I am not convinced that true contextualization means being able to quote the latest cartoon sitcom or reality show. It does not mean using lurid and crass language to communicate scriptural truth. It does not even mean exchanging your suit and tie for a pair of grubby jeans, a T-shirt, and a tattoo (thought I have both … both a suit and jeans … not a tattoo … yet).
In America, urban culture, suburban culture, and rural culture aren’t all that much different. They are still western, American culture. It does not take a lot of contextualization because the background and the informing culture is still the same. People in Seattle are basically the same as people in Albuquerque, which is why the same preaching works in both places. Remember, Driscoll’s claim has been that his church (Mars Hill) was a Seattle church for Seattle people and the culture of Seattle. He is a champion of contextualization. But millions of people all over the world download his sermons every month. And now his sermons are being played for gatherings all over the world. Apparently his “contextualization” in Seattle plays pretty well in Peoria too. Which leads us to ask what “contextualization” really means.
But I digress.
Now, ministry to Hispanics, Chinese, Arabs or some other ethnicity in America does require some contextualization because Hispanic culture, Chinese culture, and Arab culture is very different than western American culture.
But the truth is that by the time someone has lived in America for a few years, their culture has started to become very similar to American culture. So I would argue that “cross cultural” ministry does not really exist in many places in America.
There are, of course, what I call "micro cultures." An example would be the difference between an affluent southern suburb in a medium sized southern city and a housing project in a large midwestern city like Chicago or Detroit. But contextualization does not work here like many imagine. Again, trading a suit and tie for a pair of jeans and a T-shirt isn't contextualization in any meaningful sense. While it might be an acceptable, or even a good thing to do, it is different than cross-cultural ministry.
And BTW, when Jesus was incarnated, it wasn’t to minister cross-culturally. I think the whole foundation of incarnational ministry is fatally flawed because it misunderstands, or at least misemphasizes, the nature of Jesus’ incarnation and mission. But I will address that some other time perhaps.
Here in India, I see a completely different culture. The women sit separately from the men for the most part. The women all dress in Indian dress. I recall only seeing one woman in jeans since I have been here. The food is different. The music is different. The shopping is different.School is different. Religion is different. Virtually everything about life is different in some way.
While a person from rural Montana can live in New York City with relatively few adjustments, a person from New York or Montana will have a much more difficult time adjusting to life in India (whether metropolitan life or rural life). That’s the issue in contextualization. How does a person adapt their lifestyle to the community and culture in which they are living?
Going to Dearborn for a Pita isn’t cross cultural ministry. Neither is going to Mexicantown. (Though if you want to invite me to lunch to talk about cross cultural ministry, I prefer Mexicantown over Dearborn). Wearing jeans to preach in on Sunday isn’t really contextualization. And wearing earrings isn’t either.
Back to my point: World travel is better than listening to American pastors if you want to know what contextualization actually is.