Theological Hot-Buttons in Global Missions

Current controversies in Global Missions are generated by differing perspectives on contextualization, which is “the process of learning to express genuine Christianity in socioculturally appropriate ways.” As outsiders to another culture, we view differences through our own culturally shaped perspectives and the line between appropriate and inappropriate expressions of Christian faith and theology is often hotly debated, as the following examples illustrate.

Proponents of Insider Movements contend that it is possible for people to be obedient followers of Christ while maintaining the identity of a different religion. Some argue that like Messianic Jews, Muslims and Hindus can be true and faithful to Jesus while maintaining their religious identity. Others point out the incongruity of these religions with Christian faith, and question how integrity with biblical truth can be preserved.

In 2012 Wycliffe Bible Translators faced criticism when some translators decided that the familial terms “Father” for God and “Son” for Jesus were not integral to the biblical message. Because their Muslim receptor audience misconstrued such language as a biological relationship, the translators began to use different metaphors like “beloved of God” that they hoped would result in a more appropriate understanding of the biblical message. This approach faced strong opposition and while a firm decision was made to maintain the use of familial language, the controversy remains.

Contextual theologies are expressions of faith that emerge as people engage God’s Word within their cultural and historical situation. For example, the majority of people, both geographically and historically, have viewed life through a shame/honour grid rather than the guilt/innocence grid which is more prominent in the west. Expressions of the Gospel that deal with shame and honour differ from the western “penal substitution” model and have been viewed as clashing with traditional theological formulations.

These controversies demonstrate the seriousness with which missionaries view the task of bringing Jesus to cultures in ways that are relevant and maintain integrity with God’s Word.


— Mark Naylor is Coordinator of International Leadership Development for Fellowship International.