Learning to Contextualize Accurately and Effectively

Contextualization’s Dynamics: More than Just Relevance

Contextualizing the gospel accurately and effectively utilizes the richness of Scripture’s wisdom to confront and to address the human plight and condition (issues that currently trouble people) with rhetoric (words and persuasion) that is understandable, practical and influential. This principle underscores several vital dynamics.

  • Connection dynamics: accurate contextualization necessitates understanding the wisdom of God within the biblical text. Since all Scripture is useful in many ways, preachers, teachers and leaders must directly connect the particular wisdom of God in a specific text to the human need/plight that the divine wisdom addresses in that passage. Without the direct connection and correlation between divine wisdom to human need, there is no accurate contextualization.
  • Incarnation dynamics: Accurate contextualization utilizes the dynamics exemplified in the Incarnation (the Word became flesh) as the way in which contextualization is meaningfully applied. If the human dilemma (the issues of existence in the world) is not met and confronted with the applied wisdom of God (personified in Christ and scripted in the divine word as a witness), then contextualization loses its relevance and life-changing ability to help the human imagination embrace the realities of God’s truth.
  • Engagement dynamics: Effective contextualization recognizes that people can only respond to what they understand; therefore, language (verbal and non-verbal performed in a “climatized” environment) that engages the mind to the “pulling power” of the gospel’s truth is the ultimate aim of any communicator (preacher, teacher, leader). Skillful contextualization occurs when the presentation’s appeal (the power and reality behind the words) engages magnetically and mystically with the human need-for-answers in an environment suitable (prepared by the Holy Spirit) to effect change.
  • Contact dynamics: Effective contextualization understands that in order for the pulling power of divine truth (within the gospel’s words) to connect magnetically and mystically to the human plight, there must be conceptual reference (cultural) points-of-contact that “connect the dots” within the human mind to the realities within the biblical wisdom. Language that is faithfully accurate (correctly representing as best as possible the divine reality) and contextually appropriate (identifying with the cultural context of the person hearing the divine truth) is essential.

A ministry’s effectiveness to people in general and to a community in particular will largely be dependent upon the way leaders contextualize the wisdom of God from the Scriptures to the issues, questions and contingencies that people face in their daily experience. Contextualization is more than simple relevance. It means taking God’s wisdom and making it connect incarnationally in as many ways as possible under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

1 2 Timothy 3:16