As NT Wright says in a recent interview each generation has to re-examine for themselves the basis of their faith, as each period confronts us with new challenges. Being faithful to Christ in the 21st century is quite different from being faithful, say, in the 3rd, or the 19th century. And, similarly, being faithful to Christ is somewhat different in an ecclesial ministry and in the humanitarian work of, say, World Vision International, even if the principles remain basically the same.
Moreover, when we are called to ‘translate’ the (hopefully) same content of the Gospel into different contexts, we have to clothe it in contextual manner. Michael Green, in his book Evangelism in the Early Church explains in a masterly manner how the gospel preached by Peter to the Jews, in terms of law, sin and forgiveness, becomes in the mouth of Paul, when preaching to pagan Greek the gospel of liberation from the fear of powers and principalities. The essence of the gospel is all there, but the way in which it is communicated is nuancedly different because of the contextual issues it had to respond to.
This truth is also illustrated in a dispute that took place last year, when a fundamentalist group called Biblical Missiology accused Wycliffe Translators that they have distorted severely biblical Trinitarian language in their latest translation in Arabic for Muslim contexts. A recent article in The Christian Post informs us that Wycliffe accepted the conclusions of a report made by an independent panel assembled at their request by World Evangelical Alliance to look into this matter. Wycliffe was, in fact, vindicated in their contextual choices, while the panel also formulated a series of safeguards, in order to help preserve the faithfulness to the original intent, while the biblical message is translated for different cultures. I find this absolutely fascinating; and scary at the same time.