The contextualization of the Gospel of Christ is the continual challenge of the international-cross-cultural missionary. As the representative of God and His message to a people, the missionary has the responsibility to be the embodied message of the one who desires to communicate to all people. The pressure is further exacerbated knowing that, to a major extent, this God has limited His communicative ability to mankind solely through His human representatives. Therefore proper presentation and interpretation of His heavenly message should not only be of upmost importance to missionaries but to all believers desiring to communicate God’s message and God’s thoughts on any subject to any people. This attempt to take the historical written message of God and apply it to the current culture of the present day is contextualization.
As Stephen Bevans notes, doing theology contextually takes into account two things. “First, it takes into account the faith experience of the past that is recorded in scriptures and kept alive, preserved, defended – and perhaps even neglected or suppressed in tradition. Second, it takes into account the experience for the present, the context.” This is the same thought that Garner brings out in his discussion of public theology as taking into account the past through scripture and tradition but then understanding “the signs of the times” to construct a theology that is for the common good of society. Indeed, the common good is the goal in contextual theology. Societies, cultures, and people everywhere do not need, what I refer to as, “shelf theology.” Shelf theology, in my little world, can be both heavily academic or moralistic therapeutic with little academic weight. Shelf theology is full of nuances and has all the answers to questions that no one is asking. It is the opposite of contextualization or public theology. It has no power. No authority. No passion. It does not address the injustices, nor the heart aches of the people that Christ died for. My “shelf theology” would be described by Garner as that which is vague and tends to disintegrate in the face of radical evil. Is the liken to the moralistic therapeutic deism that is often disseminated at the quintessential youth group gatherings. It seems fun, nice, understandable and always positive but does not have much bearing in my current life situation.
Herein lies a very crucial understanding that all Christians must grasp. Theology was never meant to be a aspect of our religious life that has no bearing on our public life. Theology cannot become intellectual trivia that we posses to answer nonsensical questions (e.g., how many kings were there in Judah vs. Israel? Who was the oldest person in the Bible?). Though this trivia can be entertaining to show off at dinner parties it does nothing to the message of God or in making a relationship with Him our own. Nor is theology to be an elixir that ministers, acting as a kind of alchemist, mix up to eliminate the bad taste of life. Authentic theology is the understanding of the ancient and historical truths of God’s interaction with man but then making those same truths understandably one’s own.
I have spent this week at the 6,100+ feet elevation in Colorado Springs gasping for air as my lungs have become so conditioned to Jacksonville, Florida that, according to Wikipedia sits at the grand highest of 16ft above sea leave. No wonder I get a little light headed climbing the stairs to my daughter’s room. I pled altitude issues for my tardiness with this post. I digress. I have been here with Dr. David Livermore as cultural intelligence was being taught to a group of 70 Young Life national leaders. David did a presentation (that I am going to totally plagiarize, I let him know this up front) on both the necessity and the importance of CQ in ministry. He advocated for CQ by referencing Hebrews 1:1&2. “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.” God speaks Son! This is the way he has chosen to now speak to all of us and through all of us to others. I couldn’t help but connect Bevans, Neville, and Tanner’s books this week. As Bevans states it the best, “Incarnation is a process of becoming particular, and in and through the particular the Divinity could become visible in someway (not fully but in someway) become graspable and intelligible.” That’s it! Public theology, contextual theology, constructive theology are all attempting to continue the incarnational reality of God in Jesus. These are all the academic definitions and matrixes attempting to assist each of us to speak Son. May we all learn the language of the Son and continue to add to the common good of all the people we come in contact with.
 Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2002), 5.
 Stephen Garner, “Public Theology Through Popular Culture,” in The Bible, Justice, and Public Theology, ed. David J. Neville, The Bible in the Modern World 63 (Eugene, OR: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014), 176.
 Ibid., 179.
 Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology, 5.
 Ibid., 12.