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“Contextualization” Dr. M. David Sills. “Contextualization” SIM Position Paper. Understanding Contextualization: Includes ideas inherent in words like indigenization or enculturation Indigenization asks, “ Who owns the program ?” Enculturation asks, “ Does it fit in the culture ?”

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“Contextualization” Dr. M. David Sills

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Contextualization dr m david sills

“Contextualization”

Dr. M. David Sills


Contextualization dr m david sills

“Contextualization”

SIM Position Paper

  • Understanding Contextualization:

    • Includes ideas inherent in words like indigenization or enculturation

      • Indigenization asks, “Who owns the program?”

      • Enculturation asks, “Does it fit in the culture?”

    • Contextualization combines those two thoughts and asks, “How do you transfer what God has said through ‘holy men of old’ who lived in an ancient cultural context, into the language of people who live in a very different one, through the medium of translators who live in yet another context– today’s space age?”


Contextualization dr m david sills

“Contextualization”

SIM Position Paper

  • Defining Contextualization:

  • “Meaningful and appropriate cross-cultural transmission of Biblical truth which is faithful to its original intent and sensitive to culture.”

  • Presuppositions behind this concept of contextualization:

    • Biblical truth is absolute and defines the essence of the gospel and the church. These truths cannot be compromised in any way.

    • There are, however, various legitimate ways in which these same truths can be expressed and applied in different cultures. These expressions and applications must be consistent with principles of Biblical interpretation.


Contextualization dr m david sills

“Contextualization”

SIM Position Paper

  • Presuppositions behind this concept of contextualization:

    • As every culture contextualizes the gospel and church, missionaries come to new cultures already biased towards their own home culture. To transmit this would be theological imperialism. It leads to confusion of the gospel and the planting of a foreign church.

    • A contextualized gospel and church which are faithful to Scripture and sensitive to culture must be worked out for each culture being entered. This insures that the issues which must be decided for someone to be converted are the core issues. It allows flexibility in forms of expression which are meaningful to the new church within its culture.


Contextualization dr m david sills

“Contextualization”

SIM Position Paper

  • Presuppositions behind this concept of contextualization:

    • A contextualized church will be better able to maintain its unity, sustain its purity, and witness to its own community. Having experienced the process of contextualization, it will be better equipped to transmit Biblical truth to other cultures. It may result in increased receptivity. If the process is not followed, artificial barriers may be erected and the converse of all the above may result.

  • Areas of Application:

    • Dress, behavior, and lifestyle of the missionary

    • Types of development projects, which if inappropriate, might be interpreted as ‘inducements’ by the non-Christian community


Contextualization dr m david sills

“Contextualization”

SIM Position Paper

  • Areas of Application:

    • Language, including the Scripture translation, used in evangelism and worship

    • Thought patterns and communication style as found in the new culture

    • Initial selection, sequence, and emphasis of certain aspects of the gospel relevant to any culture

    • Worship posture and expression in prayer, music or formal discourse, allowing for various forms. We need to be careful, however, that we do not overlook the delicate relationship between form and meaning.


Contextualization dr m david sills

“Contextualization”

SIM Position Paper

  • Areas of Application:

    • Discipling and training methods, keeping in mind the past experiences and future needs of new converts

    • Church organization and government, allowing various forms

  • The process of contextualization should be perpetuated not only by example but through teaching as a discipline among missionaries and church leaders


Contextualization dr m david sills

“Contextualization”

SIM Position Paper

  • Problems with Contextualization:

    • In the rush to contextualize some may attempt to lessen the demands of the gospel or sacrifice Biblical truth to make the gospel or church more acceptable. This may lead to syncretism.

    • Missionaries may not always understand the meaning behind forms which they either allow or disallow in the church. Accordingly, the best ones to decide what is appropriate are well-taught believers who can speak for their own culture

    • Some theologians, arguing that the method of interpretation used by evangelicals is often dictated by their cultural mind set, produce new theologies based on different hermeneutical systems- all in the name of contextualization.


Contextualization dr m david sills

“Contextualization”

International Bulletin of

Missionary Research

Translating Challenges:

“The translation and dubbing must be as close to perfect as possible, which means that we must redub portions of the film. For example, in the initial film edition of Zhuang, a language group in China, our translation of “angels” was actually “fairies.” We fixed the problem. In Kinyarwanda (Rwanda), Mary asked, “Am I a virgin?” instead of stating, “I am a virgin.” We changed it. In Illocano (Philippines), when the translators needed a word for “prostitute” they used a term comparable to “hooker.” Although it was good contemporary Illocano, it offended local pastors, and they refused to show the film. We changed the word.”


Contextualization dr m david sills

“Contextualization”

International Bulletin of

Missionary Research

Translating Challenges Continued:

“Missionaries and local churches sometimes fight to retain ‘Christian’ words, which may lessen the impact of the film with nonbelievers. One disputed word is the name for Jesus, which in Muslim countries has been translated either ‘Yesu (often favored by Christians) or ‘Isa’ (the Arabic usage). We continually push for ‘Isa’ because we are trying to reach Muslims. Some Christians have refused to show the film with this translation.

Finally, wrong voices or accents are sometimes selected. In many cultures around the world, Jesus is expected to have the accent of the highest caste or class. If a voice with a low-class accent is used, the viewing audience is limited.


Contextualization dr m david sills

“Contextualization”

International Bulletin of

Missionary Research

Translating Challenges Continued:

“Sometimes we have faced the problem of communicating to warring tribes that speak the same language but with slightly different accents. Which tribal voice do you choose for Jesus?

Over the past twenty-one years the Jesus Film Project has spent more than $2 million to correct translation and dubbing errors and problems.”


Perceptions of time

Perceptions of time

  • “African theologian John Mbiti, insists that the Swahili words for time, sasa and zamani, cannot be pressed into the Western temporal categories of past, present, and future. Sasa time, in which people currently participate, embraces the recent past, the present and immediate future. Yet, for many Africans, time is not pictured as a movement forward into an eternal future, as in the Westl instead, events move backwards and sasa disappears into an ever increasing past (zamani).” Dean Flemming, Contextualization in the New Testament


Cultural words

Cultural Words

  • “Every statement of the gospel in words is conditioned by the culture of which those words are a part, and every style of life that claims to embody the truth of the gospel is a culturally conditioned style of life. There can never be a culture-free gospel.”

    Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to Greeks: The Gospel and Western culture, 1986, p.4


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