- Contextualization is the general label under which the long-term move to de-Westernize the global Protestant movement has proceeded in recent decades. As originally defined in 1972 by the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches, contextualization is the ability to respond to the Gospel out of one's own situation - with a stress on situations outside Europe and North America. While originally referring to theology, the term was soon picked up by missiologists, theoreticians of the missionary enterprise.There had been a growing belief that non-Western churches should become autonomous of the missionary agencies that had originally worked to found them. The call for indigenous leadership had been made by, for example, Henry Venn (1796-1873) of the Church Missionary Society (the three-self principles), and Methodist William Taylor (1821-1902). However, they did not gain a serious hearing until post-World War II decolonialization forced missionaries to turn over control of most churches, and a major shift of power occurred within the Protestant community.Almost immediately, new voices arose to articulate long-felt concerns. The first manifestation was liberation theology, which arose in South America at the end of the 1960s, and spread in the next two decades to disenfranchised groups in the West (African Americans, women) and to churches in Africa and Asia. At first, the movement focused on removing European-based male leadership, which some perceived as a threat to traditional Protestant structures. Later on, the emphasis in the new Asian, African, and South American theological texts shifted to a call for creative and responsible appropriation of the Gospel message by non-Western Christians. This trend was supported by grants released through the Theological Education Fund.The call for contextualization was also heard among Evangelicals who launched the Lausanne Movement, which aimed to focus on unreached peoples. As early as 1978, Lausanne leadership sponsored a conference to examine the cultural contexts in which they hoped to plant new churches. Evangelicals have generally seen the spread of the Gospel as the start of a conversation between new believers and the Bible that takes into account their own milieu. The effort has stimulated new Bible studies that emphasize the original context and message of the Bible as well as each particular cultural context.Further reading:■ John W. De Gruchy, John W. Charles Villa-Vicencio, and Charles Villa-Vicencio, eds., Doing Theology in Context: South African Perspectives (Mary-knoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1994)■ Virginia Fabella and Mercy Amba Oduyoye, eds., With Passion and Compassion: Third World Women Doing Theology (Mary-knoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1988)■ Dean Gilliland, "Contextualization," in Moreau, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, ed. A. Scott Moreau (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 2000)■ John S. Mbiti, Bible and Theology in African Christianity (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1986).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.