by Charles H. Kraft, ed.
This massive volume is designed to be a textbook “aimed at expanding our understanding of contextualization and better enabling us to effectively and appropriately communicate biblical Christianity.”
William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth Street, Pasadena, CA 91104, 2005, 638 pages, $34.99.
—Reviewed by Tom Steffen, professor of intercultural studies, School of Intercultural Studies, Biola University, LaMirada, California.
Have we focused on contextualization too narrowly? Does God intend Christianity to be simply a set of cultural forms that we can call a religion? Or did he intend something more? Why have field missionaries, entrenched church leaders, administrators of missionary-sending agencies and national church leaders not used what we know academically about contextualization? Appropriate Christianity attempts to answer these and related questions. Dedicated to Dean Gilliland (who has focused on contextual theology at Fuller Theological Seminary since 1977), this massive volume is designed to be a textbook “aimed at expanding our understanding of contextualization and better enabling us to effectively and appropriately communicate biblical Christianity.”
Appropriate Christianity consists of twenty-eight chapters by eighteen authors (faculty, teaching assistants and students), eleven of which are by Kraft. A number of these are updated versions of previously published materials. The author divides the book into four parts: Introduction, Appropriate Theory, Proactive Missiology and Final Word. Gilliland’s vitae, bibliography and thesis titles are included, followed by references cited (twenty-two pages) and indexes for scripture, authors and general.
Much more than a refresher course on Christianity in Culture, this book argues that contextualization must move beyond theology, the receptor and form. To be truly biblical (appropriate) it must expand to consider three critical dimensions: truth (understanding), allegiance (basis of relationship) and spiritual power (freedom). Chapters therefore address the contextualization of such topics as hermeneutics, social power, spiritual power, generations, church growth, music, relationships (God, neighbors and self), Muslim ministries, Thai folk Buddhists, renewal, post-modern witness and so forth. According to Kraft and others, biblical contextualization will remain maximally faithful to social contexts as well as to scripture. Kraft calls for contextualization seminars to correct former church growth seminars that, though strong on planting churches, were less strong on planting truly contextual churches.
This book weds structural functionalism theory to conflict theory, laying the foundation for a much more appropriate Christianity. One wonders, however, if the term “appropriate” is the most appropriate. Is this contextualization focused too strongly on the receptor? Does this critical contextualization try to bring balance but remains too limited in the scope of areas addressed? Comprehensive critical contextualization seems to better capture Kraft’s desire for “a broader approach.” Will some such term displace “appropriate” as “contextualization” did to “indigenization” in the late 1970s? Whether it does or does not, Appropriate Christianity will help Christian workers make Christianity a much more contextual, critical, comprehensive way of life because it addresses all areas of life.
Check these titles:
Flemming, Dean. 2005. Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.
Gilliland, Dean. S. ed. 1989. The Word Among Us: Contextualizing Theology for Mission Today. Dallas, Tex.: Word.
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