by Jeff Burr
The Incarnation is a revolutionary doctrine. Humanity was alienated from God because of its sin. Jesus, the eternal Son of God and the Creator of the universe, humbled Himself and took on the constraints of human flesh. He spoke a language that was readily understood, and He employed metaphors from everyday life that resonated with His hearers. With the backdrop of the Roman Empire, he told of an even greater kingdom that was coming. He entered into our plight. In His death, He took on Himself the penalty that we deserved and provided the redemption price for our freedom.
The Incarnation is at the heart of our faith. But it should also inform how we share our faith. We have been charged with taking the good news of salvation to our neighbors, our families, our coworkers, our classmates, and to the world. That involves a proper understanding of God’s Word. We must speak the gospel accurately. But that task also requires a proper understanding of our audience. We must speak the gospel effectively. Through the years, a number of tools have been developed to help us share the gospel (i.e., Evangelism Explosion, Four Spiritual Laws). For the most part, these methods are true to the Bible’s message. But they often give no consideration to the unique culture, burdens, and experiences of the people we are talking to. Jesus never used a canned approach. Jesus spoke with countless people, but He tailored His presentation for maximum impact.
In missions and evangelism, we refer to this as contextualization. Responsible contextualization does not alter the message to make it more palatable. We don’t just tell people what they want to hear. But we do present the gospel so that it can be understood and in ways that resonate and ring true. In his book Center Church, Tim Keller provides a helpful definition of contextualization: “It is giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them.”
In sharing our faith, we might feel more comfortable with a preplanned presentation. But Jesus calls us to speak truth with genuine concern and careful listening.
Jeff Burr is lead pastor of Forest Hills Baptist Church, Grand Rapids, Mich. This article was first posted at FHBC’s website and is reposted here by permission.