What can we learn from the World Christian Movement? How is Jesus worshiped in diverse religious and cultural contexts? Are there fresh expressions of faith which can bring new vitality to our stagnant European-American churches? Bryan Bishop thinks so. Having managed research projects for Youth With A Mission (YWAM) for twenty years and a communication and mission instrructor, he has colorful firsthand accounts of what following Jesus looks like in the two-thirds world. In Boundless: What Global Expressions of Faith Teach us About Following Jesus he shares stories, lessons and challenges.
Bishop observes the radical diversity of Jesus followers throughout the world. In chapter two he introduces ‘the C-Scale,’ based on John Travis’s work with Muslim populations (p. 31) The C scale measures the full spectrum of Christian practice ranging from: Traditional Church Using OUtsider Language (C1) to Small Christ-Centered Communities of Secret/Underground Believers (C6). Between these two poles are: Traditional Churches using insider language (C2), Christ-Centered Communities using Insider language and neutral cultural forms (C3), Christ-Centered Communities Using Insider Language and Biblically Permissible Cultural and Religious Forms (c4) and Christ-Centered communities of those who have accepted Jesus but still remain part of their cultures religious context (C5).
While Travis’s research focused solely on Muslim communities, Bishop has observed the entire spectrum of Christ followers among Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Indigenous communities. In part one he profiles Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Native Americans who follow Jesus within their cultural contexts, often having shared language and practices with the wider culture. Part two unfolds lessons that Bishop has learned: fresh ways of telling the biblical story, Christ centered spirituality, a focus on ‘kingdom language’ in interfaith dialogue, trusting the Spirit, speaking gospel in new religious idioms. Part three focuses on how learning to see Jesus outside of our cultural biases reinvigorates the church here.
Bishop is looking at religious practitioners and thus, there is a practical bent to his reflections. He acknowledges the problem of possible syncretism but observes that through the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the groups he saw weren’t developing weird theologies (90). The people and communities that Bishop profiles all hold fast to salvation through Christ alone.
I liked hearing the different stories of Jesus followers in different contexts. This isn’t a repudiation of traditional church and missional models. Instead Bishop opens us up to the diverse ways people are coming to meet Jesus. This is exciting stuff. Four stars.
Note: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my Honest 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.
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. ★★★★★