Models of Decontextualization

Eckhard Schnabel, in Paul the Missionary, discusses seven challenges for contemporary missiology based on his reading of Paul– “What Would Paul Do?” LOL 😉 All jokes aside, one of those seven areas is “The Challenge of Culture” (445-51). To give a brief summary, he basically agrees with the principles of Andrew Walls–the “pilgrim principle” and the “indigenizing principle”, I’ll highlight some key words below:

First, Christians can resist cultural change that is necessary on account of the “logic” of the gospel (446).

Second, Christians can insist on cultural adaptation in areas that contradict the truth and logic of the gospel (447).

This lead him into a question about “cultural transformation” and the role of contextualization in the missiological task. Contextualization is usually understood as referring to the process of communicating the gospel, translating the church and the Christian faith, into the genus–the language, custom, ritual, etc–of a receiving culture (one different than that of the cross-cultural worker). Paul Hiebert wrote extensively on contextualization, culture and worldview, among other things. See especially his two posthumously published works Transforming Worldviews and The Gospel in Human Contexts. (See my reflections on various aspects of Hiebert’s works as well.) Usually though, when a missiologist discusses the issues of worldview and contextualiztion, his end goal is providing a model for contextualization and/or establishing a taxonomy for differing views on contextualization (For an excellent work in both regards, see Stephen B. Bevans’ Models of Contextual Theology). Schnabel recognizes this trend but calls for research on a different but intimately related issue–decontextualiztion:

Missiologists often emphasize the need for contextualization, that is, the need to adapt theological context and Christian forms to the traditions and customs of the people group hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not many have emphasized the need for decontextualization, that is, the need to help Christians move away from those traditions and customs of their culture that contradict the truth of the gospel (apart from the standard warnings not to compromise the gospel, caveats which are typical for evangelicals) (449).

Schnabel lists just two examples of authors who take note of this process–he refers once again to Andrew Walls pilgrim principle, and he lists two works by Sherwood Lingenfelter: Transforming Culture and Agents of Transformation. I would also mention the works by Hiebert mentioned above over these, but even with Hiebert, much, much more can and should be said–from a theological perspective! Kevin Vanhoozer is on his way there in The Drama of Doctrine.

However, before running down this trail of who’s said what, I wonder what would be the foundation for decontextualization? What models of decontextualization are there? Do they more or less relate to one’s model of contextualization? Is this by design or by default?

Do you think contextualization and decontextualization are separate categories? Is decontextualization a valid pursuit?

How would you go about doing it?

Do you find any examples of this in Scripture? Is it necessary to do so? Why or why not?

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