Questions about Theology: What Is Contextual Theology?

Also known as “enculturation,” contextual theology refers to the manner in which the church in every age tends to adapt its teachings to the culture in which it finds itself. There are many examples of this but perhaps the best is the example found in 1 Corinthians 11:4–7. Paul’s teaching here had to do with head coverings used by men and women. Jewish and Roman men covered their heads, but for a woman not to cover her head was quite unthinkable. The reason for this was mainly “cultural” or in the context of the culture in which they found themselves the time. In the Corinthian temples of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, shrine prostitutes would give themselves “sacrificially” by shaving their heads. As a result, a woman entering a church for worship with a shaven head would cause offense in that culture. Admittedly, if such occurred now, one would assume the baldness was the result of alopecia or other medical condition, not because she was a “shrine” prostitute!

Clearly, Christian teachings from the Bible have to sometimes be interpreted in the context of the culture. Nevertheless, the underlying principles of God’s Word are still the same today as they were when they were written. The principle in the 1 Corinthians passage is the headship of Christ over the body and likewise the headship of the husband over the wife, who should be in submission to him.

In general, the principle of contextual theology has to be applied carefully if the teachings of Christ are to be accepted by any culture. There is a danger that the truth can be accommodated to the culture to the extent that it becomes compromised instead. For example, those cultures that are predisposed to idolatry, such as in Asia and the Far East, can accept Christian teachings to the extent that it becomes acculturated and never truly effectual in turning people back to the one true God, which is commanded by the gospel of Christ Jesus. Thankfully, there is a work of revival ongoing in these lands where many are turning from idolatry, but often this is so ingrained that the effect is that the God of Christianity becomes just another addition to the plethora of deities that is worshipped, and this is sadly wrong.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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