Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models by A. Scott Moreau, Kregel Academic, 2012.
For the general reader or non-specialist, this book can be a challenging read. For those with extensive mission research and background, the author provides a valuable survey of mission approaches and current thinking. Although I am not a formal missionary nor do I teach missions classes, I found the book very helpful in sorting out the current evangelical mission scene and potential approaches to mission work. My field of study is exegetical theology, with some work in translations. While reading the book I found several areas in which my interests and the book’s topics overlapped. On a practical level, because I serve in an area that is 98% unchurched I am actively involved in mission. I found this book timely and helpful, especially the examples in the second part of the book.
Moreau divides the topic into two sections:
1. Foundations for Evangelical Contextualization
This is a critical section because Moreau appropriately lays out the dominant writers in Contextualization and mapping models. He compares and contrasts each position, and then provides an assessment of the major positions. Additionally he defines the key terms; for someone like myself this provides an vital function. Some of the terms used historical are slightly different (i.e. “evangelical”). Mapping this context was a relatively new term; Moreau notes that mapping is flexible and can be an activity, a means, a chosen set of rules, which results in a product.
Chapters 2 and 3 offer insights into Revelation and Interpretation and how these are shaped, as well as how they inform the understanding of contextualization. The temptation is to consider this only an academic book. However, Moreau shows the practical value of this book: “The average American Christian experiences, or knows of, translation model examples…without even knowing that these are translation models” (p. 44). He summarizes the academic investigations, then provides an overview of that process, which is helpful for all students of mission. I particularly appreciated chapter 3 because he approaches Interpretation from the perspective language, form and meaning, and hermeneutics, all areas that relate to my specialities. Moreau concludes that evangelicals are concerned with the “core ideas about how interpretation should take place” (pp. 95-96).
While chapter 4 is short, the author provides a helpful summary of how mission models have been mapped. But even more important, he notes Markers of Good Contextualization. Chapter 5 addresses those things that shape and constrain Contextualization. He especially addresses the problem of syncretism, not a unique problem of 21st century nor evangelicals. The problem today extends beyond evangelicals; Roman Catholic missions have faced this challenge for centuries. He also addresses the concern that there can be a close relationship between Contextualization (positive) and syncretism (negative); the table of five questions on p. 133 is invaluable in examining when crossover takes place.
2. Mapping Evangelical Models of Contextualization
This section of the book struck me in two opposite ways. The author’s separation and dissection of missionary approaches seemed not always helpful, at times even artificial. Yet, at the same time, the author offered more detail about examples of the taxonomy he was proposing. In the long run, I found the later the best part and concentrated on that, rather than the specific category in which Moreau placed the example.
While his concluding chapter on “Future Trajectories” was short, I think he addresses some significant issues that missionaries and church bodies face in the future. Obviously the shift of Christianity to Africa and Asia will dominate what future missions will look like and even the direction of mission work, and that may also relate to what he considers the biggest change: generational differences. That may be true in the immediate future as globalism in mission reaches maturity, but may not be a lasting issue. Although he limits his study to contemporary evangelicals, the interconenctions with Roman Catholic and Orthodox efforts will come more to the front throughout the world. I was a little surprised that he did not address monumental changes in technology; he briefly mentioned it in the chapter overview, but he did not expand on any aspect of technology.
Moreau has provided a valuable resource for orientation, study, and synthesis of many attempts at formally looking at Contextualization in mission. He provides insights into problem areas, alternative solutions, and points of further investigation. In each chapter, the author offers a practical example of the specific topic to get the reader to focus and reflect. He includes tables of key comparisons throughout the book, an excellent summary as well as a quick reference when reviewing. The Appendices are instructive for the reader. And the bibliography is extensive, but not overwhelming.
Three important aspects of the book are: at the beginning of each chapter, Chapter Overview and Chapter Outline; at the end of the chapter, Keywords for Review, Questions for Reflection, and For Further Study. Sometimes when (reflective) questions are included, they seem almost superfluous. In this case, Moreau provides only a few questions, but they are thought-provoking, focus on the key chapter points, and cannot be answered in one sentence. Each of these additional features make this a valuable resource and study book!
Thanks to Kregel Academic for providing a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review.