Something About Context

by Andrew Stephens-Rennie

Moving from the economic to the political centre of Canada has me asking some questions about how to get on remixing things in a slightly different context. Ottawa isn’t really worlds apart from Toronto (tho any federal bureaucrat working outside of the Ottawa bubble might disagree), and yet there is a different flavour to this town.

It’s a more car-oriented city. It’s harder to recycle. There’s no such thing as a green-bin to easily dispose of our organic waste. And living in an apartment, there’s nowhere to compost. At the same time, there are more green spaces, a lot of great trails for walking and biking, and the air is so much more clean.

Where on earth will we shop without our regular local-organic farmer’s market? There’s got to be something like that here, right? There are other questions, too, about how to contextualise the gospel in our particular west-end neighbourhood, what parts of this culture we accept, and what parts we push back on. And these are questions I suppose we should always be asking

Brian’s post on Friday stirred up some further thoughts. As someone new to a particular context, what questions or prophetic insights can we raise in that context, and with what legitimacy?

Now I know that there has been a lot of recent blog traffic around questions of contextualisation. Tall Skinny Kiwi deals with many of those questions in a recent Three Part Series addressing some rather *interesting* comments from John MacArthur and others.

His link to John Morehead’s interview with Steve Hu was also helpful in pointing to Newbigin’s insights into contextualisation and syncretism. Sometimes we will take on parts of the new culture. Sometimes we won’t.

Newbigin’s writings are essential to further understanding what it is to live out the gospel in western culture. Our relationship to the culture(s) in which we live is something we must always struggle with as we seek to authentically enflesh, and thereby communicate the gospel. Even as we move from Toronto to Ottawa. Or wherever…

But I suppose what I want to get back to is the idea of incarnating the gospel in my particular context, especially this current context where I find myself a stranger in a foreign land. Ottawa, for me, is such a place. I know very few people here. And yet each of us is called to live and minister wherever we are.

What does that mean for someone who is new to a particular city? I keep on asking the questions, I keep on wondering, and know that in time the specifics will become more apparent. But for now – for now everything’s a little bit murky.

Love God. Love neighbour. Then what?

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Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

4 Responses to “Something About Context”

  1. lisa

    “Love God. Love neighbour. Then what?”

    then nothing! That’s all. That’s where the magic is.

    Maybe I’m oversimplifying, and I don’t even know what >syncretism< means, but the thing is I’m still stuck on “love God / love neighbor”.

  2. Sue

    Then, do it again and get better at it. The two greatest commandments, man, they sum up the law and prophets. Get busy.

  3. andrew

    There’s something that’s been gnawing at my mind a little bit lately, something about how these Great Loves become mobilized into something bigger than what any individual or community can do on their own.

    I suspect that it really has a lot more to do with the simple everyday loves of individuals and communities coming together with the simple everyday loves of other individuals and communities that lead to larger movements – and that such coming together comes with the moving of the Spirit, in an altogether mysterious way.


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