“Lillian,” Roger pronounced, “has no interest in God. She cares nothing for matters of holiness or sin.”
Rog and I were sitting in a humid hotel room in Puyo, Ecuador. He’s a Deaf Christian who’s been attending Friday night Bible studies for a while. His Christian life has been a rocky one – divorce, adultery, unrepentant arrogance – but he seems to be back on the narrow path. He boldly admits to his sins and the carnage in his wake. Proclaiming a risen Christ and a forgiving God are seemingly high on his priority list.
“I tell her she should come to Friday nights. She knows we study the Bible and try to figure out our sins. We look to Christ for forgiveness. She never comes. Ever.”
Roger makes obvious what drew him to Christ: forgiveness for our sins, our foolish acts. He seems to cherish this aspect of the Divine, and rightly so. Reasonably, his presentations and invitations to others are filled with references to sin and forgiveness. Sadly, I think, that’s all with which they are filled.
We’ve got others folks around here, Christians and nearly-Christians, all of whom seek and have sought different things. I thought about them during and after my conversation with my buddy.
Marian wants to know what, exactly, is spiritually true. She’s searched for years.
Franklin seeks someone who respects him as he is: human, masculine, valuable.
Ruth wanted liberation from sins that shamed her, namely a lesbian relationship.
Susanna had an empty cosmopolitan lifestyle that lacked meaning, and she knew it.
Monica sought ways to save her marriage, and in Christ she did.
Jonathan wanted salvation from wrath for his sins.
Andrew just wanted a life of peace.
Each of these people received a gospel message at some point. Most of them are Christians now, and the ones who are not have been drawing close. Each them understands sin, salvation, death, resurrection, and obedience. However, every last one of them drew near to God for a different reason. They sought something unique. Telling Franklin he’s a pagan sinner is accurate, but it won’t tug at his soul the way God’s intimate knowledge of him will. Ruth needed to know Christ died for her, but what grabbed her attention was the freedom in Christ she would enjoy.
Micro-contextualization, as I’ve called it, is simply finding what fits an individual’s inner culture, if you’ll permit me to use that term. It is a process by which we study a person, learn the bridges by which we can cross to them and, by using terms, language, and examples that resonate, pull them closer to the cross. It isn’t so different from the contextualization that Jared Moore mentioned in a recent post; nor is it any different from what cross cultural missionaries do. They look for bridges and barriers, language and customs: macro-contextualization, if you will. Micro-contextualization simply requires us to do it on a smaller scale.
Roger and I kept talking well past dark. We figured out that Lillian is lonely and lacked a father figure her entire life. She demonstrates a pattern of drifting from married lover to married lover, never remaining single very long. Her visits with Roger at his office are often filled with requests to spend time together. Our conclusion: Lillian’s heart just might be crying out for a new Father.
Appealing to her sins, her need for forgiveness, her future eternity…things like this seem to lack influence for Lil. Thankfully, our God is big enough that we can present the most alluring facet of His character and it is both sufficient for the moment, yet too small an image to perpetuate. Just like people in the list above, Lillian might one day discover a part of God she cannot live without, and yet she’ll have to learn to know the rest of Him as well.
Contextualize on, my friends.