Yeah, this one’s decidedly more scholarly than the usual fare here. And yet, at the heart of it is a very practical question: How does one adapt the gospel to the culture it’s being presented to—and when does it cross the line into compromising the gospel?
There are many different answers out there to that question, and A. Scott Moreau’s goal here is to present a solid overview of them.
A. Scott Moreau. Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models. 432p., $28.99, Kregel Academic.
As Moreau notes, “Contextualization is the ‘mixing point’ of gospel and culture.” How that mixes is where it gets interesting. For example, what does one do with the Hidden Believer movement, where Muslims who accept Christ remain in the culture as declared “Muslim followers of Isa [Jesus]” (or are not even that forthright about their new belief)? Suffice to say, Moreau deals with these and many more questions.
The first section, “Foundations for Evangelical Contextualization” looks at a variety of evangelistic models for mission and interaction with culture, especially the opposing “critical realism” models of Paul Hiebert and Charles Kraft. Again, the questions being wrestled with amount to: When is adapting the gospel to the culture being incarnational, and when is it just syncretistic (and in the case of some theologians: is syncretism a bad thing)?
The latter section, “Mapping Evangelical Models of Contextualization,” devotes individual chapters to each of the different types of “initiators” of missionary contact—facilitator, guide, herald, pathfinder, prophet, and restorer—and ends with speculation about the “future trajectories” of missions and contextualization.
I won’t lie: A lot of this went right over my head. Nonetheless, there’s a decent amount of stories from the field that put some flesh onto some very cerebral concepts. In addition, the review questions at the end of each chapter are surprisingly down to earth, and do a good job of putting these heady ideas into… well, context.
Obviously, this is intended to become a textbook to help missions and seminary students understand the complexity of both the theories of contextualization as well as the deeper heart questions involved in trying to reach people groups with the gospel while still maintaining the gospel’s integrity. And in that, I believe Moreau is ultimately successful.