Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Contextualization Page 1 of 3

Stott on The Christian Life: a book review

John Stott’s messages at the Urbana Mission Conferences greatly influenced a number of missionaries of my generation. So, when Stott on the Christian Life: Between Two Worlds by Tim Chester came out this past summer, I decided to review the book. It is #16 in the Crossway’s series, Theologians on the Christian Life. See my post a few years ago on this series, and why it is a valuable resource. Why should missionaries read this particular book? I will focus on some key themes that make this book (and John Stott’s writings) an important read for missionaries.

Shaped evangelicalism

Throughout the book, Chester emphasizes how Stott’s life and ministry has shaped evangelicalism. The author writes in the Introduction:

. . . the more I have explored his theology in its historical context, the more I have realized that it has been Stott, perhaps more than anyone else, who has influenced the evangelical world I inhabit. So it is not just that Stott reflects evangelicalism; evangelicalism reflects Stott. A contemporary evangelical understanding of the Christian life was not simply something Stott regurgitated; it was also something he significantly shaped. 1Tim Chester, Stott on the Christian Life, Crossway Books, 2020, p 12.

Shaped the Lausanne Covenant

keep culture in perspective

Follow-up: Keep Culture in Perspective

Culture is high on the list of mission topics. For example, many colleges and seminaries have renamed their “Mission” departments as “Inter-cultural” departments or something similar. Certainly, cultural studies are essential for anyone proclaiming the gospel to people from other people groups. But we must keep culture in perspective. In 1 Corinthians Paul provides a perspective that both confronts and adapts to culture. Culture does not form the content of the gospel yet it is the context in which the gospel is proclaimed, understood, and lived.

Culture is not the source of saving knowledge of God

First of all, Paul announces that the wisdom of the world, which is part of culture, does not bring us a saving knowledge of God (1 Cor. 1:18-21). Knowing God depends on God’s revelation (1 Cor. 2:10-13), not on human wisdom. However, the wisdom of this world clearly impressed the Corinthian believers. So Paul makes it clear that the message of the cross eliminates any human boasting in God’s presence (1 Cor. 26-31). God’s wisdom, the message of the cross, has been revealed by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10). Ciampa and Rosner comment on the source of God’s wisdom:

In 2:8-12 Paul discusses the revelation of the wisdom that came to the apostles and prophets through the Holy Spirit. Negatively, it was not known (perceived or grasped) by the rulers of this age (2:8-9). Positively, it was revealed by God through the Spirit to the apostles and prophets who received the Spirit of God (2:10-12). 1Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 127.

In the New Testament, we have what the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles. Culture does not provide the content of the gospel. Scripture does.

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to train indigenous workers?

Why do we raise thousands of dollars of monthly support, move ourselves and our families to foreign cities, learn their languages and cultures, and seek to plant churches or establishing disciple-making movements within those cultures?

Because Christ tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. Matt 28:19-20.

But the response we often get from those who have thought about the human and financial resources being expended in this effort:

Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more effective to train and support indigenous believers to reach their own people?

How should you and I respond to this pushback?

Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities – a review

In the last number of years, many books have been published about how to engage and do evangelism among Muslim peoples. But few books address the specifics of how to help new believers from Muslim contexts grow in their faith while remaining in their Muslim communities and families. Given that some claim that up to 90% of converts from Muslim backgrounds reconvert back to Islam, discipleship and support of these converts is clearly a critical need in mission work among Muslim peoples.

A few months ago, in this blog, I posted a review of Evelyn and Richard Hibberts’ “Walking Together on the Jesus Road: Intercultural Discipling.” Now, I would like to highlight another book in this same vein, speaking even more specifically to the challenges of disciple-making among Muslim peoples – Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities: Scripture, History and Seasoned Practices by Don Little. This book is one of those recommended on our SEND U pre-field reading list for those preparing to serve in Islamic contexts.

Why did Jesus prohibit his disciples from going to the least reached?

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. – Matthew 10:5–6

Why did Jesus not send his disciples to Gentiles and Samaritans? The Gentiles were the people who knew the least about the true God. From a missiological standpoint, they were the least reached. The Samaritans knew something of the Law but were not accepted as genuine worshippers of the God of Israel. They were also unreached and proved to be among the most responsive to Jesus’ message. Among them, Jesus saw one of his greatest harvests (John 4:35-42).

Book Review: Contextualizing the Faith

Last month a new book on contextualization was published by Baker Academic. It is by A. Scott Moreau,  and is entitled Contextualizing the Faith: A Holistic Approach. Contextualizing the Faith: A Holistic Approach by [Moreau, A. Scott]Dr. Moreau is associate academic dean and professor of intercultural studies at Wheaton College Graduate School. He takes a ‘dimensional’ approach to contextualization, “an approach that deals with the whole life of the church and yet organized in a way that it could be taken in smaller chunks” (preface, ix). Moreau develops an approach to contextualization that goes beyond the intellectual or theological level.

In chapter 1, he sets the stage by briefly discussing “What is Contextualization?” He does not give a formal definition but the following quote characterizes his understanding:

Worldviews are interpreting your stories

In communicating the gospel message, whether through Bible stories or Discovery Bible Studies, we need to be aware that our hearers will interpret what they hear through their worldviews. In a 1993 issue of the MARC Newsletter, Bryant Myers wrote about what happened after showing the Jesus Film in a Fulani village in Africa:

The white missionary walked back to the village with the women, listening to their animated conversation. Something didn’t make sense. “What was it that so captivated your attention?” He asked.

“The Christian man from the coast who made the magic!” they exclaimed. Confused, he asked, “What magic?”

“We’ve never seen a shaman who had the power to make people get up and move about on a sheet and talk,” they explained.

What message had the village women heard? From the point of view of the missionaries showing the Jesus film, they had heard the good news about Jesus Christ, but most of the women talked about magic and power. The message that they took away was that the West African Christians from the city had a magic more powerful than any they had ever seen.

Bryant Myers, “What Message did they receive?” MARC Newsletter, December 1993, 3.

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