What Marriage Has Taught Me About Contextualization
This is the first post in our series on contextualization and the gospel. You can read more posts here: Contextualization and the Gospel.
Eight years ago today I married the woman of my dreams. We’ve been all over the world together, through good times and bad, sickness and in health. It’s been a wild ride that I wouldn’t trade for anything. As I reflected on our time together I began to see ways that this relationship with my best friend has prepared both of us for the ministry we do today with Hispanic college students.
You see, in a lot of ways, marriage is like contextualization.
- It is cross-cultural.To some degree all marriages are cross-cultural (men are from Mars and women are from Venus), but ours goes a step further. I am an Anglo-American and my wife is a 3rd generation Latina. The longer we have been married the more we have realized how our unique ethnic backgrounds shape the way we see the world, and therefore, how we treat one another. Our ability to see differences in each other in marriage allows us to step towards one another and communicate in ways the other person will understand us.
Contextualization is no different. It is the process of recognizing differences between you and the person you are communicating with. It is then moving towards them and being intentional to speak and act in a way that makes sense within their worldview.
- It has deepened me in ways I never thought possible.Marriage has stretched me, grown me, challenged me in amazing ways. I’ve come face to face with how selfish I really am. I’ve had to learn to die to myself and live to serve another. Every day I have the choice to live out the Great Commandment and “love my neighbor as I love myself”.
Contextualization has done the same for me. As I learn to make the Gospel known in a way that makes sense in someone else’s context I am simultaneously dying to my right for it to be communicated in a way that makes sense to me. Just as in marriage my life and ministry becomes about the benefit of the other person, not me. In the process I am deepened and begin to “have the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus.
- It has challenged me to persevere through failure.So many times in marriage it seems that I just can’t get things right. I seem to do one dumb thing after another. When my wife lovingly brings this to my attention, I am faced with a choice. I can be defensive, ashamed of my mistakes. Or I can continue to persevere in the process of becoming another-centered.
I’ve felt the same tension in contextualization. With the best intentions I’ve done incredibly stupid things as I stumble towards bringing the good news of Jesus to a Latino audience. When they bring this to my attention, I can shut down emotionally and ask them to “give me a break, I’m trying!”. Or I can set my pride aside, ask for forgiveness, and make another attempt to contextualize. My wife is important enough to me that I’d never consider giving up. Those to whom I am contextualizing must assume a high level of importance, otherwise I’ll give up.
- It has made me more like Christ. Jesus calls us to love our wives as He loved the church. It is a sacrificial love that calls us to die to ourselves and live for another. The better I love my wife, the more I become like Christ.
Contextualization is the same. When I seek to make his Good News understandable in a given context (in this case, Latino college students) I am emulating his example of coming to Earth as a man. He became like us because He loves us. When we do the same for others we become more like Him.
- It has helped me understand the Trinity. My wife, @destinokristy, talks about how the Trinity is an example of difference amidst connectedness. Our marital union is a great picture of this. We are two distinct people yet united in one marriage. We have our own unique giftings, strengths, and weaknesses that are brought together as one.
Contextualization is an implicit recognition of this same reality. Just as God is 3-in-1 so contextualization makes room for unity amidst difference. Contextualization says that even though you may express this facet of Christianity differently, we are still united in one body. We can be different from one another and yet still unified.
There are many more things that I could list here, but the point I really want to drive home is that just as marriage has been an incredibly enriching experience for me, so I believe contextualization can be for believers. The more that we begin to learn about it, practice it, live it out, the more like Christ we will become. It won’t be easy, just as marriage isn’t easy. But I believe that once you begin to step into it you wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Over the coming weeks we’ll have a number of posts in this series talking about contextualization and how it relates to the gospel and ministry in general. We’ll discuss a Biblical basis, common misconceptions, and various practices related to contextualization. We want to challenge you to think about how culture shapes everything you do. Everything. We believe that you’ll come out the other side a more effective minister for Christ as a result.
Marrying my wife was the best decision I’ve ever made. Being married to her has changed me for the better. If your experience in contextualization is half as sweet as my marriage then you’re in for a fantastic ride.
photo courtesy: Jeff Sims