Contextualisation is one of the hottest topics in contemporary thinking about mission.
It’s roots lie in wrestling with how to connect with people in cross-cultural situations — that and Paul’s words about becoming all things to all people. But it’s come to be applied much more widely. And sometimes far more controversially.
So I cackled when I read this in Moby-Dick (Ishmael, the narrator, has been invited to join in worshipping the portable idol his new friend Queequeg carries around):
I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth — pagans and all included — can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship? — to do the will of God — that is worship. And what is the will of God? — to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man do to me — that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our consciences and all the world…