We must never compromise biblical truth. We must, however, express this truth to widely varying cultures. Contextualization is this bridging process. The missionary seeks to impart the meaning of the Gospel in a meaningful way to a new audience. He leaves behind his cultural biases and even adapts the form of his message to provide better points of commonality between the Gospel and his target audience
While trying to stress the positives of cultural accomodation
- Avoiding the foreign-ness of a Gospel dressed in foreign clothes.
- Communicating the Gospel in clear and meaningful ways.
- Avoiding Western ethnocentrism and monoculturalism.
- Taking cultural differences seriously.
- Affirming the right of every country and society to be free from Western domination),
I have outlined my apprehensions about high-end Muslim contextualization below:
DANGERS OF HIGH-END MUSLIM CONTEXTUALIZATION
In recent years, some missionaries are advocating strategies of Muslim Evangelism which include saying the Shahada, calling Muhammad a Prophet and referring to the Qur’an as the Word of God as well as calling themselves „Muslims“.
Also, they group their ministry „fruit“ into small groups that are cut off from the wider Body of Christ, they delay baptism and are slow to take on the name of Christ for fear of being thrust out of their communities and as a strategy of keeping these new „believers“ in their own communities. I have met missionaries who call themselves Muslims, have said the Shahada and have provided goats for the Idul-Adha sacrifice, all the while claiming to work for Christ yet having no contact with the wider Christian community that live just doors down from them.
Below are several bullet points against these practices of hyper-contextualization:
POINTS TO CONSIDER AGAINST HYPER-CONTEXTUALIZATION
- Paul’s becoming all things to all peoples is not a blank check.
- The missionary can be secretive, if there is real danger, but should not call himself a Muslim to avoid that danger.
- To love Jesus is to love his followers, and seek broader fellowship when possible.
- The level of persecution experienced in the New Testament was, in general, more severe than in the Indonesian context, a key area where C5 strategies were developed.
- In Hebrews, believers are not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. Some C5 believers, in contrast, are encouraged to stay separate from other Christians.
- Christians, even sometimes during heavy persecution, generally “owned” the name of Christ and tried to fellowship with the broader community.
- Jesus says that if we deny Him before men, He will deny us before our Father in heaven.
- Excessive delay or the ignoring of baptism is disobedience.
- C5 proponents err in their argumentation. Most of their arguments for C5 are brilliant defenses of C4 and do not support their C5 claims.
- Saying the Shahada, doing the Sholat, calling Muhammad a Prophet, and referring to the Qur’an as an authority are bridges too far. Western missionaries engaging in such activities err greatly.
- Although using the Qur’an as a bridge might be permissible in some people’s oppinion, remember: bridges are made to be crossed. Get people reading Scriptures a.s.a.p.!
- Some “high end” contextualization strategies are Western driven and often locals don’t agree. Ironically, contextualization is not contextual in many local contexts.
- A perfectly contextualized strategy still does not guarantee converts. There is no Golden Key to evangelism besides preching the clear, undeluded Gospel.
- Some cultures are fed up with Islam. Why try to make Christianity wear Muslim clothes in these contexts?
- If C5 was a mere descriptive phenomenon, more sympathy could be gained as these followers of Jesus untangled themselves from Islam. However, it is being promoted as a strategy and deserves balanced critique rather than mere sympathy.
- If C5 communities ever mature, they must slide down the scale.
- The issue of identity is key. Do C5 communities see themselves as belonging to Jesus? And if so, they will want to follow him even if their communities reject them.
- Despite this critique of C5, we should pray for these Muslims who have partial light.
Defenses of high-end contextualization have taken over evangelical missions. I think it is time for a push-back and a defense of the radical change that the Gospel makes. (www.sovereigngracemissiology)
See also: A Warning to the Flock!