Day five, the final day of the conference.
I’m not going to recap the last few talks, though I will tell you that this morning featured a stimulating session with Drs. Robert Priest of TEDS and David Lee of Evangel Seminary. In their papers, the speakers considered the topic of contextualization on theological grounds. Priest, an anthropologist, encouraged the audience to theologically contextualize–that is, adapt–their message to foreign contexts. Lee gave several examples of how this might be done, noting that in China, Christians can accommodate the biblical idea of wisdom to the lives of those to whom they witness with little trouble.
All this provoked reflection on the ways in which we as Christians fit the timeless truths of the Bible to the situations in which we find ourselves. We never simply teach the Bible in a new place–and that’s that. We’re always adapting what we’re teaching, choosing the right words, picking out certain clothes, deciding what we need to focus on doctrinally in this particular place with these particular people. All of us, then, do contextualization on a theological level, whether we realize it or not.
At the same time, though, the Bible is the norm that norms all other norms, as the Reformers put it. Though it comes to us in specifically Jewish and Greek clothing (with some other cultures in the mix as well), the truths of the Bible transform our reality and dictate to us the terms of our existence in the particular cultural situations in which we find ourselves. We don’t pick and choose which biblical ideals fit our situation best, and implement them as we see fit. Becoming a Christian is at the most fundamental level a matter of submission. We as sinful rebels submit ourselves to the God who, with Spirit-opened eyes, we now see to be not a tyrant, not a deity we can manage, not a shadow, but a majestic being whose very existence threatens to destroy our own. From this posture, we run–we do not walk–to follow the will of this holy God, allowing Him to shape us and the cultural outlook we possess.
As one can see, there are significant issues to work out here. In some sense, this is the task of theology–to apply timeless truth to contemporary life.
Our conference is ended. We have had a very fruitful week in Hong Kong. We have heard from expert scholars and learned from global saints. We have broken bread–lots of it–with Chinese Christians, and we are all the richer for it. As we have considered the nature of evangelical identity through academic work, we have in some sense altered our own personal conception of evangelical identity. The act of international fellowship, after all, is no mere passing of the time, but is itself a transformational act. How thankful we at the Henry Center are for opportunities like this. We bear a huge debt to our generous supporters who, like Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, care deeply about the global church of Christ, and have taken tangible steps to nurture and support it. We look forward to our Nairobi conference in August 2008 and our Tokyo conference in 2010, endeavors that we trust will accomplish further advancement of God’s kingdom in our own lives and in our world.
On behalf of Center director Doug Sweeney, thank you for reading this series. All our best to you in your work to advance the gospel in a world that so desperately needs it.