The Role of the Supernatural in Radical Contextualization

We are witnessing a roaring debate in missiological circles these days over the issue of contextualization with the particular flashpoint being the appropriate and respectful engagement of the Christian movement with the Islamic world.

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One of the seminal articles about this is found in the the proposal of the C-1 to C-6 scale (which I heartily recommend) that specifically addresses how Christianity can and should respond to the challenge of Islam, which is by most estimations the paramount challenge to the worldwide Christian movement in the coming century.

Most astute and experienced cross-cultural workers have a bias that good ministry inevitably moves toward C-5 to be optimally effective in any given context. That’s been the genius of biblical Christianity from the beginning and one of the keys to its effectiveness and expansion throughout throughout history.

But I have a question that I have yet to see addressed by those who advocate radical contextualization …those on the far end of the scale. It’s a question prompted by a recent experience in Africa where I was invited to attend a mosque, have my own space to kneel, worship, pray, and participate during the Friday service. Because of a schedule conflict, I had to declined. But the opportunity forced me to reflect on what happens on the C-4 to C-6 end of the scale.

I agree and would advocate that Christian content and functions can and should be expressed in other cultural forms. I understand how it is possible for a cultural Muslim to become a genuine follower of Jesus, pray in the Mosque, and continue to carry on certain Muslim religious ritual forms infused with Christian and biblical meaning and that many such believers exist around the globe.

But here’s the question that gives me pause: What are the dynamics, in the spiritual realm, when one postures/submits themselves in such a context of worship? Even if the “content” is not Islamic, does such regular presence and participation open the person to the supernatural world?

Such a question presupposes that there is a supernatural component to other belief systems contra-Christianity. It presupposes that allegiance to Jesus, or to those belief systems incompatible with Christianity, is profoundly more than a rational understanding and assent to propositional truth claims. It presupposes that there is a whole supernatural dimension to such competing allegiances.

If so, is one putting themselves in a spiritually vulnerable posture by participation inherent in C-4 to C-6 contextualization?

Another way this became vivid to me was in a conversation I had with a Coptic priest in the Middle East. I asked if there many Muslims committing their lives to Jesus in his growing parish. His answer was a resounding “yes” although it was understandably “under the iceberg” so to speak. Then he added this rejoinder: “But every time we have such a commitment made, it is immediately and simultaneously accompanied by an exorcism.” That is a recognition of the supernatural!

So how about it? What role does the supernatural play in the radical end of the contextualization scale? Can we have our cake and eat it too? At what point does the cake become too lethal because of the power of the supernatural and its unseen influence of the context? Where do we draw these lines and how can we tell?

While intellectually I can make good arguments why anthropologically and missiologically people movements at the C-4 to C-5 end of the spectrum are the way to go if the Christian movement is to ever influence those in the other great world religions, I am personally relieved that my schedule prevented me from a posture of participation in the that mosque in Africa.

Thoughts anyone?

5 Responses to “The Role of the Supernatural in Radical Contextualization”

  1. Tim Jeffries Says:

    Fantastic post Sam. I’ve just come back from the Middle East after spending some time with missionaries who spend lots of time in Mosques talking to Muslims and working on these types of issues.

    My personal reflections wonder about God’s protection in these circumstances. Wouldn’t God protect these people from these evil influences given that they are seeking to honour and serve him in the place they find themselves? Also isn’t it legitimate for Christians to use the posture that Muslims take to bow before the creator?

    I’m looking forward to reading more.

  2. Sam Says:

    Tim:

    Thanks for the response and the observation from your own experience in the Middle East.

    The questions you raise are good. I don’t really have an andequate response for the first one concerning God’s protection. Perhaps those who have more experience in the world of supernatural should weigh in.

    But regarding your second comment, I would respond enthusiastically “Yes!” And not just about the posture but certainly many other “forms.” For example, praying five times a day is certainly an admirable discipline …just matters to whom one is praying.

  3. Keith Says:

    As far as catching a demon if you go to a Mosque, I suppose that there could be a higher consentration of demons there. But aren’t they is the materialistic So Cal shopping malls too? If you are worshipping demons or evil then you’d open yourself up to demonization I think. But to worship Allah and Isa al Masih, I think you’re pretty safe no matter if it’s in at the beach, mall, mosque or church.

    Another way of looking at it: yes, exorsism and power encounters are big for Muslims, but there are some in the West who do a lot with that too and swear it’s the only way to get people over to fully committed disciples of Jesus. Basically, I think there are loads of demons everywhere, but we are more sensitive to the foreign demons since those demons look, well, demonic to us. We’ve grow accustom to our local demons and see them as harmless or even cute.

  4. Dan Says:

    I’m finally getting around to reading your blog… I hadn’t heard of the c1 to c6 spectrum before. This post has inspired me to read up some more on the topic and contextualization in general. Thanks.

  5. Sam Says:

    Dan, nice to have you browsing the blog. Welcome!

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