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The Dangers of Over-Contextualization

Contextualization in Missions, Stories from the Field, Thailand Add comments

Buddha StatuesWhen it comes to contextualization, how far is too far? This is a question faced by missionaries on the field every day.  One such missionary is Karl who is currently residing in Thailand.  He has been faced with the question of contextualization lately in his dealings with new Christians, ex-Buddhists, and the local church. This is an excerpt from his blog, Gleanings from the Field.

I’ve heard about a missionary in Northeast Thailand who is teaching converts to call themselves “New Buddhists” (new in the sense that they believe in Christ). Okay, so perhaps the offense of being perceived as converting to a Western religion is avoided by avoiding the label “Christian” but there is certainly an equal if not greater problem which is created. Isn’t the term “New Buddhist” disingenuous? Doesn’t it create confusion and a lack of clarity? I’m all for hanging onto all aspects of culture that are not sinful but doesn’t there have to be some break with the past as a person takes on a new identity in Christ? If I were from an secular humanistic atheistic background and I believed in Christ, could I legitimately stay in my cultural context in order to win my atheist friends and family to Christ by calling myself a “New Atheist”? People whom we are trying to share Christ with are smarter than that and Christians should be more honest than that.

Another example: My wife and I were eating with some Thai friends recently, a Christian couple who work with students. The husband told us that his brother, who is an elder at a well known church in Bangkok, was told by the pastor there that he shouldn’t make a fuss about participating in the Buddhist part of his wedding ceremony as he got married to a Buddhist woman. I don’t know the exact reason why this Thai pastor, who did a PhD on contextualization at a seminary in the West, advised this man in such a way. Our Thai friends who told us this certainly did not think that this was either appropriate or faithful to the Gospel. But I do wonder if this pastor gave such advice in the name of not causing offense that could impede eventual acceptance of the Gospel by the bride or her family.

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