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Contemporizing and Contextualizing the message of Jesus?

How do we contemporize and contextualize the message of Jesus, in a way that does not dilute or diminish the truth of the Gospel? How do you?


Context of my question:

When Paul took his teams on the mission field to the Greeks and westward into the heart of the Roman empire, his message began to take on distinct concepts that were familiar to them. His letters were written in their "street language". [Koine Greek was the vernacular of the day].


This is the message that we have come to know as "the Gospel", a message written primarily in the language of Gentiles: John wrote of the "musterion" of God (the Mystery of God revealed) and Luke's clinical approach to details and facts that aid the Helenist Greeks to understand what was happening in Hebraic cultured Jerusalem.


Yet, we know from the record that the majority of what Jesus spoke was in Aramaic, the language that the 1st century Jews learned in their home, at their momma's side. It was the "heart language" of the people living in Israel in that day - who only spoke Koine Greek when interacting among the Gentiles. For the Jew of that day, speaking Greek was as offensive to them as speaking Afrikaans had been to many Black South Africans during apartheid. 


So, if God saw fit to make the message available to Jews and to Greeks in their own vernacular, how should we consider that today? Do we make the Gospel understandable to people in their own words and concepts? Or, do we try to force people to hear the Gospel in a language that they neither understand nor appreciate? Do we lock people out of the Kingdom by trying to force the equivalent of making a Roman understand Aramaic, or force a Jew to understand the language of an apartheid-like Greek? 


What is your experience? Please describe your own experience reaching people with a different context or where you have seen it happen in your church. 



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....challenging, wonderful question..  I look forward to following this discussion with interest, and an eagerness to learn.


Blessings, Carla

Hey Scribe,


There are several aspects to this in my opinion.


1)      Bible in the local language: It is important for the translators to understand the language and the cultural environment that they are translating the Word of God into. They need to determine if they are going to be word-for-word or conceptual. Word –for-word is good for the student of God’s Word, but to the person just being introduced to God’s Word often need to understand the concepts or principles of God’s Word in simple form.

2)      Today compared to yesteryear: Language is not static, but ever changing. The meaning of words change over time. Some words are added while others are deleted. It is unrealistic to expect the average person to learn and understand a language that has not been used in several hundred years. Thus, there is a need to update the translation from time to time. This does not mean that all translators or translations have done justice to the Word of God. There are some words that carry deep meaning, but these meanings need to be explained and not simply assume that people understand them (i.e. regeneration, sanctification, justification, atonement, etc)

3)      Missionaries (actually this applies to churches as well): They need to spend time learning the language and the culture. The goal is not to change them into clones of themselves as the western church has tried to do so often. We need to introduce them to Jesus. Acts 15 and the letter that was sent out by the council gives us a clear picture of not putting too much on people. This point skirts the issue between legalism and living in the liberty of the gospel, New Covenant vs. Old Covenant.  This then takes us to the realization that the church is to operate as a hospital helping hurting people. I met a man who was training to be a pastor in Bible College who had been an officer in the Russian military. He brought out an important point. He talked about short-term mission teams that went to Russia and tried to share the gospel. They came with no cultural understanding, weak language skills and offered Jesus, the Son of God to them. He bemoaned that before the people in Russia would be ready to accept Jesus they need to know that there is a God who created the Universe. He stated that you cannot start with Jesus until you establish that there is a God, a standard and that we need forgiveness. In our shifting culture where the gospel has been preached in the past we may soon find ourselves dealing with this very issue of having to reintroduce people to God the Creator before they can see their need for a Savior. We have seen a flood come in through liberalism, pluralism, and certain segments of the scientific community.  We have seen a shift from morality, to immoral to amoral. There are bridges that have been torn down and we need to be bridge builders in order to reach those on the far shore.

4)      Pastors: One of the responsibilities of a pastor is to take the message and find the principles of the Word and apply it to people today. Often pastors get hung up on expressing all the historical info and fail to bring the message in practical terms that apply to the person today. My goal is to speak to the audience in terms they understand. I remember years ago at a Promise Keepers meeting where they brought in a prominent speaker whom you would know if I named him. He was the only person that I ever saw people getting up and walking around and chatting during the message at a PK event in mass. It was not because the message was weak, just the opposite. It was too deep. These newer believer and unbelievers were not ready for what he was presenting and he lost them. Simply put, there was a disconnect. We need to know our audience. Here is another example. I was speaking at a meeting away from our church. I use the term “rabbit trail” a lot when I speak (because I take them :-) I stopped and asked them if they knew what a rabbit trail was, and almost all of them had no idea what I was talking about. One more example. We held a sandlot basketball tournament recently where we shared the gospel to young people at a local park. I shared my testimony and then presented the gospel explaining what God had done in my life in practical terms. Having grown up in the inner city they could relate to where I was coming from even if separated by 3o to 35 years.


I’ll stop here and am not really sure if I addressed your question, but this is what came to mind.


Lord Bless,


LT, wow. you really nailed so much of this topic. I can so relate to the story of your Russian friend... and your experience growing up in an urban culture. I agree that one of the first hurdles we must face in this age is to bring understanding of the plight of the human condition before a Holy God. 


Watching what has happened in some modernist christian movements, I completely understand the need to contemporize. But, I am deeply concerned for the fact that some of those movements will so easily cast aside essential Biblical truth as "out dated" or as relics of a past age that relevance for today. 


Our biggest hurdle today, as I see it, is moral relativism. Many today think "it's okay if you believe in God, that's good for you, but I have my own spiritual framework and my belief is as good as yours." 

I will add one more thing. Music is a great example of this change. The truth of the message can remain the same while the style of music and presentation changes.

You know, it's interesting: I was just thinking of this today. I was listening to one of my favorite 80s Christian Musicians: Russ Taff, who was doing a blue-grass rockabillie version of an old Gospel Hymn. It really moved me. and it's funny because historically, Rockabillie was condemned by many churches in the 50s and 60s.


So, I loved it... But, my kids would tune out immediately. They like modern musicians like Skillet, which I can take for just a few minutes before I tune out. 


I think that in the context of church today, we have to consider this issue and be flexible, yet hold fast to the truth, The Faith that was once and for all times delivered to the Saints. 


So, in light of the original question: is there any style of music or presentation method that would not meet the standard for being "Gospel". 


What is the boundary? Some indigenous tribes like to hammer on drums in endless rhythms with no melody or harmony. Can that be adapted to "Gospel"? Some European folks like to chant in rambling ranting anthems with not rhythm and almost no tune even. Can that become "Gospel"? Martin Luther famously adapted a German pub song's tune for his "Mighty Fortress is our God" Hymn that is still sung today. So, is it wrong for a Native American tribe to "praise God" with their unique style of driving war-drums, howls and hoots? 



Time is liited, thus I will give a brief response. I believe that the primary criteria is the heart. Are they focused on Jesus and truly worshiping? The style is not that important to me (Though I have my prefernce). If lyrics are included, then they need to be honoring to God.


Secondly the actions they are performing must be within God's acceptable range. Example fo things that would not be acceptable are cutting or burning one's body, touching or making motions toward another person in a sensual way. These are just two areas that come to mind.



Lord Bless,


In the middle of the mountain, a far away tribe of villagers, language very hard to comprehend, need an interpreter and they believed in false god. Do we contemporize or contextualize the message of Jesus? We meet a complete stranger who don't believe in any God? We are always speaking in an atheist, do we need to contemporize and contextualize the message of Jesus?

I believed we need different approach for different groups and individual. Styles should vary depending on the needs but we must be very careful not to compromise. Fruit bearing trees started as a seed not a full grown one. We must start in sowing seeds not full grown trees for a better harvest.


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