How contextual is your Christianity?

ContextsJust to the side here is a diagram I’ve drawn up to illustrate some of the complexities involved in communicating the good news in this multicultural, multireligious, multimedia context of ours.

In the past it was reasonable to assume that cross-cultural communication was something that happened far away, beyond the borders of Christendom (bottom right quadrant), and local Christians didn’t have to worry about that sort of stuff (top left quadrant).

However, with the advent of globalized communications and transportation networks that has all changed, and both these quadrants have shrunk. Across the planet, particularly in cosmopolitan cities, we are now experiencing both the mass localization of foreign cultures (bottom left quadrant) and the mass globalization of subcultures (top right quadrant). We have increased ability to connect up with like minded individuals across the planet, forming globalized subcultures of people who share our interests and tastes, yet paradoxically often find ourselves increasingly isolated in our own cities and suburbs.

This poses great challenges for communication. Local churches may have the advantage of face to face communication, but the language differences within the neighbourhood may seem greater than ever. High context, nuanced communication may go completely over the heads of non-Christians and even the Christians in the area. Conversely, new Christians may be unable to find other Christians they identify with culturally except over electronic media. Sometimes the local “tribe” may be nothing more than a lone individual, finding herself culturally isolated in her own church. The harder churches stress popular “styles” the faster some people will be slipping through the cracks. What we need, therefore, is not greater emphasis on style in churches but greater emphasis on substance irrespective of style, a greater emphasis on Christ for every culture.

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