In the Doctor of Ministry course I’m helping with this week at Golden Gate Seminary in San Fransisco, we used the book Contextualization in the New Testament by Dean Flemming as a text and springboard into some interesting conversations.
The Apostle Paul seemed to use different methods in the different places he would travel even as his message remained the same.
We wondered whether Paul was always successful in translating the message of Jesus into different cultures. For example, Paul’s message seemed to be received well in places like Athens and especially Berea, but he was almost killed in Thessalonica. Was he almost killed because he didn’t proclaim the message in a culturally sensitive way or was their enraged response a result of their rejection of Paul’s message? We also wondered that had Paul had a longer-term approach, would he have moved to the message of Hope in Jesus as soon as he did in Thessalonica?
Some ideas we considered:
If Paul made mistakes in terms of contextualization (and we know he made mistakes in his personal life otherwise he wouldn’t refer to himself as the “chief of all sinners”), God was able to use his mistakes in such positive ways that it looks like a good idea all along. For example, had Paul seemed to make a big mistake by petitioning his case to Caesar. Had he not done so, he would have been released from prison and eventually he made it to Spain. However, it was while he was in prison that he wrote so many of his letters to the churches which are now part of the New Testament.
If we are rejected, we want to be rejected because of the message rather than because of our methods or cultural insensitivity. We all know people who were “persecuted” because of their obvious lack of relational intelligence (and sometimes we have fallen into that trap), but we want to make sure we don’t create any barriers between us and the message of God.
Do you have any examples of when someone was rejected due to their behaviors or methods rather than a result of their message?
How can we become more culturally relevant in serving, loving, and influencing where we live?
This was a terrific discussion. Really opened my eyes to larger possibilities. Thanks for sharing with us! I think we were all blessed richly!
Cultural sensitivity is difficult. Sometimes the thing we need to remember is to listen and watch first, not just jump straight in. Even Paul knew the value of wandering around the area and looking at what influenced the locals.