Contextualization in China

c7329ace3db9d428f85d947528660405_400x400The latest issue of ChinaSource Quarterly was released a couple of weeks ago. The articles are all dedicated to issues of contextualization in China. There are some very helpful pieces here, including an interview with a house church pastor and an article written by a Chinese cross-cultural worker. Other articles include engagement with majority and minority cultures in China.

I contributed an article titled “Union with Christ and Contextualization in China.” In it, I  show the importance of union with Christ in the New Testament, specifically focusing on Ephesians. I then point to some conceptual connections with Chinese culture, suggesting that this significant biblical concept can prove useful in evangelism and discipleship among Chinese.

The entire issue can be accessed here:

https://www.chinasource.org/resource-library/chinasource-quarterlies/contextualization-and-the-chinese-church

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Discipleship and Identity (Mark 1)

Discipleship is about identity – identity in Christ.

This is clearly illustrated in Mark. Mark’s Gospel was written for two primary purposes: to tell his readers that Jesus is the promised Messiah-King and to call people to follow him. In other words, Mark is all about discipleship: making disciples through the gospel and building disciples through the story of Jesus.

In Mark 1:16-20, we find Jesus calling disciples to follow him. Walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus calls two sets of brothers to be his disciples. Notice how following Jesus is directly related to identity.

Simon and Andrew (Mark 1:16-18)ren_ptg_duccio_peter_andrw

Introduction of the characters: We are first introduced to Simon and Andrew in Mark 1:16. Of
all the things Mark could have told us about these brothers in order to introduce them (their home town; their father’s name; etc.), he introduces them as fishermen. In fact, he makes this abundantly clear: “they were casting into the sea, for they were fishermen.” If the act of casting wasn’t clear enough, Mark says directly “they were fishermen.”

Calling: When Jesus calls them, he gives them a new identity: fishers of men. The calling is to follow Jesus with the result that he would make them fishers of men. Thus, the calling relates directly to the introduction of the characters.

Response: Hearing Jesus’s call, Simon and Andrew respond by “leaving the nets” and following Jesus. The old identity is left behind as they respond to the call to follow Jesus. The response is directly related to their identity.

James and John (Mark 1:19-20)

calling-of-james-and-johnIntroduction of the characters: We are introduced to James and John in Mark 1:19. Of all the things Mark could have told us about James and John, he highlights their father’s name. Of course, they were also fishermen, but they are introduced as the “sons of Zebedee” most fundamentally.

Calling: Mark moves quickly through the calling, only informing us that Jesus called them. The response will further clarify the calling.

Response: In response to the call to follow Jesus, James and John “leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men went away after him.” Notice the repetition of Zebedee’s name and the emphasis on James and John leaving him to follow Jesus. Again, the response to follow Jesus is directly related to their identity.

So What?

What does this teach us about discipleship? Discipleship is primarily about identity. In both of these call stories, the calling to follow Jesus related directly to the fundamental identity of those called to discipleship. Simon and Andrew were fishermen. They were called to leave this vocation and given a new one: fishers of men. James and John were the sons of Zebedee. They were called to leave their father and find their primary identity: not as the sons of Zebedee, but as disciples of Jesus.

Discipleship, then, is not so much about a set of tasks, but about a new identity: follower of Jesus. The new tasks follow from the fundamental change in identity.

Israel’s Story and the Gospel

Is the story of Israel integral to the gospel?important part

This is an important question, particularly as it relates to the biblical gospel and to evangelism. Fortunately, biblical theology gives us a very clear answer to the question. In short, YES!

Israel’s story is essential to the biblical gospel. Nevertheless, this answer is perhaps less than self-evident to many people if judged by the place (or absence) of Israel’s story in most tracts and gospel presentations.

For example, the C2C Story is a popular evangelism tool used by many cross-cultural workers. While the approach makes use of a storying method, there are serious problems with the story, especially concerning the role of Israel in the biblical storyline. C2C makes no mention of the nation of Israel and implies that the 10 commandments and the OT sacrifices were given to humanity in general rather than Israel in particular. The story has room for the fall of evil angels, but omits the exodus.

More could be said about other omissions in C2C (no mention of Abraham, the covenants, or David; only a passing reference to the resurrection, etc.), but this post is focusing only on Israel’s story. And C2C is but one example among many in which Israel is either neglected or ignored.

This brings us back to the main question – is Israel’s story important to the gospel? There are no less than fours reasons why the answer must be in the affirmative.

1. The story of Israel is important in the Bible.

book with no middleFirst, the story of Israel is central to the biblical message. Proportionately speaking, Israel’s story makes up the bulk of the Christian canon. If we hold to a high view of Scripture, we must affirm that God inspired the biblical authors to pen a vast amount of material concerning the story of Israel.

If God saw this story as important, we must also hold it as important. Ignoring Israel’s story is like cutting out the main part of a book’s plot. We dare not do so with God’s book.

2. Jesus’s story is incomprehensible without Israel’s story.

Second, and related to the first point, the story of Jesus cannot be rightly understood apart from the story of Israel. Jesus’s story is Israel’s story. Failure to rightly appreciate the role of Israel’s story within the biblical narrative results in a deficient view of Jesus and his significance.

3. The story of Israel makes the gospel real.

By real, I mean that Israel’s story puts the gospel story in real life. The gospel message is not an abstract set of propositions, but a story, the story of the world’s true King, Israel’s Messiah, who sets the world right again. The story of Israel is the story of God’s people and his mission of restoration in and through his people. Israel’s story demonstrates God’s work in the real world, in history, with real people.

4. Israel’s story shows the corporate nature of the gospel.

Finally, Israel’s story helps us to avoid the individualistic bent of many gospel presentations. Much gospelizing involves telling people God is angry with them and that they are going to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus. Believing results in assurance that they will go to heaven when they die. The result of this is often viewing salvation as a ticket to heaven with nothing further needed.slide-10-people-of-the-church

Indeed, if the gospel is just “me and my personal relationship with Jesus”, there is little, if any, need for the church. The story of Israel helps correct this misunderstanding by showing God’s actions to rescue and restore his people. Just as the rescue from Egypt was the rescue of a nation, so redemption in Christ is the restoration of King Jesus’s people.

More could be said, but these brief points clearly show that Israel’s story is ignored to the detriment of biblical gospelizing. In future posts, we will look at some specific examples of Israel’s story in the NT gospel.