Intentional Contextualization


A summary of Chapter 7 of Center Church by Timothy Keller

Sound Contextualization 

  • Contextualization is giving people the Bible’s answers to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them.
  • Sound contextualization means translating and adapting the communication and ministry of the gospel to a particular culture without compromising the essence and particulars of the gospel itself.
  • The great missionary task is to express the gospel message to a new culture in a way that avoids making the message unnecessarily alien to that culture, yet without removing or obscuring the scandal and offense of biblical truth.
  • A contextualized gospel is marked by clarity and attractiveness, and yet it still challenges sinners’ self-sufficiency and calls them to repentance. It adapts and connects to the culture, yet at the same time challenges and confronts it.
  • If we fail to adapt to the culture – if we under- or overcontextualize – our ministry will be unfruitful because we have failed to contextualize well.

The Danger of Contextualizing 

  • The call to contextualize the gospel has been – and still often is – used as a cover for religious syncretism.
  • This means not adapting the gospel to a particular culture, but rather surrendering the gospel entirely and morphing Christianity into a different religion by overadapting it to an alien worldview.

The Inevitability of Contextualizing 

  • The fact that we must express universal truth in a particular cultural context does not mean that the truth itself is somehow lost or less universal.
  • There is no one, single way to express the Christian faith that is universal for everyone in all cultures.
  • While there is no culture-transcending way to express the truths of the gospel, there is nonetheless only one true gospel.
  • If you forget that there is no culture-less presentation of the gospel – you will think there is only one true way to communicate it, and you are on your way to a rigid, culturally bound conservatism.
  • If you forget that there is only one true gospel – you may fall into relativism, which will lead to a rudderless liberalism.

The Danger of Not Contextualizing (or Of Thinking You Aren’t) 

  • All gospel ministry and communication are already heavily adapted to a particular culture. So it is important to do contextualization consciously.
  • Lack of cultural awareness leads to distorted Christian living and ministry.
  • Everyone contextualizes – but few think much about how they are doing it.
  • We should not only contextualize but also think about how we do it.
  • We must make our contextualization process visible, and then intentional, to ourselves and to others.



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