Saturday, December 31, 2016

Insider Jesus 1: Intro- The Rise of Contextualization

I would like to blog through Dyrness, William. Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements (2016). One blurb says this:

"This book is groundbreaking. Conversations have been taking place questioning the ongoing value of the contextualization movement. This is because among evangelicals contextualization has largely been a project conducted by outsiders assisting those who are insiders. This was an essential step in missions, yet the limitations of the movement are obvious. What is exciting is that in our postcolonial era new theological discourses and practices are emerging from within believing communities that seek to be faithful to Scripture and address more specifically and resonate more deeply with the worlds of these communities. Dyrness lucidly and sensitively introduces the reader to these developments and provides the reader with the theological and conceptual categories to understand and appreciate them." (Patrick Krayer, executive director, Interserve USA)

Dyrness is not primarily a missiologist but a noted theologian (who also has a long experience as a missionary), and so this book is a deep theological reflection on the postcolonial and post-Christendom phenomenon of so-called insider movements. Dyrness credits Understanding Insider Movements as a key resource.

Below is an unpolished summary and measure of the first of his six chapters. Feel free to read along with me.

Chapter 1 Introduction: The Rise of Contextualization

The intro gave me a bad first impression. His faulty attribution of Lewis' "insider movement" definition to Moreau on page 1 made me feel that he hadn't taken the missiological conversation seriously enough to make the book helpful, but I'm glad I kept reading, in any case.

The main idea of chapter 1 is that the pluralistic, globalizing, and interreligious nature of the world today offers a new challenge to mission that the contextualization paradigm has been unable to confront. Contextualization is primarily about what is done for other people, but it is unable to capture what happens from within. Accordingly…

contextualization does not adequately capture the hermeneutical and dialogical character of mission whereby various accounts of God’s presence (or that of the gods or spirits) are exchanged and evaluated. (Kindle Locations 123-124)

Here is how he argues his case:

  • The reformation was not primarily a change in beliefs but in a new way of practicing religion. Much of the reformation was good, but some good was also lost:

Instead of providing a holistic frame that determined an entire way of life, including the political and social structure, religion was on the way to becoming an inward and personal (and often an individual) affair… this view of religion seems natural to us. But for many people outside the West, this understanding of religion appears strange, even incomprehensible.  (Kindle Locations 177-180)

  • The Enlightenment furthered the idea that religion is something that one believes, not something that is done. Religion was also seen as a secular concept, something that was separate from politics, economics, philosophy, law, etc. This understanding of religion makes little sense in non-Western places today. [Especially to most Muslims.]
  • In the 80s and 90s the emphasis in missiology shifted from the messenger (and the message) to the hearers and their world. From “subject” to “object.” Bosch played a key role in this transformation to local theologies. All theology is contextual.
  • Hiebert also anticipated this need in “Metatheology: The Step Beyond Contextualization.
  • Anthropology was also advancing the idea people are not simply passive recipients of their culture/religion, but active agents able to change their contexts.
  • In missiology, it was acknowledged that that no one culture has a full understanding of the gospel, and that as the gospel spreads into new frontiers, the Church’s collective understanding of the gospel deepens and widens.
  • This then led to the development of fields such as “intercultural theology” [See for example Intercultural Theology: Intercultural Hermeneutics]:

Mission must take the form of hermeneutics. That is, Christian witness is, among other things, an interpretive process in which each side becomes open and explores the proposals of the other. (Kindle 379-380)

  • I.e., contextualization fails to realize that contextualization of the message by the messenger has already happened. So therefore what is always happening is actually recontextualization, or transculturation.
  • If we simply focus on making biblical faith understandable in a new context, we will be unable to see the possibility of something new emerging. We need to reconceptualize mission as multidirectional:

At this point many will worry that we are saying there is more than one gospel, more than one way to God. But this worry ignores the diversity that is already apparent in the New Testament itself, where the wonderful work of God in Christ is described in multiple ways.(Kindle 448-450)

  • The process of mutual learning is called intercultural theology, not contextualization. Being a rich missionary often puts people into a “teacher” role, not anticipating learning from the people he or she is going to serve.
  • Also, the historical-grammatical hermeneutic is a process of the Enlightenment and puts Scripture into rational categories:

So not only is the discovery of the “one true meaning” of a text impossible; it actually impedes the ability to listen and learn from each other. (Kindle 503-504)


  • I don’t think he means to throw the historical-grammatical hermeneutic out the window, but only to show it’s limitations, as the Redford chapter shows.
  • He is setting the stage to show that we don’t need to focus on the “message” as much as we need to focus on God’s presence and activity in all places, even before a follower of Christ arrives. This is the shift in thinking from contextualization to intercultural theology.
  • At some point though, I wonder, in order to learn from the other, how involved in that faith should I be? One’s view of Islam is always tied up with his manner of witness to Muslims. I never want to leave Jesus, and I think Jesus wants sole allegiance from every person on the planet. So how can I understand better the exclusive sufficiency of Christ in light of the multidirectional learning required by intercultural theology? Am I willing to learn from Islam?
  • Chapter two: Insider Jesus 2: How Does God Work in Creation and Culture? A Theological Proposal

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