The danger of contextualizing the gospel (presenting the good news of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and the forgiveness of sins through faith in Him alone, in our present culture) is losing the essentials of the gospel in order to communicate the gospel. The struggle is with how much to contextualize the text for the culture, and how much we should expect the culture to understand the text in its original context. There is a difficult balance indeed for God the Holy Spirit is involved in the process taking ignorant sinners and giving them understanding; however, the missionary does not want to make this process more difficult. After all, God the Holy Spirit takes the word of God and births new lives in Christ, but if the gospel is lost in the contextualization process, how will God the Holy Spirit birth new lives without the gospel? Based on the textual evidence, the answer is that He will not (God can, of course save anyone at anytime, but you and I have a responsibility to present the gospel accurately). My goal in evangelism and missions, therefore is to understand the culture I am seeking so that I may detail the gospel where they can understand it. However, I will not change the Israelite, Jewish, or Middle Eastern context in the name of contextualization. Just because my hearers may have no concept of sacrificing a lamb does not mean I will change the Scriptures in the name of contextualizing the gospel by detailing the sacrificing of a pig instead. This is difficult, but pragmatism does not trump a clear understanding of the Scriptures, and the hearers may have to be taught exhaustively about Jewish culture in order to fully understand the gospel. I will go the long route before the short one any day, for genuine salvations are always better than quick prayers prayed without understanding. In other words, Contextualize the gospel, but don’t lose the gospel in the name of contextualization.
For more information on the above points and distinctions, see David Hesselgrave’s book Paradigms in Conflict.
What are your thoughts?