Monday, March 10, 2008

Contextualization Revisited

A few days ago I linked to this post about contextualization. I stated that it is an exact thought I had but was unable to wrap my mind around.

The word was new to me, and the post made a lot of sense at the time. After reading some of the comments and doing some thinking, I'm not so sure that it is a good thing. If all it says is the we need to relate the Bible to our culture, I would agree. It sounds like it goes beyond that into changing symbols in the Bible to match our current culture. I could be wrong, I am definitely no expert, it is just my layman understanding.

The biggest danger I see is that contextualization is a matter of subjective interpretation. It is done by an individual who may not have a clear understanding of the Bible in the first place. It is almost the same argument that has to do with Bible translations. Do I get a translation that an Essentially Literal translation (such as the ESV) or do I go with a Thought For Thought translation such as the Message? The ESV tries to stay true to the original meaning by translating each word, and the Message tries to stay true to the origninal meaning by rewording a particular thought to make it more readable.

If you want something easy to read, the Message would be a better translation. But it's not close to what was origninally written. If you have 10 people doing a thought for thought Bible translation without colaborating with each other, is there any chance that the finished products will agree? Not a chance.

Here is a good article I found that explains the differences between these two methods of translation.

I've blogged quite a bit recently about the perspicuity of scripture. I have stated that the Bible is clear with respect to the essentials. I believe this to be true, but it is not so crystal clear that it can rewritten and changed to speak to a certain culture without losing a lot the original meaning.

Contextualization has the exact same problems. It is an individual interpretation of what someone feels or thinks is the gospel. It will have some elements of truth, but it will be watered down at best.


  1. Eddie said...
    I'd strongly recommend that you take a look at if you are interested in the subject of Bible translation.

    No, I'm not one of the writers there.
    Brett said...
    Nice link. I briefly read the first few posts. I will read and examine it more later, but it seems very impressive and easy to understand.
    Seth McBee said...

    Not sure what you meant when you said, It sounds like it goes beyond that into changing symbols in the Bible to match our current culture.

    If you mean that if someone uses the word twinkie for the word sin then we should just change the word to relate to culture...then you missed the point.

    The point of contextualization is to know your audience. It is to teach them about sin, by still using the term sin, but explaining it to them in a way that they will understand.

    I am not going to talk to a tribal man in Africa and tell him that it is a sin to have his child walk around nude, that would be a bad example for him because of the context he lives in. Things change if we are in America.

    Again...if you notice in my post I show that Paul and Peter are preaching the same exact thing, namely, the death resurrection of Christ. But, the way that they go explaining it is totally different because Paul is amongst pagans and Peter is amongst Jews.

    They knew their audience, they didn't ignore their audience.

    Walk up to someone on the street and tell them that Jesus is the Great Shepherd and see what they say.

    Now...say the same thing and explain it in a context they understand and now you have a gospel presentation.

    It is knowing whether you are talking to the "woman at the well" or the "rich young ruler."

    Good biblical contextualization does this, bad biblical contextualization uses the word twinkie for sin and calls it good...

    Hope this helps.
    Seth McBee said...
    I just noticed that you live in Shawnee, OK. I lived in Oklahoma until I was 12. Both my parents went to OBU...


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