«Reestablishing roots and learning to fly: Kazakh church planting between contextualization and globalization. by Dean Frederick Sieberhagen submitted ...»
His experiences in the Thai context have led him to propose that the cyclical view of life held by Asian cultures need to be synthesized with the West’s linear view so that both are held in tension by a new spiral view. In the Kazakh context an example of this model would be the need to synthesize the expatriate church planter’s view of revelation with that of the importance of dreams for Kazakhs (see chapter one), so that within the established authority of the Bible the church develops a theology of revelation that takes dreams into account.
d. The Transcendental model proposes that theology must be done on an individual basis through personal experience and self-reflection on that experience. This requires the person to undergo a type of enlightened, conversion experience so that they are able to think authentically about their existence. Individuals are then able to share these personal reflections with others and discover aspects that are common as well as different. The theological principles found in the Bible are then incomplete until the individual lives them our personally and then within their immediate cultural context. This then becomes an example to other individuals and their cultures so that they can then do the same. Justo Gonzalez illustrates aspects of this model (cited in Bevans 2002:113). Reflecting on his life in Cuba and within the Hispanic world, he argues that the Gospel only applies to his context when it is seen completely through Hispanic eyes. But, this does not mean a universal, prescribed understanding by means of various beliefs and practices. Rather, it is the individual and their community living out the Gospel as Jesus did when he became man and lived it out in his and his community’s lives.
For Gonzalez in the Hispanic context, it is the understanding of the pain and suffering of people and living a life on their behalf. The Sufi influence on the beliefs of the Kazakhs has influenced them towards a more individual, personal experience of God, enabling them to develop a folk Islam as explained in the first chapter. The transcendental model would propose building on this and allowing a conversion experience that is not universal but worked out in the specific Kazakh
e. The Countercultural model sees the Gospel message as entering the culture as a means of judging and purifying the culture. This is needed because all cultures are fallen and at the core opposed to the Gospel message. Cultures are not replaced, but transformed by the offer of alternative beliefs and practices that will counter some of their own. Prior to the transforming power of the Gospel, all human cultures are neither trustworthy nor reliable for the development of God’s truth. Individuals who have been transformed make up a transformed church that then transforms society.
The challenge to this model is to avoid becoming (whether real or perceived) an outsider with a superior image looking down on all others.
f. The Translation model The Translation model as Bevans describes it begins with trying to discover the original, flexible core of the Gospel message, what may be referred to as something that is “supracultural or supracontextual” (Bevans 2002:40). This is the first task in theology as the Gospel core has always encountered people within their context and so has been covered over with layers of cultural belief and practice. Carefully peeling away these layers will eventually produce the original core. An example of the core that is layered over by individual cultures would be the expression of Romans 3: 23 which states “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (New American Standard Bible). Sin is universal, but is emphasized in unique cultural ways so that dishonesty is particularly sinful in one whereas if we consider the emphasis on hospitality as described, to be inhospitable in the Kazakh culture would be a great sin.
The receiving culture is then studied with the belief that it shares common aspects with other cultures which can be used to embed the Gospel message. The receiving culture is appropriately wrapped around the Gospel core so that we can say that the message has been translated into the receiving culture. This model always holds up the supracultural core as being of the greater importance so that if changes are needed then it is the cultural wrapping that changes and not the core. By implication the culture will in fact have to change as it receives this core Gospel message as something new and superior. In the Kazakh context for example, the folk Islamic practice of praying to the ancestor spirits is not compatible with the Gospel core in terms of the precept that God declares his people are to have no other gods before him (Exodus 20: 3). This practice of praying to the ancestor spirits then has to
Part of self-theologizing is for the church planter to assist the local church in discovering the Gospel core and then wrapping culture around it. The greatest challenge to this model is to come to a clear understanding of the core Gospel message. Critics argue that all of the Gospel message is contextual and that no supracultural core exists (Bevans 2002:43). The idea of common cultural aspects is also challenged by those who see each culture as completely unique.
Related to the translation model and recognizing the challenge of doing theology in a changing, globalized world, Schreiter (1997:128) argues for a new catholicity described by its three aspects of wholeness, fullness, and exchange and communication. By wholeness he refers to the idea that all cultures have a proportionate basis for the acceptance and communication of the Gospel which by implication means that they share something in common despite other differences. This basis then means that there must be a strong focus on the receiving culture and how to make the Gospel message relevant to them. As Schreiter puts it “..the concerns of the speaker about the integrity of the message have to be met by equal concerns of the hearer about identity” (:129). A Kazakh’s identity as Traditional, Modern, or Russified, and even the sub-cultures within these, is therefore of great importance when the Gospel is received. The reality of hybrid and even fragmented cultures means that the church planter needs to be especially sensitive to the particular context that the hearer lives in. Differences must be acknowledges as legitimate and the church must be prepared to get its hands dirty as it helps people struggle through the impact of globalization.
As we have seen, a Modern Kazakh in particular has the challenge of living in a rapidly changing world and yet showing loyalty to the life and belief of the ancestors. The church planter must understand how this person is pulled in various directions whilst trying to charter their own course for the future. For the Gospel message to be relevant, particular attention must be made to the “widows and orphans”, the marginalized, of Kazakh society.
They risk being left behind and overwhelmed by the advancement of society, becoming a discarded fragment. The church must offer them an identity that brings dignity and a sense of belonging, part of what Schreiter (:130) refers to as the fullness of faith.
Schreiter refers to fullness in terms of the accepted theory, doctrines and practices, or orthodoxy, of the Christian faith. The issue being how the Gospel is communicated so that an orthodox Christian identity can be established. He makes an important point in showing how too often miscommunication is seen as a problem with the receiver and argues that equal attention needs to be paid to how well the message was sent. There is also no determinate way in which the message is always expressed, and it is actually this indeterminacy which allows for the Gospel to find its way into a new culture. If globalization has caused a splintered, pluralistic world then part of the fullness of faith is for it to offer some kind of unified goal or purpose. Schreiter (:131) suggests goals such as the dignity of all human beings, peace, and reconciliation with others as a new creation. This offers the Kazakh church great potential in showing a unifying alternative to the fragmentation that globalization can bring. Furthermore, the fullness of faith offers a depth of relationship that seems unattainable under globalization. Dignity, peace and love can be offered unconditionally, whereas outside of the church and family, acceptance is based on what a person brings to the table.
Exchange and communication comprise the third aspect of a new catholicity. If both the speaker and the hearer determine how the message is received then “…there is a need for intense dialogue and exchange to ensure the transmittal of meaning in intercultural communication” (:132). But even beyond this is the need to incorporate an understanding of how the message will be worked out in practice, an existential understanding or orthopraxis.
Knowledge and faith must be accompanied by action, where the Gospel impacts a Kazakh’s daily life for the better.
Exchange and negotiation must also be part of the development of a goal or purpose, keeping in mind those things that are the same and those that are different. By implication then, the speaker influences the hearer and in turn is influenced by the hearer. The church planter does not enter the particular Kazakh context with a “listen to me, I know best” attitude, but rather takes a humble, learner position. The result is that the church planter’s theology is enriched even as they try to embed the Gospel in the new context.
Contextualization must take into account the pre-understanding that the Scriptures were not given in a cultural vacuum, but within the Hebrew worldview. Consequently, as Scripture is studied to see how the Gospel was made relevant for the Hebrew culture, so insights can be gathered as to how to make it relevant to the Kazakh culture. At the same time there needs to be an acknowledgement that God had a particular purpose in selecting the Hebrew culture which makes its context unique.
Contextualization in this study is pursued as an in-depth consideration of who the Kazakhs are as a people group. This includes their historical roots as well as the values, beliefs and ideals that have shaped their lives. Another way of putting it would be to talk of understanding the Kazakh worldview. Charles Kraft sees the components of worldview as the assumptions which underlie behavior, and these assumptions involve values and allegiances (cited in Ralph Winter and Stephen Hawthorne 1999:385). So, we need to know more of the high value placed on hospitality and other aspects of the culture, as well as allegiances such as the commitment to one’s family and clan. Kraft further contends that the assumptions are learned and passed down from the elders so that they have strong acceptance by the ongoing generations. With the high honor traditionally given to elders in Kazakh culture, but now under challenge from globalization, this is an important issue.
Schreiter (1985:19) argues for a significant role in contextualization on the part of the expatriate church planter, despite his contention that the expatriate church planter has dominated the development of a local theology and created ongoing dependence. The expatriate’s experience of living in other communities can help to enrich and challenge the local context, helping the church to avoid becoming overly introspective with the idea that the world revolves around them. The expatriate is also able to see things from a fresh perspective that is not possible for an insider. Through dialogue and exchange these new insights can help to make the local church more effective.
Due to the presupposition of evangelical church planting in this study, contextualization as defined from this point of view is important. Moreau (2012: 56) explains that at the heart of the issue is the normative nature of the Bible. Describing the evangelical position he says “we believe that Scripture has all we need … to determine how to live in a godly fashion in any circumstance of any culture at any time” (:57). The Gospel as contained in the Bible is reliable and so the goal of contextualization is not to change it but rather to express it in a way that is relevant. Amongst evangelicals there may be debate as to this how?
of contextualization so that various models are applied, but “all do agree that determining whether a model or application of a model is congruent with the Scriptures is critical” (: 61).
Moreau explains the current debate in evangelical contextualization as centering on the approach known as critical realism (: 79). In essence this approach holds that there is a Biblical truth relevant to all cultures, but because we are fallen human beings our ability to fully grasp this truth is limited. One side of the debate, which Moreau attributes to Hiebert, is that we begin with a less than perfect understanding and working together with the receiving culture this understanding grows, being continually checked against Scripture. Another side to the debate is exemplified by Kraft who sees God already working ahead of the church planter so that the Bible is brought alongside the cultural forms and practices in a way that uses these forms and practices, rather than trying to replace them. Underlining the debate is then the relationship between form and meaning.
As grounded theory is applied to the interview data, insights from the various approaches to contextualization will be considered, however with this study’s evangelical approach to church planting, the description of contextualization offered by Hesselgrave is
Missionary contextualization that is authentically and effectively Christian and evangelical does not begin with knowledge of linguistics, communications theory, and cultural anthropology. It begins with a commitment to an inerrant and authoritative Word of God in the autographs of Old Testament and New Testament Scripture. (2005:274) The usual application of the term contextualization is to look at a culture from the situation of the present, going back through history to decide how and why they have certain beliefs and practices. Because we live in a world of constant change, there is also an aspect to contextualization that needs to consider the future. What is the culture becoming? This brings in the concept of globalization and the need to consider its effects on the process of church planting in another culture.