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“Radical Contextualization”

The Doctrines of Dominionism: Part 6

“Apparently our real challenge is no longer to extend the boundaries of Christianity but to acknowledge that Biblical, Christian faith has already extensively flowed beyond Christianity as a cultural movement just as it has historically flowed beyond Judaism and Roman Catholicism. Our task may well be to allow and encourage Muslims and Hindus and Chinese to follow Christ without identifying themselves with a foreign religion. The Third Reformation is here.
–Ralph Winter, “Twelve Frontiers of Perspective.”

The doctrine of “contextualization” is one of the most fundamental theological paradigm shifts of the past several decades. Most evangelicals haven’t even heard of this term. On its surface, “contextualization” is supposed to mean that missionaries are being sensitive to the needs of varying cultural groups so that they can present the Gospel within the unique cultural context of those groups. It carries the aura of cultural sensitivity. In reality it is much more.

Contextualization has its roots in anthropology, probably connecting back to the Rockefeller dynasty’s funding of “applied anthropology” and social sciences departments at premier universities earlier last century. Their purpose was to catalog indigenous Indian populations in potential oil fields. Wyckliffe Bible Translator’s SIL program (Summer Institute of Linguistics) served an intelligence-gathering function for the Rockefellers, according to 960-page book Thy Will Be Done (HarperCollins, 1995) by Colby and Dennett. The authors wrote:

“SIL had helped gather anthropological information on the Tarascan Indians that ended up in Nelson Rockefeller’s intelligence files. The files contained cross-references to reveal behavioral patterns among Indian peoples in everything from socialization (including aggressive tendencies) and personality traits, drives, emotions, and language structure, to political intrigue, kinship ties, traditional authority, mineral resources, exploitation, and labor relations. Rockefeller called these data the Strategic Index of Latin America.” (p. 118)

Data-gathering, in the name of helping missionaries present a more contextualized gospel, became an insidious method of Western supremacy, using state of the art psychological operation tools. Colby and Dennett described how this worked:

“Researchers had to study and master a people’s beliefs systems, expressed most truly through their language, and their social organization, the most significant means by which people can mediate successfully with nature and adapt to changes in their environment. . . . Learning a culture’s key components–its genetic structure and neurotransmitters, so to speak–could also give social engineers, whether armed or not, the tools to manipulate minds. In the quest for control, the CIA’s counterinsurgency practitioners already had learned that there were weapons other than guns and gases, and that the path from the social sciences that engineered whole societies, to the physical sciences that engineered minds, was short indeed.” (p. 477)

This data collection included

“everything from the language, social structure, and history of peoples to labor strikes, peasants’ seizures of haciendas, and violence. Anthropologists, linguists, psychologists, sociologists, and economists would be joined by political scientists, mathematicians, and the military to produce a deliberate political objective of social control.” (p. 479)

The intelligence-gathering objectives remained obscure, however, while the leading “think-tank” gurus at Fuller Theological Seminary concocted new doctrines to cloak the agenda with evangelistic mission fervor. Who could object to learning more about a culture so that one could better share the Gospel?

It was the Lausanne Committee which first mainstreamed the idea of the “contextual” approach to evangelism. The call for “contextualization” then became a crusade. Al Dager, describing this process, in his book The World Christian Movement (Sword (2001), explained:

“The greatest evil, as the new Evangelicals put it, is to take Western culture along with the Gospel. Ralph Winter tells us to listen to the cry of the lost. . . .

“Speaking at InterVarsity Fellowship’s Urbana Missions Conference, in February, 1997, Winter stressed the need to ‘de-westernize’ the Gospel. According to Winter, the key task of the West should be to allow other cultures to develop their own distinct kind of Christianity.” (pp. 58-59)

Updating his call for “contextualization,” recently Ralph Winter listed several calls for “major shifts or changes of perspective” for the future “frontiers” of mission work on the planet in a key article, “Twelve Frontiers of Perspective,” published in his Mission Frontiers, “the Bulletin of the U.S. Center for World Mission” (which he helped found). In this article Winter says “we’re not contextualizing sufficiently” and calls for a “Radical Contextualization,” in which Christianity utterly changes its “form.”

Winter’s “Third Reformation,” which actually may have quite a lot to do with Rick Warren’s “Second Reformation,” calls for a substantial paradigm shift:

“Isn’t it getting clearer that we’re never ever going to persuade all the Muslims to call themselves Christians and this itself is a very peripheral issue? Can’t we recognize that it’s not important, nor helpful–not merely impossible–to make very many Muslims to identify with the cultural stream called ‘Christianity.’ If someone is a born-again believer, isn’t that enough?”

But is what Winter is talking about actually the biblical meaning of “born again”? Probably not. For he continues by suggesting that Christianity must “decontextualize” itself, which he defines as “being willing to find major philosophic or Biblical or theological flaws in our own tradition.” The correct word for this is deconstruction.

Not willing to let it drop, Winter then suggests, “We may need to go beyond mere radical contextualization.” We need to go “beyond Christianity as we know it.” He suggests a number of examples of “followers of Jesus” who “have not chosen to call themselves Christians nor to identify with the socio-ecclesiastical tradition of Christianity” but rather their pagan faith. In an attempt to argue this out, he asks: “Do we preach Christ or Christianity?”

This is, of course, a good question. And the answer should be the biblical Jesus Christ. But that is not what Winter is talking about. He is talking about pagan peoples who will be “followers of Jesus” but still live in their pagan religious system. He is talking about people who could very easily be manipulated or persuaded into following any “Jesus” that happens on the scene. A non-biblical “Jesus” could fit into any religious system in the world with ease. Which is probably what this is all about. Al Dager observes:

“Contextualization of the Gospel is what leads to a mishmash of religious confusion. People might ‘accept Christ, but still go to their Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine. They might be Muslims and pray toward Mecca five times a day. . . .” (p. 61)

Winter’s ideas of decontextualizing (deconstruction) to a “beyond Christianity” state indicates that this will be a de-Gospelized world in which there is no Context at all (“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:18])

Sandy Simpson and Mike Oppenheimer, in their recently released book Idolatry in Their Hearts, note the disastrous effects of this type of “radical contextualization” on biblical evangelism. They describe how cross-cultural evangelism has led to outright “cross-cultural syncretism with other gods” (p. 218) :

“Interfaith organizations have a main objective to promote syncretism. Interspiritualism, universalism, pluralism and other terms all describe the formation of this new world religious system. Religious syncretism is probably the most dangerous practice that can quickly leaven a church. Deceptive as it is, it has come through evangelism.” (p. 221)

One of the mantras of the “contextualization” gurus is that Western culture is bad and has imposed itself on native peoples around the world in the name of evangelism. Dager observed that the “need for contextualization is a myth promoted by Western religious leaders. . . .” (p. 60) In excellent analysis of this construct, Simpson and Oppenheimer describe the reality on the mission field:

“This is how you confuse the issue. You turn the issue of syncretism around and blame it on the missionaries. It is true that some misguided missionaries, though clearly not the majority, tried to change indigenous cultural values to Western ones. But [this] ignores the many missionaries who, in presenting the Gospel and sound doctrine, necessarily preached things that were in opposition to demonic cultures and practices like those of the Indians. The missionaries were faced with heathen cultures, not unlike their own in the past, and attempted to apply Biblical principles, in cooperation with those in First Nations, to come up with a way of living in accordance to the Word of God (which is what all Christians must abide by!).

Mistakes were made, but if you talked to the first generation of converts (like I had the privilege of doing long ago in Micronesia) you would understand fully what First Nation’s cultures were like at the time. Sexual perversion, women and child abuse, murder, human sacrifice, ruling elite who lorded it over everyone else, worship of demons, and other atrocities were commonplace. Those who heard the Gospel preached to them and recognized the freedom in Christ offered were saved and delivered from the evil in their cultures. They immediately wanted to make a statement about the difference God had made in their lives. Can we then blame them, in retrospect, for putting on clothes, stopping cultural activities that were tied to the demonic? Can we fault them for no longer being involved in sexual immorality, abuse, perversion, murder and the occult?

The IPM [Indigenous People Movement] leadership are trying to rewrite history when they clearly have not done their research. They have little understanding of what their formerly (and in fact currently) pagan cultures were like before missionaries came and sacrificed their lives, in many cases, to bring the Good News. They were not sent to bring culture nor was that their purpose. They were primarily bringing God’s values, the Bible, and applying its time-tested truths, together with First Nations people, so that they might be light and salt to the nations.” (Idolatry in Their Hearts, pp. 75-76) [Formatted for blog use]

When Ralph Winter writes about the nasty effects of imposing our Western Christianity upon other cultures, it doesn’t sound much like Dominionism. But “contextualization” is deceptive. Observe the following “indigenous process of change” based on the “systems management model” with “the deliberate political objective of social control” (Thy Will Be Done, p. 479):

“American pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren praised Rwanda’s Vision 2020 plan, which seeks to develop the country into a middle-income economy by the year 2020.

The popular preacher and social advocate visited Rwanda over the weekend to check up on the progress of his PEACE initiative-funded projects in the country.

“I have read about Rwanda’s Vision 2020. It is very good,” said Warren, in response to Rwanda’s plan, according to the Rwandan newspaper New Times. “The Bible says that without vision people perish.”

The main goals of Vision 2020 is to reconstruct the nation and its social capital; develop a credible and efficient state governed by the rule of law; develop human resources in line with the objective to turn Rwanda into a prosperous knowledge-based economy; develop basic infrastructure including urban planning; develop entrepreneurship and the private sector; and modernize agriculture and animal husbandry. (Jennifer Riley, “Rick Warren Gives Thumbs Up to Rwanda’s Vision 2020 PEACE Plan,” Christian Post, 7/17/07)

The Truth:

“Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad, and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life.” (Ezekiel 13:22)