Pioneers recently adopted a “Statement on Contextualization” which provides insight into how the international leadership of the organization views contextualization. This statement will be heralded in some circles and maligned in others. Overall, though, I think it does a pretty good job of combining freedom with responsibility.
I would love to get your feedback on this Statement and post. Please comment!
My own views on this topic continue to evolve. Most recently, I have observed (mostly in personal conversations) that proponents of “Insider Movement” strategies are seeking a reform of Islam itself. I believe this is a different conversation than one about contextualization. To see a reformed Islam means that Christianity doesn’t really confront Islam as an alternative religious worldview. Rather, within the scope of Islam itself these IM folks believe there is room for a brand of Islam that is Christian.
In justifying this approach, IM'ers suggest a comparison to the Protestant Reformation and include a harsh indictment of the historic church. The Protestant Reformation, I would suggest, is a poor analogy for a reformed version of Islam. The distance from Catholicism to Protestantism is significant but it pales in comparison with the distance between Islam and Christianity. The indictment on the historic church stems from the argument that, “We cannot too harshly judge Islam; just look how bad our own history has been.” It is an attempt to close the aforementioned distance by stating that Christianity can be divorced from its historical forms and practices. I believe that can only go so far. As much as we Christians might not like it, there is a great deal of history in our Christianity. We are who we are in part because of where we have been. Just take a simple issue like the Biblical canon. It was put together through the lens of history. That’s just one of many, many issues that do not allow us to walk away from our history.
So, as I personally wrestle with this topic, Pioneers produced the following statement. Even though I work for Pioneers, I can objectively say that I think it's a pretty good statement. A few things stick out to me:
- Pan-Religious: Pioneers works with people from all of the major religious blocs. For that reason, this statement it not simply directed at Islam. It can be used in any context. [I would note, as a sidebar issue, that missiology is skating dangerously close to being overtaken by Islamic themes and essentially "splitting" into different forms. While I appreciate the commitment that many have to “Muslim-only” approaches, most of the unreached are not Muslims. While Muslims make up the greatest portion of unreached, it is not strategic, Biblical, or helpful to ignore the rest of the world’s unreached people. The Christian faith should not be defined as a reaction to another religious worldview.]
- Addresses Identity: From my perspective, issues of identity are paramount in this discussion. I personally do not believe that missionaries should encourage Christians to identify themselves as Muslims or have continued allegiance to Mohamed. Extracting people from their social circle is a challenge to the formation of movements. However, our pragmatic desire to see church planting movements occur should not come at the cost of a believer's new identity in Christ. The Pioneers’ statement addresses this concern.
- Freedom: Particularly the second paragraph provides for missionaries to explore contextualization at a fairly deep and experimental level. All churches in the US will not view this positively. They are looking for a strict “Do / Don’t Do” list. Missionaries are, for better or for worse, the entrepreneurs of the church. We must allow them a fair measure of freedom as the experts on the local culture. This statement accomplishes that without compromising theology.
So, without any further ado… here it is
PIONEERS STATEMENT ON CONTEXTUALIZATION
Messengers who bring the Good News have the privilege and responsibility to faithfully communicate the biblical Gospel message. They should model and teach obedience to all the Scriptures under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Thus PI workers desire to minister in ways most likely to yield faithful disciples and the reproduction of biblical churches among those with least access to the Gospel.
We believe God normally desires new believers to remain connected with their social context (1 Corinthians 7:17?24), while not compromising biblical teaching in their beliefs or practice (e.g. permanently retaining their former non-Christian religious identity). The implications of living out this creative tension and Gospel witness are best worked out by groups of believers, through prayer and diligent study of the Scriptures, informed by the story of God’s people throughout history and the global body of Christ.
This affects key issues, including:
We encourage believers to live in such a way that those around them become increasingly aware of their wholehearted submission to Jesus as Lord. He calls all believers to a process of transformation into the image of Christ (Romans 12:1,2; Colossians 3:10), giving courageous and respectful testimony of Christ’s work in us (1 Peter 3:14?16).
We want believers to understand their biblical identity in Christ and his church, and to embrace the implications of that identity as active members of a local community of believers (Ephesians 2:19?22; 1 Peter 2:9).
Our passion is to see believers obey all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:20). This involves an ongoing process whereby believers are empowered by the Spirit and nurtured through the Scripture (Galatians 5:16?25; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; 1 Peter 2:2,3).
Worldview and Beliefs:
Believers are intentionally discipled in such a way that their worldview and beliefs are increasingly transformed into conformity with Scripture (Romans 12:2; Hebrews 5:14).
God grants us suffering in this world to refine our faith, strengthen his church and bring glory to Christ (Phil 1:29; 3:10; 1 Peter 1:7). Together, we recognize that persecution is not to be feared, and “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12; Matthew 10:28; Hebrews 10:32?34).
All cultures reflect elements of God’s creative goodness and human sinfulness (Romans 2:14,15; 1 John 2:15?17). We encourage believers to live out biblically sound and culturally appropriate worship, witness, relationships and lifestyles (Ephesians 5:15; 1 Timothy 5:8; 1 Peter 2:11,12,16,17).