My final reflections on the 10 communication myths (part II)

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?

  1. Not meaning to be crass, but what is Jesus, the Son of Man, the ‘contextualized expression of God’, wearing while sitting at the right hand of God (if anything)? Various cultures are expressed in more than language, such as clothing, interaction, foods, style of worship. (I’m trying to think of these things as non-sin items….rice vs. potatoes, ballcap vs. babushka, things that don’t directly involve sin, generally speaking.)
    God has created all of these in His vast display of variety – I look forward to joining all nations, peoples, and tongues before the throne and, hey, wearing white robes?! (Rev 7:9). I may have just answered my Jesus clothing question!

  2. That’s a great point, Tom. It got me thinking… In Revelation 6 and 14, Jesus is pictured as wearing a crown. Does Jesus need to wear a crown to have authority and power? No, of course not. But God contextualizes his authority by adapting a symbol that is meaningful to human beings, the wearing of a crown, to demonstrate that he has authority. He furthers this symbol by the casting of the crowns of the saints at his feet, meaning he has all authority.

  3. I like to picture Jesus with big golden wings and a skeleton t-shirt singing lead for Lynnrd Skynnrd.

    But I digress…

    I’ve always wondered how the descriptions of Christ in Revelation will match up with reality. Were John’s descriptions dead on accurate or merely symbolic due to his limited understanding of what he was seeing. I think it will be awesome to find out.

    Back to the point at hand…

    Perhaps Christ will be viewed differently by each person that sees Him? Just as everyone can receive specific messages from God that are unique only to them, perhaps somehow Christ will be viewed by each person uniquely, kind of like the last episode of St. Elsewhere where Howie Mandel’s character is killed and goes to Heaven and Christ looks just like himself. Or perhaps we’ll get the authentic this-is-exactly-what-he-looked-like-on-earth version. At the end of the day, it matters little, in my opinion.

    I think we have to contextualize the Bible. We don’t live 2,000 or 4,000 years ago, and our culture is certainly different than the one in which Christ lived. So we have to contextualize it and realize that it’s truths and lessons still directly apply to our current day and culture.

  4. Brandon: You have made some interesting comments here. And I love how you can turn any pop cultural reference into a spiritual insight. I’ve always seen Christ typology in Fraggle Rock. But anyways…. 🙂

    I don’t think I would go so far as to say that each person will see Christ differently, because Jesus is who he is and all will behold him in that way. Christ is unchanging and so is his word.

    But contextualization is important because every culture will necessarily have its own cultural barriers to the gospel. I doubt Jesus will look like Howie Mandel (did you know Howie was OCD? Just a side note…). But the point is not so much that God changes himself, but in how he chooses to communicate who he is to us. Let’s say one were a missionary to a tribal village that has no concept of a “king.” Would it be appropriate, in that situation, to refer to Jesus as the “chief of chiefs?” I think so, because that is the best way to communicate the authority of Christ. Using their own cultural language and expectation of authority and showing how Christ is Lord over all authorities.

    Many complain about contextualization because it sounds scary. It sounds like we’re selling out the gospel. But I believe that the Bible demonstrates time and again how Christ is Lord over every culture, language, and expression. This will necessarily mean entering into a culture, and expressing Christ within its own language and culture, and showing how he is superior.

    Tim Keller says that in some cases we will adapt the culture as we enter it, and other cases we will challenge it and confront it.

Comments are closed.

Up Next:

Reflections on the 10 communication myths (part I)

Reflections on the 10 communication myths (part I)