«Reestablishing roots and learning to fly: Kazakh church planting between contextualization and globalization. by Dean Frederick Sieberhagen submitted ...»
4.1 The Kazakh Cultural Identity Continuum Revisiting Monshipouri's Muslim identities and their reactions to globalization, he describes them as follows (Monshipouri 2002:99). The first is that of the conservatives who dislike globalization and see no need to change an Islamic faith and practice that is neither bound by time nor world trends. For them globalization is a Western trend that seeks to dominate the world. The second category are the modernists who favor a renewal or revival of Islamic traditions in a way that allows Islam to be an equal player in a globalized world. Their participation however is tempered by a willingness to fall back to a more conservative position if they see the possibility of the erosion of the Islamic way of life. Lastly there are the liberals who are open to change even regarding some of the basic Muslim teachings and practice. They propose the adaptation of Islam to common international standards and practices and see globalization as largely a positive force. How does this fit with the Kazakhs and their response to globalization?
David Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen (1989:165) point out that the church planter must consider the contexts within contexts. From the descriptions of Kazakh life in chapter one, indications are that within the Kazakh context there are cultural, social, and situational contexts. So beyond a person merely saying they are Kazakh, there needs to be a consideration of the social community to which they belong as well as the immediate life situation in which they find themselves. Bearing this in mind, an overarching approach in church planting amongst Kazakhs must be the identification of where the particular person or group falls on an identity continuum from Traditional through Modern to Russified. As explained briefly in chapter one, this parallels the identity descriptions suggested by Monshipouri, but better fits the Kazakh context. As the categories are compared, the emerging hypothesis is that Modern Kazakhs adapt best within the current context, where there is a tension between returning to the traditional ways of the ancestors and embracing a new and changing world. A further hypothesis related to this is that no one model or method of church planting fits all Kazakh situations, but that the cultural identity of the situation will inform the church planting approach.
Using the explanations for each identity in chapter one, the church planter can place the specific church planting context on the continuum and then adjust their methods accordingly.
Nurlan who lives in a village context would place his church planting context in terms of cultural identity right near the Traditional point on the continuum (N) (2009, pers. interview, 15 September). Zhenis who leads a Russian speaking house church in Almaty on the other hand would place his context between the Modern and Russified points (Z) (2009, pers.
interview, 8 July). This also informs the expatriate church planter who seeks to partner with a national church planter. The expatriate church planter is able to put aside their preconceived ideas of how church planting needs to take place and instead become a student of their particular people group segment, with the resultant insights then informing the church planting practice. The analysis of the particular segment cannot be a one time static evaluation however as the influence of globalization in its broadest sense means that all cultures are in various degrees of change and adaptation, and so Nurlan's context may shift towards the Modern point of the continuum and Zhenis' may move left or right. Within the Church, the most significant impact of change causing a shift on the continuum is likely to be amongst the younger generation as well as the second and third generation churches that are started out of the first church plant. Anwar (2009, pers. interview, 3 February) and Marat (2008, pers. interview, 2 December) point out how the younger Kazakh generations are showing an openness to new ideas and advances in technology so that we can hypothesize that church planting amongst them needs to emphasize globalization considerations over contextual ones. Paradigm filters such as Commitment to Islam and Urbanization can also be
laid over the continuum to help give further distinction to the categories, as follows:
This example shows an inverse relationship between a commitment to Islam and urbanization and is a generalized hypothesis. Each church planting situation however needs to be examined. In the Kazakh context it may be that the example above is true in the North but less so in the South where there may be a degree of compatibility between a commitment to Islam and urbanization.
The Kazakh church then finds itself reflecting the challenges of a culture caught between identifying and reestablishing its past whilst at the same time trying to survive and even thrive in a global world where cultures are interacting and constantly changing.
Contextualization is the term used to refer to the former and globalization referring to the latter. A closer look needs to be taken at the dynamic between these two terms.
4.2 Contextualization Considerations 4.2.1 Contextual Models Revisiting the Anthropological model proposed by Bevans in chapter one, Bolat (2009, pers.
interview, 29 June) and Arman (2009, pers. interview, 5 May) emphasized the importance of giving detailed consideration to all aspects of the Kazakh culture, but sounded a caution that there were religious aspects in particular (notably the worship of ancestor spirits) that are not be compatible with the teachings of the Bible and therefore cannot be used. Their response raises the argument that a particular cultural context is not entirely pure and on its own cannot produce a sound theology. Rather, as Daulet (2009, pers. interview, 1 August) argues, it needs it be measured against God’s culture, the best source of which is a correct understanding of the teachings in the Bible.
The Countercultural model is questionable within the Kazakh context. Daulet (2009, pers. interview, 1 August) and Akzhol (2009, pers. interview, 24 March) explain the importance of using Kazakh culture and in the Kazakh context churches leaning towards the Countercultural model would be seen as sects. The message would be sent that most or all of the Kazakh cultural beliefs and practices are evil and to be avoided.
The codes within the category related to the use of cultural traditions (page 85) indicate that although the pastors interviewed did not make use of the terminology, nevertheless their responses show support for the Translation model. Daulet (2009, pers.
interview, 1 August), Saken (2009, pers. interview, 1 October) and Zhenis (2009, pers.
interview, 8 July) argued the importance of placing Biblical truth above any cultural belief or practice, and looking for functional substitutes where culture needed to change. Luzbetak (1998:72) argues along these lines in saying that contextualization of the Gospel is where a culture is integrated with Christ and his message. If changes and adjustments need to be made then it is the local culture that must change and not the Biblical view of Christ and his message. Keeping Schreiter in mind, the way in which the message is communicated may also need to be changed. For the Kazakh pastors the struggle is how to filter out the Biblical model of church from all the cultural models they are bombarded with. The implications of this then are that the church planter becomes a student of the Biblical culture, attempting to strip the results of any of their own cultural bias to discover what the core universal features of a New Testament church are.
Because the Kazakh culture is part of a changing globalized world, there are some whose worldview is undergoing rapid change and others who are attempting to resist this change and keep things as they are. Basic to this study is what relevant church planting should look like amongst the Kazakhs and so a highly contextualized approach refers to that which gives high consideration and use to the traditional worldview of the Kazakhs. This is the worldview of the Kazakhs that seeks to pass down an unchanging set of values, beliefs and behaviors, the majority of which are described in the first chapter. On the other end of the spectrum would be a very low level commitment to the traditional Kazakh worldview leading to an acceptance of change and a worldview with new values, beliefs, and practices. The church planter must understand how their particular context reacts to globalization and change. This is equally true for expatriate and local church planters in that the local church planters often find themselves in a part of the country that is new to them.
Church planting in the Kazakh context is a challenging exercise as there has not been a clean slate to work with but rather preexisting models of church in some of the surrounding cultures such as Russian and Korean. Zhanibek (2009, pers. interview, 2 February) who has pastured both Kazakh and Korean churches says that these models have a very strong flavor to do with Russian or Korean culture and have elements that clash with a Muslim background culture such as the Kazakh one. Surviving and growing in an environment hostile to Christianity, a number of the Russian and Korean churches have been successful (Pieter Versloot 2008, conference presentation, 8 December) causing Kazakh church leaders to want to emulate them. Until recently, most Kazakh church leaders have not done a critical evaluation of these churches to see what would work in a Kazakh context, but rather tried to copy them within a paradigm that says 'everyone wants to be a part of the winner'. The idea is that an outwardly successful church equates to God's blessing and approval which then also equates to the correct way to do things. At an annual convention of Kazakh pastors on 15 August 2005 the main speaker on church planting was an expatriate Korean pastor who had planted a large church in Almaty. He explained his method of church planting and told all present that if they copied him they too could have a large church (Song 2005, lecture, 15 August). Without any regard to the very different culture and context in which the Kazakh pastors found themselves, he seemed to be setting them up for failure.
Given the translation model based hypothesis that the Biblical culture is the screen the church planter uses, before giving consideration to cultural issues, one of the very first questions to be answered by a church planter then is, what are the Biblical essentials of a New Testament church? The church planter then becomes a student of church in the Bible.
The blueprint for church is sought in the Scriptures with the understanding that even there it is wrapped in the culture of the day.
Proceeding from a Biblical frame of what a church looks like, the next issue becomes one of relevance. How do we make this church look, sound and feel Kazakh? Echoing the translation model, Dean Gilliland proposes that the challenge is to take the universal, timeless truths of Scripture and work them out as theology for each time, place, and people (1989:10).
Zhanibek (2009, pers. interview, 2 February) and Akzhol (2009, pers. interview, 24 March) argue that in the Kazakh context this has been too expatriate dominated, especially in the early years so that the Kazakh churches did have a foreign feel and approached theological issues from a Western/ Korean perspective. Effective contextualization of the Gospel suggests that we allow local believers to develop their own theology under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and based on their own understanding of the Bible. In theory this sounds great, but already in the Kazakh context there have been some significant departures from Biblical truth so that over time some of the basic tenets of universal Christianity are being eroded. Saken (2009, pers. interview, 1 October) and Nurlan (2009, pers. interview, 15 September) expressed concern with certain churches that seem to have departed from Biblical truth.
These challenges give rise to two important questions. What do we do with Kazakh customs and traditions so that the church can be indigenous (Kazakh and Biblical)? How does the expatriate church planter walk a line that avoids dominating the Kazakh church’s self expression whilst at the same time not being so uninvolved that the Kazakh church ends up departing from the Bible? Holding to the belief in a Gospel core, there must be more dialogue, negotiation, and exchange. An interesting development is that the Kazakh churches in the cities of Kizl Orda and Aktobe that are beyond first generation are less tied to the specific models and methods that have influenced the first generation churches (Marat 2008, pers. interview, 2 December). These second and third generation churches are discovering what a Kazakh church in their particular context looks like. JD Payne (2009:187) says that the first generation churches will be strongly influenced by the expatriate church planters, but that over time succeeding generations will shed these foreign impressions leaving a Biblical impression embedded in the local culture.