Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Contextualising the gospel

I’m through with David Bosch’s book. Actually I’m supposed to be on leave and should have much more time for reading, but I’m still involved with some issues taking up my time. In any case, I will be returning to a number of things he wrote which really meant something to me. Close to the end of the book Bosch wrote about the contextualisation of the gospel, specifically in the West. He argues that most missionaries had done a fairly decent job of contextualising the gospel in the third world countries where they work, but that it seems as if the same may not apply to the West. Or, alternatively, that the job had been done too well in the West.
Why is it that in many Western countries people are turning their back on the gospel? Why is it that Europe, from which our spiritual forefathers had come (in our case in Southern Africa, from the Netherlands and from France) has itself become a place which needs to be evangelised again. This is the question which Bosch asks. And the answer he gives on the one hand is that the church may wrongly have felt that the gospel had been properly contextualised and indigenised in the West, while in fact this may not be the truth. Or the alternative solution he offers (and which may very well be the real reason) is that it had been overcontextualised, so that the gospel of Jesus Christ lost its distinctive character and challenge.
I, and many (although definitely not all) of those reading this, grew up in a so-called Christian country. Even Swaziland, where I am presently situated, is known as a Christian country. Close to 80% of the country, according to Operation World, are Christians. But we all know that this is not the truth, not, that is, if we consider Christians as people who have made Jesus Christ the King of their lives and not merely those who are not antagonistic towards Christianity.
I grew up in South Africa in a time when we were led to believe that all the country’s leaders are Christians (pre-1994). Almost all political speeches referred directly or indirectly to the faith of the leaders and we honestly thought that the policy of Apartheid was the only way in which it could be ensured that the country would remain Christian. Most probably this is an indication of the overcontextualisation of the gospel.
Bosch, as far as I know, coined the phrase of the church as alternative society. When the gospel becomes so integrated with secular society (or government), that it becomes difficult to distinguish between the two, then I believe that we may have overcontextualised the gospel. But is may also mean that we have not contextualised the gospel enough, thereby indicating to Christians how they should be different from the world.
Bosch ends the paragraph by saying that he himself is unsure exactly how we should go about addressing this issue, but it is becoming increasingly important to reflect on this issue.


Thursday, December 13, 2007 - Posted by | Alternative Society, Church, Culture, David Bosch, Evangelism, Mission, Racism, Swaziland, Theology


  1. Arnau,

    I’ll have to read that book for a seminar in the Spring. It will be interesting especially since the prof. has approved my paper on contextaulization.

    I’ll probaby revisit this post (and others related to it) when I start the class.

    Thanks for the discussion (sorry I can’t add much now).


    Comment by dwmiii | Thursday, December 20, 2007 | Reply

  2. Dougald, keep me posted on your progress. I’d love to hear what you think about the topic.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, December 20, 2007 | Reply

  3. This is an interesting post. It seems to me that some of the activities of contextualisation (for example, looking at how biblical truth speaks to the traditions and aspects of peoples lives) is often overlooked, for example, here in the UK.

    What we do see though is that churches attract a similar kind of people. Here in London we have middle class churches (i.s. slightly posh), there are more working class churches and churches for specific community groups (Indian, Ethiopian etc).

    What I think this indicates is that contextualisation is still important for churches to look at in the west as, quite simply, one church does not speak to all people.

    Comment by Leigh Porter | Thursday, May 12, 2011 | Reply

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