July 20, 2016 January 3rd, 2020

LFTF: Episode 11

SERIES: Lessons from the Field Phil Henderson

Some of our AccessTruth team traveled to Mozambique to capture and film the story of what God is doing among a people group there. As the people group are predominately Islamic, the missionary team knew it would be a challenging place to share the Gospel. Now after being in that location for over 11 years – building relationships, learning language and culture, teaching and translating Bible lessons – God has done an amazing work with many coming to faith in Christ. It continues to be a difficult work but God is faithful. He is building His church. Phil Henderson has been working as part of the team there in church planting and Bible translation. We asked him the question:

How can cross-cultural workers determine what is an appropriate level of contextualization and avoid the dangers of syncretism?


The first thing that comes to mind … I’ll just say this imagery that comes to mind for me as I’m thinking about what we’re trying to do here because that’s exactly what we’re facing in this context, is that balance of how can we do this, how can we keep what’s important important, how can we not get sidetracked. The picture that comes to mind for me that helps me understand this is to say it’s like this path. We’re trying to go down this path, we’re trying to lead people down this path that will get them face-to-face with Christ. In my mind it’s almost like the stumbling block that’s down there. We’ve got to lead them down there and actually they have to meet him. Know and understand what he’s about and they have to stumble over him. Whether they’re going to accept, whether they’re not going to accept, he is a stone of stumbling that they have to come face-to-face with. In the contextualization side of it what it seems to me is that we’re trying to get them … There’s all these things that they could trip up on ahead of time before they get to Christ. We’re saying actually, “We want you to trip on Christ. We don’t want you to trip on the fact that I’m a Christian or the fact that I’m this or the fact that I’m that.” We’re trying to clear the path of all of these other dangers. If I’m standing at the front of the path and I’m working with a group of say, Muslim, and I’ve got a beer in one hand and a piece of pork in the other. I’m saying to them, “Hey, I want to lead you down this path and tell you about God and what he’s like.” The fact that I’ve got alcohol and pork meat is going to be something that they’re going to look at right away, early on the path. Before they’ve even heard the message they’re going to be like, “You know what? You’re not qualified to talk to me about who Christ is or who God is.” What we’re saying in the contextualization and syncretism department is, the contextualization is getting those other obstacles out of the path in order to get them there to come face-to-face with Christ. If we wanted them to accept and we didn’t want them to come face-to-face with Christ and we actually kind of softened the message of Christ to the point that they actually never came and faced him directly and understood him directly, what he was about. In my mind that’s syncretism. We’ve got them down this path without facing the actual key issue of who Christ is. For me the thing that I look at, the danger is saying, you have to understand what it is that you’re after and contextualization is helping you avoid all the other obstacles to bring them to that point. Syncretism is if you were to somehow not actually get them there to the point where they actually face and understand who Christ is and wrestle with who Christ is. If they wrestle with who Christ is and they decide not to believe in him, that’s on them. There’s a sense that I get from scripture that says if I stand at the front of it and I put obstacles and there’s things that I refuse to give up or things that I do or things that I say or ways that I am that actually interrupt and interfere with them getting to Christ, that’s a problem. If they don’t get to Christ or if I somehow get them around it, then that’s syncretism. I’ve got to get them right up there to face Christ. I guess that’s kind of the short answer for me of the danger and the issues that are involved.
Phil Henderson

Phil Henderson

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