Missions in Context: a book review

Contextualization has long been a buzzword for Evangelical missiologists. It denotes the process by which the gospel (our timeless, Biblical message) is transmitted to a particular people group in a way which speaks into that culture. Yet when evangelical missionaries talk about ‘contextualizing the gospel, what practices and philosophical approach do they have in mind? In some of the foundational literature on contextualization, it was assumed that evangelicals simply labored at ‘translating the message’ for a culture but did little else. However this does not do justice to the variety of approaches which evangelicals have taken as they share their faith with the world.

Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models by A. Scott Moreau

A. Scott Moreau, professor of Intercultural Studies at Wheaton College has written a comprehensive resource which identifies and analyzes the landscape of evangelical contextualization. As someone who teaches Intercultural Studies at an evangelical institution, Moreau is no dispassionate academic. However the chief value of Contextualization in World Missions, is Moreau’s ability to describe what it is we evangelicals do on the mission field.

Moreau divides his book into two parts. In section one he discusses the foundations of evangelical contextualization. Evangelicals were not the first to use the term and have built on the work of other thinkers/practitioners. In chapter one, Moreau summarizes the work of Stephen Bevans and Robert Schreiter, both of who mapped various approaches to contextualization and evangelical missiologists have built on their work; however evangelical approaches differ from more mainline approaches in that evangelicals are committed to the necessity of conversion, activism, Biblicism and crucicentrism (Bebbington’s characteristics of evangelicals). In chapter two and three, Moreau further explores the constraints on evangelical approaches based on their understanding of revelation and interpretation.  Chapters four through six look closer at the good and bad in contextualization, conceptual frameworks and describe Moreau’s analytic approach.

In section two, Moreau sets about mapping the variety of evangelical contextual approaches. He maps six approaches to contextualization, drawn from his research into what 249 contextual initiators are doing (i.e missions organizations or ministries working on a multinational scale).  From his research, he uncovered six distinct approaches. That of facilitator, guide, herald, pathfinder, prophet and restorer. He closes this section by imagining future trajectories of evangelical mission and the work of contextualization. Additionally he includes several appendices which evaluate other evangelical attempts at mapping contextualization.

If you are looking for a book that provides a comprehensive overview of evangelical understandings of contextualization, this is really the best book. It is accessible and Moreau does a very good job of evaluated various approaches and summarizing the debates.Each chapter begins with a summary and outline and ends with a list of keywords from the chapter and questions for reflection.  This will be a helpful resource for the classroom, or for missions preparations.  Readers who are interested in the philosophical underpinning of various missional approaches will also find this worthwhile. I highly recommend it. I give it five stars. ★★★★★

I received this book from Kregel Academic through the Kregel Academic and Ministry Blog Program.

2 thoughts on “Missions in Context: a book review

  1. Thank you for your review. Can you suggest any other books such that do a great job of describing methods of contextualization?
    Thanks!

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