by Charles H. Kraft
William Carey Library, 2016
—Reviewed by Cameron D. Armstrong, International Mission Board, Bucharest, Romania; PhD Intercultural Education student, Biola University
Any study in contextualization would be remiss not to include the abundant work on the subject by Charles Kraft. Kraft’s Issues in Contextualization provides the culmination of a half-century worth of research on this vital topic. He has once again provided the missiological community with an engaging resource that cannot be ignored.
Issues in Contextualization calls readers to think well in distinguishing between the culturally conditioned forms and symbolic meanings practitioners apply in cross-cultural mission. In using the central illustration of a seed vs. a full-grown tree, Kraft contends that many failed efforts in contextualization are the result of missionaries uncritically transplanting culture-bound methods and models that matured in Euro-American “soil”, but have no business in the soil of host cultures.
Better, contends Kraft, to let the gospel seed grow and develop organically, using the cultural tools and artifacts already available. A well-contextualized, insider approach will prove far more effective and will allow future generations of believers the freedom to further contextualize outreach and discipleship.
One of Kraft’s greatest strengths is his emphasis on a three-dimensional model of contextualization: cognitive, relational, and allegiance-based. Kraft is exactly right in critiquing Western contextualization models for almost exclusively focusing on cognitive, or truth-based, aspects of the gospel.
In reality, the peoples of the Majority World are often more concerned with relationships and the presence of spiritual power. A significant portion of the latter half of the book deals with how mission leaders might introduce these crucial concepts in contextualization training, especially dealing with spiritual forces which challenge new believers’ true allegiances.
In terms of weaknesses, conservative Evangelical contextualizers may take issue with some of Kraft’s theological assertions. For example, in a chapter entitled “Partnering with God,” Kraft appears to argue that human believers are equal partners with God in such crucial times as salvation, forgiveness, and healing. However, there are multiple biblical passages that suggest otherwise (e.g., Eph. 2:1-10).
Another weakness to be found is Kraft’s lack of a solid conclusion. After a fantastic discussion of spiritual warfare and demonic oppression, the book abruptly ends. True, there is an intriguing appendix detailing the development of contextualization studies, yet a chapter offering final analyses and further insights for the field is conspicuously missing.
All told, Issues in Contextualization is a highly accessible book from a highly accomplished missiologist. Kraft has provided a carefully researched analysis that is well written, with memorable illustrations and case studies. Readers at both academic and practical levels will greatly benefit from this resource.
Flemming, Dean. 2005. Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and Mission. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
Hesselgrave, David J. and Edward Rommen. 1989. Contextualization: Meanings, Methods, and Models. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Revell.
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EMQ, Vol. 53, No. 3. Copyright © 2017 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.