It is a difficult class, for sure. We don’t do a lot of lecturing. The students do most of the teaching, first investigating examples of contextualization in the ministry of Jesus, then in Paul’s epistles, and finishing out the class exploring their own culture. The goal is to study what it means to be a Christian—a committed Bible-based follower of Jesus—while retaining their identity as First American people. How can they express their faith in Jesus as the only way to make peace with God and avoid compromising biblical truth while presenting a Christianity that is culturally authentic? What bridges are available to them within their cultures? How can they make the Gospel understandable and culturally appropriate? How can their people come to see that Jesus came for all men and not just for the White man?
“Contextualization” has been a difficult concept for us all to grasp. We are determined to steer clear of syncretism (the attempt to blend two mutually exclusive worldviews through misuse of cultural practices or expressions) and faithfully maintain a pure faith. Contextualization is expressing timeless truths in a manner that is culturally sensitive to one’s audience, that is, using the context of the people you are trying to reach. We do it all the time without thinking when we simplify our vocabulary to make a complex concept comprehensible to a child. There are dangers on both sides of the issue: danger of presenting the Truth so wrapped in our own cultural trappings that it seems foreign, incomprehensible, or unavailable to the culture we are addressing, or danger of becoming so focused on making the Truth fit into the culture of those you are ministering to that you compromise it.
There are 9 upperclassmen in the class. They have diligently kept up with their presentations, taking responsibility to lead the class when they are assigned to do so. It has been rewarding to see their understanding grow, their comprehension deepen, and to observe them seeking God’s wisdom and discernment.
The greatest example of contextualization is when God Himself took on human flesh and dwelt among us. At just the right time in history, Jesus was born into a Jewish home and submitted Himself to the culture He had intentionally prepared throughout the ages to receive Him. With countless symbols during Jewish history that announced His coming; with pictures purposefully set in place in the tabernacle, temple, and feasts; and with the word of myriad prophets decisively setting the scene; Messiah was finally born into the world He had created. He was not born outside of culture but placed Himself within a cultural context that He had manipulated from the time of Abraham for the purpose of setting the stage for His arrival.
What a wonder! What beautiful condescendence! God in the form of a Jewish man. God contextualized, in flesh. Blessed Christmas to you all as we celebrate His stepping into human form that He might communicate and identify with us and provide the final sacrifice that would save the world.