It seems to me that discussions regarding the future of evangelical theology and the role of the evangelical church in the world increasingly will hinge on the articulation of a theology (or theologies) of contextualization. Describing the function of context and its effect on theology and ministry is no easy task, raising a host of concerns on all sides of the discussion. On the one hand, if we say, "context is everything," are we not thereby reducing truth to relativism? On the other hand, if we say things like "the Gospel is timeless and transcultural," isn't the truth of Christ abstracted from the profound embodiment which the incarnation implies, so that it becomes ideology rather than transformational reality?
Kevin Vanhoozer, in an online reply to Andreas Kostenberger's review of Drama of Doctrine, puts it rather well when he advocates the search for "time-full truth—for truths that are true at all times." He notes that "the truth of Jesus Christ may be embodied at all times, but not at no-time." Thus, the Gospel is universal, but it will always be expressed in time-bound, particular contexts. The merit of this point of view is that it captures the historical dimension of revelation and the richness of a diverse tapestry of experiences of salvation, liberation, and the newness of life in Christ. It privileges the human (and ecological-creational) experience as the epicenter of God's redemptive work.
In a subsequent post, I plan to introduce and interact with the theology of Edward Schillebeeckx, the influential Flemish twentieth-century theologian who had a lot of intriguing and potentially constructive things to say about contextualization.