4th Apr, 2008

Making Simple Things Complex Seems to Be Too Simple

It used to be simple. Here’s a few excerpts of how the good news was presented a couple of thousand years ago:

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2.

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. . . . “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2.

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. . . . he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others. Acts 17.

In short, the first apostles preached Christ crucified and resurrected. When led to do so by the Holy Spirit they bridged cultural gaps by putting that story into the context of the hearers (“contextualization” – you’ll see below why I use that big word). As an example of what contextualization means, read the excerpt in Acts 17 about Paul speaking at Mars Hill (the “Aeropagus”). Paul helps people understand the message by putting it into their context – their cultural understanding. Cross-cultural missionaries do this all the time. The Holy Spirit does the rest.

It seems today we have been duped by the enemy, Satan, into making things much more complex. Even as I try to frame how to draft this post I struggle because I’m trying to describe inane and complex arguments between two very intelligent bloggers. Satan makes us think we have to do things in our own strength and wax eloquent even though Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians that he came simply.

So what is this post all about? Well, I recently stumbled across a debate between two very popular Christian bloggers (Phil Johnson of Team Pyro and Andrew Jones of Tall Skinny Kiwi) about what they call “contextualization,” a big word that I’m still not sure I understand how all the different writers are using. In Andrew Jones’s post, “Context. Does it Matter?” he responds to a Phil Johnson post on the Pyromaniacs blog. Then, Phil responds with “Coffee Klatsch.” Sometimes I think they simply are two ships passing in the night and are really saying the same thing. But perhaps I’m just not understanding all their fine points well enough. One seems to say contextualization is a great evil and the other is trying to refute that point. The sticking point is what they mean when they use that silly big word. The end result is thousands of words by hundreds of commenters, many of whom sarcastically dismiss one another in a spirit of argumentativeness and moral superiority.

Perhaps all the original blogging authors are saying is the gospel must not be watered down and doing so is wrong. I hope that is what they are both saying because I think almost all Christians would agree. Putting the gospel into a cultural context does not require watering it down; in fact, God can give us opportunities to speak the true good news in a way that is relevant to cultures and we should seek to do so. There is nothing wrong with putting the gospel into a construct that a hearer understands so long as you don’t water down the good news. But, the only way we can truly do this effectively is to submit to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to speak through us. We must hear from God constantly as we preach the good news.

If you can understand this and wade through some of their posts, what do you think?

I think God desires His children to live in love for one another, not in a constant state of bickering. I know I desire that for my kids! May we join Jesus in His prayer for our unity. I’m off to training – sorry if this post still looks like a draft… it is.


Some day, folks will wake up to the fact that all this hugga-mugga going on down here is GOD reaching out to man, not US helping lost sinners reach out for God. And God knows best how to do that and I dare say it takes lots of different approaches.

What turned me on to the gospel … to get involved, to really God wanted me and wanted to love me … was my time in the Presbyterian church. I don’t think Baptists (I’d visited some) or Methodists (I’d been one) ever would have.

One big fault is thinking we know the single best way to do this stuff to “help” Jesus build His church.

Bob Cleveland’s last blog post..Because I Don’t Know Any Better I Want To

Well i’ve been a silent reader of many posts in different blogs. Where I think the difference between the both lies is that one group of people define Contextualization as changing God’s word so that they’ll fit with people’s situations and so that then they might listen. Or changing the way we do church so that people (meaning non-christians) will feel comfortable when we all know church is not for unbelievers it is for Christians and that we are not to bring them into the Church to preach to them but we are to go out into the world and preach Christ Crucified just as paul and the gang preached.
I think thats the major difference.
You see Paul didn’t get dressed like the athens and worshiped or admired the Idols with the Athens so they’ll feel comfortable with him and then listen to his words…absolutely not, he just analyzed the situation saw that these people were into idolatry and learned that they liked to listen to new things/teachings and he used that so that he could spring a conversation from the natural into the spiritual and preach boldly Christ crucified…he didn’t really care much about making them comfortable with his presence or with his words and we see this because when he spoke about the resurrection some sneered and only the ones convicted by his words wanted to keep talking.
I hope I helped.

In Christ,
Rita M.

Rita Martinez’s last blog post..The Tongue is a Fire


Anytime you speak submitted to the Father in Christ you help. And I sincerely appreciate you setting down your silence to share your thoughts here.

As to whether Paul dressed like the Athenians, we really don’t know that, but that is an aside and not really critical to what you’ve said. I only mention it because it is an example of a statement being made that goes beyond what we have written in the bible. I do think we can believe (and know) that he didn’t worship the Athenian gods because Paul was teaching and preaching the worship of the One True God, the one they didn’t know. And i agree that he wasn’t fearing man and changing his message to accommodate or placate the hearers. I hope nothing I’ve said suggests that.

Here’s my critical step away from those who seem to say no to any contextualization – God can and does ask His servants to do things sometimes that appear to be quite outside the ordinary or normal. And, when He does, I believe we must obey. If that means that God places in our hearts a way to communicate the gospel of the Kingdom through clown suits and such silliness, go for it – in fact, you better do it. If He asks us to simply read a scripture, do it and don’t add to it with any exposition. If He says pray silently, do it. If He says place a church in a pub and mix with the people who wouldn’t normally go to a church for comfort, do it. Whatever it may be, do it. he won’t ask us to do anything that goes against His character, his Word, His nature, and as we know those things better we can better discern what is His direction in the Holy Spirit and what isn’t.

Again, thank you for sharing. I like what you’ve said. I love how 1 Corinthians 2 shows Paul interested in one thing – sharing Christ and Christ crucified, not with eloquence or great wisdom – just the simple story of truth. AMEN AND AMEN!!

“Here’s my critical step away from those who seem to say no to any contextualization – God can and does ask His servants to do things sometimes that appear to be quite outside the ordinary or normal. And, when He does, I believe we must obey….”

And this is where I think lies the difference. I’m not saying that we should say no to contextualization neither do those other guys. Its the definition of the word. Just as going with wisdom and eloquence is beyond the point, so is distracting people from the gospel by dressing like a clown (when we’re trying to talk about something serious) or looking like the world by placing a church in a pub (thats close to if not the same as making church comfortable for non believers, we shouldn’t because church is for the believers).
But of course there are ways, one example I’ve seen from fellow evangelists is (not in church because its not the place for such things but out on the streets, in university campuses etc) one would lie on the floor covered with a white blanket or cloth and one standing beside the “dead man” would use this to show people that we too are dead in our sins and trespasses, not to entertain people but to kinda prove a point.

And when it comes to what we preach well the message should never change, but the approach to getting to the gospel can be for example:
If I’m talking to a Jew, (like in Acts 2) they already know the OT books so lets take advantage of that and talk to them about how Christ fulfilled all the prophecies and show them from Scripture and then preach to them the Gospel.
If we are talking to a gentile we start from 0 God’s creation, and the fall of man and we can even use the law, Paul said it is our schoolmaster in Romans, and show them how God sees us, as lawbreakers and then give them the gospel. Know what I mean?

You are right He will not ask us to do or say something that goes against His character thats why when we feel we are to do something we have to filter it through Gods word first and foremost. And make sure that what we do does not make His gospel look/sound trite or silly.

Thanks for responding! 🙂

Rita Martinez’s last blog post..The Tongue is a Fire

Good response, Rita. I do believe Jesus played with the children who came to him. I think had he had one he might have even dressed as a clown. I see no issues with that. I’m not sure when the gospel becomes so serious that it can’t be fun. Having said that I do think many churches today teach kids that church is fun before they teach them that church is about Jesus and jesus alone. And they create an idol of fun.

My point was that God can ask us to do things that are contextual or that are just crazy. He asked isaiah to run around naked, Hosea to marry a whore, and so many other things… The problem with many today is that rather than asking God to lead them they look around at what the world is doing and emulate that. They become worldly churches rather than Kingdom churches. But, when we immediately judge a church by its actions (its conduct) without examing the heart/spirit of it or knowign if they are being Spirit-led simply because other churches have done similar or the same things in a worldly way and without direction from God, we are judging incorrectly in my opinion. God is infinitely creative and fairly unpredictable (except that He won’t go out of character, but it takes knowing Him personally to recognize that).

Great discussion. I wish some would take the time to discuss civilly without first just labeling or assuming much.

“My point was that God can ask us to do things that are contextual or that are just crazy. He asked isaiah to run around naked, Hosea to marry a w”

And I agree but He used these to prove a point with the stubborn Israelites. Kind of like my example of the fake funeral. In Hosea we read of God’s intentions right away (Hos 1:2). Marrying a whore in those days when women who comitted adultery were to be stoned to death was pretty radical, but God wanted to show the Israelites that they were just as adulterous as that whore, whats even worse is that the daughter and son she had were named No Mercy and Not my People respectively…(wow now that I think of it ouch!)
So when we do these things they should always be in that nature.
Like in Jeremiah you see all through the book of Jeremiah that they were stiff necked and wouldn’t come under the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar what did God ask Jeremiah to do? “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck.” Jer 27:2 and sent him to warn people “But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the LORD, until I have consumed it by his hand.” – 27:8
While Jeremiah was being told to command them to go under the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar everyone else was telling them not to go.
And just like with Isaiah…Nudity was a big deal back then a real shocker, but the backdrop was that they were going to be naked for three years.

As for the clown thing I really don’t think Jesus would’ve dressed as a clown, seriously. Jesus loved children because they had more faith than adults and its the same nowadays. But instead of using clowns just like everyone else we’ve got something better than clowns!!! 😀 the bible! (always better than anything this world has to offer ain’t it great) why not take a scene from the bible and dress like the characters and play it out.
The gospel is serious business because well there is no fun in telling someone that unless they repent they might perish and we all know where people who die in their sins are going and we don’t want ’em there.

But I agree great discussion! 🙂
God bless ya!

Rita Martinez’s last blog post..The Tongue is a Fire

Isn’t contextualization the ‘first principle’ of our Master when he used the parable [always in context] to get nearly all of his messages across?

Rhys’s last blog post..How to Preach

Well said, Rhys. Jesus knew the Truth and could communicate it so that the hearer could understand if they wanted to.

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