While I’m not a missiologist, I am very interested in issues related to missions, evangelism, and contextualization. Not only am I interested in those subjects from a biblical perspective, I’m also interested in how those principles are extracted and then applied. How are we are apply what we learn from the Acts in the world scene? Is there an evangelical approach, or are there multiple approaches? What is going on in the global community towards world missions?
These are the types of questions that are addressed in A. Scott Moreau‘s Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models. Moreau is Professor of Intercultural Studies at Wheaton College and while clearly a scholar, has served in missions and has actually lived out what he’s writing on (more on that later).
The book opens with a story that all missionaries will likely relate to. In the event that an African man becomes a follower of Jesus, should he still participate in some of the traditions of his culture? In Moreau’s story, the question is related to whether Simon Mazikenda, a man from Swaziland (Southern Africa), can return to his home village and “sacrifice to the ancestors.” Some Christians would consider that as practicing idolatry and others see it simply as a cultural tradition that was equivalent to honoring one’s family. What should Simon do?
Thus, we begin our journey into a very technical, well researched, and interesting survey of the different evangelical approaches to contextualization!
Moreau shapes his definition of “evangelical” from the works of David Beggington and John Stott. Some will disagree with his definition (and influences), and others will see them as helpful. I, for one, find them historically convincing and logically cohesive. At any rate, everyone will appreciate Moreau’s honesty of influence and will be able to more forward with a better understanding of where he begins.
What, exactly, is contextualization? Moreau writes,
“In short, contextualization can be described as “the process whereby Christians adapt the forms, content, and praxis of the Christian faith so as to communicate it to the minds and hearts of people with other cultural backgrounds. The goal is to make the Christian faith as a whole — not only the message but also the means of living out of our faith in the local setting–understandable.”
Prior to reading this book, I was unaware that there are, in fact, quite a few different approaches to contextualization. In past conversations or reading, I’ve simply assumed that there were a lot of opinions on specific situations, but very few articulate and thought-out models for contextualization. For example, there are a number of “models” to consider: the Translation Model, the Anthropological Model, the Praxis Model, the Synthetic Model, the Transcendental Model, and the Countercultural Model. I didn’t even know such models existed, but Moreau traces how these (and others) developed under scholars such as Stephen Bevan and Robert Schreiter.
As with any theory, there are different presuppositions at work in different models. Contextualization in World Missions adequately discusses and evaluates those presuppositions and explains how presuppositions work in shaping the direction and outcome of different approaches. For this, Moreau is to be greatly applauded. I learned (and am learning) from his explanations. In fact, I find myself thinking through the implications of this book in many different ways.
The most surprising (and interesting!) aspect of the book is when Moreau offers research on issues related to what is commonly thought of as “charismatic” interests (i.e., demonic deliverance). Advocates for hard-line Cessationism will be challenged, in my opinion, to find a better explanation for what happens in the world scene of missions. Apparently, the very same demonic oppression that existed in the 1st century is also dealt with by many Christians in the world along the same lines as Jesus! After all, according to Jesus, deliverance from demonic oppression was a significant sign that the kingdom of God had been inaugurated (Matt. 12:28).
The “meat” of the book is when Moreau explains the different approaches in communicating the Christian faith. Perhaps the communicator will initiate (a key word) as a Facilitator, or as a Guide, or as a Herald, or Pathfinder, or Prophet, or Restorer. Moreau explains how each of these models of initiating the missional task serve to highlight different concerns. Interestingly we are reminded that “Jesus himself took on each of the initiator roles at various times in his ministry” and that “this does not mean that these six roles were the only ones he took on.” This leads the author to encourage evangelicals to “expand our map of approaches” as a way to “explore in greater depth Jesus’ own contextual roles.”
Finally, the section on “Future Trajectories” were interesting, as risky as such predictions can be. First, in Moreau’s opinion, though “evangelicals are passionate about contextualization,” there will continue to be a divide among advocates of the Dynamic Equivalence Critical Realism approach and the Correspondence Critical Realism approach. Yet this divide is shaped largely by generational differences (i.e., the old and young). Second, there will be an increased concern among evangelicals to consider how to live a more holistic faith where the concerns of the “social gospel” can exist without compromising the message of the gospel. Third, there will be more discussions inside specific movements within evangelicalism that many may never hear about and may not have world impact; instead, they will be more localized. Fourth, evangelicals will continue to debate the differences between syncretism and contextualization. Fifth, the very nature of discerning and determining an actual “context” will continue to develop (on a personal note, I think that it will become more difficult to determine a context based on a geographical area due to the rise in social media and the fact that our world is becoming more of a “global” community). Sixth, more and more missional thinking will think more “localized” than “universal” when dealing with contextual issues. Thus, Moreau believes that there will potentially be many discussions of how “local truth” may threaten “universal concepts of truth.” In other words, is what is true for some true for all and is what is true for all always true for others? Seventh, Moreau believes that Pentecostalism (I’m assuming he means all practicing Continuationists, from Pentecostals to Charismatics to Third Wave advocates), will “see a significant multiplication” of “significant Pentecostal contributions” to the issue of contextualization. To make his point, Moreau states that he believes “this stream should become a flood in the next decade or so.” Lastly, there’s a good possibility that the missional voice from the West may become dominated by the global church and if this happens, there’s a strong indication that the West (i.e., the United States?) may become the future’s next big mission field.
On a personal note, one of the reasons that I really connected with this book was because it is apparent that Moreau and I share a heart for the broader issue of evangelism but specifically have close ties to Africa, more specifically Kenya! It was a delight to learn that he spent time there and many of his questions and ideas reflect that he has first hand experience on the importance of this issue.
This is an excellent book. It would serve as an extremely helpful introduction to the issue of contextualization and would be a good textbook to be used in college or seminary classes on the subject.
*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review*
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.