Understand the Context to Better Understand the Message

In the end, most of us would agree that life is not all that easy to understand, that the messages we receive from within and from others and from God are not always clear. As the Apostle Paul famously said; ‘Now we see in a mirror dimly (one translation has ‘in a riddle’)’, always remembering that mirrors in the ancient world gave a very distorted image. It is partly that all our messages are filtered through to us by our language and culture, but even more because we are fallible and sinful creatures. This last compounds the situation. Our proneness to error means that our cultures are also fallen. We cannot appeal to them as some sort of infallible divine appointment. In truth we are fallible human beings living in equally ‘broken’ cultures and yet depending on those cultures for the ‘translation’ of the messages about life that we receive. No wonder we are in a mess. If this is true there are at least two important consequences. Those who claim they have absolute certainty should be treated with caution. It is right that we should be suspicious. When it comes to divine messages, for example, the Apostle Paul has a distinctly ‘suspicious’ approach. ‘Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said’, he says to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:29) or again, writing to the Thessalonians, he encourages them to listen to ‘prophetic utterances’ but he also asks them to ‘test everything’ (1 Thessalonians 5:20,21). The second consequence, and the more important one for this book, is that it follows that the more we study and understand the context, the better we shall understand the message. If messages are mediated to us through our cultures, a process that colours and even distorts the message, we need to examine the culture in order, so to speak, to undo the damage, and ‘straighten out’ the communication.

Ingleby, Jonathan (2011-12-12). Naming the Frame (Kindle Locations 49-64). Wide Margin. Kindle Edition.

The above are an excerpt from the book Naming the Frame which explains the need for us all to seriously consider the context of where we do our mission or ministry. We should neither think we know it all, nor do we relegate the importance of contextualisation to simply a matter of methodology. Contextualisation is more than that, for a better understanding of the context should result in a better understanding of the message of the gospel.

Seldom do we have books which focus solely on defining the context in mission studies. We often hear of contextualisation, but Ingleby expertly clarify the contemporary context in which contextualisation of our theology and ministry would take place and urge us to be honest with the reality we are in, while taking pain to contextualise our faith to the context of the present culture.

I am still reading the book so a full review of the book is not possible at the moment but I will share the brief content of the book below:

The first part of the book includes some definitions on ‘Living in Context’: Living, Reality, ‘World’ as context, Contextualisation, The Context of Contemporary Culture, Globalisation, Postmodernism, Postcolonialism,  Migration/Movement, Place, Environment: the ‘green’ context, and ‘Community and government’.

The second part of the book deals with the ‘Context of Faithful Improvisation’, touching the topics of: Bible and theology, History and tradition, The context of other faiths, The Context of Personal Growth, Understanding ourselves, Relationships, Career choices and guidance.

The Third section of the book looks into the ‘Context of Christian Ministry’: The Church’s Identity, Church Growth, Christian education,  ‘Witness, dialogue and translation’, Mission, Miracles and the ‘supernatural’,  The Context of Injustice, Prisons, The Workplace, Racial and Ethnic Tension, War,  and Families.

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