Hallowing Thy Name in All Things: Possessio as the Aim of Contextualization

Thanks to a recent comment on another post by "Jim", I have come across an article by my friend, H.L. Richard. I am posting below a link to the article and strongly encourage any of you that are interested in contextualization issues to take a look. H.L. and I have spoken in my home about the concept of possessio as distinct from the earlier missiological concept of accomodatio. He was the first one to tell me about the Dutch missiologist Johan Herman Bavinck (although I already had 1 Cor. 3:21 bookmarked on my phone's Bible app with just such an application in mind). Anyway, I really love the article that H.L. has written and find myself heartily agreeing with it. Please do check it out. In case you don't have time just now, here is the Bavinck quote that H.L. provides:

Here note that the term “accommodation” is really not appropriate as a description of what actually ought to take place. It points to an adaptation to customs and practices essentially foreign to the gospel. Such an adaptation can scarcely lead to anything other than a syncretistic entity, a conglomeration of customs that can never form an essential unity....We would, therefore prefer to use the term possessio, to take in possession. The Christian life does not accommodate or adapt itself to heathen forms of life, but it takes the latter in possession and thereby makes them new....Within the framework of the non-Christian life, customs and practices serve idolatrous tendencies and drive a person away from God. The Christian life takes them in hand and turns them in an entirely different direction; they acquire an entirely different content. Even though in external form there is much that resembles past practices, in reality everything has become new. The old has in essence passed away and the new has come. Christ takes the life of a people in his hands, he renews and re-establishes the distorted and deteriorated; he fills each thing, each word, and each practice with a new meaning and gives it a new direction. Such is neither “adaptation,” nor accommodation; it is in essence the legitimate taking possession of something by him to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth. (Bavinck, Johan H., An Introduction to the Science of Missions, 1960.)

Anyway, terms like accommodation and adaptation are certainly related to the concept of contextualization (particularly the latter). However, they must not be understood as synonyms for it. Rather, contextualization for the Christ-follower is an intentional imitation of Christ's incarnation and, as Bavink and Richard has pointed out, is aimed at possessio -- of taking possession of all things under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and for His glory. I was reading from an old (non-missiological) book by Alan Redpath and find there a helpful insight. Redpath speaks of the "hallowing of God's name" in all things. He said that as a Christian worker "this concern will be uppermost in everything I do in my Master's name. Whatever service you or I may undertake, our first thought in it all will be, 'Is this for His glory?' Can I write 'Hallowed be Thy name' over that?" (Redpath, Alan, Victorious Praying, 1957.) While it wasn't in Redpath's mind, I believe that this ought to be a kind of operational question for the missionary and Christ-follower who examines some form, ritual, tradition, festival or other element from a given religio-cultural context. "Can I write 'Hallowed be Thy name' over that?" Not as it is perhaps, but as it could be once taken possession of and made to submit to Christ's Lordship. And it should certainly be our aim to write "Hallowed be Thy name" over as much as we possibly can!

It actually takes me back to a worship and missions project that I was involved with years ago in Paris, France. Those were the days when I was sang and played harmonica for a small-time Christian band. We spent a few weeks playing acoustic sets in various subway stations throughout the Paris, especially in the heavily North African parts of town. Of course we used the opportunities to distribute Bibles, Jesus films, and similar items but one of our driving motivations was simply to worship the Lord where he wasn't being worshiped. Yes, we were influenced by John Piper's famous adage, "Mission exists because worship doesn't." I find that same impulse with me today, driving me to take possession of those things, those traditions, practices, forms, and festivals over which I find no banner, "Hallowed be Thy name". I long to engage that thing, whatever it is. I long to bring the incarnate Lord Jesus to bear in, through, against that thing. I long to see that banner lifted up. Over a Nepali baby naming ceremony -- "Hallowed be Thy name". Over a traditional celebration of Dashain or Deepawali -- "Hallowed be Thy name". Over a language like Sanskrit -- "Hallowed be Thy name". Over all things and among all peoples -- "Hallowed be Thy name".

Okay, enough from me. Here is the link to H.L.'s wonderful article:

Mission Frontiers - All Things are Yours: "In a classic text on cross-cultural ministry Paul stated his policy of becoming all things to all men so that by all means he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22). This is sometimes treated as a specialist approach for experts in cross-cultural encounter, but the Bible presents it as a model for all ministry. It is exemplified in the incarnational pattern of Jesus who, due to the Father’s great love for the world, was sent as a true human being into a specific historical and cultural context to announce and effectuate salvation for the world."


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Nepali. Why did you like it?

  2. Ian Smith7:57 PM

    Don't forget Augustine! He was also in favor of Possessio.

    1. Ah, yes. Augustine here

  3. I figure that since Augustine is pretty much the dude in the Early Church--kind of like Paul 2.0, equally claimed by both Catholics and Protestants, this is a pretty good thing to point to if you need to make your case from Christian history.