understanding your contextual environment in terms of proper application


The time has arrived at this point of the semester to write my very first exegetical paper in my hermeneutics class. As I have been going over potential passages to exegete, I feel as though I have made my final decision, 1 Cor. 9.19-23:

“19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

I love studying contextualization and I feel that this passage as written by Paul illustrates his genuis towards evangelism. The matter of importance as pertaining to contextualization is that it is first and foremost an attempt to “understandin” or show empathy toward the environment you find yourself in. Or in other words, I believe it to be a primary and gentle approach to spreading the gospel. I cannot think of worse things than inappropiately overlaying the gospel with a crude or elementary understanding of culture. It spells disaster to overlay your expectations against someone else’s culture or environment. In other words, it is quite arrogant. And I find myself making another observation toward our present situation in America: does anyone get the hing that there is an ethnocentric approach to our understanding of world Christianity. Here a few qoutes I would like to incluse from my Doctrine of God class from our textbook that is pictured above:

“In our contemporary world, theology has the burden of showing its cultural sensitivity. Theology can no longer be the privelidge of one people group. Instead, it must context specific as it addresses God and God’s world in specific situations and in response to varying needs and challenges.” The Doctrine of God, p. 199

“No doctrine of God operates or arises in a vacuum. While talk about “contextual theologies” is a recent phenomenon, Christian theology has always been contextual. What makes talk about contextual theologies relevant today is the extent to which theologians aknowledge theologies to be contextually shaped, if not determined.” Doctrine of God, p. 199

“Theology is conditioned by the social and historical contexts of a particular people.”
Doctrine of God, p. 209

I also believe that we need to expand our understanding of what Christianity looks like around the world. Western-American Christianity is not the truth, Christ is the truth. I would argue that many fundamentalists are afraid of losing their grasp on classical theism that has long been in-grained with Greek-philosophical and metaphysical thinking. Aren’t we to realize that our church fathers, who were the first to “define” God, were operating from a Greek mindset? I highly respect the Open Theists whose primary concern is to save God from Greek philosophy and over-transcendence (case point example: John Piper). I know we have a tendency to slightly deify John Piper, but could it be said that Piper himself is operating out of his own contextual epistemology? Or, lets go futher, postmodernists don’t have the answer either. Thankfully, Paul rescues us from our God-talk in 1 cor. 1. The answer is Jesus Christ, that’s it.

With current demographic and geographic shifts, Western Christianity is soon to be the minority: “As the demographical picture of Christianity shifts from the first world to the third world countries, Christianity is no longer exclusively identified as a western religion. In fact, Christianity is already not only a world religion but a world Christianity. This mean Christianity cannot be understood exclusively from a western perspective. Likewise, theological education must also be a global perspective, for our theology is also a world theology.” The Doctrine of God, p. 241

“If we want to ask visualize a ‘typical’ contemporary Christian, we should think of a woman living in a village in Nigeria or in a Brazilian favela.” Doctrine of God, p. 241

I am the first to welcome a greater understanding of contextualized Christianity. For, if we can take the emphasis off western Christianity being “it,” then our enemies over seas could then perhaps begin to see Christians in their own geographic context, not as the “great Satan.” Is it possible that third world Christianity could save the world, if it chooses not to assimilate with the likes of consumerism and power, which are two distinct traits of American Christianity.

But here’s the problem:”many traditional theologians view most third world theologies, including liberation and indigenous theologies, as subsidiaries of traditional Western theologies. As long as third world theologies continue to attempt to validate their work according to western views of theologies, they will continue to be supplementary to Western theologies.” Doctrine of God, p. 242

In the end, American Christianity is not the definitive answer, only a segment of the collective whole.

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