Contextualization or Incarnation?

The word “contextualization” has been the source of much conversation and debate throughout The United Methodist Church. The core of this issue centers on how the context of each church shapes how it is in ministry to its community. Does the message stay the same or does the context impact what the message will be?

I have been blessed by the ministry of Rev. Carolyn Moore, pastor of Mosaic United Methodist Church in Evans, Georgia. She recently stated on her blog: 

“Contextualization in the missional sense of the term means making the good news about Jesus Christ accessible. It does not mean changing the message to make it more palatable. As a friend in the mission world says, “Contextualism without the centrality of Christ and the authority of Scripture dissolves into plain relativism and your truth is as good as mine.”

In other words, contextualization without incarnation will not produce transformation. In our conversations about the way forward, we must be careful about our use of terms so as not to make the idea of a watered-down gospel more appealing for the sake of institutional preservation. In that equation, no one wins — certainly not the one waiting to open a gift of good news.”

It is important to remember that while methodologies can change and adapt to one’s context, the central message of the gospel remains the same. As someone has said, while the wrapping paper can change, the gift does not.

May we continue to be faithful to our Lord and Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Bob Cooper (President, VaWCA)

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