Contextualization in the New Testament
Chris Wigram reviews Dean Flemming's book
Why is this book essential reading for anyone who is involved in teaching the Bible? It is because Flemming, a North American New Testament scholar, shows quite clearly how limited are views of the Bible and theology that are purely mono-cultural. He demonstrates how the context of his ministry and his interaction with believers from differing cultures enhanced his understanding of scripture. His cross-cultural experience demanded from him a re-reading of the text in the light of the contribution of others.
This book presents some of Flemming’s research and shows how clearly the context colours the writings of the New Testament. He focuses on the four gospels, Paul and the Book of Revelation, showing in some detail, how the local context determined the writers’ approach. This puts to bed once and for all the idea that in the Bible we have ‘timeless trust’ that only needs to be re-introduced in a differing context for it to be understood. The reality is much harder than that for the faithful communicator. He or she has to understand the context into which the message is being preached. This means learning the language and the thought patterns of those who receive the message.
Equipped with these tools, the faithful teacher will receive new insights into God’s revelation in Christ as it encounters new situations.
The important aspect of this book is that it also gives us the tools for an understanding that we are all, wherever we are in the world, doing some form of cross-cultural communication, and so gives all of us important lessons. A similar effort on the Old Testament would be great!