There is an old Swahili proverb: “Travel with open eyes and you will become a scholar.”

There is an old Swahili proverb:  “Travel with open eyes and you will become a scholar.”  Our recent journey to the Horn of Africa was certainly an eye-opening experience for me.  For two weeks we were able to slip behind the headlines of conflict and violence (of which we encountered none), and quietly observe the fingerprints of God upon two very diverse spiritual movements.

Philip Jenkins, the renowned historian, has observed that the future of Christianity will be written in the south.  For indeed the Southern Hemisphere here in the West, along with Africa, the great continent of the South, have become the fertile fields for the mighty plantings and reapings of the Spirit of God.  And in a matter of years, it seems clear, the most vibrant and active manifestation of Christian faith will radiate from these southern regions of earth.  

Today there are movements within the great monotheistic religions of Africa—Christianity and Islam—that are providing new opportunities for third millennial contextualization.  As I wrote in my blog last week, we were able to observe (and participate) in the living out of Paul’s great missionary passion:  “So though I was not a slave to any human being, I put myself in slavery to all people, to win as many as I could.  To the Jews I made myself as a Jew, to win the Jews. . . . To the weak, I made myself weak, to win the weak. I accommodated myself to people in all kinds of different situations, so that by all possible means I might bring some to salvation.  All this I do for the sake of the gospel, that I may share its benefits with others” (I Corinthians 9:19-23 NJB). 

Paul is not describing the accommodating or watering down of either his faith or divine truth in order to reach earth’s diverse populace.  But it is clear that he was willing to immerse himself in the faith culture (or lack thereof) of the people group he was seeking to reach on behalf of the gospel.  Acts describes Paul’s adjusting his worship practice, adapting the emphasis of his theology and teaching, shifting both his civil and ecclesiastical identity—all of it dependent on the group he was seeking to penetrate.  He “became” one of them in order to reach some of them. 

Could it be that there are people groups on earth today that will only be effectively reached for God by men and women, young adults, who are willing to embrace a new identity or at least a new identification with those groups?  Could it be that changing our living habits, our dress, our language, along with refocusing our faith practice and adapting our theological expression might be prompted by the Spirit of God . . . just as he did with Paul? 

Twelve miles up the road from this university is the second most depressed inner city (per capita) in the U.S.  Could it be contextualization doesn’t have to cross the equator or the seas to be strategic for God?  Perhaps he is calling students and families right here in our parish to “move in” to the new culture and context of Benton
Harbor for the sake of the everlasting gospel.  This much is clear to me—given that God contextualized himself into our human journey through the incarnation, all for the sake of saving some, he will surely bless both the desire and the efforts of those of us today who are willing to do the same, in grateful obedience to the Christ who has saved us, too.


Hello Pastor Nelson, I just read your article on contextualization(?)and found it to be very interesting. I was looking to see if you had written more about Revelations, just finished your book "Countdown to the Showdown", and found this blog you posted. I am a third generation SDA, but found myself drawn to look for another church, with no real reason behind it. I have landed at All Saints, Long Beach, CA, but still have an abiding love for the religion I grew up in and always have known the Sabbath is the Sabbath, but haven't kept in the way I should. My Mom and I recently have been having weekend long-distance discussions about various Bible topics which has been helping me feel more in tune with keeping the Sabbath, I think it makes her feel better too. Anyways, just wanted to drop a note about your blog, it has some merit. In order to reach people you may have to get outside your comfort zone. Please let me know if you have more current information about the times we live in, any updates since 1991? Thanks! Sincerely, Theresa McNeill

Dear Pastor Dwight, Thank you for sharing your thoughts on contextualization and immersion into cultures, where God wants us share the love and salvation that Jesus brings. It's not a choice, not a "perhaps" or "some other day". God is not bound to tradition or culture, His gospel transcends all. A growing number of churches and church members today are asking God to give them the courage and strength to step out of their cultural comfort zones, so they may be a tool through which God can speak to people we are not reaching today. It is a realization that we can not expect for people to come to where we are, but that we must bring the gospel to where they are. Easier said than done: it requires not only a tolerance of things different to what we are used to in our usual lives, but that we can truly accept as equal people from different backgrounds and cultures -- not just obvious culture differences to Africa, for example, but the truly different cultures that exist side by side in our own society today, whereever we live. Music, dress, language are only the first obvious examples of what we may be asked to "get into". The day our churches and members are not just superficially, but profoundly able to accept people from different cultures, that is when we have true spiritual homes where God-believing persons can come to seek, find and worship God -- and feel at home. Thank you so much for your continued ministry, we frequently listen to your sermons on this website when we travel. God bless you and Karen, Danilo Copiz Copenhagen, Denmark

Good proverb and article. I like the idea of balance between presenting material in a way that suits the culture without compromising the good news of the gospel. I would add to having open eyes, having a shut mouth helps too. ;-)

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