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  • Writer's pictureBradley Bell

Writing a Contextualized Gospel Story

One of the most important skills for thinking and acting like a missionary (or training others to do so) is contextualization. In fact, this is why it’s one of the nine missionary skills we teach in Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. There we define contextualization as simply “the translation of the gospel from one culture to another.” That means adjusting how we communicate the gospel so that people do not need to join a new culture in order to hear, understand, and believe the message.


When effective missionaries arrive overseas they immediately begin putting this skill into practice. And as a resource many of them memorize the “Creation to Christ story” (C2C for short). C2C communicates the gospel by succinctly following the metanarrative of Scripture. However, missionaries often find that the standard version of C2C must be “enculturated”. This doesn’t mean changing the gospel, but using contextualized language for it and emphasizing threads in Scripture that are most relevant to the hearers. In other words, it’s taking the story of the hearers and retelling it in light of the gospel.


Example of a Contextualized Gospel Story


One missionary shared with us his process of contextualization as he worked among a people group in the Himalayas. He and his teammates studied the culture, language, and story of the people. They soon learned important things such as:


  • The people went to shamans and relied on magic to influence their lives positively.

  • They wore amulets for protection against evil spirits.

  • They viewed their lives as a pessimistic struggle in a chaotic world, and they were willing to turn to whatever would give them a practical edge.

  • They were convinced that they were living under a curse, and that their curse was due to a deep spiritual conflict.


The missionary and his team put together all the raw data and then prayerfully rewrote a contextualized version of C2C tailored just for the Himalayan people. Their final product is included at the end of this resource. Take a moment to read it and pay attention to the contextualized themes they wove into the telling of the story.


The benefit of this exercise was much more immediate than simply having a new gospel presentation available to memorize. Thinking through how the metanarrative of Scripture addressed a different cultural perspective gave the missionary and his team new footing for any spiritual conversation dealing with that worldview. It also gave them more reasons to praise God for the gospel’s applicability to every culture.


Writing Your Own Contextualized Gospel Story


Even though the example above has rich application for vocational missionaries, it also has relevance to everyday Christians, even in their home culture. Thinking and acting like a missionary means being a curious student of language and culture at all times. It’s always asking “Why?” It’s seeking to understand the unique story not simply of an entire culture, but all the way down to the level of subculture.


Think of it like the work of an effective preacher. Even though the gospel is unchanging, the way a preacher communicates in inner city Chicago should be different from a preacher in rural Mississippi. They must pay attention to the worldview, idols, and most deeply felt needs of their hearers, then let it shape their language and emphases in preaching.


But we can take this even further. Beyond regional differences, there are layers of subculture around us at all times. Consider this: every city, neighborhood, street, household, and individual has their own unique story. Contextualization calls us to learn those stories well. That’s what then allows us to retell them in light of the gospel.


Once you get the hang of contextualization you find yourself doing it naturally all the time. But in order to kickstart the skill, here is a suggested process for writing a contextualized gospel story:


1) Choose your hearers.


With whom are you most compelled to share the gospel? Is it generally the people of your city? Are you more focused on a certain population of the city? Is it a particular people group in your area? Determine who your hearers are.


2) Invite others to join you.


It’s best to not think through a cultural perspective alone, especially if it’s your own context (we all have blind spots). Do you know anyone who has already been trying to reach this group? Do you know any believers from among this group? See if they would like to join in the process.


3) Immerse yourselves in Scripture.


Without the basic building blocks of Scripture in your mind, there is no way to understand how the Bible actually addresses any context. Familiarize yourselves with the basic story of Scripture. Consider memorizing the general version of C2C.


4) Pray for wisdom.


The goal is not just creativity but gospel clarity. Pray that the Holy Spirit guides the entire process and that the integrity of the gospel may not be compromised in an effort to reach another culture. Pray that the Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance specific passages and stories from Scripture that already address the worldview and sin of the culture in question. Pray for cultural sensitivity, that the details and wording of your new gospel story may be as winsome as possible.


5) Study the people.


Dive deep into the story, practices, customs, motivations, beliefs, and language of your hearers. Read about their history. Ask them lots of questions. Don’t treat any observation as insignificant. Look for patterns and themes.


6) Write out a gospel presentation that uses the metanarrative of Scripture to address the culture.


Decide which aspect(s) of sin and redemption speak to your hearers most clearly. Ask how the whole metanarrative of Scripture—creation, fall, redemption, restoration—addresses the subculture. What stories in the Bible speak most surgically to the idols and needs of the people? Aim for a comprehensive presentation beginning at creation and leading up to Christ, even though later you may have to present it only in sections. After a presentation is written out, does it cause you to worship Christ? Revise your presentation until it both fits your context and exalts Christ.


7) Test and continually revise your new presentation.


The best way to test your presentation is to actually let your hearers hear it! Pray for dependence on the Spirit and then go tell your story. You might even tell them you’ve been working on a project and you need their feedback. What are their reactions to hearing the gospel? Are they confused at any point? What offends them? What excites them? Come back and process as a team. Then revise.


Once you have a finished product, teach the story to others so they can use it as well. Better yet, teach them how to write their own contextualized gospel story for another subculture. This can be an impactful experience for any Christian, and is certainly fitting preparation for those who are interested in global missions. If nothing else, it will sharpen your awareness of language and culture and how the gospel intersects with them. And that, my friends, is contextualization.


 

Himalayan People Group C2C


Creation


God had the power to create everything out of nothing in six days. He spoke by the power of his words and everything was made. He could have created everything immediately, but he wanted to give man a pattern for the week. On the seventh day God was finished, so we should also rest and honor God on the seventh day. God is more powerful than every false idol. He is the Most High God and the Great King.


Fall


God put the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, in a garden. They were to rule all the animals as God’s governors. In the garden, a snake lied to Eve and told her she could be like God, knowing good and evil, if she ate the fruit God had forbidden them to eat. Adam and Eve tried to steal God’s power for themselves by gaining the knowledge of good and evil. They wanted the power to speak and create what is true. When they ate the fruit forbidden by God, their eyes were opened, they saw that they were naked and exposed, and they hid from God in fear because they knew they were naked.


Kingdom


They had fallen into the snake’s trap. By listening to the snake, they gave the snake power to rule the world, and they became his slaves in a kingdom of darkness. God cursed Adam and Eve because of their evil. Now every man, including us, is under the rule of the snake and we experience great suffering and powerlessness over death. But God made a promise to the woman. He would one day give her a powerful son who would crush the snake’s head and bring humanity back into God’s kingdom of light.


Substitute


After men multiplied on the earth, one day God called a man to follow him, named Abraham. He showed him a land that he would give his descendants forever, and every people group would be blessed through him. Abraham and his wife could not have children because Sarah, his wife, was barren. But God did a powerful miracle and she gave birth when Abraham was already 100 years old. But then God told Abraham to sacrifice this child. Abraham wanted to obey God and even believed he would bring his son back to life. When Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, the angel of the Lord told him to stop. God gave Abraham a ram to sacrifice as a substitute for his son. This ram’s blood represented the punishment of death that evil men deserve, but God can cover our darkness and bring us into his kingdom of light. Abraham’s son was a sign that the promised son who would crush the snake’s head was still coming.


Redemption


Abraham’s descendants were called the Israelites. The Israelites became the slaves of the Egyptian king for 400 years. The Egyptian king and those who were like him were the descendants of the snake. But God remembered the people who followed him. He sent a powerful prophet, Moses, to free the Israelites. By God’s power and instruction, Moses sent ten plagues on the Egyptians until the king let them go. He sent hail, disease, fleas, frogs, he turned the river to blood, and the sun stopped giving light so that it was complete darkness. Before the last plague God told the Israelites to cover their door frames with the blood of a lamb. This showed that their evil was covered by God so that they would not be harmed by the last plague. In the last plague, God’s angel called the Destroyer killed the first born son of every Egyptian household and even of their animals.


Passover


Finally, the King of Egypt allowed Moses and the Israelites to leave Egypt, but when he saw them going he changed his mind and chased them with his army. The Israelites were trapped next to a sea and could not escape, but God sent a pillar of fire and stopped the army from catching them. Then God used his power to part the sea with wind, and dry land appeared. The Israelites crossed the sea on dry land. When the Egyptians tried to chase them, God brought the sea down on their heads, and they were all crushed and drowned. After this the Israelites remembered God as the God who brought them out of Egypt, and every year each family would kill a lamb to remember the price for covering their evil when the destroying angel passed over their households. This festival is called the Passover.


Law


God told Moses to go up on a mountain to meet him. God gave Moses Ten Commandments that God himself wrote on stone tablets. The first three had to do with honoring God as God. You shall have no other gods except God. You shall not create images of the God of your imagination for idols. You shall not use God’s name to twist God’s words and lie about God like the snake does. When Moses came down from the mountain, his brother, Aaron, had made a golden calf statue and told Israel, “This is your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” It was a lie, and they believed him. They had already broken the first three commandments! Moses made them grind the statue to dust, mix it in water and drink it all to show them the bitterness of what they had done.


King


God gave Israel the land he promised to give. He gave them a king, David, who was righteous and valiant against their enemies. Even when David was alone and hunted by his enemies, he wrote songs about how God was his only refuge. When David became king, he was anointed with oil, symbolizing God’s blessing. This is why Israel’s king is called the Messiah in Hebrew, or Christ in Greek, which means anointed one. David symbolized God’s rule over his people. God proclaimed through his prophet Isaiah that he would send a future Messiah through David who would end all suffering by taking their suffering upon himself and usher in God’s kingdom of light. This promised king is the same powerful son of Eve who would crush the snake’s head.


Judgment


As Israel had more kings, they would often turn away from God and worship false gods, building them many statues and shrines. God was very angry that Israel feared the false gods and worshiped idols that have no power and were not living. God would take away their prosperity until they turned back to him. Eventually God used a foreign army to judge Israel and they became slaves again without citizenship, but God remembered his promises to the faithful that remained and did not destroy them completely. God told Israel to return to him, to hold a fast, and rend not just their clothes as an outward sign of repentance but to rend their hearts too. God does not love rituals themselves. God loves a broken heart that turns to him and seeks refuge in him only.


Promised Son


God finally sent the powerful son to rescue the world, who was first promised to Eve. This son is God’s only son, who was named Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God, who was with God in the beginning, and Jesus is the same God who created everything with his own powerful words. The Father God did a miracle and made a virgin, Mary, give birth to his only son, Jesus. In this way, God’s only son, who is also God, took on flesh and became a man. Mary, Jesus’ mother, was a descendant of King David. Therefore Jesus is God and he is also Israel’s Messiah or Christ, which means the anointed king. Jesus came to defeat the snake, inaugurate God’s kingdom, and set the captives free. When a great prophet named John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said, “Behold! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the light of the world, who shines into our darkness.


Temptation


Before Jesus began to teach, he went into the wilderness to fast. He fasted for forty days and was hungry. At this moment, the snake came to Jesus to tempt him. The snake told Jesus, “If you are the son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Jesus said, “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The snake took him to the top of God’s temple and said, “If you are the son of God, jump from here and God’s angels will catch you.” Jesus said, “It is written, you shall not put God to the test.” The snake took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him every kingdom in the world and said, “If you bow and worship me, I will give you all these kingdoms.” Jesus said, “Be gone from me! It is written you shall only serve and worship God.” So the snake went away because even the snake must obey Jesus. Jesus is God, and he defeated all of the snake’s temptations.


Word and Deed


Jesus began to teach people the way back to God, saying, “Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest.” He did many miracles proving that he was the greatest prophet and the son of God. He commanded a storm to stop, showing his power over nature. He touched the sick and cured their diseases, making them clean and pure again. When he met a man with many demons living in him, Jesus cast the demons out, and they had to obey his voice. He even brought a man named Lazarus back from the dead because Jesus has the power of life. When Jesus speaks, it is true. He told everybody to put all their trust in him saying, “What good is it if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?”


Victory


Jesus said that his kingdom was of heaven and not earth and also said that he was God, so the religious leaders hated him. They wanted an earthly king who would free them from the Roman Empire. Because they loved what little power they had, they were afraid to lose it. They arrested Jesus and executed him by nailing him to a cross. Jesus allowed them to do this. Jesus willingly died on the cross, taking God’s curse for our evil upon himself. He never sinned. He is both God and a man. Only his blood is powerful enough to cover our evil as a substitute. Jesus is our Passover and refuge. On the third day after he died, Jesus rose to life again, putting death to shame. He has ruined the snake’s power, crushing its head, giving it a mortal wound, and soon the snake will be punished forever. If we believe only in Jesus and love him, he will share his life with us forever. If we keep our allegiance to the snake, his kingdom, and false idols, God will also crush us forever in Hell.


Invitation


After spending more time with his disciples, Jesus rose to heaven in his body as they watched. He said he would return one day to make everything new, wiping away the tears, suffering, and death of all who believe in him. Until that day, he formed the church as ambassadors of God’s kingdom of light on earth. Jesus breathed God’s Spirit into all his disciples, making one new people from many nations. Once they were not a people, but now the church is God’s people. Jesus told them to obey everything he taught, and he commanded them to announce the good news of his victory over sin to the whole world. If you believe this message and want to share in Jesus’ victory and life forever, you too should leave sin and call Jesus your master. Jesus told his followers to be baptized and join the church. When we are baptized we are announcing our old life is buried with Christ and we are raised to new life in him, proclaiming our allegiance to the risen son of God.



The resource was originally featured at The Upstream Collective.


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