Tag Archive: Contextualization


I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago to come across an online journal called Christ and Cascadia, which “explores the cultural challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities for Christianity in Cascadia. The journal is committed to cultivating thoughtful conversations that are contextually aware, theologically rich, and culturally creative”. It is the online journal of the Fuller Institute of Theology and Northwest Culture, who also hosts conferences and creates courses designed to raise the dialogue for engaging with these communities.

Proposed flag for Cascadia

Proposed flag for Cascadia

“Cascadia” is the name of the bioregion shared by Oregon and Washington (sometimes Northern California, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana), USA and British Columbia, Canada. At times a political movement, the name has come to refer more generally to the culture of the peoples that live in the Pacific Northwest of North America. You can read more about that culture here- Cascadian Culture: Grasping a Slippery Salmon.

As an example, the blog titled “God and the Seattle Seahawks” uses distinctive facets of a professional American Football team to illustrate Cascadian culture. Continue reading

preaching_webDJ Chuang was asked recently about how best to access Asian American influenced preaching available in podcasts. His page links to a “list of Asian American pastors that regularly preach and teach at their churches and particularly contextualize the Gospel for all peoples, those who are bicultural, interracial, and multiethnic (in contrast to some who may speak from a generic Gospel perspective, not that there’s anything wrong with that… //…to be listed, there needs to be podcast feeds that can be subscribed in iTunes and Android, as well as contextualizing Gospel to cultures.”

LINK: Leading voices among Asian American preachers

I have followed DJ Chuang online and admired his gift for networking, especially among multicultural strands of the North American church. I encourage you to click through and listen to some of those podcasts (I only know one of of the pastors personally, but I am acquainted with several and have grown personally through my interaction with their writing and speaking.)

For more from DJ Chuang about the North American church and Asian American influences, find his website here.

Dream of a Female Worker

Dream of a Female Worker

How do you find the hope for freedom after centuries of oppression from four different world powers? What spark is there to transform the pain that you feel within and the emptiness of the world around you? Minjung theology is borne out of these questions and finds a response in a unique understanding of Christ and how to follow him faithfully.

Minjung (민중) is a word derived from the Korean pronunciation of two Chinese characters: “min” (the people) and “jung” (the masses). The combination of the two creates an image of the majority of people, the poor, the oppressed. The term originated as a descriptor in contrast to the Yangban, or ruling elite class.

Although it is similar in some respects to liberation theological movements, it is an oversimplification of the Korean context to lump in with Latin American, African, or other movements. There is less of an emphasis upon economic injustice and more attention to institutional oppression from colonial and hierarchical structures. These forms of injustice are partly due to geography, as the Korean peninsula is situated between China and Japan, and also (much more recently) politically between the former Soviet Union and the United States.

Minjung theology derives from the experience of the minjung– the people who are exploited by the elite. Initially conceived as an interpretive source by leaders of the Urban Industrial Mission who volunteered for labor camps in the early 1960s, the term has taken on added significance in successive generations. A similarity to the minjung can be found in the gospels’ use of the term ὄχλος (ochlos) to refer to the crowds (of commoners, outcasts) following Jesus.

There are two distinct features of minjung theology: 한 (han) and 단 (dan).
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How do we incorporate the cultural expectations of our particular locations in our own theological development? What elements inform our community’s imagination and supply meaning to its spiritual vocabulary? How can we communicate effectively who Christ is and the significance of the gospel?

In 1927, Po Ch’en Kuang viewed the Chinese religious classics Analects, Mencius, and the Book of Songs and Rites as comparable to the prophets, Psalms, and Deuteronomy of the Hebrew Scriptures that were included in the canon by non-Hebrew Christian groups. As Kwok Pui Lan summarized his argument, “since the Bible contains the important classics of the Jewish people which preceded Jesus, he could see no reason why the Chinese would not include their own” (“Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World.” Voices from the Margins. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed.  1991, 302).

Some Christian communities in India exemplify this approach through the incorporation of Vedic Hindu Scriptures. The Vedas and Hindu traditions define the lexicon of the spirituality and so to access this subsystem of the culture requires fluency in the associated terms and grammar. Thangaraj describes the possibility of viewing the Hindu scriptures as a type of “Old Testament for Indian Christians” and the need to “…read the Hindu Scriptures in the light of Christ, just as the early Jewish disciples of Jesus had done with the Hebrew Scriptures” (“The Bible as Veda: Biblical Hermeneutics in Tamil Christianity.” Vernacular Hermeneutics. R.S. Sugirtharajah, ed. 1999, 136). This perspective takes seriously the extent to which the Hinduism and the Vedic scriptures have shaped the culture and religious expectation in India. One must mine the cultural influence of the Hindu Scripture to present an image of Christ that is recognizable and incorporated into the lives of the community.

Which of these is closest to the image of Christ?

Within these convergent communities, local theologians utilize the existing thought forms and archetypes to mold their unique Christologies. As a North American example, Gabe Lyons, in his book The Next Christians (2010), labels some communities of North American Christians restorers, in clear differentiation from a former buzzword, relevant. A defining characteristic of these communities is a countercultural relationship with the majority culture. The term “countercultural” is not void of meaning to this community, however, as they possess preconceived images that define it. To view Christ as countercultural places him in a category of other iconoclasts and may conjure images of Che Guevara, Malcolm X, or Bob Dylan. Elements of the lives of each of these men find greater definition when applied to Christ, such as commitment to societal change, redefining oneself in relation to one’s commitment to faith, or using poetic language to convey a message of hope and love. A more contemporary example of the countercultural iconoclast is the street artist Banksy, an anonymous activist known to beautify public places in an attempt to bring attention to injustices or awaken people to a life of deeper significance.  The theologizing of the restorers follows the pre-existing pattern to determine the type of countercultural figure Jesus is and the manner in which the community can align their lives after his in discipleship.  For this community to comprehend Christ, they begin with the images with which they are familiar and then seek the direction of scripture to add greater definition.

What elements exist within your community that form its “lexicon of spirituality”? How can these  be used and re-interpreted to convey the gospel?

This essay was excerpted from “Form, Re-Form: Religious and Cultural Identity in the Formation of Christian Theology” , by Michael Shepherd. The full material can be found here and is open for dialogue and review.

I have always liked this song for its simplicity. The band (mewithoutYou) is one whose use of imagery and lyricism  is pregnant with meaning and the connection toward the spiritual.

There is much hand wringing in the western church over the growing margins of people who consider themselves “spiritual” but not “religious” or specifically “Christian”. This song speaks to this strata of people looking for spiritual significance in a world that is increasingly distant.

The song makes no explicit mention of Christ or salvation, yet a cursory glance at the lyrics makes several theological declarations. Continue reading

I spend a lot of time thinking about how the Western church can benefit from the exploration, examination, and integration of non-Western perspectives. A recent voice I have appreciated is Christina Cleveland (@CSCleve), a social psychologist, professor, writer, preacher, and consultant on multicultural issues affecting churches and organizations.

Her post, Our Culture of Fear (of Different Cultures), takes a psychological look at a group’s tendency to avoid those who are perceived as different. These same elements affect interacting with non-Western theologies because of the unspoken assumptions of Western superiority. If the people of the Global South are viewed as having a deficient or derivative perspective, it is a matter of priority to preserve the “purity” of a Western interpretation.

“I sometimes wonder if the animosity some express toward [those who offer a different perspective] is motivated by the fear that the case [for the opposing perspective] might turn out to be more compelling than they can handle.” (Greg Boyd)  We’re afraid that they might influence us. As a result, our cross-cultural interactions are not characterized by humility, openness, interdependence and hopeful invitation.  Rather, they are characterized by fear, retreat into cognitive closure and accusations. Our orientation and motivation is one of fear and retreat. Within our culture of fear, our words and behavior are motivated by a desire to avoid being like a certain group, rather than a desire to be like Jesus. (Click to Tweet) Continue reading

On her blog, Rachel Held Evans has had a fascinating series called “Ask A…” in which her followers supply the questions they would like to have answered by an “expert”. Ask a Feminist, Egalitarian, Messianic Jew, Funeral Director, etc…

This week, the perspective is of an “indigenous theologian”, synonymously called Native American or First-Nation.

Dr. Randy Woodley, a teacher, a writer, a missiologist, an activist, a poet, an historian, a former pastor, a Cherokee, a Christian, and a missionary.

A legal descendent of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, Randy has been active in service among America’s indigenous communities since 1984. Randy and his wife Edith (E. Shoshone/Choctaw) lead a local Native American gathering at their home in Newberg, Oregon under the auspices of Eagle’s Wings Ministry.

From Travis: How has your ethnic heritage shaped the way you see the Gospel?

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In a prayer offered by an Ojibway elder, themes of brokenness, restoration, and balance with all of creation are present. From a North American First-Nations/Native American perspective, we can begin to see these themes in a new light within our own communities.

Grandfather,
Look at our brokenness.
We Know that in all creation
Only the human family
Has strayed from the Sacred Way.

Continue reading

African Theology Countdown

A new format we’re trying here on the blog is the Global Theology Countdown, where we will break down a large topic into more easily accessible parts, linking to other sites for those who would want to go deeper.

  • 4 Keys to Understanding
  • 3 People to Know
  • 2 Blogs Worth Reading
  • 1 Book to Read Immediately

This post covers Contemporary African Christianity and we welcome contributors to share on a different context or more information regarding Christianity in Africa. Enjoy! Continue reading

For generations, the stereotypical missionary method has been to train non-Western Christians to “think Western” in order to read, interpret, and apply scripture. This technique has been criticized, however, and there is a growing consensus that the most effective communication of the gospel message is one that is interpreted within the particular context of the local church. If this is the most beneficial practice, then the question must be asked, why should a Western church need to be concerned with culturally different forms of interpretation?

This article will examine briefly the value that these perspectives can have for a local church in a Western cultural context. Continue reading

     “Numerical expansion in Chinese Christianity in the last couple of decades has occurred at an unprecedented rate. A rate which continues to surprise and alarm some of those observing it. It’s surprising partly because of the ambiguous history of Christianity in China, a history marked both by a high level of cultural and political engagement by the Jesuits in the 17th century, and by a very unashamed alliance with foreign interference and colonial power in the 19th century. In spite of that, China is moving towards having the largest Christian population in the world. A safe guess would be 50-80 million Protestants in China today.”*
     Contemporary China is experiencing a big revival of Christianity, despite strict governmental controls on religions. At its current pace of rapid growth, China could have the world’s largest population of Christians Continue reading

Guidance and Light

This shows an Islamic starburst tile pattern (which traditionally symbolizes the spread of Islam throughout the universe), a lighted lamp and the first half of a verse (5:46) from the Qur’an which states:

Sample Images from "Guidance and Light" by Scott Rayl

“And We (God) sent, following in their footsteps Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which was before him in the Torah, and gave him the Gospel, in which there is guidance and light…” Continue reading

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