In the field of Bible translation and interpretation, contextualization is the process of assigning meaning as a means of interpreting the environment within which a text or action is executed. The term contextualizing theology is first used in missiology by Shoki Coe when he argued that the Venn-Anderson three-self principles were inadequate in addressing the context of his native Taiwan.
Regunta Yesurathnam defines contextualization as:
|“||The term contextualization includes all that is implied in indigenization or inculturation, but also seeks also to include the realities of contemporary, secularity, technology, and the struggle for human justice... Contextualization both extends and corrects the older terminology. While indigenization tends to focus on the purely cultural dimension of human experience, contextualization broadens the understanding of culture to include social, political, and economic questions. In this way, culture is understood in more dynamic and flexible ways, and is seen not as closed and self-contained, but as open and able to be enriched by an encounter with other cultures and movements.||”|
Contextualization is used in the study of Bible translations in relation to their relevant cultural settings. Derived from the practice of hermeneutics, it sought to understand the use of words borrowed into the Hebrew Scriptures, and later their Greek and Latin translations.
The word continues to be used theologically, mainly in the sense of contextualising the biblical message as perceived in the missionary mandate originated by Jesus in the gospel accounts. However, since the early 1970s, the word's meaning has widened. It is now used by secular, religious and political groups to render their message into different settings by adjusting or accommodating words, phrases or meanings into understandable contexts in respondent cultures.
An individual may espouse a particular worldview within a context of his or her knowledge and understanding, background, and culture: for instance, a Muslim may hold a monotheistic view of God within the context of his religion. Contextualisation addresses the question of whether that monotheistic God is the same as the monotheistic God within another religion, e.g. Judaism.
In order to enable ideas to be compared across the boundaries of different faiths, a whole series of religious terms will need to be contextualised as part of the flow of knowledge from one to the other.
Contextualisation was adopted by the Presbyterian Church in the United States by a gathering of scholars in the Theological Education Fund in its missionary mandate to communicate the Gospel and Christian teachings in other cultures. Prior to the use of the word contextualization many cross-cultural linguists, anthropologists and missionaries had been involved in such communication approaches such as in accommodating the message or meanings to another cultural setting.
- Wheeler, Ray (April 2002), "The legacy of Shoki Coe", International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 26 (2): 78
- Coe, Shoki (Summer 1973). "In Search of Renewal in Theological Education". Theological Education. 9 (4): 233–243.
- Coe, Shoki (Autumn 1974). "Theological Education--a Worldwide Perspective". Theological Education. 11 (1): 5–12.
- Van Engen, Charles E. (2005), "Toward a Contextually Appropriate Methodology in Mission Theology", in Kraft, Charles H., Appropriate Christianity, Pasadena: William Carey Library, p. 194 ISBN 0-87808-358-8
- Young, Bill, Emerging Roles of Mission Initiators and World Mission, in Call to Mission, Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, Louisville, KY