Thoughts on Context

I grabbed a double helping of turkey. The plate was near the edge, the huge chocolate lab of Julie’s aunt and uncle roamed the kitchen nearby, the plate was on the edge of the counter . . . I didn’t expect to go back for seconds. In fact, I predicted what would happen, and it did, during grace of all times. The prayer lasted 3 seconds too long, the paws went up on the counter, and chowing down commenced. We saved most of the turkey, but I at least had the satisfaction of recognizing the inevitable.

That was pretty interesting, but what really struck me after dinner and the equally large spread of desserts was a conversation about cultural differences. How do you market an Asian film in North America and vise versa?

Well I’ll leave the Canadians out of this, I’m sure they don’t want to be identified with the blood-thirsty Americans who have short attention spans! So we’ll talk about Asians and Americans, as in the USA.

Take the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The USA preview shows fighting, running, screaming, and key lines. You basically figure out the story, or so you think, and are promised fast-paced action in 3-second blips. Just another martial arts film.

But of course, you are wrong. The DVD contains the preview that the rest of the world saw. No sword fights. No running. The clips are a little longer than 3 seconds. Do they even want anyone to show up for this movie??? There are epic scenes with people crossing the desert and some dialogue. Big deal.

Or take a lighter flick from the USA: The Incredibles. The USA preview has all of the major parts of the story, lots of action, and a few corny jokes that don’t quite work. What did they show in a country like, say, Japan? Not a lot of fighting. Surprising? The focus is family, honor, and identity.

So here we have two movies that are viewed in two parts of the world by different cultures. The movies are uncut, the story is the same. And yet the focus and the motivation of the viewers are very different.

And here is my cheesy transition. What does this teach us about the Gospel? When your eyes are done rolling, continue reading.

No one wants to change the Gospel or the story of salvation. Yet it is apparent that Jesus can simultaneously be a different kind of savior to each group of people. He will inevitably be interpreted differently based on context. It is our job to be aware of the context in which we preach Jesus.

Now I’m not saying that we need to dehydrate the Gospel into 3 second sound bites, emphasize action scenes like clearing out the temple and expelling demons, or wrap up with a predictable moral at the end. Not at all in fact. Context awareness does not mean giving in to it. And that’s where the really hard work begins.

Contextualizing the Gospel is not just a matter of bringing to light the culturally relevant parts of the message. The culture must also be evaluated and challenged where the Gospel can bring redemption. A sin-tainted world must be washed by the Gospel, and no culture is safe from the greedy clutches of sin.

And so the Gospel must be influenced by and bring reform to each context. To have straight influence without reform is blind syncretism. To have reform and no influence is complete irrelevance.

Enough said. This weekend I hope to post my pictures from out trip to Maine. I have a couple of nice shots of Portland Headlight (a lighthouse).

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Context

  1. Curious Servant

    I think the most difficult thing in "selling" the gospel to Americans is our wealth. It is harder to see a need for Him when we are telling ourselves that we have all that we need.

    My father is wealthy. And though his life is a mess, he thinks that trotting off to Mazatlan or Thailand each week to ride a dolphin or an elephant makes his life fulfilled.

    We like the fast paced, action-packed, thin-plot flicks because they bombard our jaded senses.

    Rome went through a similar experience.

  2. Ed Post author

    Interesting point. So we crave action and activity to keep us from confronting the grim realities of life and our own sinfulness.

    I want to go deeper with that, but I need to watch some football, play some movies, and browse the internet first . . . just kidding.

    Thanks for your comment. The comparison of our times with Rome is a helpful way to sneak past our defenses.

  3. Ed Post author

    Agreed. If I’m watching a movie that is fairly popular I try to watch it while asking, "What made this so appealing to others." Of course that was most difficult during Napoleon Dynamite.

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