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Is Lesslie Newbigin's Model of Contextualization Anticultural?

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Newbigin's understanding of contextualization has been criticized as being countercultural, even anticultural. Is this a fair criticism? There are a number of reasons that this critique has been made: Newbigin's theoretical expression of contextualization stresses the judging character of the gospel; at certain points he lacks a well-articulated doctrine of creation; and his missionary experience in India and in Britain led to the emphasis on the antithetical side of the cultural task. However, Newbigin's understanding of contextualization affirms the two sides of the cultural task: solidarity in cultivating creation in cultural development and opposition to the sinful twisting of that development. This is rooted in Christ's relation to the creation as Creator and Redeemer and revealed most clearly in the death and resurrection of Jesus. These two sides of the cultural task are formulated in Newbigin's notions of "missionary encounter" and "challenging relevance." The latter notion is borrowed from Alfred Hogg and is further shaped by Hendrik Kraemer's notion of "subversive fulfillment" and by Willem Visser "t Hooft"s notion of "subversive accommodation." Newbigin's understanding is quite similar also to J. H. Bavinck's notion of "possessio" and Sander Griffioen's concept of "inner reformation." Newbigin utilizes the missionary communication of John's gospel as a model of challenging relevance. An analysis of these varying concepts uncovers an inner connection between affirmation and rejection, solidarity and opposition, development and antithesis in the church's responsibility to its cultural context. Newbigin's model of contextualization is not anticultural; it may be termed "countercultural" if it is recognized that the church's opposition to the distortion of culture that comes from its formative idolatrous core is for the sake of healthy cultural development. The church only takes a countercultural stance as it is engaged in cultural development and for the sake of obedient cultural unfolding.

Affiliations: 1: Religion and Theology Department at Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada


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