A Concern about the Recent Trends in Contextualization Discussions: A Lack or Absence of A Biblical-Theological Emphasis (Part 1 of 5): Introduction

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This article is posted as a 5-part series. You can find the other parts here:

Since the missions to Muslim nations began in church history, many missionaries and missiologists have searched for more effective approaches to lead Muslims to Christ. While a variety of ways are developed over time in field ministries among Muslims, there is an ongoing endeavor to look for newer approaches. This writer has identified five discernible approaches in his study on a historical development of Muslim evangelism: a confrontational approach, a traditional-theological approach, a dialogical approach, a contextual approach, and finally a radically contextualized approach. 1  From a glance of the historical development of Muslim evangelism, one can apparently observe that contextualization has increasingly occupied the central place in ministry approaches to Muslims. In recent years, for example, the most sharply debated issue involves a radical form of contextualization models such the “Insider Movement” and Muslim Idiom Bible translation. As an emphasis on contextualization has increased as a trend, several creative contextualization proposals and claims have aroused concerns and debates among evangelical missiologists and biblical scholars, either because of the lack of biblical and theological analysis or because of unsound biblical interpretations.

Contextualization is not only a biblical mandate but also is necessary for an effective gospel ministry to Muslims. As long as the essence of the gospel remains intact, the Christian witness must take into a careful account of the cultural factors and indigenous worldviews of the recipient people group. The premise is that any attempt in the name of contextualization should neither violate nor change biblical truths by taking the biblical authority to be the guiding rule to encounter local cultural or religious factors. Paul provides a strong warning on this matter in Galatians: no one should “preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached” (Gal 1:8) and that no one should “preach the gospel contrary to the one you received”(Gal 1:9). In other words, a biblical contextualization must secure that both “the gospel the preachers proclaim” and “the gospel the recipients understand” become the same gospel that is taught in the Bible. One must, therefore, recognize that any discussion on contextualization involves biblical and theological contents in its nature and that every contextualization model must, first of all, pass a biblical theological test to confirm its validity. 2

A few decades ago, several evangelical scholars warned against the dangers of mitigating the biblical theological emphasis in contextualization discussions because they has witnessed an increasing influence of social sciences in the missiological discussion of contextualization. Having observed a tendency of a decreasing emphasis on biblical theological perspective, Edward Rommen coined this phenomenon as “de-theologizing of missiology.” 3 In the same line of reasoning, Hesselgrave contended for a healthy connection between missiology and theology through “re-missionizing of theology” and “re-theologizing of missiology.” 4 D. A. Carson, a prominent evangelical biblical scholar, also asserted that any training program for field missionaries had to include legitimate biblical theological teachings out of the same concern. 5 Sadly, however, it seems that their prophetic voices have not drawn attentions of some contemporary missionaries and missiologists who are relentlessly devising innovative contextualization models and approaches. The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate the diminishing emphasis of a biblical theological evaluation in recent discussions of contextualization in the ministries to Muslims. Included in this essay are three approaches: the Insider Movement (IM hereafter) as a radicalized form of contextualization, Muslim-Idiom Bible translation (hereafter MIBT), and new favorable approaches to Islam and the Qur’an.

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Notes:

  1. Wonjoo Hwang, “Historical Development of Muslim Evangelism,” Korean Journal of Frontier Missions 33 (2011): 72-97 (in Korean). The earliest version of this paper was presented in the annual Southwest Regional Meeting of Evangelical Missiological Society, Dallas, TX, 27-28 March, 2009. An English version is available upon request. See also Samuel Schlorff, Missiological Models in Ministry to Muslims (Upper Darby, PA: Middle East Resources, 2006): 3-27.
  2. One of the most comprehensive and congruent studies on an evangelical approach to contextualization is David J. Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen, Contextualization: Meanings, Methods, and Models (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989).
  3. Edward Rommen, “De-Theologizing of Missiology” Trinity World Forum 19 (1993): 1-4.
  4. David Hesselgrave, “Third Millennium Missiology and the Use of Egyptian Gold,” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 42 (1999): 589.
  5. D. A. Carson, “Response to Paul Hiebert’s ‘Sets and Structures: A Study of Church Patterns,’” in New Horizons in World Mission: Evangelicals and the Christian Mission in the 1980s, ed. David J. Hesselgrave (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 231-32.
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About Author

Dr. Timothy Hwang holds a Ph.D. in Missions (on Contextualization) from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is currently serving in an Arabic-speaking country in the Middle East.

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