A Word on Contextualization

Perhaps this is not the post you have been waiting for as it says very little about my life, however, I’ve been thinking a lot about contextualization lately. Perhaps I should give you an idea what is meant by the word “contextualization” since I was unaware until my orientation. Contextualization is about making something applicable to a cultural context. It means using words that are significant and using imagery that does it’s job and helps to clarify instead of confuse further.

Here is an example: Often times in church I have heard “The LORD is my shepherd” and that’s great, God is like a shepherd! I may have more experience with sheep than most so here is my experience with sheep. Sheep know their master’s voice and do not respond when a stranger calls them. My grandpa has raised sheep my whole life and I know this is true….mostly. They do know his voice and respond to him….but on occasion my dad can make his voice sound like my grandfathers and call the sheep and they respond to him too. Now you might say “Well, they respond to their owners son, we respond to Jesus” and that would be correct BUT my dad Does Not take care of these sheep, ever. He is just tricking the sheep into thinking that he is their owner….and so the analogy breaks down. My other experience with sheep comes from when I agreed to feed my cousins’ animals while they went on vacation. Somehow their two sheep escaped while I was there (they may have walked out the front gate I left open) and those dumb sheep would not be caught. I mean I chased them all over the yard, I tried to trick them, I tried talking sweetly to them, I tried to scare them into the fence, I may have sang to them….they were having none of it. And I was getting so angry at these stupid sheep. Finally I led the pony out and circled the yard back into the fence and those dumb sheep followed the pony back into the fence. What did I learn? Sheep do not know what is best for them and are incredibly stupid creatures. What did I learn about shepherds???? Not much. And if from these experiences I know little about shepherds, think about little Jayden* in NYC. Do you think he understands anything of God’s true nature from “The LORD is my Shepherd”? So we either need to explain how sheperhs take care of sheep OR explain how God loves us a different way.

We can only use language that already exists to explain experience. So when we experience something new we say something like “It was like…..but not quite like that. It was like ______, but not quite like that”. You know what I’m talking about….I’ve eaten frog legs and they are kinda like chicken but not quite like chicken….Or when explaining rook you might say, It’s like euchre but not quite like euchre because….

Jesus does this all the time. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed and then he says HOW it is like a mustard seed. But it isn’t just like a mustard seed, the kingdom is also like a woman who lost her money and finds it again. But it’s not just like that….

He even says that God is like a shepherd, but not any shepherd, the GOOD sheperd who lays down his life for his sheep. Sheep are income, sheep profit the shepherd if they are alive, yes, but not if the shepherd dies for them. A shepherd would not intentionally die for his sheep and Jesus recognizes this. So, he says God is like a shepherd, but not any shepherd. God is like a king, but not any king. God is like a father, but not any father.

How much more powerful would Jesus’s message of love be if we contextualized it, even here in the states. Someone can say “Jesus saves” and I’ve heard it so much that those words mean little to me. How can we explain God’s love in a new way that brings new understanding about the old message about who Jesus really is and how he loves?

So maybe this hypothetical Jayden does not know about shepherds and sheep, but perhaps he knows about pet owners who have sort of “adopted” their dog as a member of their family. Dog owners that let their dog lick them on the mouth. Which is kind of repulsing to me, but those owners don’t look at their dog with disgust. No, they talk to it sweetly and say something like, “Mommy loves you! Yes! Mommy loves you!”. And maybe that is how God loves us, kind of like that pet owner who doesn’t understand that they are talking to a dog and fail to see this dog as disgusting. God lets our disgusting mouths lick all over him and he loves it! He loves us anyway!

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3 thoughts on “A Word on Contextualization

  1. Hey, great post sis… it’s so much easier to understand something that you’ve experienced. I think you got it right… that’s why Jesus used so many stories! Because they were things the people would have understood and experienced… because they were in context. And if we don’t understand those contexts now, that can be really detrimental to our understanding. Hey just on a side note, I talked to a guy today that said he was reading a book by N.T. Wright… a guy who “studies Jesus in context.” Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but if you ever get time maybe you could check it out? I know I’m interested in reading it myself… Love ya!

    • Also I just realized I didn’t leave the book title. It was called “The Challenge of Jesus.” If you’re interested and can’t get ahold of the book over there, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

  2. Love your reflection, Kristi…I guess that is why God sent Jesus into our context…into our world. It is the only way we were going to be able to “know” our Creator!!! Glad you are having a purposeful year …Mattie Marie

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