5. Contextualization, inculturation and dialogue of worldviews

In the twenty-first century, the relationship of gospel and cultures is recognised as a crucial question for Christian mission. This question is variously referred to as 'contextualisation', 'inculturation' or 'dialogue of worldviews'.

For Edinburgh 2010, the World Evangelical Alliance Theological Commission offers a major contribution on this theme.  Also on this page is information about the contextual Bible study methods of the Ujaama Centre in South Africa, and papers contributed by individual scholars on this topic.

Contextualization and inculturation in the late twentieth century

In the late twentieth century, major studies were made in this area in different Christian churches and organisations. Through the Lausanne Movement, Evangelicals held conferences on contextualisation at Willowbank (1978) and Haslev (1997). In the Roman Catholic Church, the encyclical Redemptoris Missio (1990) defined the Church's developing understanding of inculturation as an ongoing dialogue between Christian faith and human cultures. And the World Council of Churches held a Conference on World Mission and Evangelism at Salvador in 1996 which made a wide-ranging study of gospel and cultures.

Biblical and contextually appropriate obedience to Christ: World Evangelical Alliance

The question of 'universal revelation and socially located theology' is under consideration by the Contextual Theology Working Group of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Theological Commission, led by Dr Matthew Cook of FATEAC, Cote d'Ivoire. The group is due to publish papers presented at their conference in Oxford in August 2008, which brought together theologians, biblical scholars, missiologists and cultural anthropologists from different nations. The book aims 'to state clearly an evangelical position on issues that impact contextual theology and to offer guidance in how to produce contextual theological life that avoids syncretism'. Information about the book is available to view or download (MS Word file) here.

A companion volume prepared by the WEA Mission Commission, and to be published later, will provide discussion of topics related to those in this book with more contextualization case studies. Both volumes, which will be published by William Carey International University Press, are intended to help 'the evangelical community take further steps toward biblical and contextually appropriate obedience to Christ'.

The WEA Mission Commission magazine Connections looked at the topic of contextualization recently. You can read the articles in the Fall 2008 issue, 'Contextualization Revisited - A Global and Missional Perspective' online here.

Ujaama Centre for Biblical and Theological Community Development and Research

The Ujamaa Centre at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa is an interface between socially engaged biblical and theological scholars, organic intellectuals, and local communities of the poor, working-class, and marginalised. Together they use biblical and theological resources for individual and social transformation. To find out more about their work visit their website. The Centre has excellent resources for contextual Bible study.


The following articles have been submitted to Edinburgh 2010 on this topic. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors of Edinburgh 2010.

Translation and Transliteration: 'Rendering the Bible and "God" into Chinese'
Dr. Allen Yeh, Assistant Professor of History and Theology and of Missions History, Biola University, USA

Translation of the Bible is difficult in any language. Chinese is no exception—-and one of the most basic words, God, is also one of the most difficult to translate. From the earliest Christian writings in China (the Nestorians) to the first translations of portions of Scripture into Chinese (e.g. Matteo Ricci) to the earliest full Chinese Bible (Robert Morrison’s “translation race” with Joshua Marshman), to James Legge's revisions and subsequent “term question” debate with William Boone, and up to the modern version—this paper will trace the development of the translation of the Holy Scriptures into Chinese.

Download the full paper (MS Word file) here.

'Timothy Richard and Accommodating Mission in China (with special reference to Robert Morrison, James Legge, and Hudson Taylor)'
Dr. Allen Yeh, Assistant Professor of History and Theology and of Missions History, Biola University, USA

In the history of Protestant missions to China, the British were the clear forerunners. Much has been made of Robert Morrison (the first Protestant missionary to China), the pioneer of the group. Also notable were James Legge for translating the Chinese Classics, and Hudson Taylor for establishing the China Inland Mission. Less attention has been paid to Timothy Richard, who turned to accommodationism as a form of contextualization. These four men, despite all being British Protestants, could not have been more different. Morrison and Legge were Scottish, Taylor was English, and Richard was Welsh. Morrison was Presbyterian, Legge was Congregational, Hudson was Methodist, and Richard was Baptist. This paper shows the progression of strategy of Protestant missions in China, and how each subsequent generation changed, added, and tried to improve upon the generations who came before, with Richard, in many ways, being the most innovative of the group, taking contextualization to what he saw as its most logical conclusion.

Download the full paper (MS Word file) here.

'Inter-cultural communication in the African mission context: An examination of practice'
Jim Harries, theological teacher in Kenya, and adjunct faculty of William Carey International University, Pasadena, USA

Incorrect assumptions in language meaning/impact are found to lead to wrong 'answers'. Specific policy recommendations guiding Western interventions into Africa drawn in this article include that there is an emphasis on theology including the study of 'witchcraft' beliefs, attention to development and use of African languages and investigation into options for capacity building in Africa from a local economic and cultural base. A careful logically guided consideration of intercultural communication and translation includes an examination of formal education in Africa in relation to Western scholarship. Widespread misunderstandings regarding theology and traditional religion in Africa are identified, including especially the deleterious impact on African scholarship of the necessity to assume atheism in order to satisfy Western academia. A serious gap in scholarly understanding of African views of 'god' is found to have arisen from the almost universal use of European languages in African scholarship.

Download the full paper (MS Word file) here.

'Towards an Arabic political theology: A contextual approach to coexistence and pluralism'
Rev. Dr Andrea Z. Stephanous, Coptic Evangelical Association for Social Services, Egypt

Political Christianity in the Middle East is developing as a result of specific trends: crisis in personal identity and ideology; the decline of Arab nationalism; the emergence of Political Islam as an alternative political ideology; the imposition of 'democracy' as a foreign Western political concept; the lack of political legitimacy in existing regimes; authoritarian rule in most Middle Eastern countries; the lack of effective economic development; the re-Islamisation of existing institutions and political systems; the Islamisation of media, economy, and culture; a weak civil society and the absence of a political theology that supports coexistence.

This paper will focus on the contextual role of Arabic Theology that promotes dynamic citizenship as a base for coexistence. It will present as well  an Arabic Political Theology as a core for pluralism.

Download the full paper (MS Word file) here.


The information on this page was shared with the Edinburgh 2010 project by groups and individuals working on this topic. It has been collated by the Edinburgh 2010 Research Coordinator, Dr. Kirsteen Kim, (at)