5. Pentecost triggers the redemption of language.
In Acts 2, we witness the great redemption of speech. The effects of Babylon are unraveled: what was scattered speech at Babel became unified speech in Acts. The Pentecost event signals that the Kingdom of God is advancing on enemy territory and the Gentiles will now be invited into the people of God. The final revelation of God, His highest form of communication has come in Jesus Christ. Thus, Pentecost triggers the Great Commission.
Although multiple languages still exist, there is only one gospel, only one mediator between God and man. Jesus final command to his disciples was for them to be witnesses to all nations, which inevitably includes those who don’t speak the same language. This brings up the interesting point…
4. To be faithful witnesses of Christ, we must learn other languages to communicate Christ to them.
The gospel was never intended to be limited to a singular culture or expression, as it was in Israel. One gospel, which is housed in multiple cultures and multiple languages. Thus,we can have Chinese Christians, Argentine Christians, Iraqi Christians, etc.
3. Language is clothed in its host culture.
No language is comprised of only its words. Expressions of the gospel, which are totally biblical and appropriate, will contain cultural information as well. For example, American Christianity bears the cultural baggage of Western individualism, and that’s not a bad thing. Which leads to this:
2. There is no culturally neutral expression of the Gospel.
This is a very important concept to grasp. Jesus became a man, who lived at a certain time and a certain place, spoke a particular language and lived in a particular culture, is himself a contextualized expression of God. The very fact that God speaks to us and has given us language reveals that he wishes to condescend to human beings to communicate to us in ways that we can understand.
In many circles, the idea that we need to contextualize the gospel is anathema. This is because it is viewed as somehow modifying the gospel. Proper contextualization does not change the gospel content, but does seek to communicate it clearly. I realize that this is an uncomfortable notion, because there is so much going on, in the spirit of contextualization, that does harm the message. But that does not mean that we shouldn’t strive for clarity of speech when possible.
Every believer believes a particular cultural expression of Christianity. To think one has transcended their own culture to believe in the “true” gospel is naive, since the very fact that a person speaks a particular language already means that the gospel has already been contextualized to be understandable to him.
1. Contextualization of the gospel message is necessary and biblical.
All of that to say this: contextualization is not only inevitable, it is biblical and desirable. The question is not “do we contextualize the gospel?”, but rather, “do we do it well?”
Ok, enough of my thoughts. What do you think?