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Contextualization

Making the message relate

Contextualization means, quite simply, communicating the gospel in understandable terms appropriate to the audience. All Christian communication should be contextualized. A Sunday School teacher using simple language and child-related illustrations, games, and activities, is contextualizing. A pastor sharing a message in a senior citizens’ home, with appropriate sermon illustrations and an understanding of the unique needs of old people, is using contextualization.

A presentation appropriate for a bunch of Australian students might be impossible for an over-60’s group of Texas ladies to understand. A program that worked well for those ladies might leave the Australians falling off their chairs with laughter.

There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ presentation of the gospel. Whoever the target audience, we should contextualize the message for them, as Jesus did. Contextualization does not compromize or water down the gospel message in any way. In fact, this is what non-contextualization does, because it obfuscates the message!

“Appeal to their authorities, speak their language, use their imagery”

This quotation by a missions expert encapsulates appropriate contextualization. If we are to target other cultures and religious groups, it is also vitally important to use an approach which uses their language and engages with their concepts. A Western evangelistic style is unlikely to touch them. There is a big need for more sites to speak to those of other faiths in an appropriate way.

For instance, sites for Muslims should use Muslim/Arabic words e.g. Isa Masih for Jesus Christ, Injil for Gospel, Miriam for Mary, and prophets’ names. In the same way, a site for Jews should refer to Yeshua instead of Jesus, G-d instead of God, and avoid other words which carry Christian ‘baggage’ and indeed a completely different meaning to the hearers than we might intend.

It is important to learn more about other religions and how other cultures receive information best. Many people online are, at least in part, members of oral communication cultures.

However, the concept of contextualization applies equally whomever we are communicating with, not only those of a different culture. All websites should be contextualized to their target readership. We should avoid jargon and not assume that our readers know much already. It is essential that we have appropriate strategies to preach the Gospel, and to understand the interests, needs and worldview of those we are trying to communicate with. This is increasingly important in our post-Christian world.

We can assess the level of appropriate contextualization that any Christian website or other communication medium uses, with the X-Spectrum.

Understanding contextualization

Series of articles from Ed Stetzer:

Other links:

Redemptive analogies

Using appropriate and familiar cultural parallels is a completely biblical approach to evangelism, and an extension of contextualization. The use of bridge strategy evangelistic pages is one application of redemptive analogy.
Read more Firefox iconrelated pages within the Bridge the gap & Using culture menu links
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