Models of Contextualization

I know many of you missional types have heard of the Engel Scale but what about the C-Scale or “C1 – C6 Spectrum” of Church Contextualisation? It was first coined by a missionary, John Travis (a pseudonym), in his article: “Must all Muslims leave Islam to Follow Jesus?”

Writing for Evangelical Missions Quarterly in October, 1998, he wrote, “The C1 – C6 Spectrum compares and contrasts types of “Christ-centred communities” (groups of believers in Christ) found in the Muslim world. The six types in the spectrum are differentiated by language, culture, worship forms, degree of freedom to worship with others, and religious identity. All worship Jesus as Lord and core elements of the gospel are the same from group to group. The spectrum attempts to address the enormous diversity which exists throughout the Muslim world in terms of ethnicity, history, traditions, language, culture, and, in some cases, theology. This diversity means that myriad approaches are needed to successfully share the gospel and plant Christ-centred communities among the world’s one billion followers of Islam. The purpose of the spectrum is to assist church planters and Muslim background believers to ascertain which type of Christ-centred communities may draw the most people from the target group to Christ and best fit in a given context. All of these six types are presently found in some part of the Muslim world.”

This spectrum may be outlined as follows:

  • C1: Christian in churches radically different from their own culture, where worship is in a language other than their mother tongue.
  • C2: Same as C1, but worship is in the Christian’s mother tongue.
  • C3: Christians in culturally indigenous Christian churches that avoid cultural forms seen as connected to their religious past (i.e. Islamic, Buddhist, Post-Modernism, etc).
  • C4: Christians in culturally indigenous congregations that retain biblically permissible past religious forms (e.g., prostrating in prayer, etc), investing these with biblical meaning. They may call themselves something other than Christians (e.g., “followers of Jesus”), but do not see themselves as part of their previous religious belief system (i.e. Muslim, Buddhist, etc).
  • C5: Messianic Muslims (Jews, etc) who follow Jesus as Lord and Saviour in fellowships of like-minded believers within the Islamic (Jewish, etc.) community, continuing to identify culturally and officially as Muslims (Jews, etc).
  • C6: Secret / underground believers. Due to fear, isolation, or threat of extreme retaliation.

Now, while some have translated this into non-Muslim, non-western contexts (i.e. amongst Buddhist and Hindu communities), and some have translated this into secular, western contests (such as Christian Surfers, God Squad bikies, etc), few have translated this into alternative religious, Western contexts.

However, when I first became involved in ministry at Mind Body Spirit Festivals back in the 1990s, having converted to Christianity out of the New Age Movement myself, it seemed like an obvious move to me. The only question was, how far? Although I did consider C5 contextualization, Messianic Occultism, as an option, I came to see that as unnecessarily confusing and therefore unproductive in my context. However, C4 contextualisation was a different story. An expression of Christianity which incorporated esoteric history, traditions, culture, language, and to some degree, theology [1], without compromising the centrality of Christ, was highly appropriate for me given my cultural identification with and personal ministry amongst the esoteric community.

This, of course, was still was not an easy path. It was at times misunderstood by both Neo-Pagans and Christians, though more often by the latter. I cannot remember how often I was denounced as a heretic or syncretist in the early years, when I was still finding my feet. You’ll note that these days my blogging style tends to move up and down the spectrum from C1 to C4 depending on whom I am primarily conversing with, depending on how high context or low context the situation is. It is because of that. But as missional approaches have become more accepted in western contexts it has become easier to explain myself even if I am still a bit circumspect or cautious at times.

But challenges aside, it has also been very rewarding. I find the more intuitive, more symbolic, more apophatic style of Christ-centred Christianity that I practice speaks far more to my heart and the heart of other Christians and seekers on the deeper end of the spectrum. It has been worth it.

[1] For example, esoteric styles of theology tend to focus more on pattern recognition and possibility exploration than isolating details and defending dogmas.

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