Culture and Contextualization

If you currently serve in church leadership, you are most likely aware of the term culture. This term colors many conversations ranging from relevance to competency and usually links to the idea that believers should integrate their faith into daily life.

In simple terms, culture is our values, priorities, and belief systems. Contextualization puts these language items into context — rather than treating them independently of each other. For our discussion, this leads to two helpful questions: Can the Gospel be presented in culturally relevant ways, and Biblically speaking, can cultural relevance be accomplished?

Can the Gospel be presented in culturally relevant ways as we explore the question? We draw our attention to one of the leading theologians on the subject, H. Richard Niebuhr. In his book, Christ and Culture¹ (first published in 1951), Niebuhr explores how Christian principles have shaped American Culture. He placed his findings into five facets:

Niebuhr is a leading theological reference on this subject — and Christ is a common thread in each of these entities. To answer the question: Biblically speaking, can cultural relevance be accomplished? It makes the most sense to reference the Bible and start at the beginning in Genesis.

In these early chapters, the words establish the importance of culture and even draw focus on conflicts between opposing views. Jumping ahead a few hundred pages, we see that this discussion [or tension] is still a focus. Jesus is now teaching us (Matthew 5) that our lives light up the world — and we should let others see this light. Putting on the researcher's cap, we continue to read the book of Matthew.

After several unique stories, we find ourselves face to face with the now Risen Christ. We note several things about Jesus: He is relational, conversational, and more alive than the disciples ever imagined.

His words are loving, and the approach welcoming:

“Now go in my authority and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to follow all that I have commanded you faithfully. And never forget that I am with you every day, even to the completion of this age.”

The context of these words in Matthew is essential to our ability to connect Christ to culture. Jesus, newly risen, reveals himself to his followers. Author Bob Goff describes this scene: "When Jesus rose from the dead, He didn't make a speech, he made breakfast for His friends."

Jesus knew that the disciples would listen/connect over a meal. These meals were a place of common ground, and even their last meal together became a covenantal agreement between them and future generations of Christ-followers.

Both Niebuhr's findings and Christ's words are probing, and we can easily find ourselves in these words. These revelation places can connect us to the Father's heart and deepen our awareness of culture and how Christians can fit in the puzzle of faith and everyday life.



Preparing men and women for a lifetime of service in music and worship leadership for the glory of God, the building up of his church, and the good of the world.

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Jeremi Richardson

Husband to Amy | Dad to Ariah, Shalom, and Noa | Lover of coffee | Worship Leader, Studio Vocalist, and former member of CCM group, Avalon.