Talking Theology with Non-Christians: Contextualization

Mention the word contextualization today and that spark ignites a fire among the evangelical crowd.  Christians do need to be able to communicate with non-Christians.  There may be some forms of what people call contextualization that go too far though.  Whatever you call it I believe Van Til expresses well our need to bridge the communication gap.  While Van Til is speaking within the realm of apologetics proper the quote below is applicable for all Christians when engaging non-Christians.

Men in general do not use or even know our theological terms.  But, to the extent that they are educated, they have had some training in secular philosophy.  They have a non-Christian familiarity with the categories of God, man, and the universe.  If we are to speak to them and win them, it is necessary for us to learn their language.

There is no possibility of avoiding this.  We can make no contact with men unless we speak to them in their language.  Many men, in declaring that they believe in God, assume that God is identical with reality.  It must be demonstrated to them that when we speak of reality, we at once make a distinction within it, namely the reality of God as self-sufficient and of the universe as existing by his plan, creation, and providence.  This distinction in being will have basic significance for our views of knowledge and behavior.  Our view of reality or being involves a view of knowledge and of ethics even as our view of knowledge and ethics involves and is based on our view of being.
Van Til, Cornelius. The Defense of the Faith. Ed. K. Scott Oliphint. 4th edition. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008. 45-46.

We need to be able to speak theologically using common terms.  The goal, I believe, should be to move the non-Christian lens into the Christian lens to show them truth.  We don’t need to run from theology in our conversations nor necessarily call it theology.  For the Christian, it’s all theological anyways.

I will share a story on Monday about how I helped out an unbeliever last week.  I had some time in the car driving with him.  I did speak theologically, but not in theological language.  I was attempting to show him the Christian worldview and point him to Christ.

Stay tuned…


tagged as , , in apologetics,Culture,Evangelism,Gospel,theology

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 andrew February 14, 2009 at 12:56 pm

contextualization was a given in missiology over the past few decades. its good to see it discussed in church circles now as we approach a post-christian society. blessings.

2 johnMark February 16, 2009 at 1:41 pm


Thanks for stopping by. It seems that the bottom line is that we need to learn to speak to unbelievers and do so in a way that leads to Jesus without compromising the faith. I don’t think it’s that difficult to do.


3 Mary July 12, 2012 at 5:37 am

Thanks contextualization Applies the Scriptural truth of God to a local culture by using a local language and concepts deal with such basic gospel topics as: God, Church, Sin, Salvation, Repentance, Forgiveness and other topics of Christian belief. ,


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