Recontextualization Examples

Branson is well known for his praxis-theory-praxis approach and in this book[1] he and his colleague, Juan F. Martinez wants us to shape the learning environment in a way that leads to new praxes in the church, and write “Church leaders can foster continual experiments in areas of difference, helping the church discern its own unique ways of unity and diversity.”

The Church in Hemsedal has through its experiments started a process of reshaping our unity in diversity by opening up new ways of encountering our society. Traditional church work continues but in the time I have been the minister in Hemsedal I have had the grace of being a facilitator of new and exciting venues for the church as a counter-culture to engage the local community.

Recontextualization or what some would call local theology has the intent of leading towards a missional church in taking seriously hermeneutical challenges as well as our present context, but especially in meeting the prejudices of what Christianity and Church is about.

Therefore in becoming a missional church, the goal is to continue at biblical hospitality; move through encounter, compassion, passion; and finally, arrive at biblical shalom.[2] The hermeneutical task applies both to the Bible and to the community reading and interpreting it.[3] Regarding the role of the Bible, John R. Franke states, “Scripture, which functions as theology’s norming norm “norma normans”, is always in conversation with culture, which functions as theology’s embedding context . . . This observation alerts us to the incarnational character of the Bible and the challenges of contextualizing its message in new, varied, and changing settings.”[4]

Scripture and situatedness in culture are absolute ingredients of recontextualization, and to be good at it one needs very good knowledge of the Bible as well as being really deep embedded in the local culture. Some use the term “critical contextualization” to describe this process by which one seeks to incarnate and communicate the gospel into another cultural setting as the answer.

Branson and Martinez agree and state that theology is always contextual.[5] However, I would go even further and propose that theology always has had to be contextual but that this has not always actually been that in practice. Especially today, it often seems as if the Bible and Christianity operate within distinct paradigms—so much so that churches need to recontextualize the biblical texts into the present time, place, language, and culture or world,[6] in order to help people chose a new story.[7]

The main argument here is that the prejudices concerning Bible, hermeneutics, the Church, and Christianity have blurred the vision of ordinary people to such a degree that they are unable to see the reality of any of it. Not to continually being trapped in wrong imaginations, they need the local church to recontextualize, in order to counter negative thought-constructions about the Church and its work, especially of people not attending services on a regular basis.

For these reasons, within the context of the church in Hemesdal to recontextualize its total ministry, it is necessary to reform pastoral and experimental approaches to the community and in turn address the various technical and adaptive issues that exist and emerge. That is what recontextualization is about.

[1] Branson, Mark Lau, Martinez, Juan F. Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities (Inter Varsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. 2011) location 1178: “worldview issues were addressed in the midst of on-the-ground realities. This was a praxis-theory-praxis approach..”

[2] See Appendix IX, Review of Branson & Martinez: Churches, Cultures and Leadership, for more details.

[3] Branson and Martínez, Churches, Cultures and Leadership. location 2566.

[4] Franke, The Character of Theology,142, 156.

[5] Branson and Martinez, Churches, Cultures and Leadership, location 2646.

[6] Branson, and Martinez, Cultures and Leadership, location 1014.

[7] Myers, Walking with the Poor, 310.

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