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Missioligical Reflection On Contextualization in the New Testament by Dean Fleming is a fascinating book, and for me, is a long overdue

read. I have often wondered when reading New Testament books, especially the Pauline literature, if we have become to dogmatic about systematics. That is not to say, Pauline literature does not point to definite system of theological thought; but, as Fleming seems to be saying, the system is more fluid than previously viewed. Fleming demonstrates this Pauline fluidity as he delves into the symbolic tones that frame Paul's writing to cultural contexts. Paul, asserts Fleming, was a man who co-opted and redefined the cultural symbols of his audience by filtering the words and symbols through the central filter of the gospel. For Paul, this meant his contemporaries would misunderstand him; a risk, I believe, Paul was willing to take. The risk did not end with the ancients, however. Even today, Pauline literature (and the Bible as a whole) is often read through the lens of modernity and enlightenment ideology. The result is a reading of the Bible that attempts to formulate a generic set of fixed dogma rather than listen for God's voice speaking into the context, guided by the gospel. This creates a rigidity that can be detrimental to the fluid nature of missional leadership. The post-enlightenment reader takes much comfort in Fleming's work to de-mechanize the Scriptures in order to see how it speaks from and through the gospel of Christ into contextual settings. Without surrendering the centrality of Christ and His gospel; Fleming creates a space whereby God's missionary people can be free to exegete culture, discover its unique symbols and language; and then, co-opt and redefine those characteristics in such a way that the gospel and Christ make sense for the context. This open space does create an opportunity to be misunderstood by our contemporaries, however. Nevertheless, the kingdom must be preached and done so in the language and symbols of the hearing culture. This does, however,

come with the responsibility of doing the hard work of accurately discerning culture and a new reliance on the Spirit to help us understand the times. The crucial question, at least for me, is how does one accurately discern the symbols and language of a culture. By "language" I am not necessarily concerned with the grammatical structure as much as linguistic nuance. Can someone like myself truly understand the nuance of a language that is secondary or tertiary? Would Paul have been more adept at discerning the nuances of Greek of Aramaic? He was obviously able to communicate well to other speakers and particularize the gospel through its nuances. One must thoroughly consider, however, how much of Paul's ability to communicate was not so much due to his language proficiency but more on his reliance on the Holy Spirit. Some might argue that the cultural milieu of Paul's time was not as complex as it is today. Given the dominance of Greek influence over Paul's world it might be tempting to generalize cultural norms, and thereby, expect the Bible to speak in general terms. A basic understanding of anthropology would dismiss these types of assumptions as naive. Cultural norms are far from normal when one culture is juxtaposed with another even if that culture appears to be part of larger monolithic system. This point is illustrated in how many evangelicals in the United States view the idea of church planting and growth. U.S. evangelicals often view church planting and growth as a systematic set of methods to be reproduced from city to city. If the methods used in City A brought growth then the same result should occur in City B. A particular model worked in a certain place and context, therefore, that model is often forced into other settings without contemplating the contextual differences of the receiving culture(s). The often-wrong presumption is that the USA has a general basket of symbols and language extending from the East to the West coast. If a "foreign

missionary" approached their mission in this manner she or he would be considered lazy. However, denominations routinely send "home missionaries" into a U.S. setting without ever requiring any ethnographic, demographic or anthropological work. The unfortunate consequence is a church plant that fits in, and satisfies its denominational culture; but does not engage its context with the transformative power of the gospel. Church planters often succumb to the fear that if they do the hard work of discerning culture, they will discover the language they must speak is not the language of their sponsoring body. This brings us back to the fear of being misunderstood and, by extension, ostracism by peers. The exception may be a church planted among an ethic group residing within the USA. The church being planted in an ethnic community is expected to look and act different. As such, more latitude may be given to the planter in her or his model and vision. If, however, the church planter is working among a "non-ethnic" group (if such a thing exists) the expectation is often very different. The assumption is the "non-ethnic" group on the north side of the State utilizes language and interprets symbols the same as those people on the south side. Fleming illustrates the fallacy of this thinking by asserting that even the Gospels are to be read with a Pauline hermeneutic (235). That is to say, each Gospel was written to a culture and should be interpreted in light of that setting. The challenge Fleming is pushing against is the tendency to lump the Gospels together as being written to some larger "community" that shared the same language and symbolism. Thus, the Gospel becomes a conversation between the Evangelist and the audience. Viewing the Gospels in this manner challenges the status quo of church planting. Not even the inspired Word of God assumes that culture is the same in all places even if these cultures dwell in the same geographic region. On the contrary, the Bible assumes everyone

in every place interprets language and symbol differently; thus, the Church is required to do the same. However, because human tendency is to take the path of least resistance, the church planter is tacitly coerced into creating a church environment that makes sense to the sending body but may seem foreign to the cultural context he or she is evangelizing. Many questions arise when the church planter discovers himself or herself speaking another language than that of the sending body. In particular the planter has to ask, How much time should be spent in educating others in their language? The answer to the question has an array of variables that deny a hard and fast answer. In the end, the planter must consider his or her responsibility to the sending denomination or network. Therefore, the planter must do what is necessary to create communicative bridges that strengthen his or her partnership with the sending body. The church planter may have to live within a certain amount of coding/decoding tension with his or her fellow laborers, however. The planter must chiefly do the job of helping his or her target audience understand how their own language and symbols have been co-opted and redefined by their culture. The implication of this goal is clear: the planter will have to spend time with people in order to understand the culture - as it is - not necessarily as it will be when confronted with the gospel. This means we have to see how God preveniently works among those who are not yet believers. The corresponding mandate of the church planter is prayer. She or he must spend time seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit in order filter the host cultures language and symbols through the gospel so that effective contextualization can happen. Having done the work of cultural exegesis and prayer, the planter now brings the "new" language back into the context. Fleming formulates this process as "context-text-context" scenario arguing that Scriptural priority helps interpret how God is at work among people (49).

Consequently, the church planter will have to be where the people are, which implies they will have to spend time in places that are not considered "right" by others. This has the potential to be misunderstood (i.e. Jesus being called a wine-bibber); but it also places the planter in a position to grasp the culture of those who are not yet Christian so that the gospel can be preached with integrity and effectiveness (i.e. Paul among Gentiles).