21 March 2008

Context and Contextualization

by Phil Johnson

More about why I've been so adamant in my refusal to embrace and celebrate a word so many people seem enthralled with.

efore the 1970s, the word contextualize was pretty hard to come by. It was, however, listed in unabridged dictionaries as a verb meaning "to study something in its own context." (The Oxford English Dictionary still gives that as the word's primary meaning.)

In the early 1970s, left-leaning missiologists made contextualization into a religious shibboleth. They also turned the dictionary definition of the word inside out. They weren't talking about studying or explaining biblical truth in its own context; instead, what they wanted to do was adapt and stylize religious ideas and symbols to fit into the cultural context of their target audience—namely oppressed and marginalized people groups.

It wasn't long before hip, young evangelicals discovered and embraced the basic concept, and then franchised it. Instead of targeting impoverished and downtrodden people, however, they turned contextualization into a tool for attracting Yuppies. People-pleasing activities quickly replaced God-exalting worship. Popular entertainment, apparently, was the one "context" the new evangelicals' target clientele were drawn to en masse.

Now post-evangelicals have canonized contextualization as the one essential belief they all agree on. The "context" that seems to interest them most is the postmodern underbelly of western youth culture. (They evidently believe nihilistic post-generation-Xers are the very epitome of an oppressed and marginalized people group, so in effect they have brought the term back to its roots.) They defend contextualization with a zeal most of them don't even have for the authority of Scripture.



A fundamental problem in all those cases is that the starting point of their hermeneutic is not a careful study of the biblical text in its own context—but a sympathetic self-immersion into various contemporary cultural contexts. The favorite emblems of faddish subcultures are then borrowed and blended with spiritual imagery in order to make selected elements of the Christian message seem as comfortable and familiar as possible. Re-contextualization or even de-contextualization would be more fitting terms.

I realize there are some sensible and sane evangelicals who are quite fond of the word contextualization—and they generally try to define it in innocuous terms that defy the word's actual derivation and history. That strikes me as an utterly wrong-headed way of thinking—especially for those who profess to be concerned about context and communication. And yes, I know the word is currently in vogue and gaining ground even in conservative circles. I don't mind being countercultural and uncool, so that plea carries no weight whatsoever with me.

Let me be clear: My objection to "contextualization" in evangelical and post-evangelical parlance is not because I think context is unimportant. On the contrary, context is vitally important—and when we're dealing with revealed truth from God, biblical context is vastly more important than the context of any contemporary subculture.

In that context, consider this comment from a semi-prominent post-evangelical blogger:

Phil Johnson’s current post on contextualization . . . should be read to get a clear picture of what Johnson and his supporters hear when they hear "context." Summary: the worst aspects of culture embraced at the most cost to the clarity of the gospel. Is that what missiologists and missional pastors mean by contextualization?
  1. First, the fellow utterly misses my whole point. My objection to the popular notion of contextualization has nothing whatsoever to do with any phobia about context—either the word or the concept—properly considered. I'm simply pointing out that of all the contextual issues we must consider as ministers of the gospel, biblical context must always be first in order and is always of supreme importance.
         But biblical context is not what the word contextualization refers to. I frankly wouldn't care if the very finest aspects of culture dominated the concerns of contextualizers. I'd still reject the concept. What I object to is the utterly fallacious idea that something other than the biblical context should be the starting point for our understanding or application of spiritual truth.
  2. Second, when considering our own contemporary cultural context, we need to make honest and biblically-informed assessments about what's compatible (or not) with timeless biblical principles—rather than uncritically embracing the ephemeral icons of popular culture.
  3. Third, in questions about spiritual truth, biblical context is infinitely more relevant than any cultural context is. That's because meaning and truth are properly determined by the Author, not by the ambassador, and certainly not by the audience.
  4. Finally, with regard to the question of what missiologists and missional pastors mean by contextualization," one of the problems with the term, as I pointed out the other day, is that no two people ever seem to mean quite the same thing when they use it.
The Emerging Conversation illustrates this problem. Some think in order to reach a generation weaned on Ultimate Fighting, South Park, and hip-hop, you have to live and breathe and speak that language, with all its profanity and vulgarity and sexual innuendo. Be loud and proud with it. And, they insist, if you don't frame the gospel in that kind of context, you simply cannot reach postmoderns.

Others take "contextualization" a whole different direction, saying that if you really want to reach postmodernized cultures and subcultures, you can't preach anything with strong convictions. Certainty is offensive to postmodern sensitivities; firm doctrinal positions are perceived as arrogant; so traditional approaches to Christianity are not only uncool; they are hopelessly ineffectual.

What both sides of the Emergent/emerging divide do agree on (in practice if not in precept) is that the application of spiritual truth should begin with the contemporary cultural context, not the biblical context. That's precisely where I think the idea of missiological contextualization went astray, and it happened at the very start.



Oh, and one more thing: the supreme irony here is that the word contextualization itself is a kind of religious jargon—the very kind of thing most contextualizers say we ought to eschew. Do a Google search for the term and see who is using it. Religious people—stylish evangelicals, postmodernized pundits from the emerging conversation, missiologists, church-growth experts, CT editors, missionaries who toe the School of World Mission line, and evangelical jargonauts of all types. Collectively, they seem to use the word at least 75 times more than anyone else. So it is exactly the kind of Christianese the champions of contextualization say we should stay away from. Odd, isn't it?

Phil's signature

126 comments:

Stephen said...

One of your finer posts, Phil. I love you, brother. Now, prepare for some Gal. 4:16 coming your way!

art said...

Phil,

Have you read Dean Flemming's Contextualization in the New Testament?

I honestly think you would enjoy it because he stresses not only Biblical context, but also Biblical examples of contextualization. I am sympathetic with your concerns surrounding contextualization, but I think they might be overstated.

Douglas said...

I reckon this is contextualization run amok as well:

The Aussie Bible

I don't know how much Aussie gutter slang is in it though. But I'm sure many Aussies will understand the lingo I reckon. Just change sheep to kangaroo and Psalm 23 will be a breeze. I can't wait until I get my Kiwi one. Maybe they will change sheep to Kiwi then all will be clear as day.

I wonder if all these contextualizers have got a special gospel message in filthy street slang and obscene swear words for blokes like Sonny Barger and all his Hells Angels buddies there in Arizona? Are there any Hells Angels in Seattle, maybe Mark Driscioll can reach them? He knows a few choice contextual words doesn't he, he really knows how to tell contextual stories and crack a few jokes and make people laugh?* They wont understand the plain meaning of the texts unless one contextualizes the gospel into swear words or modern stories that are not true so as they'll understand, eh?

* “Jesus’ mom was a poor, unwed teenage girl who was mocked for claiming she conceived via the Holy Spirit. Most people thought she concocted a crazy story to cover the ‘fact’ she was knocking boots with some guy in the backseat of a car at the prom.” (p.11)

Jesus’ humor was often biting and harsh, particularly when directed at the Pharisees. For example, he called them a bag of snakes, said that their moms shagged the Devil, and mocked them for tithing out of their spice racks.” (pp. 40-41)

Joining them later at the party at Matthew’s house was nothing short of a very bad hip-hop video, complete with women in clear heels, dudes with their pants around their ankles and handguns in their underwear strap, lots of gold teeth, bling, spinners on camels, cheap liquor, and grinding to really loud music with a lot of bass. When word got out to the religious folks, they were perplexed as to how Jesus could roll with such a jacked-up posse. Jesus’ answer was purely priestly. Jesus said that they were sick and needed mercy.” (p.77)

Some Catholic theologians taught that Jesus was not born in the normal fashion through Mary’s birth canal. Rather, they say he was born via something much like a miraculous C-section, as if Mary were some Messiah-in-the-box, and Joseph cranked her arm until the Messiah popped out of her gut.” (p. 93)

"On the cross as our substitute, Jesus was made to be the worst of what we are. This does not mean that Jesus ever sinned. Rather, it means that he was made sin. As a result, in that moment when Jesus cried out that he had been forsaken by God the Father, Jesus became the most ugly, wicked, defiled, evil, corrupt, rebellious, and hideous thing in all creation. In that moment, Jesus became a homosexual, alcoholic, thief, glutton, addict, pervert, adulterer, coveter, idol worshiper, whore, pedophile, self-righteous religious prig—and whatever else we are.” (p. 114—). ~ Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll

Is that T. R. (truly reformed) theology or is it T. D. (truly deformed) theology?

No way on earth would I proclaim any of that stuff to my mates who are in prison or still caught up in the bike gang lifestyle or our next door neighbours. I just read the plain text of Scripture to them, explaining the meaning in good old basic New Zealand English, English most children here understand. If everyone spoke Maori then I'd have to learn Maori but most Maoris know English and they certainly know cuss words when they hear them and I doubt if many Maoris would be terribly impressed with contextualizationalism.

Michael Spencer said...

How typical. Find a five line offhanded link from me and put it on your blog as a full fledged affirmation of everything the other side wants to say about contextualization. (But at least I'm "semi-prominent." What an honor.)

If you have something to say on this subject that thousands of younger evangelicals care about, then take on Keller. He's the advocate everyone is listening to. He's the one who should be discussed.

Puritan said...

"when considering our own contemporary cultural context, we need to make honest and biblically-informed assessments about what's compatible (or not) with timeless biblical principles—rather than uncritically embracing the ephemeral icons of popular culture."

-------So true brother.

The biggest problem I have with it, is this false notion that what's clearly sin in the eyes of God, changes as and when the culture accepts something as okay, and so the Christians should be indulged in these 'sins that God no longer minds' in order to reach people.

'To the blasphemers I became a blasphemer, to the drunks I became a drunk, to the profane I became profane etc.'

DJP said...

"evangelical jargonauts"

Le bon mot.

heath lloyd said...

Phil: Soon another buzz word from the latest business book or WIRED magazine or whatever will be picked-up and proclaimed at another cool conference and used besides "contextualization."
I think your post is dead-on. What's wrong with "Preach the Word"?

agonizomai said...

Thank you Phil. You say it so much better and so much more clearly than I.

DJP said...

Phil, Phil, Phil, Phil! You forget The Spencer Rules:

1. If it's a six-line post, you can't only quote five.

2. If Spencer comments on something you say, it's droll, witty, urbane, and above. And the discussion is Over.

3. You not only don't get a comment on his blog, you don't get a surrejoinder on yours.

4. If you do take one, it's mean, and it's unfair, and you're a bad bad man.

Come on, Phil. You know better.

PS

5. For me to comment on his comment on your comment on his comment on your post — hate-filled.

Carla said...

Michael Spencer writes:

"If you have something to say on this subject that thousands of younger evangelicals care about, then take on Keller. He's the advocate everyone is listening to."

Actually no, not everyone is listening to him. There are some younger evangelicals that haven't bought into the whole contextualization concept.

Heath Lloyd asked:

"What's wrong with "Preach the Word"?"

Nothing, if you really believe that the preaching of the cross is the power of God unto salvation. Many of those that champion contextualization will adamantly affirm this as well, but then tell you that you must do this, say that, or practice some such other, to reach the unchurched. It may be a newer tradition, but to me this is a perfect example of latching onto an evangelical 'tradition'.

Very good post Phil, thank you for speaking up on this, it's appreciated.

SolaMeanie said...

Clarity, certainty, authority etc. in one delicious post. Fine work, Phil.

I note with interest your reference to how that particular blogger missed your point. That, to me, is one of the most frustrating things about trying to have a discussion or debate about anything these days. No matter how clear you present your argument -- even down to "Dick and Jane, See Spot Run" level -- your points still get missed.

Could it possibly be intentional, or have people really become that brain dead?

Johnny Dialectic said...

These are masterful posts, Phil. And, along with Dan, I gladly add "evangelical jargonauts" to my lexicon.

It seems to me the real victim of contextualization is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The idea that we have to accommodate any given cultural milieu in order to "reach" said sub-group seems about as unscriptural as one can get in the missiological enterprise. The Spirit through the Word is the only contextualization that is biblically supportable.

This is just a theory on my part, but I wonder about the roots of this dynamic. Your average post-evangelical will say it's all about communicating with people at their level. But it seems to me it's more about not wanting to be seen as uncool or irrelevant or, gasp, judgmental. All those bad fundamentalist things.

Which is why contextualized community never seems to get around to things like, oh, church discipline.

John P said...

Excellent post Phil. As I was reading your post I was thinking: who would disagree with this?

The only "change" we should make to our message is where we start out from. What does the person know about the scriptures? That will determine our starting point for what we share.

dac said...

What do you think of the argument that the disciples "contextualized" their message?

(i.e. Dean Flemings book "Contextualization in the New Testament"

dac said...

Re: the Imonk qoute

If you are going to haul a quote out of the middle of a larger post, you should provide a link to that post so your readers may make their own decision on it.

The comment "semi prominent" does seem to be a little bit churlish. Why add an attack on the person? Either their idea stands on it's own merit or not. To add that little backhand slap about the person adds a logical fallacy to your argument that only serves to distract from your main point.

DJP said...

One line longer.

DJP said...

Oh good grief, DAC. For a guy with a blog about love, you seem to come here with your angry-eyes on most of the time.

A lot of bloggers would give a lot to have Phil call them ANY kind of prominent. But you find a slur and a slap, and make it Phil's issue. Goodness.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

A very important subject in today’s doctrinal melee. But I continue to object to encouraging subliminal prejudice by posting stereotypes like the one on the Culture poster. There are millions of sinners who are in need of Christ who resemble that man and those pictures only encourage a further entrenchment in judgmentalism. Although the followers of such teachings of liberalism are pitiful, the teachers should bear the greater weight of exposure.

I reiterate my desire to see the teachers plastered on these posters and not a stereotype of people whose spiritual needs are projected through easily identifiable visuals. How many people actually know what Spencer Burke looks like, but all of us know someone who resembles that young man. I do not question the motivation, however, a picture of Pagitt or MacLaren or others with their name underneath will not only bring across the theological point desired, it will also educate the lookers as to just who are these proponents of Scriptural contextualization.

As it stands, the subliminal pejorative about the followers sometimes overwhelms the doctrinal issue being addressed. The false teacher gets a pass and the deceived sheep or lost sinner stands for a demeaning portrait.

If these men are going to teach these heresies with effervescence and make merchandise of people as well, let them stand openly in a theological line-up so as to be embedded in our minds and let the poor sinners have a place in our prayers.

dac said...

djp

Not sure how your get "angry" out of my posts.

My first was a simple question, and my second dealt with basic blogging etiquette.

DJP said...

"...haul a quote out...churlish...attack...backhand slap...logical fallacy"

Maybe you wrote that with little candy canes dancing around your head. If so, my bad. Struck me as starting out shifted into M for Mad.

DJP said...

PS -- One word I would never apply to Phil Johnson is "churlish." The way Phil deals with people, particularly including his many angry, demanding critics, is exemplary.

dac said...

If I had satirized it in a poster, would that of made it better?

Phil Johnson said...

Michael Spencer:

The semi- in "semi-prominent" wasn't meant as an insult. You and I are not "prominent" like, say, Arianna Huffington or even Al Mohler. We're mostly unknown outside the religious blogosphere. So semi-prominent didn't strike me as a insult. (It was certainly nicer than the adjective I had in my first draft.) But I'm very sorry if I underplayed your infamy. No slight was intended.

As for Keller, I appreciate that fact that he is more concerned about biblical context than the average contextualizer. I've said more than once before that if people who champion missional strategies and contextualization never went further than Keller does, I probably wouldn't complain much. If Keller really was the most listened-to voice for postmodern Christianity (I think you are dead wrong about the extent of his influence, BTW)—if he were really the main trend-setter post-evangelicals looked to as an example—I'd have never posted anything more than the most gentle complaint about the Emerging Conversation.

On the other hand, in case you didn't notice, Dan Phillips did critique Keller's approach just yesterday, and if you analyze his complaint about Keller's apologetic, Dan was really saying yesterday the very same thing I'm saying in the above post.

This has to be the fourth or fifth time you have replied to a Pyro-post by saying, "You should analyze this other guy (who's not as bad) instead of dealing with the thing you actually critiqued." If you think about that style of argumentation, it could be used by anyone to wave off anyone's critique about anything, because criticism by definition almost never singles out the most benign examples. But your reply is not really an answer to anything I did say, is it?

But thanks for the occasional drive-bys. Even if I accidentally failed to show proper appreciation for your eminence, I have nothing but profound awe for how interesting you are.

dac said...

It is interesting that how you took my comment shows how someone else might take Phil's post (and did, obviously)

So lets delete my second comment because I have obviously offended and stick with the first question and first comment.

What about Dean Flemmings book and why not link to Imonk?

Or, feel free to ignore the questions.

Mike Riccardi said...

And yes, I know the word is currently in vogue and gaining ground even in conservative circles. I don't mind being countercultural and uncool, so that plea carries no weight whatsoever with me.

I need to thank you for this, Phil. And just as much, I need to exhort you to continue on in this way.

I am one of the younger (22), post-GenX evangelicals that this contextualizing/missional movement is supposed to attract and cater to, and with no hesitation I declare that it sickens me. Because, like Johnny said, the real victim is the Holy Spirit. The entire thing brings with it a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of man and the nature of salvation. I think MacArthur put it so wonderfully again and again at the conference two weeks ago when he kept repeating that he doesn't want to do anything to appeal to unbelievers in their fallenness, which is exactly what this whole contextualization thing does. Like Dan wrote yesterday, the approach says: "You have a right to challenge God, and oppose your judgment over His. My job is to make God seem reasonable to you, in your judgment, by your standards."

But back to what I was saying. I've been thinking about this whole thing recently, and having more discussions about it than I'd like (in person as well as online). And I seem to hear more and more otherwise apparently sound Christians buying into this... and it scares me. I am probably sinfully fearful that this error has found its way into evangelicalism and is hear to stay. Sure, the emergers are/were a fad, and fads fade. But they've managed to shoehorn "missional" and "contextualization" and "conversation" into conservative circles in such a way that no one really minds anymore. People think it's just obvious to say things like: we need to find "common ground" between the believer and unbeliever, like 2Cor 6:15 doesn't exist.

Like Carla said, though, not everyone is listening to this garbage. And I, for one, am sick of hearing 40- and 50-something year-old guys tell me what my culture is and what I need to hear to accept Christ. But there are so many of them! And I look around and I see how many people are welcoming this with open arms, and I go to Christ and I ask Him why this is so, and if this is from Him. And if it's not why is it that so many people are in love with it... or at least don't speak out against it. And the Holy Spirit continually convicts me and confirms to me that it dishonors Him. And so as I perceive this disconnect I have a lot of despair for the state of the church.

I need to pray more. And I need to trust that Christ will build His church. I know that. But it becomes so difficult. That's why it's so important for folks in my generation to have sound, relentlessly biblical, and unashamed men like you, Phil, to stand up and say, "I don't care if it makes me look uncool; it's wrong." So be encouraged and exhorted. Know that I thank God for you, and that your personal ministry to me has been so refreshing and energizing, for this and other reasons. And it has and will be for others like me, too.

Persevere, brother. The reward is great.

The Doulos said...

carla: "What's wrong with "Preach the Word"?"
Nothing, if you really believe that the preaching of the cross is the power of God unto salvation. Many of those that champion contextualization will adamantly affirm this as well, but then tell you that you must do this, say that, or practice some such other, to reach the unchurched.


That is exactly what I was thinking. Much of what drives this attitude of contexualization seems to me to be a lack of confidence in the sufficency of the Gospel and the Word. Perhaps not in doctrine, but certainly in practice. Is not the gospel of Christ the very power of God? And if so, is He not capable of communicating His truth to His elect, regardless of their cultural context, in the manner that He deems fit, to bring them to faith?

SolaMeanie said...

Henry,

You miss the point of the poster. It is one thing to want to reach people like those depicted. But the poster is actually aimed at those WITHIN THE CHURCH who want to engage in such shenanigans out of their own rebellion, masked as a desire to reach others.

SolaMeanie said...

BTW, Dan...for the record...

If you look at the root word "churl," and its origins, I would certainly say Phil doesn't quite fit up to the epithet, LOL.

Rank that up there with "popinjay" or "jackanapes." I think people have either been watching too much O'Reilly or reading too many Elizabethan stage plays.

Phil Johnson said...

dac: "What about Dean Flemmings book and why not link to Imonk?"

I haven't read Flemming's book. I linked to an article in the above post where the author includes an abbreviated discussion of the history of the term contextualization. If you go to that link you'll see that the author of that article is arguing (like Flemming) that Jesus and the apostles practiced contextualization. He gives three examples of what he thinks are bona fide cases of contextualization in the NT—where (he insists) the meaning or truth-content of OT Scripture was altered to suit Roman culture. I say that guy's argument is hooey, and you can consult practically any legitimate commentary on those passages to find out why they have nothing to do with adapting the truth-content of Scripture in order to make it better suit a certain culture. Since neither Jesus nor the disciples ever did that, I'd be disinclined to spend money on any book whose whole argument turns on the belief that they did.

Thanks for the heads up though. I'll look into Flemming's book.

Regarding linkage: the iMonk and the BHT give us reciprocal non-links. It's an arrangement that has worked well for both blogs. If you managed to find the article in question by Googling, you'll see that iMonk even introduced his remarks by expressly stating his refusal to link to the post he was riffing on. Longtime readers understand the rationale behind this. Newbies can Google "iMonk" in our archives for the background history.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

I fully understand the point, however I still believe the deceiver should be portrayed, not the deceived. And make it personal with a picture of those who gleefully flaunt their deception.

The wolves must be identified not the captured sheep.

SolaMeanie said...

Let me try that again to fix some inadvertant, atrocious bad grammar.

What if the wolves look exactly like the portrayal? Have you seen any recent photos of Jamie Charles Bakker, a charismatic Emergent pastor?

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

I understand your point, solo, Jamie Bakker is not yet an author and has been influenced by false teachers. He is also a victim of his parents, but I get your point.

Someone should make a catalogue of all emergent authors, speakers, teachers, and prominent pastors. I lack the energy and scholastic talents, but someone could do that while avoiding any distracting hyperbole.

How about you, solo. I would help with the writing.

Frank Turk said...

I'll be selling popcorn, Tums and handguns as this topic unfolds.

You use the one you need on the one you need to use it on, and I'll accept Paypal.

SolaMeanie said...

Actually, Jamie Bakker is a published author as well as a pastor. He wrote a book called "Son of a Preacher Man." If I were Dusty Springfield, I'd sue. Of course, Dusty has assumed room temperature, or she just might.

I can allow for someone's upbringing to be a factor to some extent. But as Scripture says, teachers are held to a stricter standard. Jay Bakker (as he likes to be called today) is a pastor and teacher.

The catalog sounds like an interesting idea, but I think there is sufficient documentation on individual pastors and authors who support Emergent ideas. To catalog everyone in the country (or world) who subscribes to these ideas is a project well beyond time in my personal reserves.

BTW, it's "Sola," not "Solo." You will have people confusing me with Han Solo before too long. Trust me, I'm not that handsome or in as good of shape. You can call me Joel also. (smile)

Stefan said...

Mike Riccardi: You're only 22!? Wow. God bless you, brother.

John P: What you wrote is so simple and obvious, and yet I never considered it before.

Phil: Amen that Scripture provides its own context. Passages like Genesis 1 and Romans 1 lay the groundwork, and everything else follows from there. The Old Testament explains the New Testament, and the New Testament explains the Old Testament. Typologies, allusions, parallels, expansions...the Holy Spirit in His wisdom has given us all we need. All praise be to the Lord our God.

DJP said...

I was much, much smarter when I was 22, too.

Stefan said...

I just betrayed what an old geezer I am (late 30s with senil delusions of youthfulness) by writing, "only 22." All 22-year-olds out there (including Mike), please forgive me. The arrogance of old age....

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Sorry for the spelling, sola, I get it. I still believe a paperback that presents pictures with some general and honest presentation of their most controversial teachings along with their books would be a real help. I would help with the literary element, but we would need some researchers and photographers.

I am interested in being a part.

WayneDawg said...

Happy Substitutionary Atonement day folks!!

Looking forward to Resurrection Day here in North Georgia on Sunday.

God bless you all!!

Stefan said...

The Passover Lamb has come to take away our sins! Amen!

SolaMeanie said...

Happy Resurrection Day indeed.

Of course, some will be bemoaning the "cosmic child abuse" inherent in the substitutionary atonement. But those of us who actually get it will be properly -- and humbly -- thankful.

Now, an effort to get things back on topic. If you really want to see contextualization gone awry, look no further than the Rev. Jeremiah Wright/Barack Obama controversy. Look into "black liberation theology" and see what fun and games they have with "context."

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

"Of course, some will be bemoaning the "cosmic child abuse" inherent in the substitutionary atonement."

sola - that is a Rembrandt in what needs to be exposed and appilied to its rightful author!

SolaMeanie said...

Well, I am no Rembrandt. I have a hard time using an Etch-A-Sketch.

But the gentleman in question is Steve Chalke, an Emergent from the U.K.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

See - I never heard of him. Does anyone bel;ieve that we need an authoritative manual for unmasking these guys? Calm and with well resourced information, but with some biographical as well as doctrinal information within a clear collection of named teachers within the emergent movement.

ALL FOR ONCE/ ONCE FOR ALL said...

Mike,

Jesus Christ will eventually handle the perps. Nobody will get sucked into this unless He wills it. You know it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Jesus Christ will reckon the new kind of Mcscrewtapes, all will be sorted out as He sees fit. Sometimes (most times) I have gotten so upset and grieved by all of it. Then I realized he put me in "that" EC Tuskeegee experiment to show me His glory. Thank you Lord! Please come quick.

Habitans in Sicco said...

The state of the "argument" so far:

iMonk (bravely): "Anyone who wants to take whatever disagreements I've had with Phil Johnson and the Pyros and turn it into an endorsement of compromising the Gospel, deserting scripture in preaching or adopting the language of culture as the primary "story" we're telling needs to step outside and roll up your sleeves. I'll be right there to settle this."

Johnson: "the fellow utterly misses my whole point."

iMonk (whining): "Spencer must pay for that "suit" post. The schoolyard bully always knows who has to "get it" for running his mouth."

Johnson: "No slight was intended."

The voice of reason: "Michael, I do not think Phil Johnson was quoting you as an escalation ploy. You mentioned his post and he as the author of it, so his response to your remarks seems to me entirely fair."

iMonk (sobbing): "He wasn't wanting to escalate? You must be kidding. The only reason he does this is so I will react and he will get a million people applauding his blog efforts against my arrogance. I'd be bothered if I thought he considered me a Christian, but since I'm an apostate, what's the point."

Preson said...

Sola:
Did you guys really just attack James Bakker based on his outward appearance? Or did I just misunderstand all that?

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

"Did you guys really just attack James Bakker based on his outward appearance?"

I hope not.

ALL FOR ONCE/ ONCE FOR ALL said...

DJP said...

I was much, much smarter when I was 22, too.

Duh, Robin Trower?

ALL FOR ONCE/ ONCE FOR ALL said...

Rick,

That is precisely why Phil uses body-doubles in the EMERGENT-SEE PM'S.
EMERGENT-SEE PM'S
kinda sounds like a cold tablet.

SolaMeanie said...

Preson,

Read it all again, and please do try not to miss the point. The problem is the theology. The appearance in question stems from the faulty theology, in my view, and probably a bit of rebellion. Read up on Jay Bakker a bit and you'll see what his attitude is toward biblical conservatism.

I used him as an example to try and make my point. I am not going to get sidetracked into an argument over whether tattoos and tongue studs are permissible. Go ahead and take a nail gun and stud yourself from head to toe. My questions will involve what led you to do it and why, not how it looks.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

WoooHooooo! What a great post PJ! For me... it was a Two-Fer!!!

Great content... as usual. Very substantive, well-reasoned, and well-argued.

The bonus was that I-Monk exposed himself. If he would have just kept quiet, very few would have realized that he was the referent post-evangelical. (I suspected as much, but I was content to leave well enough alone).

I-Monk has unfairly attacked me (on Centuri0n's blog) and so I have first-hand witness substantiating DJP's description of the "Michael Spencer Rules". I-Monk is a prideful, hypocritical whiner.

But let's not derail this excellent blog post to a discussion about I-Monk. He's unworthy of displacing the central thesis that "contextualization" is an overhyped and abused word within evangelicalism.

I love this series on contextualization PJ! Have a blessed Easter all Pyromaniacs!

P.S. Yo I-Monk. You can't be mad at all the Pyro authors. You and Frank Turk look to be on fine terms.

SolaMeanie said...

For a little more clarity, look at the substance of what Henry (Rick) and I were discussing. He was making a case for not depicting the followers of a movement or the unsaved in the Emergent-See posters, preferring instead to have genuine photographs of the leaders. My response to that was that some of the leaders/pastors/teachers/authors within the EC actually do look like that, some of them for a very specific reason. The genesis of the overall discussion is "contextualization."

Think about it a while.

Phil Johnson said...

Here's an excerpt from a reply I sent to someone who e-mailed me off-line with a question about today's post:

Thanks for your message. My objection to what most people mean by “contextualization” isn’t culture-specific. In other words, I don’t care one way or another whether someone’s preferred style is hip-hop or marching band; the principle I’m trying to articulate applies in either case. (It’s just that there aren’t many marching-band buffs out there pleading that we should have special churches styled just for them, so I haven’t parodied that idea. Yet.)

What I object to is any strategy that aims to adjust the truth content of the Christian message and alter the way the church relates to the world’s current dominant philosophies with the aim of making Christianity more comfortable or more acceptable to secular/popular cultures. The tendency to do tweak the content of our message is very subtle and dangerous, so that even when softening the edges of gospel truth is not a conscious goal, it always happens when people become more concerned with cultural contexts than they are with the biblical context.

Again: my complaint is not about anyone’s “style” per se. If you can teach the truth unvarnished in any medium, go for it. Where the train starts to derail is when someone gets the idea that this or that style is essential to reach some culture or subculture. You have heard the argument: If we don’t contextualize the gospel into hip-hop, we’ll never be able to reach urban young people. Anyone who finds himself thinking that way has in effect already lost confidence in the power of gospel truth (as opposed to some hip style)--and (mark my words), you’ll find them already tweaking the message.

[end of excerpt]

By the way, I aways marvel at how easily the purveyors of postmodern tolerance become unhinged and angry when someone suggests that anything currently unstylish might actually be superior to whatever is stylish. Note to such commenters: Arguments dealing with the substance of what I have said will go a lot further with me than a hundred thousand remarks about how naive and out of step with the times I am. K?

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Everybody contexualizes to some extent, ask any missionary. That isn't the point as I understand it here. The contextualization as it is promoted by emergents distinctly changes the gospel understanding in order to accommodate the post modern mindset, and just because a post modern sinner understands it better doesn't necessarily mean he understands the gospel.

And in fact, many emergents, even those with evangelical credetials, now have a far different understanding of the gospel than when they used to sit in their horrible, backward youth group. Contextualization as an enhancement to understanding the actual redemtive gospel is a gift, but as was already said we all must be mindful of the precarious nature of "explanation". It can be a Trojan Horse.

The list of Biblical truths that have been eaten by just twenty years of contexualization is legion. The most notorious is the atonement and all its clear and immutable revelations in God's Word. It is now no longer exclusive, it is now found in other religions, and it is now continuing to evolve in direct proportion to our cultural evolution. That, my friends, is what unbiblical contexualization has provided for the sinner and saint alike.

I'm sure the best/worst is yet to come.

art said...

Phil,

Do you think that Paul was concerned with the context of the people to whom he was writing in his epistles?

If so, then don't we have a model of contextualization in our Bible?

If not, then why were all his epistles not the same? If he didn't contextualize his message, wouldn't all of his letters read, "Repent and believe in the Gospel. Live according to the Spirit and preach the word. Sincerely, Paul"?

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

art - you are providing a false presupposition. Everyone contexualizes - see my previous comment.

art said...

Rick, Henry, Frueh: Funny, my presupposition was that everyone contextualizes. And then you stated my presupposition. And yet you say that my presupposition is false.

Could you explain that?

My presupposition is that Paul contextualized, Jesus contextualized, God contextualized in his word, the early church contextualized, Spurgeon contextualized, and Phil contextualizes.

So the point is not and should not be contextualization. It should be on proper ways to contextualize.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Your false presupposition is that Phil doesn't believe in any contextualization. I don't understand his view that way but he can speak for himself (!).

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

And since you mock this sight by calling it "Egomaniacs" and call this post "laughable" you have lost the respectful ambiance necessary for a productive disagreement. Why would you dialogue with someone who can only post "laughable" material?

I would suggest a less invective laced view of those with whom you disagree. And yes, that applies to us all, but especially for blog guests. And just so you know, I have my differences with the writers here, ask around.

art said...

Frueh, Rick, Henry: The way that Phil, Dan, and Turk have dealt with me in the past, I find no evidence to the contrary. Without exception their comments towards me (and others) are consistently sarcastic and arrogant. I would like to have a respectful dialog with them, but am consistently handed sarcastic, cutting remarks (see Dan's post yesterday...I ask Dan a question, he makes a sarcastic remark). Its truly a shame.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Semantics. Same principle that I outlined. I personally believe the difference is that contexualization is placing the Biblical teaching in the Biblical context so as to more clearly convey the truth. Missional contexualization is to alter the truth in accordance with modern mindsets.

But anyway which ever definition of "contextualization" one assumes the bottom line is that changing the gospel is always wrong.

Phil Johnson said...

Henry (Rick) and Art:

I think I've been clear and consistent through this string of posts and comments, but for those who may not have had time to read it carefully, here's my position one more time:

Every sensible evangelist or missionary translates and illustrates the gospel using the native language and familiar imagery of whatever culture he is trying to reach. Nothing wrong with that. Its necessary.

But the term contextualization carries with it a lot of additional baggage beyond that—chiefly the idea of adapting the truth-content of the message with the aim of making it more acceptable or comfortable to the target society. Everything is wrong with that. It's the worst kind of perfidy for someone who is supposed to be an ambassador.

To illustrate: there's a huge difference between (on the one hand) illustrating what sheep are like by comparing their behavior to the mannerisms of sea lions, and (on the other hand) replacing the word lamb with walrus when you are teaching someone from the Bible. I applaud the former approach; execrate the latter.

The problem is that those who invented contextualization defined the word in a way that expressly affirms the latter methodology. Evangelicals who like the word generally try to pretend it involves only the former methodology. The two ideas must not be confused, and yet they are both often labeled contextualization nowadays.

I'm convinced there are people who deliberately foster confusion between those two ideas. They gloss over the important distinction between simple translation/illustration and full-bore contextualization, because no one really has a problem with good communication, and if we can make contextualization sound like nothing more than a simple, creative method for reaching various subcultures, certain preachers who like to use filthy language and others who want to deny essential Christian doctrines can both justify what they are doing by calling it contextualization.

Here's a simple matter of fact: if missional contextualization means what those who coined the term say it means, then it isn't simply the translation and illustration of biblical ideas.

So pointing out that this or that person has translated or illustrated some biblical truth with a particular culture's language is no proof that "everyone contextualizes."

Furthermore, I think it's sheer folly for evangelicals to try to embrace and whitewash a concept that has wreaked so much havoc. And to dismiss my point (especially after been so careful with definitions), with the "Everyone contextualizes (How naive can Phil Johnson be?)" argument hardly suggests that good communication is really the goal of those who find themselves on that side of the conversation.

art said...

Phil,

I appreciate the clarifying comment. I understand your hesitancy for embracing a concept that was birthed within a more liberal climate.

But what about the modern dictionary definition of contextualization: "to place a word, idea, or activity in a particular context"? That is what almost everyone I have read within the more conservative camp of evangelicalism mean when they talk about contextualization (Keller, Bevans, Flemming, Conn, Driscoll, even Kuyper in God Centred Evangelism). I don't see anything wrong with this as I see the author's of Scripture doing this.

Your definition of contextualization ("adapting the truth-content of the message with the aim of making it more acceptable or comfortable to the target society") is a new one to me. I'm not sure where you read that or what parts of Christianity practice that type of contextualization. It certainly isn't the more conservative authors and pastors who are writing/talking about it. Are you largely after the left wing emergent crowd when you write this? If so, I am in agreement.

But there are also conservative authors who are working from the dictionary definition of contextualization (and not the 1970's, WCC definition) who do not belong to the same camp that you are critiquing. They are actually practicing contextualization in a proper way (i.e. in a Biblical way).

I do think there is a Biblical way to practice contextualization, which is why I don't understand your beef with the word. People have misunderstood it and abused it, but does that mean that we throw the word out? Even if our dictionary defines it as something completely different? I'm not convinced that the word cannot be redeemed and that proper, Biblical contextualization cannot be practiced. I think Keller, Flemming, Bevans, et. al. are living proof.

SolaMeanie said...

I often wonder what the Apostles Paul and Peter (not to mention the Lord Himself) would say to today's "experts" who coin all this wonderful terminology?

I am astounded that the early disciples somehow managed to preach the Gospel and see souls saved without the pie charts, statistics and coined lingo of focus groups, sociologists, cultural anthropologists, and Ivy League seminarians.

Missiology used to be a fine thing until it got too egg-headed for its own good.

art said...

sola: You could make the same argument about Theology. But that doesn't mean we should throw Theology away.

SolaMeanie said...

If you read behind the lines of what I said, the point was when missiologists (or theologians) get so enamored of their musings that they leave biblical orthodoxy behind. I love theology. When it's biblical.

Strong Tower said...

Happy Anastasis Contemplations

Yeah, Piper's right.

The gospel is its own context. Now let's get this straight. The ECer condemns Western Culture and if the Gospel is presented by a Westerner it is automatically dismissed. The ECer believes that their culure is the best definition of the Gospel. They then want only those who fit their paradigm, fads, fashion, intellectual vacuity, to address them. This is called cultural bigotry. For what does it matter what the presenting culture's culture is? Is it not the message brought? Who cares what the receiving culture is, is it not the message brought.

We could try this this way. A black man approaches a white man with the Gospel. Is it right for the black man to bleach his skin? You may think this absurd, but it is no different than requiring that one pierce their tongue, or are circumcised. Though those things may be accomodated, how do they affect the culture? Aren't they merely masking the reality? And how do they affect the content of the Gospel, is it not the context of Scripture which is to be enculcated. Isn't it the culture of Scripture that we are to enculcate in the target audience. Then it does not matter what my native culture is, does it? Isn't it just the fact that the neoculterists believe themselves so superior that they are simply bigots? It is one thing if they were some foreign people group, but that is not what is under consideration, generally, when speaking of contexualization. What is under consideration is if it is even reasonable to require "circumcision" as a matter of acceptance by the receiving culture. Remember, Paul was never compelled. Instead he acted out of concern for the Gospel using a neutral means, His conscern was not the potential of hurt feelings, or the fact that the Gospel would decimate civic cultural trough personal influencial and doctinal transformation. His concern was for the offspring of Adam dead in sin receiving the good news.

Why should we then mess with the message? So what if our culture is unacceptable, so what if we are not circumcised. Hmmm? So what if we drive demons out of demoniacs. Such cultural disrespect should not be tolerated, should it? It is really patronizing to become like your target audience. Jesus didn't become the demoniac did he? Paul did not tip the temple prostitutes, did he?

While we may indiginize, change language, accomodate on the negotiables so as not to bring offense, that is not what is going on in the EC and most of the other areas where contexualization is being demonstrated. It simply has become syncretism in many cases. It really doesn't matter even if the message is orthodox and non-compromised if the orthopraxy brings the message into disrepute (aka Driscollism).

Keller says this: "What does contextualization mean? To use this word could get me into a mine-field. Contextualization can, unfortunately, be used to mean that one's interpretation of Scripture is as valid as any other. Or, it could mean that every interpretive community has a perspective that helps us see aspects of God's self-disclosure that other communities cannot in themselves see or hear. That's better. But as a practitioner of ministry, I see contextualization is adapting my communication of the gospel without changing its essential character."

Key- "without changing its essential character." And since he makes clear that the doctrine is essential to character, there is no separation between praxis and doxas. So Keller says of Paul's circumcision of Timothy: "He knows that while the gospel of grace is an absolute--the practice of circumcision is culturally relative." And therefore the meaning of circumcision as it affects justification "is" of utmost importance. And though Keller doesn't reject the term, I think Phil's assessment is correct. It is loaded with so much baggage, that Keller could simply use "adaptation," rather than contexualization and still get his meaning across.

The principle is sound. Don't mess with the message. Do not do anything which would do so. Circumcision in the Timothy case was like washing ones hands, it was not like having to sacrifice a bull for a sin offering as a rite of passage.

Why has contextualization become a nasty word? Like many things with deconstructionism, the postmoderns have emptied it of content and filled it with nonsense. It is then used bogusly to legitimate all manners of disrepectful behavior that undermines the message even if doctinally the message is not disturbed. That is the problem. The pomo crowd doesn't merely whan to circumcise the messenger, they want to define what circumcision means. It is their way and their definitions, or the highway. That line must not be crossed. So at this point I concur with Christ, shake the dust off your feet, leave a curse and move on.

Mike Riccardi said...

So as we see, no one's going to say "I think we should change the content of the Gospel message to make it more suitable" outright. If they do, that's an easy one.

Progress is going to come in discussing how people who say that don't change the message, but contextualize anyway, actually do change the message. OR... in discussing how contextualizing the presentation isn't any better or worse than changing the Gospel message.

I'll ask what I asked from another thread, to see if anyone new would like to answer this.

1) What is contextualization supposed to do? That is, why do it? What end is it accomplishing?

2) Does not the Gospel on its own, unbridled and untethered, unhindered by any too-clever-for-our-own-good, "scholarly" concepts and terminology, accomplish the end(s) for which we're trying to contextualize?

Strong Tower said...

MR-

1) Best case- makes us acceptable to the receiver culture

Worst case- make the Gospel easy to swallow and void of nutrition

2) Yep

art said...

mike:

1) What is contextualization supposed to do? That is, why do it? What end is it accomplishing?

Contextualization is, according to the dictionary, placing a word, idea, or activity into a particular context. When it comes to the Gospel, contextualization is placing the Gospel into a context in a way that the Gospel can be understood. It is not about making the Gospel less offensive. It is not about watering down the Gospel. It is not about changing the content of the Gospel. It is about making the Gospel understandable to a particular context.


2) Does not the Gospel on its own, unbridled and untethered, unhindered by any too-clever-for-our-own-good, "scholarly" concepts and terminology, accomplish the end(s) for which we're trying to contextualize?

Do you think that the Gospel is context-free? The declaration that "Jesus is Lord" is inherently contextual. Within a first century context, the declaration that Jesus, and not Caesar, is Lord was a very profound declaration. Within our modern context, we need to explain what this declaration means because we no longer have caesars or Lords. That is part of the contextualization process: making the Gospel understandable to modern contexts. The Gospel does accomplish its goal when it is understood correctly. That is what contextualization seeks to do. Again, it is not about changing the Gospel or watering it down. That does not belong to the rhetoric of contextualization. It belongs to the rhetoric of seeker-sensitivity, relativism, or syncretism.

Strong Tower said...

art- how do you explain the moons of Jupiter to someone who has never seen them? How do you take those moons and put them in an understandable way in a context where there is no parallel?

As you said, though you're wrong, who understands what a Lord is? Now we can take that and put it common vernacular understanding in any culture: Owner. Simple enough.

But back to the first point. How do you place Jesus Christ King of the Jews, Son of David who lived nearly two millenia past, crucified by the Jews and resurrected according to the working of Scripture into Tibetan cultural types without destroying the message?

You see, it is not simply changing sheep herding to yak tracking, chappati to balep korkun. We have to preserve the cultural setting, names places dates for the Truth to be told. That is, it happened in Palestine, to a specific person, at a specific time for a specific purpose, all of which have nothing to do with Tibetan Monks.

art said...

strongtower:

As you said, though you're wrong, who understands what a Lord is?

In what way am I 'wrong'?

We have to preserve the cultural setting, names places dates for the Truth to be told. That is, it happened in Palestine, to a specific person, at a specific time for a specific purpose, all of which have nothing to do with Tibetan Monks.

I never said that we need to change people, times, purposes, names, dates, etc. Nor did I say that we need to change cultural setting.

Making something understandable does not mean changing all of those things. It does mean talking about the Gospel in a faithful, non-watered down, non-syncretistic, non-relativistic way that can be understood by a particular culture...be it Tibetan monks or your suburban neighbors.

how do you explain the moons of Jupiter to someone who has never seen them? How do you take those moons and put them in an understandable way in a context where there is no parallel?

Easy: pick up a big rock and call it Jupiter. Then pick up 63 smaller rocks and rotate them around the larger rock.

It's not rocket science.

Strong Tower said...

Art, you're wrong in saying that there is not a word equivalent for Lord, there is.

A rock and stones won't get the job done, all that you will have demonstrated is that there are rocks and stones somewhere out there that you call Jupiter and its moons.

And here is the deal, the Gospel in not culturally transferable and therefore not culturally understandable. It is an historic event that has significance only in the context that it was delivered. The purpose of Israel is not made relevant within other cultures. They must be brought to the understanding of Israel in its context. The Gospel explained from its context. To make it "culturally relevant" is to make is syncretistic. It has to do with a specific happening in a specific place and all eyes are to be directed at its significance in relation to it historical setting (context), or it is false.

art said...

strongtower:

I never said that there was not an equivilant of the term "Lord." Here is what I wrote: Within a first century context, the declaration that Jesus, and not Caesar, is Lord was a very profound declaration. Within our modern context, we need to explain what this declaration means because we no longer have caesars or Lords.

Ironically, the fact that you used the term "owner" is an act of contextualization.

"A rock and stones won't get the job done, all that you will have demonstrated is that there are rocks and stones somewhere out there that you call Jupiter and its moons."

What?

To make it "culturally relevant" is to make is syncretistic.

I never said anything about relevance. I have consistently said to make it "understandable." There is a huge difference.

It has to do with a specific happening in a specific place and all eyes are to be directed at its significance in relation to it historical setting (context), or it is false.

Once again, I never said to change the Gospel's historical context. I am saying that you need to make that historical context understandable to the current context. That does not mean changing all these things that you keep mentioning. It simply means to make it understandable.

the Gospel in not culturally transferable and therefore not culturally understandable.

I guess someone should have alerted the Gospel authors about this point, since they all wrote there Gospels to different cultures and contexts, such as Matthew writing to Jews (contextualizing the Gospel to their culture) and Luke writing to Gentiles (contextualizing the Gospel to their culture).

Strong Tower said...

Art- no that is an equivalency-

And if you wanted we could put ruler there. The fact is that we do have Kings, and Lords, Dicatators, et cetera

I said relevant because to make it culturally understandable is the same thing- It has nothing to do with cultural understandability- it has to do with historic events that have understandability only within the culture in which they were written. That shouldn't be hard to understand. The Cival War has understandability only in the context of the U.S., get it? Though we may borrow from the target culture equivalents to convey the message, they do not transfer the context to that target culture. The context remains in its context. That is the problem with contextualization. By removing it from its context and transferring it into another, it defacto deminishes the revelation. It cannot be avoided.

No, they never wrote to them in their context, they wrote to them in the context of revelation and nothing else. You're confusing appealing to the commonality as medium, with contextualization. They're not the same thing. The writers wrote to the Jews and to the Gentiles who lived in cultures, what they wrote was the context of the revelation. With the Jews, it was "this is what was written to you as those to whom belong the oracles of God" to the Gentiles it was "this is what was written to the Jews to whom the oracles of God came." Neither the message nor the mode changed, only the direction the apostles were pointing in as reference changed.

art said...

strongtower:

no that is an equivalency-

And if you wanted we could put ruler there. The fact is that we do have Kings, and Lords, Dicatators, et cetera


Lord is not equivalent to owner. They are similar, but not equivilent. A lord rules over things. An owner simply owns.

That is the problem with contextualization. By removing it from its context and transferring it into another, it defacto deminishes the revelation. It cannot be avoided.

This is where you are misunderstanding contextualization. The process is not: 1) decontextualize, then 2) recontextualize. That seems to be what you are saying: that you think contextualization means to take the Gospel out of its original context and place it into a current context.

That is not contextualization.

As I have said before and now for the third time, contextualization does not mean changing the original context of names, dates, etc.

It means taking the Gospel, along with its original context and everything that it meant within that original context, and making it understandable to the current context.

Do you have an English Bible in your house? If you do then you are seeing the fruits of contextualization.

Does the English Bible change names, places, contexts, etc. of the original text? No.

Does it make it understandable for you? Yes.

That is contextualization. Placing a word, idea, or activity into a particular context...which is the definition I stated before you started with all your comments. Neither the definition, nor myself, says anything about stripping the original context or significance of Scripture.

chris said...

And, once again, I feel like the dumb kid in the room, furrowing his brow in a vain attempt to understand the situation. All I need is a reference to Van Tillian and the haze will be complete...

chris said...

Maybe I need to stop reading these posts at 3am.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

"I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish CONTEXTS rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them whoever they are, to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord."

That is a quote from Brian MacLaren. It most clearly shows the principle of emergent contextualization which is the Scriptures must bow to the culture and its understandings. As any honest observer can see even the meaning of disciple has be changed/contextualized to mean something different to evry religion.

That is basically the contextualization about which emergents promote. Some to one degree and some to another, but to be associated with a man like MacLaren and others is to show a disdain for Christ and His Word, Choose you this day...

Frank Turk said...

I've spent the last two days with my family ...

(BTW, the worst day EVER to go to the Tulsa Zoo is Maundy Thursday, apparently; we stood in line for a half-hour just to get in, and we had to park at the farthest corner of the lot -- though I admit that the animals were all in goo form. I am always stunned by how big the Brown Bear is -- his head is as big as my chest)

... so I haven't had much time to blog or really read through the fray here. I might not have bothered except that I got some e-mails from people who had their sensibilities offended by this post and the ensuing bruhaha, so I have pawed through this one just to see what's up.

Hey: what's up with you people?

Art: the new hat really puts you in context, even if the old attitude and thin skin isn't a very flattering context to be found in.

Dac: you've been on pretty good behavior at my blog lately, but apparently this post has pushed you out of your new habits into old ones. I wonder why?

I mean let's be serious for a second: the big complaint so far is that somehow calling iMonk "semi-prominent" is akin to finding interesting ways to shame his honor, but I seem to recall that it's his own self-assessment that his own blog audience in particular really consists of a small circle of people, and to see it as more than that is self-important or egotistical. I recall reading him say as much around my birthday last year, but I admit not being able to find the link this morning.

I can see how a shot like "semi-consistent" or "semi-sweet" or "semi-infectious" might come across as taking a poke at him, but "semi-prominent" ... he's semi-prominent and sort of half-embarassed and half-delighted by it, and now he's going to go off half-cocked because I have defended Phil's use of the word.

Of the things said in this post, that's hardly the most damning, and probably the one that if I had been given the opportunity to advise Phil on the post prior to its posting that would have flown under my radar.

As for the rest of you, less is more -- except when it comes to reading the actual post before going to the meta to vent. You're entitled to your opinions, but think of how interesting this thread could have been if we had rather talked about it rather than about caricatures of this post and of the PyroManiacs.
____________________

OK -- that said, let's imagine something. Let's imagine a church with very healthy financial resources. They have 2000 coming on Sunday morning, they have their own K-12 school, they have separate facilities for Adult, Teen, and kids sunday school, and today they have two worship centers connected by a video feed, and the pastor alternates between the sites making one live and one memorex/HDTV in alternating weeks.

The ministry team funds a sociological study of the region, and finds out that there are 5 distinct subcultures in the region: Mexican immigrants, Upper-income Whites, Native Americans, rural farmers, and Asians. As they break it down, that means 3 distinct language groups, 5 distinct "identifier" groups, and all 5 quintiles of income represented with clearly some mobility there in both directions.

This church then decides that having two locations is not enough: they actually need 4 more locations to serve the other demographics for the area -- each with a distinct flavor of music, architecture, seating, parking, etc. but they will all receive the same videocast from the mothership. A U.N. style of translation will be employed so that each person in each group can hear what the pastor is saying in his or her own native tongue.

I'll call this the first line in the sand: does this decision make good sense missiologically? Is this a proper adaptation of "contextualization"?

Now, 18 months later, the new buildings are built, translators have been employed as necessary to adapt the message being video to the various languages, and 6 months into the endeavor they find that they have attenders, but not very many. Not half the building is filled even though, based on location, they might have to run as many as 2 services to support all the people who could likely come.

So the teaching team, along with the pastor, devises a plan that the message each Sunday will be a "personalized" message -- that is, the first half of the message will be the same for every location, but the second half, by the miracle of modern video technology, will be honed for the particular demographic receiving the message. The pastor will read and introduce some passage of Scripture, but then the non-live feeds will contain a message relevant to the demographic at each location.

This is the second line in the sand: does this make good missiological sense? Is it proper contextualization?

Let's assume that this strategy works, and all 4 locations go to two services over the course of time -- maybe in a year.

Let's say that in the course of time here, a 6th demography shows up because of some economic of geographic fluke: Muslims. Somehow this area becomes an area immigrating Muslims and transplanted American citizens of Muslim heritage or belief start showing up. They have mixed languages (English, Arabic, French, Turkish, some Asians), but they worship together -- all studying the Qur'an in Arabic, all taking the traditional forms of worship for the Muslim, and all meeting in one place during the week for the sake of devotion to Allah.

What does a church which has crossed the two lines in the sand, above, do in the face of the opportunity to evangelize Muslims?

And let me warn you: this is a trick question. The answer I would give is based on the experiences of two life-long missionaries to the Pakistan and what they have found in the Muslim world.

Jugulum said...

but the second half, by the miracle of modern video technology, will be honed for the particular demographic receiving the message. The pastor will read and introduce some passage of Scripture, but then the non-live feeds will contain a message relevant to the demographic at each location.

When you say that "the message" will be different, do you mean that the truth being taught will be different? Or will that truth be the same, but the particular ways that he translates & illustrates it be customized?

candyinsierras said...

I'm reading a book to my students about Amy Carmichael, who was a missionary in Japan for a short time, and later in India. We just finished the part of the story where she ministered in Japan. She was a good example of contextualization in an honest manner. She had decided to wear her English clothing to share the gospel, because she experienced ill health and her clothes kept her warm. She found that the Japanese were more fascinated with her clothing than her message. She chose to wear native dress at a cost to her health in order to not distract from the gospel. Her motive was to not DISTRACT from the gospel.

I just think most contextualization today is for the "coolness factor" instead of to honor God. We should check our motives in various circumstances to see if we are honest before God.

Stefan. You are only in your late 30's! Wow! God bless you brother!

To paraphrase Stefan: I just betrayed what an old geezer I am (I am 53 tomorrow with no senile delusions of youthfulness) by writing, "only late 30's." All 30 year-olds out there (including Stefan), please forgive me. The arrogance of old age....

DJP said...

Candy: good points, well-made.

art said...

Frank:
the new hat really puts you in context, even if the old attitude and thin skin isn't a very flattering context to be found in.

Your profundity has added such clarity to the situation. Thanks so much for your contribution.

Also, I'd much rather deal with real situations instead of imagined, trick questions.

Candy:
I just think most contextualization today is for the "coolness factor" instead of to honor God.

I don't think its fair to reduce people's motives to trying to be cool. And I don't think that is the case. Do you honestly think men like Harvie Conn, Stephen Bevans, and Dean Flemming are trying to be cool? I am under the impression that they are men passionate about preaching the Gospel to all cultures. Don't lump everyone into your category of trying to be cool. Its neither fair nor true.

Rick, Frueh, Henry:
That is a quote from Brian MacLaren.

I don't like Brian McLaren and I do not seek to emulate or promote his work. I guess that is my problem with this post and will people who are against contextualization. They see the worst of contextualization (such as McLaren) and then lump everyone else into that category. That is neither fair nor true. It does not do justice to the conservatives who have been practicing and writing about contextualization long before the emerging movement came along (such as Harvie Conn who wrote an excellent book on contextualization entitled Eternal Word in Changing Worlds back in 1984!

Strong Tower said...

"Do you have an English Bible in your house? If you do then you are seeing the fruits of contextualization."-art

No, this is the fruit of translation. It is not made understandable in my context, it is made understandable in its own context in my language, nothing else.

The Word lord by the way does mean owner, even in the sense in which kurios is applied a Mediterranean/Middle eastern context- here is the definition: he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has power of deciding; master, lord
the possessor and disposer of a thing the owner; one who has control of the person, the master
in the state: the sovereign, prince, chief, the Roman emperor
is a title of honour expressive of respect and reverence, with which servants greet their master
this title is given to: God, the Messiah.

The English word means the owner and giver of bread and is derived from OE hlaford from hlafweard, bread keeper...

Johnny Dialectic said...

I think Phil is demonstrably correct that the word "contextualization" has taken on too much baggage to be salvageable. Words change over time. Remember when "gay" meant happy? Now you can't sing a number of old standards (not to mention a certain Christmas carol) without a mental jolt ruining the, excuse me, context.

Same with "fundamentalism," which in the mid-20s represented something solid and useful. But when it became a separatist movement, the word forever changed.

Even if "contextualization" began as a term meaning "being understood," it has been hijacked to what Piper describes: "They have concluded that the gap between the glory of Christ and the felt needs of their neighbors, or between the glory of Christ and the religion of the nationals, is simply too great for the fullness of God’s word to overcome. The upshot seems to be the minimization of the Word of God in its robust and glorious fullness."

It is now a word of sad surrender and distrust of the Holy Spirit. Time to give it up.

art said...

strongtower:

The Word lord by the way does mean owner, even in the sense in which kurios is applied a Mediterranean/Middle eastern context

So an owner is "the master
in the state: the sovereign, prince, chief, the Roman emperor"?

So, they are not. While owner and Lord are similar, they are not equivocal.

No, this is the fruit of translation. It is not made understandable in my context, it is made understandable in its own context in my language, nothing else.

What do you think translation is? It's moving words and ideas into a new and different context. It is, at its very basic level, contextualization. Harvie Conn, in his book on contextualization, actually brings up the similarities between translating Scripture and contextualizing the Gospel.

Think about basic terms that are contextualized to our culture instead of an ancient Near Eastern culture in our English Bibles. For instance, the term "patience" or "longsuffering" (depending on your translation) is literally, in Hebrew, "long of nose." Yet our Bible translations say "patient." That is not just making an English version of the Hebrew Scriptures, it is contextualizing the language to a culture so that they can understand it.

Strong Tower said...

art-

It means owner- nuance it as you may, the Lord commands that you repent because he owns you...

incorrigible- may be translated hard hearted- it still means refusal to be taught

to take idioms and bring them into a language is still translation-

nothing more nothing less

art said...

strongtower:

It means owner- nuance it as you may, the Lord commands that you repent because he owns you...

It does not simply mean owner. There were connotations about the term "Lord" in first century Palestine that are not connoted by the term "owner" in our context. There is not a one-to-one correspondance. Otherwise our Greek lexicons would simply say: "kurios: owner."

to take idioms and bring them into a language is still translation-

nothing more nothing less


False. It is more than just translation. It is contextualization.

Again, back to my example:

Simple translation would be:

Prov 25.15: ve'orekh 'appayim = "with length of nose"

But our English Bibles don't say that. The translation committees attempt to figure out what that idiom meant in the ancient Near Eastern liguistic and literary context and then seek to find an understandable phrase in the modern English linguistic and literary context. Hence we read "with patience" in our English Bible version of Prov 25.15.

That is not just word-for-word translation. That is an example of contextualization.

Strong Tower said...

incorrigible

Is there a link to Phil's presentation at the Pastor's Conference. It was on Pilgrim Radio this morning and I would like to link to the audio so that I have his soothing confident voice keeping it all in context...

Douglas said...

"I am under the impression that they are men passionate about preaching the Gospel to all cultures."

You don't preach the Gospel to all cultures. You preach the Gospel to all in the cultures. Cultures do not change. I was in the bike gang culture before becoming a Christian and bike gangs are still much the same culture as when Sonny Barger joined the Hells Angels motorcycle club not that long after the Second World War. I am no longer in the motorcycle gang culture but they are still around, I am now a member of Christ's Church which is in the culture but not of the sinful, fallen cultures. I do not have to contextualize any part of Scripture to anyone, the Scriptures are already contextualized by very God Himself. We preach the Gospel in context, explaining the meaning, in season and out of season and most people know what "seasons" are but if they don't I tell them that there are four of them, winter, spring, summer and autumn. Simple. We are not to add to or take away from Scripture and a lot of this modern contextualization business adds to Scripture imo, hoping it will aid in the work of the converting of the soul. Only the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit can do that.

Hudson Taylor adapted his clothing style to that of the Chinese and he learned their language but he did not embrace their heathen, pagan, occultic, eastern mystical practices did he?

What I reckon many need to do these days is get themselves a copy of R. C. Sproul's book Knowing Scripture and practically memorize it. At least have a good read and study of it. Then we wouldn't have so much confusion in the church as there is these days. And God is not the author of confusion is he?

art said...

douglas:

Cultures do not change.

Really? So the American culture of the 1950's is the same as it is today? The fact is that it isn't and cultures do change. Even the Christian culture has changed over time. Christian culture from 200CE-700CE is not the same as it is today.

I do not have to contextualize any part of Scripture to anyone, the Scriptures are already contextualized by very God Himself.

And he contextualized his message to an ancient audience, not to a current audience. God provides the model and Scripture shows the apostles putting that model into practice by Paul writing contextualized letters to different churches and the Evangelists writing four contextualized versions of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The early church continued this example, as did the Reformers, as did the Puritans, as do modern preachers. They all contextualize their message, whether they admit it or not.

We preach the Gospel in context, explaining the meaning...

When you explain the meaning, what do you think you are doing? Do you think you are not contextualizing, not making an ancient story understandable in a current context? Isn't that what sermon illustrations are? Aren't they contextualizing an ancient message into the modern world? I would submit that they are.

We are not to add to or take away from Scripture and a lot of this modern contextualization business adds to Scripture imo, hoping it will aid in the work of the converting of the soul.

I have never, and would never, advocate adding or taking away from Scripture. As much as you might believe or know that some people who participate in "this modern contextualization business" add or subtract from Scripture, not all of them do and it is unfair to say that just because some people use something the wrong way, no one should use it. Many people use the internet for evil and sinful things, but that does not mean I'm going to stop using it.

And God is not the author of confusion is he?

Isaiah 45.7: "I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create evil,
I am the LORD, who does all these things."

Mike Riccardi said...

When it comes to the Gospel, contextualization is placing the Gospel into a context in a way that the Gospel can be understood.

My point, Art, is that the Gospel has already been placed into a context in a way that it can be understood. To say otherwise is to deny the perspicuity of Scripture. All we need to do is read and explain the text.

Your fastidious denial of adding to or subtracting from Scripture sounds noble, but you still didn't answer my second question. You just asked other questions. I ask very simply, does not the Gospel by itself -- the way it is presented in Scripture -- accomplish what it is you're seeking to accomplish by contextualization? Yes or no?

art said...

mike:

All we need to do is read and explain the text.

And my point is that your explanation needs to be understandable to your audience. That is contextualization: making an ancient story understandable in a modern context. If Scripture was completely perspicuitious to modern hearers, then why would you need to explain it?

I ask very simply, does not the Gospel by itself -- the way it is presented in Scripture -- accomplish what it is you're seeking to accomplish by contextualization? Yes or no?

The Gospel, being that Jesus, who lived, died, and rose again, is Lord and Christ, is the declaration that brings salvation through the renewing power of the Spirit.

Understanding how to live out the Gospel in our modern context is not clear in Scripture. It must be explained by noticing Biblical principles and applying it to modern life.

For instance, internet pornography. The Bible does address this issue, but it does address the issue of impure thoughts, living by faith, committing adultery in your mind, etc. In order to contextualize Scripture's teaching to show people that internet pornography is poison and evil, the modern preacher/teacher/writer connects the dots between the ancient context and the current context; i.e. they contextualize.

Frank Turk said...

Art --

you let me know which part of my hypothetical is not realistic, and not really in the scope of what you mean by "contextualization", and then you can just dismiss it.

You and yours have tried to hang Phil for decrying "bible translation" even though he has conceded that this is a valid approach to some culture, but you have tried to link bible translation to all manner of other practices as the same thing when it cannot be demonstrated except by fiat.

If all you cats are doing is translating the Bible -- not paraphrasing it -- then that's great. But when you can prove that you're not building monuments to the hiccups of pop culture -- which have a life cycle of about 8 months -- rather than communities grounded in God's word in such a way that the words "κατὰ τὰς γραφάς" mean something, you will be onto something.

But don't answer direct questions, OK? If you do, you might find out you're wrong.

art said...

Frank:

But when you can prove that you're not building monuments to the hiccups of pop culture -- which have a life cycle of about 8 months -- rather than communities grounded in God's word in such a way that the words "κατὰ τὰς γραφάς" mean something, you will be onto something.

Come to my church and you will see the proof. Read Harvie Conn, Stephen Bevans, and Dean Flemming and you will see the proof. I understand your frustration concerning those in the EC who are misusing contextualization because I share in that frustration. But I adamantly reject the fact that I am building a monument on pop culture. Rather, I am speaking to pop culture in a way that they understand and then showing them how the gospel breaks down the monuments they have built as idols.

you let me know which part of my hypothetical is not realistic

Isn't a hypothetical, by definition, not realistic? Hence, it's hypothetical?

you have tried to link bible translation to all manner of other practices as the same thing when it cannot be demonstrated except by fiat

Where have I done this Frank?

The only thing I have done is show how Bible translation, in and of itself, is a form of contextualization. Therefore, not all contextualization is wrong.

But don't answer direct questions, OK? If you do, you might find out you're wrong.

Once again, your sarcasm and arrogance comes to the fore. I honestly don't understand why I waste my time talking to you.

Mike Riccardi said...

Art,

The internet porn thing is a good example. The way to address that is by application, not contextualization. I think we mean similar things when we use these two words. I also think that application is a more proper way to term this than contextualization, because of what application has always meant in regards to expositional preaching and because of what contextualization has come to mean.

The principles in Scripture of purity, immorality, etc. exist clearly. So the preacher teaches how that was a problem for those in the context of the Bible, and then applies those principles to current problems. There's no need to call that contextualization when we've called that application for 500 years.

Here's where I think we might disagree. I'm not sure, so let me know. I think the proper way to "make the Bible understandable to today's cultures" is to bring contemporary people into the context Scripture. Teaching the text to them as it was taught to its original recipients gives them a firm grasp on the principles in such a way that they can easily apply it to their lives (as the Holy Spirit is illuminating the word). You think the proper way to make the Bible understandable is to take Scripture out of its original context and place it into the current contemporary context. Yes or no?

dac said...

How some define contextualiztion:

"Contextualization: A method of analyzing the Bible which attempts to differentiate between the meaning of the text and "the cultural and historical context in which it is given." 2 The result is that when one tries to interpret the meaning of a biblical passage in terms of today's culture, the meaning of the text may have to change. For example, in Genesis 9:1. humans are urged to be fruitful and multiply. That made sense in days when there were so many childhood diseases, and warfare. The opposite command -- to limit one's fertility -- might make more sense today."
http://www.translationdirectory.com/glossaries/glossary007_c.htm

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

All language is a paraphrase on some level. The word "hammer" is a vast generality with little specifics and is in need of defining particulars in order to crystallize a mental picture. This is exactly why the Holy Spirit is necessary to interpret the Word, or else any unbeliever or even literary computer could spit out Biblical accuracies.

Back to the hammer. If an emergent contexualizes it he changes it to mean "an instrument of force" thereby removing the particulars already inherrant in the word and affording it a wider generality because he belives his change does not matter as it pertains to truth.

However, some other person comes along and based upon the "instrument of force" definition he says that a branch, a pipe, a shoe, etc., etc., is acceptable as a translation/paraphrase for that truth. But when hauled into a court of law for a muder the judge asks "What was the weapon used?" and the detective replies "a shoe". But the defense attourney jumps to his feet and says "Your honor, they only found a hammer at the scene and no shoe!"

The judge dismisses the case because the paraphrase was inconsistent with the specific description of what was found at the scene, however it was the hammer that was used but was defined as a shoe due to the general nature of the word "hammer".

That is exactly the danger of contexualization/paraphrase/explanation of Biblical words such as redemption, atonement, faith, sacrifice, etc.. They can easily be presented with wide and ill defined specifics and thereby lend themselves to the cultural/experiencial/environmental/subjective definitions of men who desire their listeners to be convinced of their words and so those truths become tortued pieces of a carnal puzzle created far outside the intended spiritual revelation.

Everyone inadvertently contextualizes and paraphrases, but it is when it becomes an desired form of Biblical revelation that brings forth relevant, alluring, well meaning, and helpful error.

Voila - The Emergent Church

Stefan said...

Trying my hand at "jargonautics," the word Phil is looking for is:

Transillustralation

(Stress on the penultimate syllable: TransillustraLAtion.)

Or perhaps:

Intelligibilization

wenxian said...

Hello all,

Ohoh it seems like there's a miniwar going on here.

I wonder why is it so difficult for people to live with one context, one interpretation, one absolute truth and one God.

I agree totally that the only true contextualisation is the biblical context. Any other context would make the passage (any passage) different from what is meant to say.

A famous place where people have succumbed to faux contextualisation is the 1Tim2, which strictly prohibits women from being pastors etc..

After all, their excuse is: "its for more manpower so we can reach out more for the gospel". I wonder do they trust their numbering of the (wo)men [2Samuel24] or do they trust God which can make 300 men [Judges 7] kill vast armies.

Thats an example, albeit out of context in this arguement and i hope it does not open up a can of worms (sry phil, if it does)

When we choose to follow our own context versus the context it which the bible was written, we simply display that we do not trust God.

The acid test for whether we are speaking/preaching/teaching in biblical context is this:if the biblical message is exactly the same even after changing it to (video form/a play/song/etc etc), then its probably OK - thats probably considered 'explaining to the layman'.

If the message is changed (subtraction counts)from a righteous, gracious God who is firstly for His own glory into a grovelling tearry eyed God, who puts man above God, then the 'contextualisation' was in fact a de facto de-contextualisation.

Phil Johnson said...

Art: "Once again, your sarcasm and arrogance comes to the fore. I honestly don't understand why I waste my time talking to you."

Art, I answered you patiently and carefully. Your reply included an angry, drippingly sarcastic, and deliberately insulting post on your own blog. So don't pretend your fragile sanctification is in jeopardy because of Frank's comparatively mild sarcasm. His point is right on.

I've explained repeatedly that I have no problem with the idea of translation. For the umpteenth time, if that's all anyone ever meant by "contextualization," I wouldn't complain. Everyone acknowledges the value and necessity of translation and illustration in cross-cultural communication. So why the dogged, angry defense of a term that has such a hazy definition?

I first asked that question at least 2 weeks ago. No one has yet answered, or attempted to answer. Your response, Art, is simply to reassert that if we concede the necessity of translation, we must also accept all the baggage that goes with the word contextualization. That's tantamount to sticking your fingers in your ears and making nonsense-noise. Impressive to the gallery over at the BHT, perhaps (where the sarcasm you say you deplore is being passed around like fresh peanuts)--but it doesn't go very far here.

I note, also, with interest, that an almost irrational anger seethes in many of the responses this post has generated. Whilst you are decrying Frank's mid sarcasm, please notice that the anger over this issue has all been on one side of the argument. That means something.

Finally, for those demanding that I supply examples of missiologists who advocate the kind of contextualization that makes adjustments to the gospel message, I've done that. If time permits, I'll do it again next week. Today I'm preparing my message for tomorrow.

But, seriously, I've given examples of this repeatedly--from the changing of sheep to sea lions in Bible translations, to the revisionist treatment of Scripture practiced by Eugene Peterson (which is frankly too absurd in places to qualify even as legitimate paraphrase), to the unsanctified slogans and imagery used by the XXX Church, to Mark Driscoll's blasphemous description of Jesus as someone who "needs Paxil," to the argument set forth in the document I linked in the first sentence of the second paragraph of the above post.

For those willing to read all of what that author is saying, notice that what he actually advocates (and insists he finds approval for in Scripture) belies his assumption that there's some kind of "dynamic process" that permits us to reinterpret and reimagine Christianity with the tools of contextualization while actually "safeguard[ing] the content of the Bible."

If anyone wants to have a serious discussion about the things that are actually being done by supposedly evangelical people in the name of "contextualization"—as opposed to repeatedly insisting that contextualization is nothing more than simple translation—let's have that discussion. And those looking for genuine opportunities to be outraged over someone's tone of voice ought to head over to Art's blog or the BHT and have a look there.

See you next week.

Stefan said...

Candy:

I just remember that when I was 22 and holding my own in conversations with people in their mid 30s or mid 50s and their reaction was something like, "Wow, you're pretty knowledgeable for a 22-year-old" (in so many words), I felt patronized and slighted.

And here I was, doing the same thing with the presumptuous word "only"—which put me on the wrong end of that kind of interaction!

(In hindsight, I knew a lot less at that age than I thought I knew, so maybe the patronization was warranted! But then, unlike Mike, I didn't know the Gospel.)

wenxian said...

I posted this at Art's blog

[The purpose why God contextualises his gospels and Paul's letters is to make sure that only one context is valid: that which is defined by God. Any other context is obviously wrong because Scripture is clear about God being (always) correct and men, if in conflict, always wrong.

Setting the context of the bible has never been Man's prerogative. It's God's prerogative and He has already done it. To add to the context would be akin to telling God that what He has done is useless for today's world. I assure you, God does not do useless activity.

Translations and illustrations run in parallel with God's defined context. Purposely avoiding to mention God's righteousness and wrath on sinners is NOT running in parallel with God's defined context. God is love with righteousness, wrath, and holiness, and mercy (non-exhuastive) rolled into a tri-une deity. We cannot separate the goodness of God from his holiness and wrath. God's a package deal and we live with it.

Or die. ]

comments?

Phil Johnson said...

One final note for the benefit of the peanut gallery: I have never once intimated that people who disagree with me on this (or any other issue) disagree because they are stupid. I have said I think they are wrong. Thats not a reflection on their intelligence. Smart people can be mistaken. Or they can reject truths for less-than-honest reasons. Or they might just be confused.

But the "if you were only smarter you would see this my way" argument is the trademark polemic of people who describe themselves as "post-"something. In fact, the attitude is inherent in the nomenclature: "I used to be as dumb as other people, but I outgrew that. I'm now post-stupidity."

To borrow a thought from our own Dan Phillips, this is practically the distilled essence of the classic postmodern style of "conversation" whenever you touch on something a devoted pomo disagrees with:

"You can't say anything about anything unless you know everything about it. And as long I've read one book you haven't, you're an idiot. And I have a right to be mad about it. But I'm sensitive, too, so don't you dare try to be candid with me."

candyinsierras said...

Stefan. I am just teasing you because late 30's seems sorta young to me now. :)

Stefan said...

Candy: Yeah, it's all relative, isn't it? (I mean age, not absolute truth. ;) )

Phil: Can we have a Spurgeon post for Easter, please? This whole comment thread has left me with a nasty aftertaste....

Frank Turk said...

Art:

You let me know which part of my hypothetical is not realistic, and not really in the scope of what you mean by "contextualization", and then you can just dismiss it.

Let me suggest something to you: attempting to speak "to" "pop culture" is a problem even Heraclitus understood as completely impossible. You know: the river may be passing through the same place every day, but it's not he same river every day. It's not even the same river from second to second. And my suggestion to you is that by the time you can identify what kind of river you are about to wade into, it's a different river by the time you get your clam diggers rolled up to wage in.

The funny thing is that the Gospel doesn't change.

Which brings me back to my hypothetical example: how does that multi-location, multi-culture church address Islam when it shows up on the front porch?

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

"Which brings me back to my hypothetical example: how does that multi-location, multi-culture church address Islam when it shows up on the front porch?"

"Go away, we're Baptists!" :)

EStevenson said...

An interesting, um, series of posts. The only thing I see missing (and to tell the truth, I'm surprised to not have seen it) is a challenge from Frank to Art to meet over at the DebateBlog to go over this issue in the depth Art claims he wants to have.
I'd even pay to subscribe to that.

Frank Turk said...

The funny thing about D-Blog is that I don;t have to invite anyone -- they can e-mail me an invite themselves.

I won't bother inviting Art because Art won't accept my invitation -- in spite of my record there of treating people with all my sarcasm and sharp objects locked in a very secure box. But if Art wants justice and whatever, he can go there, e-mail me, and I'll make time for even 10 questions back and forth and give him up to 750 words for responses.

Randy said...

Henry (Rick) said:
"Go away, we're Baptists!" :)
I love it. LOL

wenxian said...

Phil

["You can't say anything about anything unless you know everything about it. And as long I've read one book you haven't, you're an idiot. And I have a right to be mad about it. But I'm sensitive, too, so don't you dare try to be candid with me."]

Lol. I heard this one time too many. And the most hypocritical part about it is that they cause themselves to lose all credibility when they use that sentence as well, what they say applies to them first. And they have not read all and every book/article etc on the subject. It is impossible.

We do not need to read all the theories in maths to know 1 + 1 = 2

teknon said...

"But if Art wants justice and whatever, he can go there, e-mail me, and I'll make time for even 10 questions back and forth and give him up to 750 words for responses."

Frank, in so doing, I suspect Art will give us an extended object lesson in the word "equivocation".

Gene said...

Thanks for your "Understanding" poster. My wife says this is a perfect representation of my trying to explain something to her. Captured by HIS grace, Gene

Frank Turk said...

Henry (rick):

[1] Exactly

[2] Let's pick either "henry" or "rick". If I can give up being "centuri0n", you can give up either "henry" or "rick".

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Rick.

Or the Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler.

OK, Rick (short for Heinrich - its a German thing)

Rick Frueh said...

If I edited correctly, my name should be changed. My right brain status usually precludes me from figuring out the computer maze. I always need computer contexualization!

DJP said...

Okay, now there's one mystery solved (how "Rick" is short for "Henry").

Now, if I could just figure "Lost" out....

Frank Turk said...

Rick:

I liked you better than Henry anyway.

Thanks for de-confusing me on this matter. It's a small victory, but every little bit helps.

Rick Frueh said...

OK, I am officially welcomed here as Rick with the full disclosure of my bondage to Arminianism. I also have been a vocal critic of some of the posters.

You guys are softening with old age and your reputation as baby eaters has now been sullied. I'm sorry, I meant no harm.

DJP said...

Your name's now understandable.

Your last comment... not so much.

Rick Frueh said...

Dan - just a minor attempt at humor. Rumor has it disagreement is met with a full frontal assault here. Although I have seen some of that, I have seen the very same thing on all blogs from all theoloical persuasions.

It is noteworthy to see the invitation for e-mail discourse here. That should count for something, right? Any way I'll stop be once in a while to bother you guys or provide a humble and erudite view from those of us who dwell in the high places. And when there is disagreement on some point of Biblical truth, I will be happy to verbally condescend with the absolute and pristine answer in order to fulfill my divine calling. OK, am I chaneling Frank Turk now? (Did I forget to include open and subtle humor as well?)

Rick

Chris L said...

I think you Got the picture wrong, though Mr. Todyaso seems to have fixed it for you.

Revivalfire said...

This post is amazing! I'm a youthworker working for a 'Christian' youth organisation. I studied Youth work and applied theology bible college as a new Christian. At that time I didnt have the benefits of a good academic background however I knew that youth work was missing the mark when it came to the bible. This post highlights a current problem for thousnads of Christian youth workers!

Thanks Phil!
http://revivalfire-johnsblog.blogspot.com/