The Gospel in Human Contexts

Anthropological Explorations for Contemporary Missions

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"A valuable tool. . . . I recommend [this book] to all students of theology--practitioners and theoreticians, pastors and researchers alike--who aspire to bring their discipline to real people in the real world."--Anthony Gittins, Missiology

While the gospel is timeless truth, it enters into ever-changing and widely varied human contexts. The missionary who desires to meaningfully communicate the gospel to particular humans needs to understand people and the particular influences--social, cultural, psychological, and ecological--that shape them. Further, we must understand ourselves and the influences that have shaped us, since our own contexts influence how we understand and transmit the gospel message. Therefore, we must master not only the skill of biblical exegesis but also the skill of human exegesis. That task is the topic of this book, the summation of a lifetime of experience and thinking by a world-renowned missiologist and anthropologist, the late Paul Hiebert.

As he develops what he terms a "missional theology," Hiebert discusses differing views of contextualization, social identity and how we view "others," developments in anthropological thinking through the years, and the impact of postmodernism and globalization. Seeking to equip the reader for the task of human exegesis, he introduces a systems approach to the task of understanding cultural contexts, discusses practical and helpful research methods, and proposes the paradigm of mission as cultural mediation. Here is valuable insight for students preparing for the mission field.


"The Gospel in Human Contexts is something that only Paul Hiebert could have written in his mature years. Here he shows that the use of anthropology as merely a way to reconnoiter other cultures for the triumph of mission can be dangerous if missionaries assume their understanding of Christianity is universal. This is a book designed to help us grapple with what it means to be human in any culture and how Christian mission is on solid footing only if it is fully engaged in exegeting what it means to be human in our new globalizing context, where cultures are not static and missionaries are builders of bridges between the gospel and the world. Both as a review of anthropological and theological theory, on the one hand, and as a sensitive meditation on becoming the sort of person who can be a genuine bridge builder, on the other, The Gospel in Human Contexts should be required reading in every course on mission and ministry."--William R. Burrows, research professor of missiology, New York Theological Seminary

"In this excellent resource book, the late Paul G. Hiebert has distilled the best of his mature scholarship. Missionaries and global-minded Christian workers will savor the refreshing insights on how to bring down to earth the gospel they preach to reach the people they serve. Hiebert presents a third way to practice theology in preparing cross-cultural workers: in addition to systematic and biblical theologies, there is a need for missional theology. This process includes human exegesis (of both ourselves and the indigenous people) and learning how to appropriately communicate Christ's love in human contexts so that the people understand and are transformed by the power of God while remaining faithful to the gospel."--Robert L. Gallagher, associate professor of intercultural studies, Wheaton College Graduate School

"This engagingly written book by the leading missiological anthropologist, the late Paul Hiebert, provides a helpful overview of and perspective on missions and missiology at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It is grounded in sophisticated theory while remaining wonderfully accessible and eminently practical."--Robert J. Priest, professor, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"The gems in this, Hiebert's final work on anthropology for missions, are the recapitulation of his thinking on critical contextualization and the spelling out in new detail of his thinking about a 'systems approach' to the study of culture for mission. A new and compelling insight is the notion of 'missionaries as global mediators.' Hiebert correctly observes that 'making disciples' in any culture is to engage the challenge of a new identity and unity in Christ against the deepest of human identities that lead to fragmentation--ethnicity, culture, and nationalism. Hiebert concludes that living a life of love in Christ demands the building of multicultural relationships and maturing as transcultural persons in order to practice a ministry that leads people into transcultural discipleship."--Sherwood Lingenfelter, provost and senior vice president, Fuller Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. Paul G. Hiebert

    Paul G. Hiebert

    The late Paul G. Hiebert (1932-2007) was distinguished professor of mission and anthropology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and previously taught at Fuller Theological Seminary. He also served as a pastor and missionary to India. He received his PhD...

    Continue reading about Paul G. Hiebert


"[A] very readable work. . . . We now have access to Hiebert's gift to teachers and practitioners of 'missional theology.'. . . This volume's heart and its key purpose is to draw deeply upon anthropological insights so that an effective missional theology and practice is enabled. This Hiebert does very well. . . . Missional theology, for Hiebert, is about witnessing to, and seeking to create, a new identity where no one is 'other.' This is a necessary goal, maybe even an eschatological one. Hiebert's human 'exegesis' within a missional imperative takes us a significant step towards this goal."--David Tutty, Missionalia

"Paul Hiebert was gifted as a communicator and a translator, whose life's work was to communicate the Good News in various settings: rural, urban, pastoral, and academic. But he was also a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary translator. . . . [This book] is demonstrable proof of his success in each of his endeavors. It will prove to be a valuable tool to students of every stripe. . . . He provides an excellent perspective on the contributions of social and cultural anthropology to understanding humankind, and its potential and actual contributions to missiology and missions. His analysis of modernity and post-modernity, and their significance for epistemology in general and missiology in particular are enlightening and comprehensible. The language throughout is accessible to the non-specialist, yet Hiebert takes the reader not only through basic, foundational pathways, but also into some quite sophisticated terrain. . . . I recommend [this book] to all students of theology--practitioners and theoreticians, pastors and researchers alike--who aspire to bring their discipline to real people in the real world."--Anthony Gittins, Missiology

"This volume makes a cogent argument for 'human exegesis' to be completed alongside biblical exegesis in any faithful mission endeavor. . . . Replete with the diagrams and analytical arguments that one came to expect from Hiebert, the essays move in nine chapters from theoretical foundations, to historical survey, to application in missionary practice. . . . They are invaluable for those seeking an overview of his thinking."--George F. Pickens, Mennonite Quarterly Review

"This book published posthumously stands as the last in a long productive career. . . . The community of mission scholars is indebted to Hiebert for his decades of work on the subject of cultural anthropology and mission. . . . His insights are important for an embodiment of the gospel in life, word, and deed in all cultures. . . . The book is a fitting capstone on a fruitful career. It is full of wisdom and insight, and will serve to help many struggle afresh with the urgent issue of what it means faithfully to embody the gospel in various cultural contexts."--Southeastern Theological Review

"Destined to become a standard in the field and shows Hiebert as the mature thinker he was."--Haddington House Journal

"Hiebert was one of the towering figures in missiology of the late twentieth century, and this book is one of two posthumous volumes that serve as a final compendium of his most important teachings. . . . This book serves as a wonderful introduction to Hiebert's writings, and underlines the crucial importance of doing theology in a manner that is both faithful and relevant."--Matthew Friedman, Religious Studies Review