“None of us ever has a complete understanding of the gospel, but we must have a clear idea of the basics of our message, and we must be clear in our expression of them. If there is a likely misunderstanding, we should address it. We should speak in such a way as to be understood. Contextualization is the big theological word for this.” – Mark Dever in The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, Crossway Books: Wheaton, Illinois, 2007, p. 63. (Emphasis his.)
“Contextualization” is one of those hot-button words these days, and the idea figures greatly in debates over the emergent church conversation. It’s really not as complicated as many think; it’s just common sense. Different people from different cultures and backgrounds view the world differently. We need to communicate the gospel to them in a clear way. This requires a conversation with them, or at least a familiarity with their view of the world.
This idea also has implications for the current debate on N. T. Wright’s idea of justification and evangelism. In comments on another post on this blog, a friend of mine mentioned that N. T. Wright’s basic approach to evangelism would be to read through the gospels and ask a person if they wanted to follow Jesus. This approach could lead to a contextualization issue.
The gospels were written to a particular audience with a particular background. It takes some explaining to relate the gospels’ message to an audience made up of post-modern Americans. I assume N. T. Wright would be guiding a person(s) through the gospels with an idea to filling in the blanks, but I am not sure.
I cannot for the life of me understand what Wright means when he talks about justification, but of course I’m just a country-boy-engineering-major-layman whoe reads allot of books. I think his interpretation of “the righteousness of God” in Romans 10:3 and elsewhere is wrong, but that’s another post. He simply does not help me contextualize the gospel message.
Until someone convinces me otherwise, I will continue to summarize the gospel in an effort to clarify. We have a world to reach, and I plan to do my part.