ell, for me this week marks the annual transition from my merely-busy time to the truly hectic season. I'll be basically closeted away for several weeks whilst I help turn a stack of sermon transcripts into a book.
Yesterday the Shepherds' Conference officially ended. Today I need to get caught up with overdue e-mails and other miscellaneous things before immersing myself in the book project. So I really don't have time to write a long blogpost or deal with anything in depth. But to tide you over, here are a few miscellaneous itemsmostly unrelated to each other or to anything else. A couple of these have been in my file of "Things to Blog About Eventually" for weeks:
- Al Mohler interviewed me on his radio broadcast Friday (7 March 2008). You can download that broadcast at his website. It was fascinating to watch him do a radio program. We were broadcasting from an office at The Master's Seminary, through some equipment that fits in a briefcase and connects to his laptop. The laptop screen basically has a running timer, and the broadcast itself is totally unscripted. Despite how rapidly he speaks, Dr. Mohler never seems to be fumbling for words or thoughts. Its hard to keep up with him and exhausting to watch. I didn't know about the broadcast until a few minutes before going on the air, and I went in without a clue what he might want to talk to me about, so my part is unscripted as well. Note that both my brain and my mouth work considerably slower than Dr. Mohler'sand unlike Dr. Mohler, I can't seem to get both brain and mouth in gear at the same time. The guest mic also didn't seem to have enough horsepower. But if you are looking for something to listen to today and want to hear "Phil Johnson: Unplugged," there you go.
- Modern Parables is video-based curriculum for studying some of Jesus' best-known stories. I received a set of these several weeks ago, and I've been wanting to do a proper review. Perhaps I still will get to do that, but in the meantime I noticed that they have been released for iPod, and that prompted me to say something about them. The production quality of these films is excellent, and the story adaptations are quite goodfaithful to the spirit of the original biblical text but set in 21st-century culture. In other words, these are "contextualized" versions of the Parablesin the best sense of that word.
My one rather mild criticism is that I wasn't equally impressed with the accompanying instructional material from parable to parable. Several teachers with assorted styles of teaching offer their insights on the stories, and let's just say that some of them are more insightful than others. The one other hesitation I have in recommending these films is that I know there are pastors out there who will be tempted to show a film like this in a church worship service instead of preaching a proper biblical sermon. Fie on anyone who does that. Still, the films offer excellent illustrative material for home Bible studies, family devotions, and similar settings.
- Speaking of contextualization, in a few days, I plan to follow up on my Shepherds' Conference message with a discussion of that term and the various ideas that are most frequently associated with it. In fact, that might require an extended series of posts. So watch this space. Those who listened to the Shepherds' Conference messages may be surprised to learn that there is no official "theme" for the conference, and plenary speakers are not advised regarding topics they should or should not speak on. So it's interesting that every plenary speaker this year mentioned the problem of contextualization and how both that term and the concept it stands for are being abused nowadays. There wasn't any conscious strategy to make that this year's focus. We were all just being prophetic, I guess. Or whatever.
Anyway, I haven't had an opportunity yet to read all the discussion pro and con in the blogosphere about the use and abuse of the word contextualization, but I'm aware there was some commentary posted about it, both in neighborhoods of the blogosphere that I enjoy and admire, as well as in some of the more seamy districts. I'll probably interact with some of those comments in the days to come.
In the meantime, let me say this about the term itself: it's one of those problematic and increasingly useless terms like evangelical and missional. Contextualization is a fairly recent term of questionable origins to begin with, and it has been so badly abused and so infused with differing (and sometimes contradictory) meanings that it's hard to know whether any two people who use the word have the same meanings in mind. (For that reason I spent some time in my message at the conference defining what I mean by it.) I frankly don't like the word because it's laden with all the overtones of postmodern relativism. I recognize, of course, that there's a valid necessity for the translation and illustration of truth across cultural boundaries. The problem with the average Fuller-trained missiologist's notion of contextualization, however, is that more often than not, this entails not merely translation and illustration of the truth but a wholesale deconstruction/reconstruction process where the point is lost in translation.
So I'll get into all that as soon as my schedule permits (probably later this week or early next week), but for now let me just toss this idea on the table for discussion: In contrast to all the books written, lectures delivered, and sermons preached over the past five decades about adapting the gospel message for different cultures, the greater need today is for evangelicals to remember that the central themes of redemptive truthincluding sin, guilt, righteousness, faith, and gracetranscend culture, and if in our efforts to translate the message for other cultures we lose the transcendent truth of it, we've messed up big time. That was the actual point of the various messages at the Shepherds' Conference this year, and we'll try to tease some controversy and careful thinking out of that idea in the days to come.
- For more than a year now, I've been watching (and trying to steer clear of) the unfolding drama at Cedarville Universityfeaturing a multi-faceted disagreement over postmodernism, certainty, assurance, Emerging theologies, New Perspectives, and fads vs. fundamentalism. Here's a fairly dispassionate article from The Chronicle of Higher Education about the scandal over two tenured faculty members who were dismissed last summer, giving rise to "fear that other theologically conservative members within the department and the general faculty may be terminated." The dynamics of this controversy have been fascinating as it has played out. If you want to understand the subtleties of the postmodern drift among once-conservative evangelical/fundamentalist institutions, just watch what happens (and has already happened) at Cedarville.
- The Pope has updated the Roman Catholic Church's list of mortal sins. Warning: Recycle or burn in hell.