Contextualization – helpful or hurtful?

I have been asked on a number of occasions what contextualization means with reference to the Gospel.  Some I have spoken with automatically assume it is negative and should be avoided, likely because it is assumed that it means we are “watering-down” truth.  I have found the following definition from Ed Stetzer one of the best explanations:

“Most generally, to contextualize is to place something in a particular context. Thus, I would say that any definition of contextualization must include presenting the unchanging truths of the gospel within the unique and changing contexts of cultures and worldviews. This requires us to retain the nature of the truth and the integrity of the message while explaining and applying such things in the necessarily unique or specific ways that enable hearers to understand and respond.”

You can read the full post on this topic at Ed’s blog here.

Contextualization is essential, at least to some extent.  If we seek to connect God’s story to the story of our neighbors lives, we need to share the beautiful truth of the Gospel in a way that they understand.  What analogies and stories resonate with them? What cultural references can they identify with?  What vocabulary is understandable?

Consider this, without contextualization, we would still be listening to church services in Latin.  At some point, it was determined that the hearers were in a better position to respond to truth when it was communicated in their primary language.

So, what are helpful “methods” of contextualization and what are some traps to be wary of ?

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