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.