Crossing the great divide syncretism or contextualization in Christian worship

by Waisanen, Cori McMillin, D.Miss., ASBURY THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, 2011, 316 pages; 3485988


This dissertation is an ethnographic study of contemporary issues surrounding the incorporation of traditional native religious symbols, sacred objects and rituals in Christian worship. The research project was limited to evangelical native Christian leaders and pastors. They are servant leaders with various tribal affiliations, denominational associations and independent ministries.

The purpose of the study was to identify and compare contemporary, contextualized approaches to Native American Christian worship, as well as conflicts over the use of native religious symbols, sacred objects and rituals in Christian worship.

As I began this research project ten years ago, I anticipated finding greater differences in approaches to contextualization among native Christian leaders. What I discovered is that these native leaders share more in common with one another than either side of this controversy realize.

What they hold in common is the story of Jesus. They are attempting to translate that message into various communities [individual, church, tribal cultures, urban and local contexts]. They are using theological criteria in contextualization and applying it to cultural contextualization through symbols, rituals, stories, myths, and traditions. There are some differences in their approach to theology and their hermeneutical process, particularly where to begin the theological process. Classical theologians begin the exegetical process with Scripture. Post-modern theologians begin exegesis with personal experience. What these contextualizers have in common is that Scripture is their source for authority. However, their hermeneutical approaches to theology are different.

All of the contextualizers agree in areas of Orthodox Christianity concerning the deity of Jesus Christ, his miraculous birth, ministry, death and resurrection. Yet, they have different theological approaches in explaining the redemption story of Jesus Christ. Some begin the story with creation, while others start the story at the Cross of Calvary. These differences are rooted in their worldviews concerning creation and redemption.

There are differing variables concerning worldview and spirituality (which includes past and present native spirituality which has been informed by colonial missions). These variables are coming into play and influencing the current controversy.

They are attempting to reintroduce Jesus of Nazareth to Native Americans in a climate of cultural renewal. The goal of both groups is to discover ways for North American Indians be followers of Jesus Christ and to retain their cultural identity.

AdviserSteve Ybarrola
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsReligion; Biblical studies; Native American studies
Publication Number3485988

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