Author: Dr.Emmanuel M. Luna
Contextualization of the Word in a Diverse World
The world has grown dramatically that could be unimaginable among those who lived one thousand years ago. In the year 1000, the aggregate population of the top 10 cities that include Cordova, Kaifeng, Constantinopole, Angkor, Kyoto, Cairo, Baghdad, Nishapur, Hasa and Anhivada was only 2.14 million. In 2015, the total population of the top ten cities is projected to be 205.8 million, about 10,000% increase. In 1900, eight of the most populated cities were from the west: London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Chicago, Vienna, Manchester and Philadelphia. The other two are Tokyo and St. Petersburg. This trend is reversed in 2015, where it is expected that the most populated cities will be coming from the east, specifically from less developed countries (Table 1).
Table 1. Population of the world’s largest metropolitan areas
in 1900, 2000, and 2015 (millions)
Los Anges-Long Beach- Santa Ana
Source: The World Bank 2007. 07 World Development Indicators citing O’ Meara 1999.
United Nations Population Division, 2005, World Prospects: The 2005 Revision.
By 2015, it is projected that there would be 7.1 billion people on earth, more than half of them would most probably be living in urban areas since 49% of the population in 2005 are already urban population. From 1990 to 2005, it took 15 years to have additional one billion people. From 2005 to 2015, it is projected that there would be 0.7 billion more people in just ten years (Table 2).
Table 2. World and Urban population, 1990, 2005, 2015
Total World Population
Source: The World Bank 2007. 07 World Development Indicators
The fast growth of the population and urbanization gives rise to greater complexity of the modern cities, puts stresses on resources and institutions in responding to the multiple human needs and demands, and poses challenges in coping with emerging socio-economic and political relationships and arrangements. The finite world has grown big in population and growth, but it has also become smaller as the space that used to be conquered after years of explorations can now be circled by a traveler in two or three days time. Real time communication has been made possible through advance technology. The globalization of the economy has made small transactions in the peripheries linked to the international economies. Politics encompass relations among nations, wars and conflicts continue, natural disasters transcend national boundaries, climate change is in, poverty prevails.
We have a diverse world. Each city has become more distinct, not just in term of tourism destination but in the way of life of its people. Post modernism characterized by relativism, deconstruction, and plurality has gained grounds and affecting the perspectives and programs of individuals, institutions and nations. Christianity that used to be just Roman Catholicism and Protestantism has no longer monopoly of the belief in Christ, as new faith groups emerge, claiming Christ as well. Within the “born-again” followers of Christ, a variety of church organizations, ministries, methods of services and mission strategies exist.
The “mission field” that used to connote a remote, distant and ‘uncivilized’ world has changed significantly. Now, the mission field is right within a distance, in one’s home, workplaces and communities- in a place that can be so modern and affluent, or distressed neighborhood where the people mire in poverty. Amidst all these complexities, how do we plunge in an urban mission in a post- modern era?
One can get confused. One can get lost in this urban mace. Many did. We do not one to become one.
Urban missiologist, author, professor and a senior associate of the large cities for the Laussane Committee for World Evangelization Ray Bakke argues that:
Developing a theology of the city is one of the ways to survive in urban ministry… of all pastoral survival strategies the most important is the development of a world view – an understanding big enough to see what God is doing in urbanization of his world and the internationalizing of his cities (Bakke 1987;62).
Cities are sacred places. One has to love the city if he is to work here. Praying for the cities is biblically authorized. Believers in the city can help preserve it and despite the millions of people in the city, God can find the believers, His people (Bakke 1987;62-65).
The need to see the dynamic interplay of the cities, the believers and the Word brings one to the concern for contextualization.
A recent study (Rice 2010) on how theologians and practitioners in a developing country view contextualization by pointing out its elements summarized as follows:
Elements of Contexualization
How to do contextualization? The task “…is the essence of urban reflection and action. The challenge is to remain faithful to the historic text of the Scriptures while being mindful of today’s’ realities (Smith 2006). The steps are:
Am sure there have been experiences and cases on how believers worked with the cities in a more contextualized manner, making the Word more relevant and appropriate to the city people being addressed. I remember attending a prayer conference in Hongkong in 1995. The venue was a former camp of the Vietnamese refugees and we had to make do with the facilities for accommodation. In the middle of one of the sessions came a long haired Caucasian guy with full beard and mustache, wearing a bright yellow mid-leg pants with matching yellow and black vest, with a lot of pendants, and if I remember right with earrings as well. He was wearing a sandal and with a Bible in his hand. He reminded me of the hippies in the 1960s and I wondered why he was made up like that. By late afternoon, I just realized that he was my roommate and I could not control my curiosity and asked him why he was in that attire. He said and this is not the exact words “I am a missionary among the youth in the streets of ____ (a city in Germany) who are into drugs and gang conflicts. I have to be “like” them if I have to be with them. If I will come in long sleeves and tie, they will surely run the moment they see me coming.”
That moment, I remembered Jesus who went around Jerusalem in sandal, long- haired, dressed in robes and in the company of the sinners. The world will know the Word through us, and the Word is in us in action.
Bakke, Ray 1987. The Urban Christian. Illinois: Inter Varsity Press.
Rice, Wayne 2010. “The Contextualization of a Filipino Church: Understanding, Practice and Challenges”. Doctor of Ministry Dissertation. Bakke Graduate University, Seattle, USA.
Smith, Glenn 2006. “ Key Indicators for a Transformed City: The Church in dialogue with its context-observations from Montreal”. Paper presented during the conference of the Board of Regents, Bakke Graduate University, September 2006.
The World Bank 2007. 07 World Development Indicators. Washington DC: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/THE WORLD BANK.