27 March 2008

Paul on Mars Hill (part 1)

A short introduction to a series of posts on Acts 17:22-34



n Acts 17, Paul preaches to the intellectual elite of Athens. The narrative includes one of the classic examples of New Testament gospel-preaching. It shows us the apostolic evangelistic strategy in action. It's an especially helpful example of how to confront false religion, philosophy, and elitism in an evangelistic setting. And it takes place in a highbrow academic environment. It's one of the best-known portions of the book of Acts, but it's also one of the most-abused sections in all of Scripture. It's a favorite passage for those who insist if we're not finding (or creating) as much common ground as possible between church and culture we are not properly contextualizing the gospel.



People who are enthralled with style-driven missional strategies almost always single out this famous account. "Paul blended into the culture," they say. "He adopted the worldview and communications style of his hearers. He observed their religion and listened to their beliefs and learned from them before he tried to teach them. And he didn't step on their toes by refuting what they believed. Instead, he took their idea of the unknown god, embraced that, and used it as the starting point for his message about Christ. And there you have some of the major elements of postmodern missional ministry: culture, contextualization, conversation, and charitableness.

I think if we look at this passage carefully in its context, what we'll see is that Paul used none of those strategies—at least not in the way they have been defined and packaged by most today's postmodern, Emergent, and missional trend-setters.

Paul was bold and plain-spoken. He was counter-cultural, confrontive, confident, and (by Athenian standards, much less today's standards) closed-minded. He offended a significant number of Athens's intellectual elite, and he walked away from that encounter without winning the admiration of society at large, but with just a small group of converts who followed him.

That is the biblical approach to ministry. You don't measure its success or failure by how pleased the crowd is at the end of the meeting. Our first concern ought to be the clarity and power with which the message is delivered. The right question to ask is not how many people received the message warmly. (It's nice if they do, but that's not usually the majority response.) The right question to ask is whether the signs of conviction are seen in those who have heard. And sometimes a forceful negative reaction is the result of the gospel's convicting aspects. In fact, when unbelievers walk away without repenting of sin and embracing Christ, an overtly hostile reaction is a much better indication that the message was delivered clearly and accurately than a round of applause and an outpouring of good feeling from a crowd of appreciative worldlings.

We need to remember that. We're tempted to think that when people reject the gospel it's because we have done a poor job of presenting it. Sometimes that may be true, but it's not necessarily true. Of course, our job is to be as clear and accurate as possible, and not to be a stumbling-block that keeps people from hearing the gospel. But the gospel itself is a stumbling-block for unbelievers, so people will stumble and even get angry when they are presented with it. And we have no right to try to reshape the gospel so that it's no longer a stumbling-block. You can't proclaim the gospel faithfully if your goal is for no one ever to be offended or upset by it.

We could learn a lot from what Jesus did in John 6. That chapter begins with this in verse 2: "Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased." They liked it when He did miracles, but they didn't want His message.

He preached to them anyway, and at the end of the chapter (v. 66), John writes: "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more." And then while the crowd was diminishing to almost nothing, Jesus turned to the twelve and said, "Do you also want to go away?" (v. 67). And then in verse 70, He added, "Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?"

In the face of a mass exodus of His disciples, Jesus was not concerned about doing what He could to seem more "likeable." He pressed the message with more clarity and more candor than ever.

That's exactly what Paul does in Acts 17. His strategy was about as far as possible from the postmodernized approach that drives so much of the contemporary evangelical church's outreach efforts.

Read it for yourself this weekend. I'm off to Dallas for a weekend conference.* Lord willing, we'll start an extended look at the text of Paul's sermon in Acts 17, beginning with the context of the chapter itself. Prepare yourselves.



Phil's signature

* (For those who have asked for info about this conference: it's a weekend men's retreat sponsored by a church in the Dallas area.)


83 comments:

Scott F. said...

Brilliant Phil. Don't stop.

The magazine art had me on the floor.

BJ Buracker said...

Yeah, great stuff. I look forward to this series. There is a TON of great evangelistic strategies in Acts 17, but they get covered over by modern eisegesis. Keep it up!

In Christ,

BJ
Stupid Scholar

Johnny Dialectic said...

Verses 16 & 17 put the kibosh on the pomo version of events.

And I wish you'd stop with magazine mock ups. You're contextualizing, condescending to the culture in order to satirize it. Why, it's almost as if you're being confrontational. Some conversation!

Puritan said...

Regarding John 6, it always makes me cringe when I hear pastors say something like "Don't teach Calvinism as you'll lose half your congregation," when I hear that I always think Jn 6:65-66 "And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him."

But that's nothing compared to those who make me cringe when they claim you have to use lewd language to reach lewd people.

Love the Bible for Biker Grandmas Hehe! In fact they just like the ones at the local Christian bookstores with Rob Bell on the cover.

Frank Turk said...

I love that = "lose half your congregation".

I'm pretty sure:

- it's not "your" congregation
- the lost are the ones who never hear that message
- it ought to be more than half, judging by the response Jesus got.

I know you weren't advocating that, Puritan: I'm just sayin' that you're right -- people say that stuff, and they don't have any idea what they're really saying.

donsands said...

"You can't proclaim the gospel faithfully if your goal is for no one ever to be offended or upset by it."

Amen. Good post. look forward to the series.

When we share the Gospel of grace from a grateful heart, I don't think we are even thinking of who, or who won't be offended, but it's food they know not of. At least that's how it is with me. I just get caught up in Jesus Christ, and His forgiveness, and love.

I want the Gospel to be pure and simple, and surely it will be an offense to the religious minded, and to the pagans, but to those being saved ...

When my attitude, or personal likes and dislikes become an offense, then I'm playing into the devil's hand.

Rick Frueh said...

I agree wholeheartedly with the entire article. The magazine covers? reference my archived comments. Sorry.

Caleb Kolstad said...

Great intro Phil! This is helpful stuff.

I appreciated BJ's thoughts as well.

Daniel said...

I wonder that people miss this - I really mean that. I wonder how a person can miss it.

Excellent topic, and well said. Thanks Phil, keep, them coming.

Keith said...

"You don't measure [ministry's] success or failure by how pleased the crowd is at the end of the meeting." Good stuff, Phil. Looking forward to the following post(s).

dlytle said...

Brother Phil you hit the very center of the bullseye!

Where has God's sovereignty and power gone? The heart of fallen man is no different these days...just the same old sins in different wrappers. The word of the cross will always be foolishness to those who are perishing and if it isn't foolishness to them, then it isn't the gospel! To those of us who are being save it will always be the power of God and not the cleverness of man. (1Cor1:18) The word of God is sufficient both in message and in method.

Randy said...

Great post Phil.

Where are you off to in Dallas? I and Rich Dyer (ex Temple Guard at Grace) live in the area and would love to come hear you if possible.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

You can't change the culture, if you want to be just like it.

Great post!!!

bassicallymike said...

I bet Dr. Mac has already ordered his, http://www.streettotheseat.com/2008/03/19/the-best-100-your-church-will-spend-in-2008/

Not! It would be funny in a sad kind of way except this guy just consulted with the church we have been visiting.

Nik Papageorgiou said...

I never thought that ANYONE would see Paul's evangelism to the Athenians as "contextualisation"! Considering the time and the place, his message is a hard-hitting confrontation of the polytheistic, cover-all-your-bases religion of Athens. Does he include their culture in his message? Yes. But it's no different than confronting someone with the lossness and sinfulness of men.

Besides, I doubt many Emergents today are "vexed in the spirit" when they come across false religions and the worlds idols.

By the way, being from Athens myself, I feel the need to report that Mars Hill today is no more than a lovers' lane. So much for the elitism of my ancestors...

philness said...

Phil or someone,

What conference? I would like to attend.

RememberPolycarp said...

Does anyone remember those cheesy "ginsu" knives commercials (sorry to mention knives Phil, in light of your stigmata)? At first they presented the actual chefs knives they were selling, but by the end of the infomercial they added a set of 6 steak knives, a can opener, a knife sharpener, 2 pair of scissors, etc...and the price never changed!! "What a deal" thought the thousands of thrilled ginsu customers, but the resonating thought on my mind was always something like: "the knives themselves--the ones at the beginning of the ad--are essentially worthless!" Does this ring a bell? While as a rule I never like to compare our sharing and presenting the truth of the gospel with the act of selling any product (because it is an awful metaphor), I just couldn't help but see a comparison between those ginsu commercials and this post today, namely the devaluing on the original that results from all of those freebies attached.

ALHAYS1994 said...

Interesting, you have punk prince Billie Joe Armstrong on the cover of this satirical magazine, and in the context of anger and his being a role model. I have more respect for Billie Joe than I do let's say, the guy I love to hate Mark Driscoll. Why? First, he is my cousing, second, he is not saved. Here is something special, our other cousing is a graduate of The Master's college, and we have other solid, reformed believing relatives who pray for him. Like I said, he is not saved. He is not an angry husband or father, he is a soccer dad if you can believe it, and there is hope for him to come Lord. At least he does not say he is outrageous on stage, BUT, he never claims to be a Christian, he would think young, hip, evangelical Christians making him a role model was weird. What is on stage and what is at home are 2 different worlds. My point is that here is a truly unsaved man who may be amazingly saved. I guess we never really think that these rock stars have families and friends who ARE Christians and are reaching out to them. Would it be wonderful if he came to the Lord and stopped venting his anger through his music? Remember, the apostle Paul was an angry man who dragged even women and children out of their homes, BUT, by the grace and mercy of God, he was miraculousy plucked out of this destruction and delivered into the kingdom of light, he encountered the Beautiful, Son of God, the Prince of Peace...I hope this happens to a lost rock star....

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

While music styles and fashion trends come and go like the wind, the central beliefs of a Christian should never be as elusive. Youthful rebellion is nothing new, it’s just far better to rebel against this sinful and decadent world, than to rebel against a loving and holy God.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

My suggestions of people who MUST read TeamPyro on a regular basis to learn what they could be doing better:

Brian Mclaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball, Scot McKnight, I-Monk, and just about all revisionist liberals in the "mainline" denominations. Any others that you can think of?

RememberPolycarp said...

Truth Unites:

With all due respect, as I usually like all of your posts, I'd have to say the phrase "what they could be doing better" does not really fit that list of characters you name, as it is far too generous in my opinion. Perhaps the phrase "what they might want to consider doing if they would even think of calling themselves Christians in the first place--let alone teachers of other Christians" is more appropriate?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

New, improved version 2.0 resubmitted. (Courtesy of fellow Pyromaniac "RememberPolyCarp")

My suggestions of people who MUST read TeamPyro on a regular basis to learn what they might want to consider doing if they would even think of calling themselves Christians in the first place -- let alone teachers of other Christians:

Brian Mclaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball, Scot McKnight, I-Monk, and just about all revisionist liberals in the "mainline" denominations. Any others that you can think of?

Yepiz said...

Providence. Just yesterday I read a blog post misusing Acts 17 the way you mention here.

Thanks Phil. I always enjoy reading each morning.

wenxian said...

On the mark as usual, Phil. I felt edified thanks.

Hadassah said...

I'm just glad those magazine covers are jokes. I can usually spot satire a mile away, but nowadays, well, who can tell?

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

Another factor to consider in the ever-fluctuating secular culture, is the fact the ‘cultural elites’ within it are always moving the goal post in their attempt to as far from God as possible. If we as Christians spend our time chasing the secular culture (instead of being the salt within it) we will only find ourselves being exhausted, distracted, and frustrated at the end of the day.

Matt said...

Thanks for the great post, Phil. Just recently, I got into a conversation with a pomo over the actual, plenary meaning (a thousand postmoderns just suffered a string of heart-attacks) of Acts 17. It is indeed one of the most butchered texts (ab)used by the Emer^#$! revisionists.

BJ Buracker: I think you mean postmodern eisegesis.

Frank Turk: How do you manage to always bring your A-Game to the meta?

RememberPolycarp said...

TUAD: looks quite nice I must say
:0

In emergents' deluded efforts to ascend, they think they are in the act of "progress" as they move closer and closer to the bizarre (for a professing Christian) goal of becoming liberal, pagan, secular-humanistic, quasi-intellectual, and academic heathen.

While I don't address you in this TUAD, thanks to your great revision : ), it is nonetheless so disconcerting to hear believers--among them being some pastors I've spoken to--grasping at straws to find the "good bits" of the emerging chaos and wanting to be so slow to call it what it is...as if there is anything to salvage or redeem from this movement. Let's put it on the table and declare a few simple facts shall we:
1) emergents are not Christians; 2) the emerging movement is not Christian; 3) the emerging movement is opposed to Christ and His Church; and 4) there is absolutely nothing this absurd movement of rebellion can provide to the true church in any way, save to provide an example of apostacy that should chill us to the bone, lest we accomodate it, sympathize with it, or adopt its ways!


Nothing New:
Good point! However, the ability of pagans AND/OR emergents to "move the goalpost" as you describe it, or basically use fanciful, postmodern wordplay to manipulate meaning, does not mean we can afford to be ignorant of their ways. Why? Two reasons: First, we need to be able to correct the riduculous sypathizing and accomodating of this movement by our truly misguided brothers and sisters who have a more trusting nature and hope to find good in all that names itself Christian (emergents aren't even doing that). Secondly, when we share the gospel with the lost of the world, who will increasingly have more exposure to this kind of broad road heresy than the truth, we need to adequately address and clarify the cheap imitation they observed.

eastendjim said...

I'm not sure where I picked this information up (probably from the Pyro guys) but there is not one place in Acts where a disciple presents the gospel by telling people about God's love, which seems to be the modern gospel.
Peter, Paul, Stephen, et al, all talk about sin, righteousness, judgement, God's sovereignty, Jesus, etc. but love is not mentioned once.

Great magazine covers

donsands said...

"First, we need to be able to correct the riduculous sypathizing and accomodating of this movement by our truly misguided brothers"

I suppose that could mean me. I see the Lord very clearly in churches that are emergent. Dan Kimball's church for instance.

I also see the bad theology, and confusion, and divisiveness which comes forth from people like Pagitt and McLaren. I don't know too many EC's really.

I guess I just needed to say that.

But I know Phil doesn't want to go too far down the rabbit path.

This is such a great post, and the series will be very edifying I'm sure, so let's all be encouraged.

Frank Turk said...

This is why I'm hot, Matt.

Keith (Qoheleth) said...

@ rememberpolycarp:

Regarding your excellent comment on well-intentioned believers digging for the "good bits" of the ECM - you are quite right. I recall nowhere in which the apostles tell believers to seek the "good bits" from the false teachers. When I read, for example, Jude and 2 Peter, I just see instructions to oppose them and reject them pretty much wholesale.

Would you agree that our stance on the ECM should parallel that of J. Gresham Machen on the liberals and modernists?

Of course, that's being judgmental, or so they tell me...

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

Rememberpolycarp,

I agree.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

RememberPolyCarp: "it is nonetheless so disconcerting to hear believers--among them being some pastors I've spoken to--grasping at straws to find the "good bits" of the emerging chaos and wanting to be so slow to call it what it is...as if there is anything to salvage or redeem from this movement. Let's put it on the table and declare a few simple facts shall we:
1) emergents are not Christians; 2) the emerging movement is not Christian; 3) the emerging movement is opposed to Christ and His Church; and 4) there is absolutely nothing this absurd movement of rebellion can provide to the true church in any way, save to provide an example of apostacy that should chill us to the bone, lest we accomodate it, sympathize with it, or adopt its ways!"


Heh, heh, heh. Some of us Pyro regulars (me, Strong Tower, Jugulum, JohnT3, et al) happen to also visit another blog which, in fact, does accommodate and sympathize and de facto enables the emerging church movement.

RememberPolycarp said...

Oh sure...I probably visit at least one emergent site every day just to stay informed. Of course, offering comments at any of them is merely casting pearls, so I decline participation in their treasured "conversation".

RememberPolycarp said...

Keith:

Indeed! Machen is the man! Just like Schaeffer if he were alive today, these guys would both be in the camp that views postmodernism as being as much an extention of modernism as a reaction to it (moreso I think). They would both agree that all of the worst that modernism dumped into the world and into the church is and has only been magnified by its demon child--postmodernism. Therefore, if Machen was alive to see this emergent madness, and likewise hear these clowns say they are reacting to modernism, he'd probably collapse or vomit or crack-up hysterically (although I can't picture him doing the latter).

C. Michael Patton said...

Truth, I would think that this blog breeds emergers.

Preson said...

polycarp:
Machen? probably. But Chesterton and lewis would be right on board.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

Does anybody here, believe the 'Emergent Church' is often nothing more than a mix of both 'pantheistic and polytheistic eastern philosophies' mixed with 'Christian terminology' that has been repacked as 'something' NEW , when in fact it's 'nothing' new?

I'm not saying this to lessen the threat of this heretical movement, on the contrary I believe it's elusive and eroding influence has not only been significant but devastating.

Gordon Cheng said...

Hi Phil,

with you on this, very much.

I had a few more thoughts on contextualization and Acts 17 which I posted on my blog, here.

The basic thrust is that Paul is far ruder and more insulting than we would like him to be.

RememberPolycarp said...

Why is it that ECer's love CS Lewis so much? In short, because he seems worldly and academic enough for them, especially the baby-boomer, burnout academics from the 60's, the frustrated grad students, or the would-be students who never went to school but really feel compelled to make people think they did.

Despite the fact that Lewis was indeed a committed follower of Christ upon his conversion in 1931 (age 33), which certainly sets him apart from most in the ECM, he had his weaknesses. I'd propose that ecer's who claim to admire Lewis essentially admire not the fact that he had weaknesses, but the very dirt of those weaknesses themselves is what they think is so cool, so relevant, and so invigorating. First, as an esteemed academic in the heart of the beast as it were, studying and teaching at the greatest institutions of higher education in the world, he succomed to compromise. We can't forget that he spent a regrettable number of years in that same position and institutions as an atheist. I'm sure when he stood before God and looked back at all he had done, he probably had no small degree of regret for the extent to which he played the academic-political game amongst his colleagues. He unfortunately spent many more years devoted to literature, his professorship, and the stuff that matters very little in the eternal realm than he was probably comfortable with by the time he came to the end of this life.

As one who has spent the last decade as an academic in higher education myself (teaching English composition and literature), I know what compromised Christianity in a very liberal, humanistic environment looks like because I've been there and done that and I regret it bitterly (as a grad student and into my first years teaching); I can only imagine how much more magnified the pressure was for Lewis in his world. Of course, I doubt whether most ecer's who make Lewis into their posterchild, along with Bono of course, have ever considered this dimension of Lewis's life. Ecer's like his use of allegory verses the direct; they like his use of the aesthetic to sneak Christianity into territory in which it was unwanted. Of course ecer's like that because they don't like truth delivered directly (they don't like truth). But, most Christians agree that his apologetics are far better than his fiction. On this note, how many souls do you think were won to Christ through the reading of the Narnian series (or, even worse, watching Disney's Narnia on the big screen?) We also cannot forget that he was an Anglican--the same denomination that...well, I'll leave the details out, as most people on this blog know where the Anglicans are in their views of theology and culture these days (can someone say "U2charist"?) Anyhow, I am confident that Lewis would have been the first to say that he was, to some degree, polluted by so much of that literary/academic life which he had devoted his time and energy. In short, I believe Lewis was certainly a genuine, elected follower of Christ DESPITE all of his literary worldliness and overuse of the aesthetic and his selected denomination...NOT because of these things. To see THIS Lewis, read or reread: God in the Dock, That Hideous Strength, Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, Until We Have Faces, or The Great Divorce.

Keith (Qoheleth) said...

@ nothingnewunderthesun:

I'd go farther than that. I see the Emergents as nihilism mixed with Christian terminology, and then add rebellion to authority and nonconformity for its own sake.

@ rememberpolycarp:

Machen would say of the Emergents, their religion "is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category."

@ gordon cheng:

Very enlightening post at your blog; I would only add "rude and insulting, not for its own sake, but to provoke his hearers with the bold claims of the Gospel."

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

C. Michael Patton: "Truth, I would think that this blog breeds emergers."

This blog? The TeamPyro blog? Or your blog, Parchment and Pen?

Whichever blog you're referring to, what would be your reasoning for your hypothesis "that this blog breeds emergers"?

Phil Johnson said...

TUAD: "what would be your reasoning for your hypothesis "that this blog breeds emergers"?"

It's the same rationale which suggests that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy breeds atheists. Its no real surprise to see Mr. Patton use such a line of argument; it's practically his specialty. What's surprising is to see him post it as a short drive-by, with none of his trademark charts and pictures.

TBE said...

Okay.

I had some great comments on the article. Really.

Then I saw that last magazine cover.

Now? Gone. All gone. (Probably means my comments weren't as great as I thought.)

Oh--and everyone in Panera around me moved to a different seat when they saw me laughing so hard.

Thanks, Phil!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Phil Johnson: "It's the same rationale which suggests that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy breeds atheists. Its no real surprise to see Mr. Patton use such a line of argument; it's practically his specialty. What's surprising is to see him post it as a short drive-by,..."

Yabba-Dabba-Do! The lead pyroMANiac weighs in! Thank you PJ!

Mr. Patton, two qualities that you like to tout on your blog, being irenic and being intelligent (after all, you call your ministry "Reclaiming the Mind") did not seem evident in your comment as Phil Johnson observes. Would you care to clarify?

(1) If it's a drive-by comment, then surely that is not irenic behavior, wouldn't you agree?

(2) Are you indeed setting up a False Antithesis (as PJ notes) with your hypothesis that "that this blog breeds emergers"?

If so, that's not reclaiming the mind, it's really reclaiming the heart through emotional manipulation by you setting up a false dilemma.

Mr. Patton, I know that you are capable of being more irenic and being more clear-thinking. Thanks for striving after that.

C. Michael Patton said...

I tried to upload a percentage chart of showing people leaving here and going to Mosaic Church. Then I compared this with people leaving PandP and going to the same. It was cool. The symbol for my blog was a white horse and the symbol for yours was an eagle.

Alas . . . it would not load.

;)

RememberPolycarp said...

TUAD:

As you correctly identified, this patton fellow made little sense in his first post and even less sense in this most recent attempt to clarify. Mr Patton: please work-on your syntax so we know what on earth you are trying to say. "Reclaim" the sentence : )

C. Michael Patton said...

It was an attempt to be funny. If I were to try to explain, I would further dig my hole in my failed attempt and, in doing so, become a bigger failure.

RememberPolycarp said...

Ahh...the trademark-typical emergent "qualities" of self-deprecation and false humility; where were these when the comment about this site "breeding emergers" was written?

Phil, it's precisely what you illustrate in your "comedy" verses "cruelty" pomo posters!

C. Michael Patton said...

Exactly!

Phil Johnson said...

No, let's be fair, here.

As far as I can see, Michael Patton isn't "emergent" at all, much less "trademark-typical emergent." (At least he's not "emergent" in the E-Village sense of the term.) Slapping a label he clearly doesn't deserve on him and dismissing him because of that label is no better than someone dismissing a blog he doesn't like with a drive-by cheap-shot comment.

I'm no fan of cheap shots in our meta no matter who makes them. Let's save the barbed humor for the parody-art, exercise some restraint in the meta, try our best to discuss issues like ladies and gentlemen and keep the unnecessary invectives and yaba-dabba-dos out of the conversation here as much as possible OK?

Sorry about that, Michael.

Mister Larry said...

Where's Kent Brandenburg when you need him....

That gal with the 'hot pants' is baaaack!

C. Michael Patton said...

Thanks Phil. You know, you were on my list of top ten blogs. :)

Truth is a regular on my blog and I was just having some fun with him. We go back and forth quit a bit.

You thoughts are the Mars Hill is interesting. Most who follow the emergent or emerging arguments about Mars Hill sound quit a bit like missiologists.

Don't you think some of them could be seen as missiologists for our own country?

I guess what I am asking is do you think that people can accomidate the Gospel without compromise?

Sorry if it is too late in the thread. I know you are busy and I know how it is having to take time to answer questions in an older thread.

Phil Johnson said...

Michael: "I guess what I am asking is do you think that people can accomidate the Gospel without compromise? Sorry if it is too late in the thread"

No, it's not too late. This is just the intro to a series where I'll be dealing with the Mars Hill sermon. So hold that thought, and if I don't answer it to your satisfaction as the series unfolds, ask it again at the end.

Bottom line quick answer for now: It depends on how much baggage you load into the word accommodate. I keep saying we all affirm the necessity of translation and illustration in cross-cultural ministry. If you want to say that's a kind of "accommodation," and that's all you mean by the term, OK. Go in peace.

But we both know that most of what is labeled contextualization nowadays goes miles beyond merely translating and illustrating biblical truth and entails a change to or degradation of the actual content of what we preach. For examples of this, I have cited (among other things) the unsanctified slogans and imagery used by the XXX Church and Mark Driscoll's blasphemous description of Jesus as someone who "needs Paxil." If that's the sort of cultural adaptation someone wants to say is essential, I'm prepared to argue otherwise.

BTW, I'm in Oklahoma tonight. I didn't realize it before I arrived in Dallas this morning, but the actual location for the men's retreat where I'm speaking (sponsored by Believers Chapel, Dallas) is a lakeside lodge in southern OK, which is my home state.

So I'm not far from you Michael, if you want to come down and arm-wrestle.

If you win, I'll tattoo one of your charts on my arm.

RememberPolycarp said...

Phil and Michael:

I'm sorry for the exaggerated and unfair comment (trademark-typical-emergent), as I spoke too soon after spending only about 10 minutes on your blog and combining what I saw with your rhetoric in the brief comments you made here. I also wasn't aware that you (Michael) have been in ongoing, humorous banter with others on this meta. My ignorance. Thanks for the lesson in patience!

C. Michael Patton said...

Did not know you were from OK.

My charts are too dynamic for a tatoo. They will change next week and then you will be sorry.

I will keep up with the posts. Thanks for the response.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

How about a tattoo from the charts on this post by Mr. Patton:

http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2008/02/15/would-the-real-emerger-please-stand-up/#more-592

Here's an excerpt from that post:

CMP: "Part of the reason I write this post is because I just finished John MacArthur’s Truth War. While I really appreciate much of MacArthur’s work, I did not find this book helpful with regards to the emerging issue. In fact, I found it very unbalanced and ill-informed. He simply focused on one thought of one strand of the emerging “movement.” He did not distinguish between those who were guilty of his charges from those who were not. In this he mischaracterized many people and the movement as a whole. He choose one strand of emerging and presumed to attack the entire ununited movement as if it were united.

I also write this because I was recently identified as an emerger (which was news to me) by some of the more antagonist anti-emergers at a Bible conference. More importantly, I was placed along side of McLaren and Pagitt as a significant influence in the emerging movement. I did not see the connection at all."

Let's recall RememberPolyCarp's earlier comment:

"... it is nonetheless so disconcerting to hear believers--among them being some pastors I've spoken to--grasping at straws to find the "good bits" of the emerging chaos and wanting to be so slow to call it what it is...as if there is anything to salvage or redeem from this movement.

there is absolutely nothing this absurd movement of rebellion can provide to the true church in any way, save to provide an example of apostacy that should chill us to the bone, lest we accomodate it, sympathize with it, or adopt its ways!

...

we need to be able to correct the ridiculous sypathizing and accomodating of this movement by our truly misguided brothers and sisters who have a more trusting nature and hope to find good in all that names itself Christian."

Just having fun with ya, CMP!

C. Michael Patton said...

That wasn't as much fun as I thought it might be. Dang. I guess you exposed me.

Andrew Jones said...

Phil - great post and great graphics . . . as usual. I am even later than Michael and kinda wish i had jumped in earlier.

I probably take the opposing and therefore 'emerging' view . . if there is one . . . there is probably more than one . . but i do see this passage as a great example of fulfillment theory and have used it as such in my teaching.

i should probably do a post to play out what i think rather than try to spell it out here.

but i would be open to some banter about it.

when you are done beating on michael, that is.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"when you are done beating on michael, that is."

Except I don't think any of the above is "beating on Michael".

I think it is, rather, charitable (albeit straight-talking) fraternal advice urging C. Michael Patton to stop condoning, excusing, accommodating, and appeasing the postmodern emerging movement as a historic, classical evangelical, and to start realizing that there is exceedingly harmful leaven within postmodern epistemology.

Phil Johnson said...

Andrew:

Here's another graphic, just for you.

RememberPolycarp said...

TUAD: Thanks for reminding me of my own words in those quotes brother! I've since gone back to Mr. Patton's blog, spent some time there, and I've concluded--like yourself--that his views of emerging most definitely fall within the context of the sypathy camp I previously identified and criticized. I would venture to say that emerging sypathizers and/or those who scramble to find redeemable bits from this grotesque movement are as problematic as the emergers themselves because they simply accomodate the growth of the movement. However, my apology to him was for speaking too soon and without the absolute conviction that what I was saying was indeed something I truly believed; I also needed to clarify, as you have done for me, that the real problem with his views appear to be his catering to the "complexity" issue emergents often like to cite as a reason their "multi-faceted" movement should be exempt from criticism...that and generally sympathizing with them. I needed to state that I was inaccurate in saying he was "typical emergent" (although, with sypathy like that, let's touch base with him in 6 months and see where he is : )

C. Michael Patton said...

Its a date. Six months.

RememberPolycarp said...

Sure, but just to clarify that I'm fully aware that you may not be "typical emergent" then either--however, if not typical emergent, you'll be the same strong emergent sympathizer you make abundantly clear on your blog now. In fact, I'm aware that one of the emergent objectives is to dispense of any standard for "typical," just like they want to dispense of truth.

Metaphorical Question: why should someone go dumpster diving behind a 5-star restaurant to find something edible in the trash when they can enter in the front door and eat a nice meal as it was intended?

Also, I'm well aware of the fact that emergents are in the process of ushering-in a new word (or words) for emergent as we speak, intending to make those who would so use the outdated e-word any longer appear irrelevant and/or out of touch with "new Christianity"--more word games and silly semantics.

C. Michael Patton said...

This is true, but I think it is all part of the "reformed and always reforming" understanding of development. Concepts, passions, and principles become corrupted. Change is often needed for renewal.

While the truths of the Gospel are unchanging, don't you think that we have to be wise and understanding of the times? Can't their be a good contextualization or is it always bad?

Didn't God contextualize himself?
Isn't the Bible a contextualization of the truth (God does not eternally speak Greek and Hebrew)
Wasn't Christ himself God incarnate?

If God can contextualize without compromise, I think we should follow his lead.

The best of emerging does this.

The worst of it changes the content.

Yes, it is a fine line, but it is one that we will always have to walk.

Holding a high view of the sovereignty of God allows us to ask not only What are these people doing? but What could God be doing through them?

This should give us humble pause and not denounce everything emerging simply because it involves change.

Check back in six months and I will be singing the same song(Although it will be updated according to the most popular type of music). :)

Jugulum said...

Michael,

You just used the term "contexualization", which you may or may not be aware has a particular "context" lately here at Pyromaniacs. Phil has posted about the advisability of the term, and what kind of compromises sneak in under that banner. (Basically, he's been talking about what he said in his comment to you, up above.)

When you talk about good contextualization, would you define that as awareness of your audience's culture & language to allow good translation and illustration of the gospel message?

If your answer is yes... Well, you're still using the term "contextualization", so you may disagree on the advisability of that term. But if your answer is yes, then it seems to me that y'all are agreeing on the core concept.

If your answer is "no"... What other kind of contextualization do you think is good, and why should we seek it?

Caleb Kolstad said...

Phil,

Check out D. Lloyd Jones' take on this topic in Preaching and Preachers pages 138-141.

He has some wonderful insights...

Caleb

RememberPolycarp said...

MP:

Let's take your comments one at a time:

"Concepts, passions, and principles become corrupted. Change is often needed for renewal." What exactly do you mean by concepts, passions, and principles?? This is ambiguity. What concepts? What passions? What principles? We cannot move to your supposed solution without first examining what you mean by these three crucial terms you've set fourth as the problem. Who exactly has this problem with "concepts, passions, and principles?" As I see it, emergents and missional contextualizers who apply postmodern, pagan-derived and inspired "concepts" to Christianity. This is most definitely a problem! Their "passion" translates into highly misguided and deceptive emotionalism, which is likewise a significant problem. Thirdly, they rebel against any historic "principles" that have shaped Christianity to the present day, and subsequently reject the very notion of absolute, UNCHANGING truth principles; it goes without saying that they mock the very notion of following or abiding by any principle that does not meet with their degree of comfort-level approval. Again, this is another problem.

"While the truths of the Gospel are unchanging, don't you think that we have to be wise and understanding of the times?" Have you thought through the first line in this bit within the context of what you said in the first chunk above? The subordinate clause in this statement seems to give lip service to those who embrace the fact that Gospel Truth is unchanging, yet the heart of this statement lies in that which follows: "don't you think we have to be wise in understanding of the times?" Loose translation: "hath not God said...?" The second half of this statement denounces the first; they cannot both be correct at the same time. I denounce the second half, which is nothing more than ec mumbo-jumbo and placing the ever-valuable culture above truth. Again, it's more ambiguity. What does this rhetoric even mean?? The subordinate clause at the beginning is straightforward and clear, but the heart of your statement--where it is actually going--is rhetorical sludge. It may get everyone at the latest ec conference into an emotional tizzy, but in typical ec absence of critical analysis over anything, "being wise in understanding of the times" is nonsense. If you mean, as all of the prophets of old understood, the apostles, and the martyrs knew quite well that Christians ought to be aware of the evil that surrounds us, then we have no disagreement on this. The individuals I've just named had no dillema as to how they would handle it, save for their own personal endurance of persecution they knew they would face for declaring the TRUTH. What you are suggesting, as most of the missional/emergent cowards I've read suggest, is really a way to appease an evil culture and get them to like us...while at the same time really having a ball in babylon! Here's the rub: emergents and missiologists claim to oppose seeker-sensitive mega church types. That's odd. They are doing the exact same thing every time they hope to win popularity votes with the pagan world to whom they bow their knee.

"Can't their be a good contextualization or is it always bad?" Uhh.....BAD. Always bad. It's called compromise. It's called carnal. Truth needs NO contextualization my friend.

"Didn't God contextualize himself?"
What a silly question and/or example. Again, more ambuguity. How so? God is God and He created the context of all contexts; He created time itself,the universe, and all other universes. I suppose you could say the incarnation was God's "contextualization" if you want to use this silly word to minimize and devalue the absolute glory of God coming to earth to live among sinful men.

"Isn't the Bible a contextualization of the truth (God does not eternally speak Greek and Hebrew)
Wasn't Christ himself God incarnate?" Comments like this reveal such an esteemed view of man and such a low view of God it makes me nausious. Perhaps spending so much time reading the emergents has numbed your senses in this regard, as they are making a mint peddling so many of their books filled with man-glorifying blasphemy every day that one's view of man's rightful place before a sovereign and Holy God get out of proportion.

"If God can contextualize without compromise, I think we should follow his lead."
The last bit is great: "follow his lead". We are equals after all, and God is our mentor.

"The best of emerging does this.
The worst of it changes the content."
Ahh, the "best" of emerging (i.e. the dumptster)... passively promotes a man-centered gospel, holds to a completely horizontal perspective of man's relationship to God, has lots of feel-good nothingness that any group of pagans at the Sierra Club, Habitat for Humanity, or Peta can also achieve, quietly opposes orthodox/historic Christianity, and really believes that pesky old doctrine gets in the way of all the fun they could have in the world and at church. The "worst" of emerging does all of the above, yet with a much more active, rebellious, and angry approach at attempting to dismantle the true Gospel, Christ's church, and Truth itself from within. In other words, atheist wolves in sheeps clothing seeking the same objective as all historic opponents of the Gospel, only from within and not from without!

"Yes, it is a fine line, but it is one that we will always have to walk." I don't see emergents walking any sort of line whatsoever; they have chosen their camp and they are residing there comfortably: the world, guided by the spirit of this age

"Holding a high view of the sovereignty of God allows us to ask not only What are these people doing? but What could God be doing through them?" And God "did something" through Lot's wife, through Pharoah, through an ass, through Nebuchanezzer, through Pilate, through Judas, through Ananias and Sapphira.....and so???? The point being what exactly in this context?

"This should give us humble pause and not denounce everything emerging simply because it involves change." I can't help but ask if this last bit is the prologue or the epilogue to "Everything Must Change"?? FYI: I do not denounce everything emerging because it involves change, I denounce it because it involves: postmodern ideology (rebellious and pagan by nature), heresy, blasphemy, humanism, nihilism, falsehood, and a rejection of all that is and has been defined orthodox, historical Christianity.

Bryan Riley said...

"The right question to ask is not how many people received the message warmly. (It's nice if they do, but that's not usually the majority response.) The right question to ask is whether the signs of conviction are seen in those who have heard... In fact, when unbelievers walk away without repenting of sin and embracing Christ, an overtly hostile reaction is a much better indication that the message was delivered clearly and accurately than a round of applause and an outpouring of good feeling from a crowd of appreciative worldlings."

I like how all of the above sounds, but I think it misplaces the focus. All of it is still focused on the hearer and results in the speaker getting fulfillment via the reception of the human hearers. Not to wax Piperesque, because that is not my intention, but I believe we absolutely must ask only whether God is pleased - and the only way we can know that is if we have sought Him diligently for His words and have delivered the word He has given us.

You also say:

"Paul was bold and plain-spoken. He was counter-cultural, confrontive, confident, and (by Athenian standards, much less today's standards) closed-minded. He offended a significant number of Athens's intellectual elite, and he walked away from that encounter without winning the admiration of society at large, but with just a small group of converts who followed him.

That is the biblical approach to ministry."

I disagree. Being bold and plain spoken, counter-cultural, offensive and the like does not indicate biblical or loving. It can, but it doesn't per se. You can be those things and be very unbiblical and very unloving. At the same time you can be very loving and be those things - again, the appropriate focus/question is whether you are serving God or serving yourself/man.

In general I want to like what you've written but I think you've just moved us from focusing on yourself when teaching to focusing on the audience when teaching. Let's take the next step and focus on Christ.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

RememberPolyCarp sounds forth with: "I do not denounce everything emerging because it involves change, I denounce it because it involves: postmodern ideology (rebellious and pagan by nature), heresy, blasphemy, humanism, nihilism, falsehood, and a rejection of all that is and has been defined orthodox, historical Christianity."

My man! My stomach hurts from laughing too much!

With regards to C. Michael Patton... well ... the best that I can say is that there are times when he really fits the mold of what DJP derisively terms an "evanjellybean."

It would take me too long to cull CMP's own statements from his blog to support the reasons why I have wincing concerns about his spiritual leadership. But let me offer this as subjective opinion which everyone can take with a grain of salt: CMP is an evangelical who's an emerging wanna-be. He has already declared that he's much more emerging than Mark Driscoll.

To CMP's credit, he recognizes the dynamic tension in his theology and in his missiological outlook. But IMHO, he has one achilles heel that he cannot yet surrender to the Lord, a weakness that causes him to nearly always resolve the tension in the wrong direction. And that is that he has a weak-willed, desperate, neurotic neediness to be liked. This manifests itself in wanting to play both sides, so that he can be loved by all. In effect, what happens is this: Committed Relationships trumps Biblical Truth

Someone has already expressed to me that he is afraid that C. Michael Patton will inadvertently cause the falling away of the weak.

I echo that concern. I'm concerned that CMP implicitly and inadvertently is touting what Bonhoeffer warned against... Cheap Grace. CMP does not have the wherewithal to realize that by affirming, approving, sympathizing, accommodating, appeasing, and compromising with postmodern epistemology, that he is, in effect, giving tacit license to emerging antinomianism.

Let him be forewarned and without excuse.

Pax.

The Spokesman said...

Reasoning from the Scriptures; examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things are so; reasoning with those who happen to be present – there is nothing wrong with this!

This is how we know the difference between theology (what God has revealed in His Word) and philosophy (man’s best thinking). We can determine whether or not the principles of hermeneutics and the principles of logic are being followed. We will know if the interpretation is what was intended by the Author or if it is an attempt to prove one’s philosophy.

If the interpretation doesn’t violate the principles of hermeneutics and logic – and is sound doctrine according to the Scriptures then we adjust our lives to it and obey it because we “hear the voice of our good and great Shepherd and follow Him.” If the interpretation violates the principles of hermeneutics and logic – and is strange doctrine according to the Scriptures then we reject it because “the voice of a stranger we simply will not follow.”

Keeping the Scriptures in context and abiding by the principles of hermeneutics and logic guards us from those who disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (wearing the garment of twisted Scripture combined with Christian phraseology) (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). We are also guarded from being taken captive by philosophy (Colossians 2:8).

The apostate movements of our day are then easily identified for their infidelity to the Word of God and are seen to have a philosophical foundation rather than a theological foundation.

Thanks Phil, this series of posts should prove most beneficial to those who would examine the Scriptures daily to see whether these things are so.

Grace and peace,
Olan

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

RememberPolyCarp, et al,

I found this old post by Phil Johnson in the archives about his concerns regarding Dan Kimball. It's roughly analogous to the same concerns I occasionally have about C. Michael Patton.

http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2007/04/i-am-serious.html

Also, here's a negative critique of Kimball's book "They like Jesus, but not the church".

http://lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/index.php?p=546&more=1&c=1

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

RememberPolyCarp,

How do you score on this quiz by C. Michael Patton?

http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2008/03/31/are-you-like-me/

RememberPolycarp said...

TUAD:

Thanks for your insightful interpretation of this chap's position on such matters; had I known all of what you have explained beforehand, perhaps my comments would have been more condensed.

Well, I agree with 1, 2, and 13 on the quiz...that's it. My question for him is this: does he really agree with, or thoroughly understand, these in light of all the others he listed? I guess that makes me a low scorer on the confusion scale. The vast majority of his questions are loaded with double-speak and/or wordplay... which is so very ec.

RememberPolycarp said...

Oh, and #7 (forgot that one).

Again, I just wonder how the same person who makes the kind of declarations we see in all the other numbers (flip-floppy and relativistic and emergentesque) can state #'s 1,2,7 and 13 as well?

Andrew Jones said...

Phil - what are you doing having a coffee in Scooterworks, that emerging church haunt in London, and what are you doing having a coffee without ME?

sorry i missed you.

I have written up a post to counter your kung fu [which is strong and appropriate, considering the terrain]. hope you see the banter as a compliment to your argument.

this topic is really important. a lot hinges on it, which is why i thought it worthwhile responding.

anyway . . its here

Context: Does it matter?

Dan MacDonald said...

Phil,

Clearly you agree with some contextualization, since you preach and teach in English and not in the original biblical languages. Ditto with any Study Bibles we produce and use- they are in the vernacular. And we use the idioms and cultural terms of our time and place to make the gospel clearer. Even Johnny Mac uses illustrations that his hearers can 'get.' He even clarifies illustrations from the Bible to make them more understandable to his hearers. That is what we do. But that is contextualization. You use sarcasm and humor to defend the truth, as I do- but that is contextualizing rhetoric for effective communication to our culture.

Paul contextualized in Acts 17 so that he could be more effective in preaching the gospel to the Athenians and confronting them with their need to repent. Jesus contextualized to the rich young ruler what it meant to follow Him - Jesus named the idol that was a rival to following Him, and then called the rich young ruler to repent. In doing so, he effectively clarified obedience so that the rich young ruler could not self-righteously hide behind his 'obedience to the commandments.'

Your problem is not with contextualization, but with using the term to mean something else- compromise with the culture. Just because people whose theology you don't like, use the word does not make it a bad word. Pentecostals use holiness all the time to mean something you and I don't think it means - but we do not throw out the concept, or the word. I agree that often people use the word 'contextualize' to mask other agendas. But the abuse of a biblical idea is never warrant for abandoning the idea.

I agree with most of your post, but I think you should more carefully define the danger. Your attacks on contextualizing seem to be just silly. I am a reformed, Van Tillian, five point Calvinist Piper-head, but I think your shotgun blasts at emergents are starting to wound innocent bystanders.

stratagem said...

Paul traveled to Michigan? Who would have known?

Phil Johnson said...

Dan McDonald:

1. Holiness is a biblical word that speaks of a fairly well-defined biblical concept.

2. But contextualization is a recent coinage, and as I have repeatedly pointed out, those who coined it had an agenda that is not biblical.

3. What were sermon illustrations, sarcasm, humor, and translations from one tongue into another called before the 1960s? What happened in the 1980s or thereabouts that made so many innovative evangelicals decide that we just had to adopt the liberation theologians' terminology as a rubric not only to cover things like translation and illustration, but also to justify whatever circus act someone wants to import into the church?

4. Seriously: is it just as important to you to defend the coinage contextualization and all the baggage that gets stuffed into that term as it would be to defend a right usage of the biblical concept of holiness? Have you thought through the implications of that argument?

Dan MacDonald said...

Phil,

No, using the analogy of the word holiness does not mean I am equating the two in importance, merely using one to illustrate the other - but thanks for trying to rhetorically corner me there.

Pastor Astor said...

So if contextualisation is so bad, how cpome the post and comment are all written in english?

Richard said...

attacking "contextualisation" is silly.

it has been around far longer than the emerging church, it originates with overseas mission and the struggle to present a gospel that can be understood and is not culturally bound. Its goal is not to "cosy up" to any particular culture, but rather to protect and communicate the message with integrity.

if you ignore "contextualising" the gospel, in other words-considering what points of engagement you might actually have to tell someone about how what Jesus has achieved and done and how it challenges, or changes the way they view the world. contextualisation might actually mean workig out how to be critical of culture and using the right language to do so. For example, while missionaries have often used sacrifice practices in pagan peoples as ways of introducing discussion of the cross, they have also condemned such practices. On the other hand contextualisation also might invole making sure your own cultural prejudices and problems don't influence your portrayl of the story of jesus. Thats exactly why Paul was so critical of judaizers in Galatians, because they were preaching a culturally exclusive gospel which required followers to become ethnically jewish.

where christians have ignored the need to contextualise the gospel they have often committed awful and evil acts. in new zealand it started with white missionaries basically thinking that maori culture was essentially completely evil and that no conversation or oppotunity for conversion could exist until the people were "civilised". The catch phrase was "civilise first, christianise latter". Once samuel marsden left the Church Missionary society, and Henry Williams took over you immediately saw the effect of contextualisation and atleast struggling to understand the culture and to speak boldly, prophetically and sensitively into it. There were no conversions among Maori in new zealand untill Williams decided to engage and learn the language and to try and make it make sense. Williams even became a peacemaker betweem peoples who were at war, and staunchly opposed settler christianity and colonisation of new zealand. He rather pushed for Maori to accept Christ but maintain their own cultural integrity. Williams didn't cosy up to culture, he was strongly against many cultural practices of Maori (and sometimes he was probably too eurocentric) but he still tried to relate the gospel to the people's situation.

if the church abandons contextualising the gospel and learning to speak people's language we open the door for culturally bound conceptions of christianity that may involve violence and and oppression against other cultural groups. Such cultural bound christianities commonly revert to idolotary and syncretism themselves, because they become unaware that they have begun to worship idols within their own cultural system. The american preoccupation with "liberty, freedom and the constitution" is a great example here, outside of the states its widely conisdered idolatorous but many evangelicals within america have been largely blind to it.

abandonning the task of contextualisation (which itself is obviously risky and is often done poorly) risks either not communicating the message at all, or preaching a gospel which is far too culturally situated and making the mistake of judaizers. This is highly ironic, as its usually the modern day judaizers who claim that people like emergents, new perspective adherents. etc. are the ones preaching another gospel. its classic bullshit fundementalist rhetoric which shouldn't be tollerated