Preaching Across Cultures - Decontextualization

Discussion in 'Preaching' started by TylerRay, Jul 11, 2017.

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  1. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    Hello all,
    I am doing a project for a communications class on preaching across cultures. My basic idea is that in order to communicate effectively and efficiently to people of any culture (or to a diverse audience) is to decontextualize the sermon, stick to the text, and stick to the doctrine.

    By decontextualization I mean to remove it from the context of either the speaker's or the hearers' cultural context. A lot is said today about contextualizing a sermon--I am arguing for the opposite.

    I am having a bit of a difficult time finding material that addresses this subject directly, though. Does anyone have any recommendations?

    Any help is appreciated.
  2. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    There is no way. Every speaker is a product of culture and every hearer is part of a culture and the sermon is transmitted through a language. You can never totally decontextualize a sermon. That doesn't mean you cannot speak truth, however.
  3. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    I don't think you'll find much help for your thesis (as you have stated it) in the Puritans. They were generally eager not simply to present "doctrine" but "uses", which meant applying the doctrine to the specific situations of their hearers (i.e. contextualizing). Often, they did so with great specificity (e.g. applying the doctrine to masters and servants, etc).

    Preaching across cultures is certainly challenging, even when those cultures are not so very different (I speak as a Brit who preaches regularly to Americans, Korean-Americans, Chinese and an assortment of other backgrounds). Different aspects of the doctrine in any given passage may resonate more with one culture than another, just as they may speak more specifically to young people or old people, or men or women. I find it best to provide a sampling of different specific applications (as the Puritans would, albeit not at quite such length), and encourage people to make their own connections modeled on these "samples". But some things are common to the human condition; we are all sinners in need of a savior, and the gospel is a transcultural reality that addresses our common need. This is what unites us together: whether male or female, Jew or Gentile, black, white, Hispanic or Asian we are one in Christ.
  4. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    I think I may have been somewhat unclear in my original post--let me provide some context. ;)

    There is an attitude prevalent in our postmodern culture which holds that a culture cannot be reached unless it is reached on its own terms. When I first told my professor that I wanted to write on preaching across cultures, she said it was too broad a subject, and suggested I do something like "preaching to Muslims." The assumption is that no two cultures can be reached with the same sermon. If you look at broad evangelicalism, you will see an overcontextualization--preachers cannot reach youth unless they wear jeans with holes in them. What I am advocating is de-emphasizing cultural particulars in favor of a clear, unmixed presentation of Biblical truth.

    Dr. Duguid,
    I'm not sure that we're so far off here. The very fact that you are able to reach so many cultures in a single sermon is an excellent example of what I am advocating. I'm interested to hear your thoughts in light of my above clarification.

    Your thoughts on application are stimulating. That is the challenging part of tailoring one's preaching to reaching a diverse audience, isn't it? I like your approach.
  5. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    Any resources that could be recommended on this subject would be deeply appreciated.
  6. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

  7. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    Thanks, that's a helpful clarification. The youth leader who had the most impact on me was the opposite of what you describe: a balding, forty something single guy, who lived with his mother, wore a pinstripe suit and bowler hat and took a train every day to work in the City of London. Yet he had a tremendous impact on a generation of young Christians, by opening his home to us week after week and showing us how to study the Bible. So clearly it can be done. I suspect that a genuine love for people accomplishes far more than any kind of external identification with "cultural markers".

    I think you are right that "overcontextualization" is a genuine issue and problem; I just don't want to see you overreact and toss out the baby with the bathwater. When I ministered in England to a church largely comprised of street kids, my sermons were shorter and simpler than now. I tried to find apt illustrations from their own culture that communicated with them (I'd talk about football, not rugby, for example). Is that contextualization? I think so, and I think it was a good thing. This coming Sunday I will preach through a translator to two different Japanese congregations in Nagoya, where I am presently teaching a course. I know very few people in those congregations and little about their specific situation. But there are general truths about humans that are universal: some will be suffering, some will be fearful, some will be proud and self-dependent (like me), and so on. The application will necessarily be more generic in such a situation, and therefore probably not as "good" as the application I can make in my home church, where I know most people, and their joys and struggles. The Holy Spirit can take his Word and bring good fruit from faithful exposition. But if I were here longer, I'd want to study the specifics of the cultural situation, to sharpen the application as much as possible.

    Your original post made it sound as if in pursuit of broad communication you wanted to avoid application altogether and stick simply to expounding the text and the doctrine. I'm glad that's not what you had in mind. People learn to read the Bible the way they hear it preached. if they hear consistent, good, gospel-centered preaching, they will learn intuitively how to make those same connections when they encounter new texts on their own. And part of that is learning how to apply the Scriptures in a detailed way to the varied lives of your hearers.
  8. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    This is the very model that I am suggesting as an expedient way to address cultures other than one's own. Do you know of any good books or articles on this subject?

    I wholeheartedly agree that this model is not preferable to a deeper engagement with the people one is addressing, and that when one is doing long-term ministry, he should work to understand his audience's day-to-day life. However, that is not my research topic. It is quite easy to find resources on the importance of communicating to people on their terms. What is proving difficult is finding resources on addressing people using less contextualized, and more generalized, methods.
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