Sola Scriptura 16
The controversial subject of “contextualization” and its relationship with Sola Scriptura factors into today’s evangelistic methodology. Does a commitment to the Scriptures preclude a commitment to contextualize when sharing the Gospel?
Contextualization is defined by one encyclopedia as “the process of assigning meaning, either linguistic or as a means of interpreting the environment within which an expression or action is executed. The word continues to be used theologically, mainly in the sense of contextualizing the biblical message as perceived in the missionary mandate Jesus originated in the gospel accounts.”
“However, since the early 1970s, the word's meaning has widened. It is now used by secular, religious and political groups to render their message into different settings by adjusting or accommodating words, phrases or meanings into understandable contexts in respondent cultures.”
Within the missionary mandate of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20) contextualization has been fraught with danger concerning a commitment to Sola Scriptura. “Even where a high doctrine of inspiration is maintained, the biblical categories of sin and grace are often replaced with therapeutic categories such as dysfunction and recovery, or the ‘is’ of statistical averages defining the ‘ought’ of ecclesial health” (Here We Stand 104).
In an effort to be relevant, “contextualization” often becomes an excuse for compromise, realized or not, and this is due not only to a lack of serious theological reflection, but also to the numbing effects of modernity. Beyond pop psychology, marketing and sociological factors are often allowed to define mission, message, and ministry of the church and individual believers. The spiritual entrepreneur is the hero; the biblical prophet, the villain. Those who interrupt the band with questions are regulated to the fringes, while the most exotic brand of enthusiasm are accorded a place in the mainstream of the movement. Why? Americans need only one reason: It works. (Here We Stand 104).
Dr. John Piper expresses his concerns with the concept of contextualization and communicating the Gospel. In responding to a question about North America being a mission field and the issue of contextualizing the Gospel in order to win a hearing he writes:
The concern I have is that I believe the seeker-sensitive way of doing contextualization is having a trickledown effect into missiological contextualization in a very harmful way. And I think it is partly influenced by fear – fear of not succeeding – so that you go to an Islamic people, and they will not use the term ”Son of God” and want to be called Muslim, then you just adjust. You say “Okay, we won’t call Jesus ‘Son of God,’ and we’ll call you a Muslim follower of Jesus.” And if they want to read the Koran, you say, “Okay, you read the Koran. That’s a good, holy book, but be sure you read the Bible also.” That sounds so chic and American. And so foreign missions can be undermined both ways: (1) just forget that they’re there, or (2) go with a compromised message or a view of contextualization that is driven by fear, because you could get yourself poisoned (Here We Stand 161).