John Barclay and Contextualization

I just finished re-reading John Barclay’s Obeying the Truth: Paul’s Ethics in Galatians, one of my favorite books on Galatians. I enjoy reading Barclay because he writes in a clear, concise manner and pays close attention to both the literary and historical contexts of Paul’s letter.

When re-reading a book, I am consistently amazed by how my current context informs my reading. Contextualization of the gospel is not a normal focus of mine but lately I have been thinking through different aspects of contextualizing as my wife and I have discussed several mission opportunities. Two primary sources have guided my research:

E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien – Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes

Jackson Wu‘s blog on Doing Theology. Thinking Mission.

Therefore, I was excited to find this gem in Barclay’s book:

In many respects Paul’s pioneering work in founding and nurturing Hellenistic Christian churches made him an innovator in conceptualizing and presenting a Christian ethic. But such a role inevitably involved the adaptation and application of previous Jewish and Hellenistic moral traditions, for it was unnecessary to create an ethical system de novo. Paul drew on the Jewish and Christian patterns of thought familiar to him while also being inclined to use terms and forms which could communicate effectively with his Gentile converts…Many of his ideas, motifs, and forms are not original to him. What are unique to Paul are his emphasis within this material and his arrangement of it, both of which are strongly influenced by his understanding of the gospel and the needs of the Galatian situation.

Contextualization can be a touchy subject because

-we think it means to water down the message

-we can’t see past our own cultural perspectives

-we don’t want to see past our own cultural biases

-we believe the biblical example does not involve contextualizing the message.

Barclay, however, provides a helpful way for me to think through the gospel in different contexts: innovation using my understanding of the gospel (my context) and an understanding of the needs of a culture (missional context). For those versed in contextualization this may seem obvious, but for me it is transformative to understand that contextualization moves beyond adaptation to innovation.

Warp and Woof (2.8.13)

Wife is home and blog will return to regular schedule next week. For now, interesting reads from across the world wide web…

Brooks (NYT) on Data – I love to read people’s explanations for what do we know and how do we actually know it. It will be interesting to follow Brooks as he examines how we use data. On another note, just received This Explains Everything in mail this week. Hope to blog about it as I read it.

The Problem with Queer Theology – Michael Bird posted a quote from Oliver O’Donovan on his blog that I thought was brilliant. His reflection on the tension between creation and redemption could open up so many conversations.

Jackson Wu on Contextualizing and Compromising the Gospel – In a article in the latest volume of Global Missiology, Wu argues that settling for the truth compromises the gospel. I have some questions about engaging different perspectives of reading/understanding (for example, reader-response), but thought-provoking essay. He answers some questions about the article on his blog here and here.

Sinners – Tim Gombis writes on one way Paul finds unity between Jews and Gentiles in Romans. By the way, his blog is quickly becoming a favorite: regular posting, insightful posts, and engages with commenters.

Ben Blackwell and I thought I knew you.

Finally, Happy LXX Day. Great day because I don’t have to feel bad about the state of Hebrew. Free to read all I want in Greek!