The Gospel in Context

2013 SEND Conference

In this 65-minute breakout session from the 2013 SEND North America Conference, Eric Mason presents a biblical theology of contextualization, speaking to its importance in effectively presenting the gospel to our communities. Eric is co-founder and Lead Pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA. He serves on the board of Acts 29 church planting network and is author of Manhood Restored and Beat God to the Punch.

Eric proposed three definitions for contextualization:
  • The dynamic process whereby the constant message of the gospel interacts with specific, relative human situations
  • To attempt to communicate the gospel in word and deed
  • To transmit the gospel faithfully into a particular cultural group in such a way that it says faithfully without compromise what God has conveyed and is clearly understood by the recipient in their language

Describe your ministry context. What makes it unique?
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What obstacles/difficulties does your particular context present?
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Eric spoke about traditionalism as the antithesis of contextualization. In traditionalism, "when people come into the church, we  try to make them like us, versus like Jesus. And we say, 'if they're like us, then they know Jesus.' When really, they're just a cultural caricature of our Phariseeism versus being transformed by the renewing power of the gospel through Jesus Christ."

What "traditions" are you most likely promote at the expense of contextualization? (music style? Bible translation? words/phrases?) How can you keep these "traditions" or preferences in check?
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Contextualization is rooted in the theology of the incarnation. Jesus had a form (he took on flesh), but that did not change his function (as co-eternal member of the Godhead). Christ's model of contextualization is present in how he was able to connect with people.
  • Jesus had contextual connectivity.
    He is authentically Jewish. He did not come in the form of a Gentile that would have been offensive to those he was ministering.
  • Jesus had spiritual connectivity.
    He is a merciful and faithful high priest. Jesus' connection to the Father was the fuel for his ministry.
  • Jesus had empathetic connectivity.
    He suffered and was tempted. He understands our temptation and is able to help.

What does your context find offensive? What can you do to make sure you aren't offending for the wrong reasons?
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Eric said, "I don't care how cool or relevant you are, if you aren't spending time with the God you want to communicate, you are missing it all." How do you make sure that you are operating out of strength derived from time with the Father and not your own abilities?
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How do you establish an empathetic connectivity to the people you are ministering to? What are the hurts and needs of your community where you can minister with compassion?
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At its core, contextualization is about ministering to the people in the place God has called you to. It's about removing unnecessary hinderances to the message of the gospel you are trying to share. Whether you have been ministering in your context for years, or you are preparing to enter a new ministry context, consider how you can better communicate the life-changing news of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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