To contextualize is to adapt or tailor the material or message to fit a particular context or audience so it can be clearly grasped. This process of connecting biblical revelation to a specific culture in a way that the Gospel can be understood and lived out in culturally meaningful ways is essential. However, the challenge to communicate and live out the Word of the Lord in a powerful and transformative way that is familiar to people in a particular cultural context is to remain faithful to Scripture. Human culture and human tradition are negotiable and alter over time. God’s Word is not negotiable and remains constant. Christian truth must not be compromised or added to pagan belief systems as this results in syncretism.

The gospel truth remains but the words used to share the message need to be adapted or interpreted to local cultures so it is more relevant and readily grasped.  For example, the expression, “Though your sins are like scarlet,

The goal is not comfort, but clarity

they shall be as white as snow…” is difficult for a person living in the tropics to comprehend and so another figure of speech needs to be substituted (Isa 1:18). Terms that once were in common use but now obsolete need replacing with current expressions so the truth is presented in an appropriate way. Also the cultural barriers or mind-set of those sharing must often be addressed.  As a result of a vision, Peter radically modified his approach towards and interaction with the Gentiles and this resulted in cross cultural ministry with many salvations (Act 10:9-48). Paul said he would be “all things to all men” meaning he would adapt to their lifestyle as much as he could without compromising the gospel indicating his willingness to contextualize the truth for his hearers, whoever they may be (1 Cor 9:19-23).

See also: context, culture, interpretation, relevant, syncretism, understanding.