these questions readily connects with the biblical story. Sometimes there will be resonance. More often there will be contrast. This exercise helps you speak the gospel into conversations. When you hear people talking about their identity, problems, solutions, and hopes you can connect these with the gospel story – either to affirm or contrast with the culture’s stories.
What is repentance? What is good news?
It’s really helpful to ask, ‘What does repentance mean in this culture? What sins does the gospel confront?’ It means your contextualization is not simply about being ‘cool’. It’s not simply about connecting. It’s about ensuring that the gospel has bite in the culture.
Along with this, we need to ask, ‘How is the gospel good news for people in this culture?’ It’s not about tampering with the gospel. But asking. ‘What are the features of the gospel that will particularly be heard as good news in this culture?’
For example, I believe it is vital in our culture to speak regularly about sex.
Most unbelievers are sinning sexually as a matter of course. Christian sexual ethics are a mystery to them. They either know nothing of what will be entailed in following Christ or they find our ethics bizarre.
So unbelievers need to hear the positive Christian message on sexuality. If they don’t then any call to repentance will lack content. Jesus repeatedly makes his call to repentance specific. The rich young man whose heart is set on wealth is called to give his money to the poor. The women who seeks fulfilment in sexual intimacy is offered living water.
But we need to be preaching gospel, good news. And biblical ethics are always gospel ethics or good-news ethics. This means they should always come as good news. Many people seem to think that we have to put up with the restrictions of Christianity which we do because of the compensations of heaven. But the truth is the godly life is the good life. It is the life of joy and fulfilment and freedom. We need to show how Christian sexual ethics are good news.
You need to work out how to present a biblical view of sex in a way that people will hear as good news.
If we don’t present a Christian view of sex as good news then our sexual ethics will be a barrier that prevents people professing the lordship of Christ. If you don’t address sexuality as part of your evangelism then you’ll either store up problems for future discipleship or you’ll never win people for Christ in the first place. This doesn’t mean you need to talk about sex whenever a gospel opportunity arises. But any on-going conversation with an unbeliever and any public word-ministry must regularly address the topic.
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