Contextualisation Part 2

Lesson Materials

In this session, David looks at differences in culture from a Western Perspective. Sharing stories from his own travels and others, David illustrates how culture is every part of our lives through how we dress, how we interact with others and more.


TEACHING ON CULTURE | Session 8 - Contextualisation Part 2


1/ Introduction


    • I will therefore speak about grace and how it relates to the different contexts of people we are reaching today with the gospel. To so this I want to look at the Greek context of grace in the New Testament, how it related to their cultural understanding and help us to think through how we apply all that today.


2/ Background of the World in the New Testament


When the NT writers used the Greek work “Charis” which means “grace”, they did not invent a new religious word.


    • In Greek/Roman times it was a common word used for describing an important aspect of everyday life, that of patronage and the resulting honour from the one(s) shown favour.  This idea of “patronage” was how Greek society ran.  Wealthy offered favours – returned by gratitude and honour – personally and to  civic society.  Gifts could flow both ways.  This still often true in many Eastern cultures – results in “who you know” – a negative concept in Western individualism.  System referred to in Proverbs 18:16.  So, in the Greek/Gentile culture of New Testament times, “Grace may be defined as helpfulness toward someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself (or herself), but for that of the person helped.”  Aristotle [1].  The word was also used for the gift given – used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 “charisma”.  Grace was also used to speak of the honouring gratitude and response.  Demosthenes “you are so ungrateful (acharistos)” to someone set free from slavery – “you do not show gratitude (grace)
    • Jesus and Paul lived in this atmosphere and it lies behind some NT stories.  But there was a difference and a similarity – outstanding example of contextualisation yet bringing a greater truth.  God had favoured Israel.  In the new covenant all nations are invited to stand in this same favour – hence the fact God had given the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles – his favour – an amazing gift – was enough to convince the prejudiced Jewish believers.  What was different?
        • God determined to show grace even to the ungrateful.  1 Tim 1:13-15
    • Our response is to be of gratitude but not a cultural/legal obligation but empowered by the grace of who we are in Christ and through the gift of the Spirit we fulfil the law.  Rom 8:3.  


So grace was a word that could be understood but the meaning was transformed, whilst still taking what was good in that word in the cultural understanding.


If even this essential truth of the Christian faith is applied to its context, how much more it is important for us to apply grace into the context in which we now live in multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, different class cultures, modern and post-modern, traditional and radical, mainstream and alternative cultures of today.


3/ In the UK Today


        • People from Eastern honour/shame cultures.
        • People from Africa and other anxiety/security cultures.
        • Also for post-moderns law/guilt is not as strong as it was and there certainly is less of a concept of sin. Some things are seen as definitely wrong but other issues are seen as valid choices rather than sin. It is getting increasingly difficult therefore to preach the classic grace to law/guilt because people don’t feel guilty. 


“While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one’s actions, shame is a painful feeling about one’s self as a person”. Fossum and Mason, Facing Shame.


Shame today is not like shame/honour in the east but an inner sense of unworthiness, rooted in trauma and embarrassing experiences – see article by Andrew Crouch in March 2015 Christianity Today (US).


We need to present the grace of God to the shame of personal failure. There are often  new forms of legalism e.g. relating to what we eat, how we look etc, and even more how we perform or how our children perform, plus the danger of being shamed (particularly for young people) on social media.


For many people today shame is strong, but without the affirmation of “belonging” somewhere leading to a sense of fatherlessness or what is called an orphan spirit.  If is not “honour/shame” but more “fame/shame”.  “We feel less guilty than ever before – and more ashamed than ever before.”  Crouch.


    • 1 Cor 9:19-22. Paul is demonstrating that he is free but so free that can choose not to be free for the sake of others.  He restricts his personal freedom by his missional concerns.
    • For the sign of maturity is love and mission whilst embracing freedom in Christ and spiritual gifts.  So Paul says he is free, I Cor 9:1.  But love and the missionary cause means:
        • I am free to accept funding as an apostle but choose not to exercise this freedom because of the implications of the system of “patronage” in Greek and Roman culture.  (1 Cor 9:4-14).
        • I am free from legalism but, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”  1 Cor 9:19.  I choose therefore to limit my freedom to the extent of living like a slave for the sake of mission to all types of people. 
        • When it came to eating food offered to idols – 1 Cor 10:23-24,all food is clean but I am so free that I can choose not to express that freedom if it will cause offence or stumble my brother.  
        • We need to follow the way of love (1 Cor 14:1), described in 1 Cor 13, as well as eagerly desiring spiritual gifts.


4/ Practical Examples of Showing Grace Differently in Different Contexts


1. Hospitality/community

      • A middle class English context. 
      • In Eastern culture we honour people by visiting people in their home for a meal!  
      • Working class contexts. See “Chav Christianity”, Darren Edwards, pages 90-92.


2. Formality/informality/traditions and symbols

      • There are changes in the way people approach church – it has become a low context event rather than a high context event. However many from Africa and the Caribbean still regard it as a high context event. 
      • Post-moderns seem to appreciate symbols more than the baby boom generation that grew up after the war.


3. Grace recognises people are on a journey and not just crisis/decision.


4. Worship. If we are to worship as many cultures together, we need to consider that in our style of worship.


5. Church social events.


6. Language.


7. Arranged marriages.


8. Background Worldview Issues:

        • People from Hindu background whose worship was previously in the home – so difficulty in bringing them regularly to worship on Sundays.
        • Some may find the lack of modesty in Western dress quite difficult.  
        • How you physically treat the Bible is important.
        • Use of “pastor” etc.
        • Big weddings, engagement ceremonies useful for preaching the gospel etc.
        • Remember you cannot just take out a “plank” of culture without replacing it or the whole house may fall down.



© David Devenish

Contextualisation Part 2 - Teaching on Culture - Session 8 - Bournemouth - March 2015

[1] Quoted in Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity, David A deSilva.