Why are so many church leaders today talking about contextualization?

  • A lot of people today are talking about contextualization because it’s a fancy way to justify targeting the subset of the population they like best.
  • Some people argue that we have to “contextualize” the gospel and the church into punk rock culture, or elite urban culture, or artsy hipster culture, or rich suburban culture in order to reach such groups of people.
  • But in these cases, contextualization is just a sophisticated way to defend catering to the tastes and preferences of a certain subculture we’re trying to attract.
  • Biblical contextualization, on the other hand (see 1 Cor. 9:1-23), involves avoiding cultural practices that genuinely offend others so as to remove all unnecessary offense from the gospel.
  • Contextualization is not as much about dressing up the church so that it appeals to the tastes of a certain population as it is about giving up cultural practices that offend people who belong to another culture, so that we don’t distract them from the genuine offense of the gospel.

Of course, contextualization also includes adopting whatever cultural practices are necessary in order to effectively communicate the gospel to members of another culture, such as speaking the same language, abiding by expected customs, and directly engaging the worldview and beliefs of the people one is evangelizing.