09 April 2008

Paul and Contextualization

Yet another in a drawn-out series on Acts 17
by Phil Johnson

QUESTION: Where are the hordes of postmodernists, Emergent/emerging aficionados, and evangelical contextualizers who said they wanted to have a conversation about Acts 17? Not so long ago, people were crawling out of the woodwork to assert the necessity of seeking "common ground" with hostile worldviews. They insisted we must adapt our message to fit (rather than confront) unbelieving cultures. They were touting a brand of "missional" strategy where building bridges to other worldviews is supposed to be more important than demolishing them (contra 2 Cor. 10:4-5). So I've been making a long series of fairly non-trivial posts taking a serious look at the main passage most of those people cited as the singular biblical argument on which those opinions were based.
    So to those of you who insisted that this kind of contextualzation is patently and absolutely essential, that Paul is the model of it, and that anyone who doesn't see the point in Acts 17 is naive, ignorant, backward-thinking, and blind: Most of you said you were just itching to discuss the whole question of contextualization in light of Acts 17. Where'd y'all go?




gain: there is an obvious and legitimate need to speak a language people understand if you want to reach them. Paul didn't go into Athens and speak Hebrew to the Areopagites. He spoke Greek. There's nothing the least bit remarkable about that. What Paul did not do was adapt his message to suit the basic values and belief systems of that culture.

Observe what he did do. Every dyed-in-the-wool contextualizer will tell you that he quoted the philosophers' favorite poets right back at them. "For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring'" (v. 28). He quoted two well-known Greek poets in quick succession. Epimenides, a poet from the island of Crete in the sixth century BC, wrote the line, "In Him we live and move and have our being." And Aratus, a Macedonian poet from the third century BC, wrote "we are also His offspring." Two lines from poets who were already ancient in Paul's lifetime.

Epimenides and Aratus weren't exactly the Lennon and McCartney of 1st-century Athens. Paul was not embracing aspects of the first-century Greek worldview or culture just to relate with the Athenians; he was not affirming something just because he wanted to seem hip and this poetry was fashionable in the Greek academy of his own day. Quite the opposite. He was quoting from their ancient literature to express his own worldview. His point was that these were truths about God that their own ancient ancestors once recognized also. Common grace had made these truths obvious (Romans 1:19), but the Athenian intellectuals had suppressed them. In other words, those quotations from the literature of their forefathers actually confronted the more contemporary and popular worldview of that generation.

As a matter of fact, Paul was doing his utmost to demolish their worldview, so he went systemically through a list of ideas they held in error, and he confronted them with true ideas instead.

There he stood in Athens, amid countless temples and idols. Talking to the culture's most enlightened minds, all of whom held worldviews that were for all practical purposes atheistic, materialistic, and superstitious all at once. Half of them (the Stoics) believed in an afterlife, but it was a disembodied, spiritual notion of the afterlife. The other half (the Epicureans) were such hardened materialists that they believed when the body died and the molecules went back to dust, that was it. By their way of thinking, there was no such thing as a human soul and thus no conscious existence after death.

It was very much like our secularized, atheistic culture today. So Paul is surrounded by these massive stone temples that were relics of a mostly-discarded belief system when he says what he is about to say:

God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.' Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead (vv. 24-31).

He could hardly have said anything more counter-cultural, more in conflict with the prevailing worldview, and less contextualized for Athenian philosophers.

Without trying to exegete every word of Paul's speech, let's notice a handful of his major points—at least six points in the span of six verses—that would have been deeply offensive to the Athenian philosophers. And Paul knew enough about their beliefs to know that he was challenging their most precious presuppositions—the building blocks of their whole worldview.

For one thing, in verse 24-25, when he says, "The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything"—Paul was summarily dismissing all the fundamentals of Greek-style religion. Paul certainly knew what Greek mythology taught. And the Athenian Philosophers weren't naive about world religions either. It wasn't as if they were clueless about Judaism or the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Paul wasn't introducing them to a God they had never heard of. He was telling them as plainly as possible that their beliefs were wrong.

He was declaring the truth about God—not in the philosophical style they were accustomed to, as if to make himself seem enlightened and wise, but he was preaching authoritative truth from God Himself. Furthermore, He stressed that the God of Scripture is not just another character who belonged in the Greek Pantheon. Notice: Paul insists that God is "Lord of heaven and earth"; He "does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands," but is fully self-sufficient and sovereign over all. It was tantamount to a bold and wholesale dismissal of every aspect of Greek religion. And you can bet those Athenians got the point.

Furthermore, when he said in verse 26 that God "has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth" he was attacking one of the common assumptions of the Athenian elite, because they were convinced the Greek race was superior to every other strain of humanity. When he said God "has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings," he was emphatically affirming the sovereignty of the one true God to this bunch of materialistic determinists who believed in the sovereignty of blind, mechanistic chance.

In verse 27, where Paul says, "God is not far from each one of us" (and then emphasizes that truth again in verse 28) he was declaring the immanence of God, an idea that was considered utterly ludicrous by Athenian intellectuals. And when (in verse 29) he ridiculed the idea "that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising"—and then in verse 30 described that idea as the defining mark of "these times of ignorance"—we have to remember that he was talking to the one crowd in the entire world who were least likely to admit that anything they believed could properly be labeled "ignorant."

It begins to look like Paul was deliberately trying to provoke them. And in a true sense he was. He caps the sermon in verse 30 with a demand for repentance. And believe me: that was no less offensive on the Areopagus in the first century than it would be in the UN general council today. Paul could have hardly packed more hard truth and counter-cultural commentary into those few words. Every sentence Paul said had something in it that would be offensive to those philosophers.

Now, it should be obvious that in the sense postmodern evangelicals use the term, Paul was not contextualizing the gospel in order to reach these philosophers with a message that would sound friendly, comfortable, and easy for them to embrace.

Next time, we'll wrap this up with a word about "charitableness."

Phil's signature

97 comments:

ChosenClay said...

Outstanding!!!

Keep it going Phil!

The Spokesman said...

Now, it should be obvious that in the sense postmodern evangelicals use the term, Paul was not contextualizing the gospel in order to reach these philosophers with a message that would sound friendly, comfortable, and easy for them to embrace.

Obvious indeed! Indicting men of their ignorance and then proving it isn't even close to the vain philosophy the Postmodern Reformers call, "contextualization."

The Doulos said...

Thanks again for this series, Phil. It seems to me that you are proving your point here. That by going deeper into the original, Biblical context in which Paul made these statements, we understand more clearly that Paul was indeed not contextualizing his message but rather confronting the cultural context with it.

Once again, the best way to reach meaningful conclusions about Scripture, especially narratives like this, is to understand the Biblical context.

Keith (Qoheleth) said...

Phil, this is a breath of fresh grace - especially after reading so many things recently that say the complete opposite.

For you and for all the readers, a question: what aspects of our present surrounding secular culture should we as Christians be confronting, and in what manner or by what methods should we be doing so, as guided by Paul's example? Food for thought, or fodder for discussion -

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Outstanding series by Phil!!

Sooooo very good, so overwhelming in its biblical exegesis, so convincing, so powerful and persuasive, so logical, so biblical, and so Christ-glorifying that it lovingly fulfills this passage from Scripture: "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ," (2 Cor. 10:5).

This series utterly refutes liberal postmodern emerging epistemology and it's distortion of contextualization and it's man-centered emphasis on culture.

In fact, PJ's series is so conclusive that we frontline soldiers just need to refer to it as we prayerfully and lovingly evangelize nominal liberal postmodern emerging "Christians".

Carlo said...

John Piper in his blog has just wrote an article on contextualization. The article can be found at http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ByDate/2008/2717_Preaching_As_Concept_Creation_Not_Just_Contextualization/

Carlo said...

Well, my link got cut off...anyway, if you go to www.desiringgod.org you can find the article.

donsands said...

Great teachings so far.

One question: "Common grace had made these truths obvious"

What about in our culture, with Darwinism? And Richard Dawkins preaching his great swelling words that there's no God?

I watched Erwin McManus last night on TBN, and it made me scream; he was so not talking about the Gospel, truth, and the Scriptures.

He spoke of speaking with an atheist woman, and she was hurting, I think, he told her that her soul was moving forward, while her brain was still behind. He soul was longing for Jesus, and wants to meet Him, but her brain was yet to catch up, but that it would in time. He said she then began to cry.

I thought, what is all that. But the crowd and Crouch were beside themselves.

I like this man, he seems sincere in his faith, but why not simply share the Good News of Christ Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth, who died for the sins of the world, and then rose from the grave 2000 years ago, and is the living God of all the universe?

He do go on and on about the rules and such of the Church. Same old same old. Drives be bananas.

Jonathan C said...

Thanks for challenging all of us, Phil. Someone help me out here:

PJ writes: "He was quoting from their ancient literature to express his own worldview. His point was that these were truths about God that their own ancient ancestors once recognized also."

What truths about God were the ancient writers exactly expressing? Were Epimenides and Aratus writing about the God of the Bible? Was he saying, "See your respected philosophers would have looked at your pantheism and shaken their heads?" Or are his quotes, particularly Aratus', more a commentary about the foolishness of their idolatry (anyone read Dr. Riemer Faber's article "The Apostle and the Poet: Paul and Aratus")?

I was taught the traditional understanding that seems to be that of Phil's and many others, but I recently read Dr. R. Faber's article that made me think more about what aspect of the quoted Ancient philosophers Paul was emphasizing. What do you think?

Phil Johnson said...

Jonathan C:

I'll have to find and read that article. Thanks for the heads up.

Phil Johnson said...

Jonathan C:

OK, I did find and read that article. It's a good one. Thanks for pointing it out.

I think Dr. Faber is saying the same thing I am, though he is more careful and complete. Paul is making the point that we came from God and not vice versa. God is our Creator; He is not Himself the product of human art and imagination (v. 29). And to buttress that point, he selected a snippet from Aratus: "We are his offspring."

Dr. Faber has excatly the same view of why Paul quoted Aratus. But then he goes on to stress something I passed over (or rather took as kind of self-evident, given the big-picture argument I am making): Paul was not adopting or affirming Aratus's Stoic perspective just because he cited him as support for the point Paul was making. In Dr. Faber's words:

When he cites the saying that man is God's offspring, Paul employs the words in light of God's self-revelation in the Old Testament. Mankind was created in the image and likeness of God, as revealed in Genesis 1 :26-27. Paul does not give the phrase "for we are indeed His offspring" the meaning which Stoics do; rather, he uses it to preach that God abhors idolatrous worship. Paul had stated earlier in his speech that God does not "live in shrines made by man" (24). After quoting Aratus the apostle says that the Deity is not "like gold, or silver, or stone" (25). Surely Paul has in mind the second commandment here, as stated, for example, in Leviticus 26:1 "you shall make for yourselves no idols and erect no graven image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land." The Stoics had rightly reasoned that if mankind is the offspring of God, then the living God cannot be represented by an inanimate object. Paul himself writes elsewhere that God's eternal power and deity are visible in creation (Romans 1 :20). And in yet another context the apostle restates in general terms what he says specifically to the Athenian populace in Acts 17: "What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will live in them and move among them' (2 Corinthians 6:16)." Thus on the Areopagus Paul points out that the Athenians had exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.

John P said...

It seems very simple to me. Our job is to preach the gospel as clearly as possible. We don't change our message, we just need to make sure those hearing it understand what we are saying. Why is that such a difficult idea for some people?

DJP said...

Phil, as to your new box: this isn't the first time, isn't it? Again and again, but for a few brave souls (i.e. Dan Kimball), the "conversation" people who are all about "building bridges" don't do much of either.

But you do see them off in the corners, muttering about you to each other, and nodding meaningfully.

The Spokesman said...

Where are the hordes of postmodernists, Emergent/emerging aficionados, and evangelical contextualizers who said they wanted to have a conversation about Acts 17?

Probably plotting together how they might trap you in what you said!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

PJ asks: "Where are the hordes of postmodernists, Emergent/emerging aficionados, and evangelical contextualizers who said they wanted to have a conversation about Acts 17?"

The answer is probably what I said before in my earlier comment: Your exegesis is so overwhelming in its fidelity to Scripture and so logical in its presentation of the evidence that you have quieted them down.

Word picture. You stuck the Bible down the barrel of their culture-uber-alles gun and now their little pea-shooter can't fire.

The liberal postmodern emerger doesn't like that. Their pride doesn't allow them to humble themselves and to acknowledge the error of their faulty presuppositions.

But you done good anyways PJ. God bless you.

Phil Johnson said...

I don't think my exegesis is so thoroughly compelling that our Emerging brethren have been put to silence in shame. I wish that were the case, but I've never met an Emerger yet who is persuaded or intimidated by clear biblical exegesis. They'll invariably insist that things just don't seem that clear to them. No alternative interpretation is needed, and no real conversation is possible. "You're too sure of yourself" is an adequate answer to every assertion for them. That's one of the main ways they often let their postmodernism trump biblical authority.

What I think their sudden silence proves is that they don't really want a conversation. Serious posts here almost never get any response from the Emerging Conversation. The only thing that can predictably gain their participation is some form of sarcasm in which their point of view is the brunt of the joke. And then they'll whimper about how hard it is to engage us in serious conversation. It's a lose-lose proposition.

Johnny Dialectic said...

You haven't contextualized your posts, Phil. You're not being understood. The picture of you with a cup o joe isn't fooling anybody, either.

Please fuzz this up a bit so we can hear what you're saying.

farmboy said...

In many respects, conversing with a postmodern emergent is like debating a Marxist. One of my master’s degrees is in economics from the University of Notre Dame. The economics program at ND was overrun with Marxists. Since I was already sufficiently grounded in orthodox economics, the program was actually quite fun. Try as I might, however, I could never win a debate with a Marxist. Careful, precise use of evidence and argumentation did not matter, as the Marxist could always play the "you have false consciousness" card. Officially, the idea was that when I lost my false consciousness, I would clearly see the Marxist perspective. Alternatively, this was also a convenient way to avoid losing a debate.

In the sandbox of a graduate program in economics these Marxists were largely harmless. There was one thing, however, that I very much admired about them: The Marxist students and faculty had been totally transformed by the Marxist worldview. In Christian higher education we talk endlessly about integrating faith and learning. The Marxists didn't have to talk such a concept to death. Instead, they had been so transformed by Marxism that it was natural for them to see and understand the whole of life from a Marxist perspective. That was a good object lesson for me as a Christian: to be so transformed by Christianity that it was natural for me to see and understand the whole of life from a Christian perspective.

Additionally, the way Marxists used the notion of false consciousness was a good analogy for me in understanding the blinding, incapacitating effect of sin. Sin creates a spiritual false consciousness where, were it not for the working of the Holy Spirit, we would not be capable of understanding the hopelessness of our sinful condition. Post regeneration, the work of the Holy Spirit continues, as we do not figure out important spiritual truths on our own. Instead, we understand these truths as the Holy Spirit works through our diligent study of Scripture to reveal those truths to us.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

What would a missional, contextualization-and-culture-uber-alles liberal postmodern emerger say about the following:

"He told me of practices among African Christians that shock our western Christian sensibilities. (It is easy to overlook the fact that our culture is one that has been born out of a Christian worldview and that other cultures do not share some of our most basic assumptions of right and wrong.) Again the context is rapid church growth and the lack of leadership. But in this case the problem was one of abject poverty among women, particularly widows in the church. They have no means to support themselves. Christian women have no means to get food to survive, let alone thrive. They go to the pastors of their churches (who are generally the tribal leaders/chiefs) and they are given food, in exchange for sex. (I have confirmed this account through a couple of different sources.) Shocking—yes. Strange, before we say yes we need to understand that this is a practice deeply engrained in the tribal culture. As the gospel has penetrated the culture people have heard and responded, but have remained untaught. Particularly the leadership has not been challenged with this inconsistency of cultural practices with the implications of the gospel."

From: The Gospel and Society

Jugulum said...

I thought y'all might be interested in this. On Sunday, I called in to Stand To Reason to ask Greg Koukl a question. He appeared on Converse with Scholars recently, and in the course of discussing contextualization--which he does use, with a conservative definition--he said that contextualization includes making the gospel "palatable".

So, I called to ask him to expand on that. My call starts at 24:00.

mp3 link

(Oh, and he agreed that "cultural awareness to allow good translation and illustration" was a good description of what contextualization should be.)

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

PJ: "but I've never met an Emerger yet who is persuaded or intimidated by clear biblical exegesis. They'll invariably insist that things just don't seem that clear to them. No alternative interpretation is needed, and no real conversation is possible. "You're too sure of yourself" is an adequate answer to every assertion for them. That's one of the main ways they often let their postmodernism trump biblical authority. ... It's a lose-lose proposition."

Dang! One word. Can you say "Tarbaby"?

Q: How do you beat tarbaby?
A: Don't play with tarbaby.

Liberal Postmodern Emerger = Tarbaby

Mike Riccardi said...

I don't buy Koukl's spiel. I used to be a big fan, but he's disappointed me on a number of issues recently.

The whole argument about saying you're a Christ-follower instead of a Christian is just deplorable to me. Even his reasoning about how "Christ-follower" antedates "Christian" is reaching. Where do you see the Apostles call themselves "Christ-followers?" You don't. Yet Peter affirms the name "Christian" and even calls us to praise God that we bear that name (1Pet 4). -- A name which, by the way, meant "little Christ" and was a derogatory name for them much in the same way "King of the Jews" was to Christ.

And then he presents the same question Phil has presented in this series/in the Shepherds' Conference address: What do you do when a culture doesn't have the same concept of "sheep"? Sit down and hold onto something for this one. I'm sure it'll be a doozy. We TEACH the people what a sheep is, and WHY Jesus is called the lamb of God, or WHY the church is called Christ's sheep.

All this business of contextualization and changing words to be more palatable or to be "understood" smacks of the same boneheaded reasoning that went into the dynamic equivalent Bible translations. I lent my copy of Ryken's "Word of God in English" to a friend, so I don't have the quote word-for-word. But he makes the same exact point over and over again. If something presented in the Bible is actually presented in the Bible, we don't have any right to change it just to make it immediately understandable. Like what Piper was saying in his article that Carlo gave us, we need to CREATE concepts that the natural man doesn't have -- not only use the concepts he does have till he decides he's gonna follow Jesus. Our job is to present what the Bible actually says, and then teach the people who don't understand the biblical categories. It's not to make all the concepts that require work to understand just go away immediately.

If you're reading what I've written here and are saying that I'm advocating purposeful obscurity, go back and read it again. I'm not saying that. I'm saying that God isn't a dope, and that it's not the case the Holy Spirit could have benefited from living in our 21st century American culture and should have left an appendix with a translation of terms. The fact that we have the revelation of God in the form and substance in which we have it means that our infinitely wise, omnipotent God whose ultimate purpose it is to make Himself known to His people KNEW what He was doing when He inspired His slaves to write His Bible. If we think we have the right to just swap things in and out willy-nilly, (1) we're wrong, and (2) we're patting God on the head and are saying, "Dear old man, that was great for the first few centuries AD, but I'll take it from here. Why don't you go and watch TV, K?"

Just preach the Word.

Phil Johnson said...

Johnny D: "Please fuzz this up a bit so we can hear what you're saying."

I'm trying to keep my inner pomo in check.

Jugulum said...

Mike,

On one point, at least, it looks like you completely misunderstood Koukl. He said the opposite of what you seem to think he said.

1.) "What do you do when a culture doesn't have the same concept of "sheep"?" Phil made the point that we can't replace "lamb" with "sea lion", because sea lion doesn't mean the same thing. That is exactly the same point that Greg made.

The difference is that Greg proceeded to use the word "contextualization" to describe the process of explaining "sheep". But he had just gotten done defining "contextualization" as making sure that "you don't end up miscommunicating something that is really important". He defined the word and then used it; pay attention to his definition, or it looks like you're willfully misunderstanding.

And I already said--later, he agreed to defining "contextualization" as "cultural awareness to allow good translation and illustration". You're not disagreeing with him on the concept. As he defined it, his version of contextualization is "Phil-approved". (Sort of. Keep reading.)

2.) Yeah, he said that he avoids the word Christian, as an example of avoiding "miscommunicating something that is really important". He's doing that in an attempt to allow good translation.

That's what he's trying to do. If he's wrong in that, it wouldn't mean his definition of contextualization is liberal--it would mean that he's misapplying good, conservative principles of translation.

For myself, I expressed to him my concern with that example, and I stand by it. I don't agree with avoiding the word Christian, though I'm fine with using other names in addition--like "disciple of Christ".

Jugulum said...

Mike,
"Like what Piper was saying in his article that Carlo gave us, we need to CREATE concepts that the natural man doesn't have -- not only use the concepts he does have till he decides he's gonna follow Jesus"
"Just preach the word."
I absolutely agree. What makes you think I don't? Or that Koukl doesn't?

Mike Riccardi said...

Jugulum,

I have no opinion as to what you think or don't think... since you didn't really say much of what you thought.

My beef with what Koukl said is more about what he didn't say. He presented the lamb question as if it was ultra-profound and without a clear answer. I think the answer is as clear as day: teach them what a sheep is. I recognize that he said you don't call Jesus "The Pig of God," but if he was saying the same thing I'm saying then I think he left a big part out.

And about following his definition, unless I heard completely wrong, he gave a definition that was less than satisfactory, and then eventually backpedaled and cleaned it up. So, if I'm wrong, I apologize. If I'm not wrong, and he did this, I think it's unfair to chide me for missing his definition when he provided one and then went back on it in a "yeah-that's-what-I-meant" fashion.

I guess it also bugs me -- no matter how you define contextualization -- that he'd use that word that has so many terrible under- or overtones (never understood the difference there) and is being so abused and misunderstood by all sorts of folks that I think he won't want to associate himself with when another word is entirely appropriate: teach. Instead of saying, "OK we have to contextualize this for them," or "make it relevant for them," why can't we just agree that we'll teach people what the Bible says? We teach them about the context of the Bible and how sheep existed there. We don't throw sheep out the window and try to find an analogy or a metaphor from their culture.

I also didn't agree with his assessment of the cultural landscape in America by saying that we have to the equivalent of "cross-cultural missions" at home.

But by far, what "makes [me] think [Koukl] doesn't" is his point about not calling himself a Christian because of the connotations that has with some. Like I said, I think that's deplorable and I don't see an argument for it in the least. The word means something. If people think it means something other than what it means, we don't just throw it away and pick another word and use that one until it gets all misused and misattributed. We teach the people that that's not what Christian means; rather this is what it means. Maybe I'm just dense, but I don't think this is "exactly the point" he was making.

Phil Johnson said...

Jugulum: “in the course of discussing contextualization--which he does use, with a conservative definition--he said that contextualization includes making the gospel “palatable.’”

I’m generally a fan of Koukl’s (though we would certainly see a few things very differently). In fairness to him, I don’t think he was using the word palatable in the same sense I have decried here. In fact, he said as much in his extended answer to your question.

On the other hand, I think he’s pretty naive to think contextualization has a perfectly-benign “classical” sense just because they were using it at Fuller School of World Mission before anyone ever heard of the Emerging Conversation.

Full disclosure: I have never kneeled in awe before the Fuller School of World Mission like lots of people do. I think a lot of ideas that have been popularized there and disseminated throughout the world missionary movement over the years have been patently bad ideas. “Contextualization” is one of them.

And the fact that Koukl originally defined contextualization as a way to make the Christian—scratch that—“followers-of-Christ” message more ”palatable” in these postmodern times without even thinking to explain or qualify what he meant is indicative of his naivete on this issue. His apparent bafflement over how to explain “sheep” to people who have pigs is another sign that he really hasn’t thought through very carefully the dangers of runaway contextualization.

I know he wants to sound as positive as possible and as non-dissmissive as he can toward our more postmodernized brethren, but if he had thought of his listeners and contextualized for them his own advocacy of contextualization, I think he would have been more careful.

I’m glad he explained it better in reply to your question.

Jugulum said...

Phil,

"I think he’s pretty naive to think contextualization has a perfectly-benign “classical” sense just because they were using it at Fuller School of World Mission before anyone ever heard of the Emerging Conversation."

That's a fair criticism. As you've documented, there's more to the history of the word. Greg didn't seem to be aware of its full history.

"And the fact that Koukl originally defined contextualization as a way to make the Christian—scratch that—“followers-of-Christ” message more ”palatable” in these postmodern times without even thinking to explain or qualify what he meant is indicative of his naivete on this issue."

I agree that "palatable" is prone to misunderstanding, so he wasn't being careful enough.

I don't think that's necessarily indicative of naivete on this issue. It raises the question. But people misspeak. I'm not a preacher, but I've heard pastors say that, sometimes they'll listen to recordings of their sermons and think, "I sure said that wrong." If someone habitually phrases it in a bad way, that would indicate naivete or a bad understanding.

"His apparent bafflement over how to explain “sheep” to people who have pigs"
I didn't perceive any bafflement. I thought it was just an illustration of the pitfalls of uncareful communication. He drew the same conclusion that you did from "sheep vs sealions"--if we're not careful in how we translate, we can end up misrepresenting the Word.

But it wasn't the best illustration--it would have been better to show the dangers that arise when we're trying for a literal translation: If you're translating "king" into a language whose closest word for "king" means "despotic dictator", you can't just use the word and let it lie. You need to avoid that word, or perhaps re-define it by adding adjectives to shift the meaning closer to the biblical word.

C. Michael Patton said...

Phil, I am not sure who you are calling out, but I imagine most people need to be invited to the conversation (that is if you are talking about people other than your normal readers). Even then, I don't think you could expect that people would come simply because you offer the challenge.

Mike Riccardi said...

If you're translating "king" into a language whose closest word for "king" means "despotic dictator", you can't just use the word and let it lie. You need to avoid that word, or perhaps re-define it by adding adjectives to shift the meaning closer to the biblical word.

I'm sorry, brother, but I would say that you could not avoid the word and be a faithful messenger.

I think "re-define it" misses the point, too. We wouldn't be redefining anything. We'd just be explaining that, while we're aware of some notion that our hearer might already have about this term, the Bible uses it to mean something that is most likely different than what he's used to hearing. Then we just have to explain what the Bible means when it says that. We create that category of "sovereign, just, righteously wrathful, yet gracious merciful, loving, and beneficent king." We even say that that's how a king (the ones he's used to) ought to be.

I suspect this is what you meant, but I think it illustrates why there might be some original disconnect between us. To me, what you're saying sounds too willing to dispense with or navigate around biblical terminology/categories because our audience may not have those categories. I may be wrong, but that's just what it sounds like to me, which is why it brought the reaction(s) that it did on my end.

I think Piper makes such a great point (though I think even his presentation was less straightforward than it could have been) when he brings in 1Cor 2:14. If the natural man understands nothing of the things of the Spirit, that means we're not even just creating categories here and there -- we're in the business of creating categories. So since all people of all cultures who aren't saved, by definition, don't have these categories, our presentation matters little as long as we labor to present the biblical context.

Does that make sense?

Jugulum said...

Mike,
"I have no opinion as to what you think or don't think... since you didn't really say much of what you thought."
Fair enough. I guess I didn't have a reason to ask.

"I think it's unfair to chide me for missing his definition when he provided one and then went back on it in a "yeah-that's-what-I-meant" fashion."
I agree. I didn't mean to. I was referring the definition that preceded his "sheep" example: making sure that "you don't end up miscommunicating something that is really important".

Except... I suppose he wasn't actually defining contextualization at that point. He was introducing the problem of miscommunication. So...Well, I retract my chiding. :) But...

"He presented the lamb question as if it was ultra-profound and without a clear answer."
I didn't hear it that way. Well... It is profound to the extent that it's a good example of a pitfall that people actually fall into. But I didn't think he was presenting it as though it had no clear answer--at that time, he was just presenting the problem. I hadn't asked him about how to contextualize/translate well--I had asked him to explain what he had meant. So he described an example pitfall of communication.

I bet that if you called and asked how he would handle the sheep problem, he wouldn't say, "It's really hard!"

"I guess it also bugs me -- no matter how you define contextualization -- that he'd use that word that has so many terrible under- or overtones (never understood the difference there) and is being so abused and misunderstood by all sorts of folks"
Well, he might not be aware of any problem. I first heard the word a couple years ago, and for at least a year I didn't know about any problems with the way it's being used. And I still don't know whether the mis-use & abuse is as widespread as you and Phil are saying. (That might just mean I haven't read enough of what people are saying about contextualization. Or, for all I know, y'all could be misreading how bad the problem of word-usage is. But I do suspect it's wider-spread than Koukl realizes.)

"The word means something. If people think it means something other than what it means, we don't just throw it away and pick another word and use that one until it gets all misused and misattributed. We teach the people that that's not what Christian means; rather this is what it means."
Hmm. Two thoughts.

First, on language-shifts in general: At some point, we get into the "gay" situation. Does it still mean happy? Should we deplore people using it to refer to homosexuality? Words change meaning. In the general case, there's nothing righteous about holding language static.

Second, on "Christian" in particular. The situation may be different when we're talking about biblical words. But... In one sense, there's no such thing as a "biblical" English word. "Christian" isn't in the Bible--it's a translation/transliteration of a Greek word. There's nothing inherently sacrosanct about "C-h-r-i-s-t-i-a-n". I'm not going to die on that hill. I'm also not going to give it up at the drop of a hat. But, if defending that label required time or focus away from preaching the Word, I would happily prioritize.

As long as someone is careful to communicate that they are part of the body of Christ, I'm not going to call it deplorable to let "C-h-r-i-s-t-i-a-n" fall into disuse.


And while I was typing that, you posted your other comment:
"If the natural man understands nothing of the things of the Spirit, that means we're not even just creating categories here and there -- we're in the business of creating categories. So since all people of all cultures who aren't saved, by definition, don't have these categories, our presentation matters little as long as we labor to present the biblical context.

Does that make sense?"

Yea and amen, brother.

But not amen to this:
"I'm sorry, brother, but I would say that you could not avoid the word and be a faithful messenger."
My point is that not every language has the word "king". And in this case, we're talking about going into a new language. (This is a bit different from "Christian".) When we do the work of creating Biblical categories, why start with a label that misleads? Yes, we can try to co-opt a word that means "despot", but it's not the only option. Transliterating the Biblical word might be better--start with a clean slate. Or, it might be redeemable by saying "benevolent despot". Perhaps.

But both are valid options.


OK, your turn. Rip this to shreds, if you can. :)

Jugulum said...

CMP,

I think Phil was talking about "hordes of postmodernists, Emergent/emerging aficionados, and evangelical contextualizers" who had been commenting on this blog. Hence the assumption that they're reading, but not commenting.

farmboy said...

jugulum observes that: "If you're translating 'king' into a language whose closest word for 'king' means 'despotic dictator', you can't just use the word and let it lie."

If one looks at the kings described in Scripture, one will find variety in how those kings ruled. Some of the kings described in Scripture ruled in such a way that they were despotic dictators. Similarly, if one looks at the fathers described in Scripture, one will find variety in how those fathers ruled their households. This variety in use of king and father does not stop the writers of Scripture from using Father to describe the First Member of the Godhead and King to describe the Second Member.

When it comes to king, father and all other words in Scripture, we should follow the lead of the inspired human authors of Scripture. These inspired human authors continue to use these words, yet they use them with other words, some of them being adjectives, to accurately and precisely convey the point they are endeavoring to communicate. The use of adjectives is not an exercise in redefining. Instead, it is an exercise in properly defining.

Once one has accurately and precisely communicated sufficient information about God and His attributes, referring to the Second Member of the Godhead as King properly defines what type of king one is referring to. Given His character, Jesus Christ can only be a certain type of king. Similarly, referring to the First Member of the Godhead as Father properly defines what type of father one is referring to. Given His character, God the Father can only be a certain type of father.

John said...

Phil,

The emergents haven't responded because they won't read posts that are this long. If you put these posts in book form with an Erwin McManus cover on it they might read it.

Jugulum said...

farmboy,
"These inspired human authors continue to use these words"

You assume that those words actually exist in our language.. If there is no word that directly means "king", we have to decide what to do. Do we pick one that means "chairman of the board"? Or "Boy Scouts scout leader"? If those are the closest words in the language?

Which word do we pick to let us "follow the lead of the inspired human authors of Scripture" in that case?

But, on a related matter, do you insist that English translations of the Old Testament talk about the "long nose of the Lord", instead of "the anger of the Lord"?

Puritan said...

"Epimenides and Aratus weren't exactly the Lennon and McCartney of 1st-century Athens." :0) that bit was the funniest thing I've heard since we heard you tell the story of your case falling in the ocean and getting soaked at a baseball game in you're sermon on The Sin of Ignoring Providence a while ago.

Excellent article brother. I echo Chosenclays comments at the top
"Outstanding!!!

Keep it going Phil!"

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

PJ conjectures:: "What I think their sudden silence proves is that they don't really want a conversation. Serious posts here almost never get any response from the Emerging Conversation. The only thing that can predictably gain their participation is some form of sarcasm in which their point of view is the brunt of the joke. And then they'll whimper about how hard it is to engage us in serious conversation. It's a lose-lose proposition."

Well, let's be patient. A Conversation may yet still develop.

But another possibility is that liberal postmodern emergers only want to engage in a conversation that they can control. Since they can't control The Conversation here at TeamPyro, they don't want to engage.

DJP said...

JohnThe emergents haven't responded because they won't read posts that are this long

Good point.

How about if Phil does some posters? Would that be about the right length to put a point across?

(c;

farmboy said...

jugulum asks: 'But, on a related matter, do you insist that English translations of the Old Testament talk about the 'long nose of the Lord', instead of 'the anger of the Lord'?" I hadn't really planned on sticking my nose there, but since jugulum has asked, I insist on translators doing their job. Whatever approach they are using (literal, dynamic equivalence, etc.) I insist that they accurately and precisely translate a text written in one language into another.

The issue that jugulum is continuing to reference has existed since, most likely, the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. To learn a language is to learn a culture, a worldview, if you will. The Hebrew language is interwoven with the Hebrew worldview; the Greek language is interwoven with the Greek worldview, and so on. Given this, jugulum's issue is not new.

If one wants to communicate the timeless, objective truths that the original author was communicating in an original language to an original audience, the first step is accurate translation. But that is not the only step. If it were, there would be no such thing as sermon preparation. All one would have to do is stand up and read the translation of Scripture.

Were I expositing a portion of the Old Testament where the Hebrew was translated the "long nose of the Lord", I would start with that translation and proceed to explain what the original author conveyed to his original audience in the original context. The translation serves as a starting point. The exposition that follows - based on a sufficient period of study - preserves the timeless, objective truth originally conveyed by the original author. But the exposition also communicates that timeless truth in a way that it can be accurately and precisely grasped by the present audience.

jugulum observes: "You assume that those words actually exist in our language.. If there is no word that directly means 'king', we have to decide what to do. Do we pick one that means 'chairman of the board'? Or 'Boy Scouts scout leader'? If those are the closest words in the language?"

Since translation is only part of the process, the above questions are moot. If the best translation of king is "chairman of the board", the translator should go with that. If the best translation of king is "Boy Scouts scout leader", the translator should go with that. Then, with the translation as a starting point, one continues with the process of explaining what the original author conveyed to his original audience in the original context.

farmboy said...

jugulum observes: "You assume that those words actually exist in our language.. If there is no word that directly means 'king', we have to decide what to do. Do we pick one that means 'chairman of the board'? Or 'Boy Scouts scout leader'? If those are the closest words in the language?"

Jugulum misses the key point of my post: The lexical or semantic range for a word within a given language is often significant. This does not stop authors from using a word. If king could be used to refer to someone occupying the role of chairman of the board or someone occupying the role of Boy Scouts scout leader, that in and of itself, does not stop authors from using the word king. Accurate, precise communication is not just a cross-language problem. It is also a within-language problem.

danny2 said...

where are the nay-sayers?

they are at the "shift" conference in chicago and can't get to their computers.

you should have waited to do this series during T4G...they'll probably be home then.

dac said...

Not so much where, but who are those hordes?

I googled "acts 17 contextualization"

1st page of results - no one uses your definition
2 page - ditto
3rd page - still no one.

Just who is it out there that actually uses contextualiztion as you define it? Not Keller. Not Piper. Not the IMB. Not Andrew Jones. Not CM Patton. Not anyone (well, zenos.org might, but I am not sure - )

So who are those hordes?

Phil Johnson said...

DAC: "1st page of results - no one uses your definition"

Are you kidding?

I tried googling the word for myself.

The first link that comes up is a wikipedia article which speaks of "accommodating the message or meanings to another cultural setting." The word accomodating may be a bit ambiguous, but the accompanying mention of "a gathering of scholars in the Theological Education Fund" refers to the very same World Council of Churches-sponsored colloquium I also referred to as the forum in which the term contextualization was first coined. Read back through that material to see the definition the coiners of that term gave it. Hint: I quoted it in an earlier post. Google the name "Shoki Coe."

The second link is a blogpost opposing contextualization. I expect he would agree more or less with my definition. But since he isn't advocating contextualization of any variety, that one doesn't count.

The third link that comes up is this. Read it carefully, and follow the links in it. Look for this telling bit of advice: "Be what they are searching for," and read the accompanying article on "the bridge strategy."

Then come back and see if you can with a straight face say you haven't a clue who is advocating the kind of contextualization I have decried.

Polycarp'sDyingWords... said...

WOW....is all I can say to this level of precision Mr. Johnson, both theologically and rhetorically! An absolutely excellent piece. Where is your book? A commentary on Acts perhaps, or maybe a critical response to postmodernism? Whatever suits your fancy, but get it into book form! While I love and appreciate this blog tremendously, pieces like this need a spine!

Seth Trotman said...

It's crucial to note that Paul's audience was a pagan one, and instructive to observe how he addressed them. By laying the foundation as set forth in Genesis, at least some of the men of Athens declared, "We will hear you again about this." (v32)

Peter addressed a Jewish audience in Acts 2 with a straightforward Gospel message. Paul preached Genesis to the Athenians precisely because they had no cultural context to accept the Gospel message.

This cultural contextualization, if you will, is the same dilemma we face today. Believers are constantly bombarded with evolutionary thought. We as the Body need to remind people WHY they need a Savior. Virtually all of the Gospel message has its foundation in the first 11 chapters of the Bible.

Polycarp'sDyingWords... said...

John:

"The emergents haven't responded because they won't read posts that are this long."

Spot-on! I might even broaden it out a bit and say emergents haven't responded because that would require seriously thinking, analyzing, dealing with something critically and/or honestly, and...what every emergent dreads most of all: growing in the knowlege of the Word of God, becoming accountable for what he/she reads and understands before God, and submitting to God's authority as a result. To them, it is just so much better (and easier) to let Bono give them their theology as they read the lyrics on their latest U2 cd jacket or get swept away in an emotional frenzy!

Polycarp'sDyingWords... said...

Phil:

"I've never met an Emerger yet who is persuaded or intimidated by clear biblical exegesis. They'll invariably insist that things just don't seem that clear to them. No alternative interpretation is needed, and no real conversation is possible."

I'm sure you know this as well as I do, but it bears repeating for the sake of reminding our fellow brethren (just as I frequently need to remind myself) who labor so intensley at declaring truth to emergents: with most of them, we are not even dealing with believers in the first place. This is why "conversations" with them are likely to remind us of those we've had with pagans. Actually, I think talking to self-proclaimed pagans is a bit easier because I find more integrity and/or honesty among them.

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

I guess the emergent/postmodern 'insurgency' is low on ammo this time around.

Great post Phil and as Polycarp already stated, you really need to write a book.

ALL FOR ONCE/ ONCE FOR ALL said...

Danny said
you should have waited to do this series during T4G...they'll probably be home then.
_____________________________________

Frayed knot
The ECrs (Bell, Pagitt, etal.) will be DBAU in Seattle at the Seeds of Compassion event w/ the Dalai Lama. Mclaren will be in Seattle that week too.

Theophilus said...

Thanks for adding texture to what was already a vivid piece of Scripture!

I love when Providence allows us to turn the enemy's devices on himself.

Paul's address using philosophers to further expose the bankrupcy of his generation, Augustine's City of God turning the Pantheon against itself then turning Plato against the Pantheon, and then exposing the deficiences of Plato vs. Chritianity. Ayn Rand as a useful refutation of Marxism, despite the bankruptcy of her own worldview... etc.

Bravo.

Phil: I had asked for a clarification at the end of "Paul & Culture", but I was late to the party. Would you be able to do so here?

dac said...

Phil

To be precise, I said:

I googled "acts 17 contextualization" Three words

I did not say I googled "contextualization" One word

I am looking for the "hordes" of emergents et al who both:

1. Define contextualiztion as you do
2. Use Acts 17 to prove thier views.

Those are the ones that you want to have a "conversation" with.

I found a number of people who discuss Acts 17.

I found no one who, while discussing Acts 17, defines contextualization as you do (now I am sure that someone does, I just have not found them, never mind "hordes" of them)

I did find lots of people who define and use the word contextualiztion differently than you do, including people such as Keller, Piper, CMP, Andrew Jones and other emergent types, who also discuss Acts 17.

Ryan said...

This has been a great series of posts. Clear and powerful. So where can I get my "Phil Johnson Is My Homeboy" shirt?

Mike Riccardi said...

Re: The discussion between Jugulum and Farmboy

I just wanna make the note that these issues are valid to raise in a context where one has to figure out how to communicate "king" in a language that has no word or concept for king. And I'll probably take the more conservative road for explaining how that ought to be done. But we have to realize that this stuff isn't being debated for overseas ministry. In fact, -- and not to pick on Greg Koukl, but he illustrates my point -- even Koukl mentions that we need to be thinking from a "cross-cultural missionary" standpoint, when relating to our own culture in America.

People (for the most part) speak the same language as we do here. They might have different ideas about what words mean, but they still have the concepts or categories for those words. We're not struggling to translate "king" into an indigenous language in inland Africa. When we evangelize in our communities we're preaching to people who, linguistically speaking, have these categories (though not properly informed... which is why we have to teach them).

My point is that all this conversation the three of us have been having about it is great. But it's a moot point in America. I don't buy this "well everyone has their own subculture." When it comes to translation and illustration -- like Phil has said -- then we do our best to communicate ideas that are difficult to communicate. When it comes to sinful unbelievers who suppress the truth in unrighteousness and presenting the Gospel to them, well... like I said before... just preach the Word that the Holy Spirit has given us.

Phil Johnson said...

dac: "I found no one who, while discussing Acts 17, defines contextualization as you do"

Why would you google for that? Read the meta here, and the links from blogs that began objecting to my stance on contextualization, starting with the first post I made.

That includes this rather prominent blog, which first raised the question, viz,

"So what about Acts 17 with Paul peaching [sic] in Athens?
I believe that Paul does for the Athenians what he has just done recently for the Lystrians and the Jews. Paul recalls their ancient stories [myths?] and finds in them some "eye openers" or redemptive analogies to the gospel."


. . . not to mention the mob of commenters who jumped into the meta over there denouncing my position, some of whom had evidently never read my posts on the topic for themselves.

It just seems to me that most Emerging folk love to talk about "conversation," but when it comes to the point of actually listening to their critics and discussing serious ideas with people who disagree with them, they don't like doing the hard work.

Then there are those like you, dac, who confuse conversation with deconstruction, and won't discuss important ideas because they can't seem to get past unimportant words and nitpicking distinctions that are only obliquely relevant.

dac: "I googled "acts 17 contextualization" Three words . . . I did not say I googled "contextualization" One word"


—like that.

Johnny Dialectic said...

"...but when it comes to the point of actually listening to their critics and discussing serious ideas with people who disagree with them, they don't like doing the hard work."

This is an important point, Phil, and is one of the consequences of the acid of postmodernism. Emergents are being told that the "hard work" of engaging "serious [opposing] ideas" is simply irrelevant, or, worse, old school, metanarrative terrorism.

So in their gatherings, they aren't doing or witnessing this "hard work." And it IS hard, for it may lead to the conclusion that one is actually in ERROR. So avoidance is a key tactic.

Jugulum said...

My point is that all this conversation the three of us have been having about it is great. But it's a moot point in America. I don't buy this "well everyone has their own subculture." When it comes to translation and illustration -- like Phil has said -- then we do our best to communicate ideas that are difficult to communicate. When it comes to sinful unbelievers who suppress the truth in unrighteousness and presenting the Gospel to them, well... like I said before... just preach the Word that the Holy Spirit has given us.

I agree with a lot of what you're saying. Our disagreement may lie mostly in the terminology we're using. (Fortunately, we're taking to time to translate/illustrate/explain for one another.)

English isn't a single language--it's a collection of dialects. And America isn't a single, homogeneous culture, where everyone's background assumptions and definitions and connotations and associations are the same. The fact that we are all under the same federal government does not mean our culture is homogeneous.

I'm not quite saying that "everyone has their own subculture". I'm not saying that there are well-defined subcultures. I'm saying that there is never--under any circumstances--a situation where the issues of translation and illustration are completely absent. Never. Period. This blog series is a case in point. Some people have only ever heard "contextualization" used with a conservative definition--or didn't notice it if they ever heard it used with a liberal/emergent definition. But then there are people who have only ever used it in the fluffy compromising-the-message sense. And some who hear a mixture. If Phil had just come out and said "Contextualization is deplorable," with nothing to specify, he would have been speaking nonsense. (And that's similar to the "word for 'king'" issue.)

And if someone grew up in America not knowing any Christians, building their perception of Christianity from TV & Hollywood, their negative view of "the gospel" would not be based solely in their suppression of the truth in unrighteousness. Communicating with them would be a matter of building biblical categories. I fail to see any distinction between that, and "cultural awareness to allow good translation & illustration".

Cross-cultural translation requires awareness that sometimes, people's categories & definitions are different. That's just as true between any two random Americans.

threegirldad said...

So where can I get my "Phil Johnson Is My Homeboy" shirt?

Here you go.

Mike Riccardi said...

That's my point though.

It doesn't matter what everyone's background assumptions and connotations are. No matter what they are, they're incorrect... because the natural man understandeth not the things of the Spirit. So if we realize that we're not just reforming their already-stated categories, and rather we are preaching the Gospel, which in the power of the Holy Spirit is creating entirely new categories in the mind of those who are being saved, then all the subcultures of Americans don't matter in the least bit. You can be a biker gang member, a preppy, a Green Day fan, or whatever. You still don't understand categories, and it's your sin -- not your culture -- that presents that problem for you. So we preach the message that can remedy that issue of sin.

The issues are purely linguistic in cultures that have no concept for "king." Beyond that, contextualization is unnecessary if we just preach and teach the Gospel.

Jugulum said...

"That's my point though."

That's why I said we're probably mostly agreeing. :)

Let me put it this way. If I only had one paragraph to explain how we need to go about preaching the gospel, I doubt the terminology of "cross-cultural communication" would show up.

The issues would, because I don't think translation & illustration involves anything that doesn't show up in some form every time we communicate & explain & illustrate. This would show up as something like, "Don't assume that people have Biblical definitions. Don't use Christianese lingo at all without building the concepts. If you have the opportunity, listen enough to know what their categories are. Proceed to build biblical categories. Focus on content--don't focus on using the same terminology that you're used t; let terminology be a toolbox from which you grab the best tool for the situation."

I don't believe that these issues involve anything that isn't present in a full-orbed understanding of "Preach the Word." I do believe that talking about the issues of translation & illustration--whether across separate languages or separate dialects or any random person who might have different definitions than you--helps to build that full-orbed understanding.


"The issues are purely linguistic in cultures that have no concept for "king." Beyond that, contextualization is unnecessary if we just preach and teach the Gospel."

I can't detect the fundamental difference between how we deal with "purely linguistic" problems and how we deal with speaking to a Biblically-ignorant next-door neighbor.

Jugulum said...

Hmm. I want to reword this sentence:

"Focus on content--don't focus on using the same terminology that you're used t; let terminology be a toolbox from which you grab the best tool for the situation."

to

"Focus on content--don't focus on using the same terminology that you're used to, and don't try to be novel. Let terminology be a toolbox from which you grab the best tool for the situation, to be faithful to the content of the Biblical message."

Rick Frueh said...

"Next time, we'll wrap this up with a word about "charitableness."

Why would you want to throw cold water on the whole thing? :)

BarryDean said...

Long time reader, and first time commenter.

There are so many excellent comments. I just want to ad my two dollars.

Phil,
I think your exegesis is extremely good. It just goes to prove that indeed there is nothing new under the sun. These same emergent brethren with their post-modernist views resemble the very philosophers Paul addresses in the text. The only difference I see on the surface is from the text in verse 34. Will we see any like a Dionysius, or a Damaris from the post-modern bunch?

Preson said...

The contextualization arguement is really very fruitless. Both sides think we are taking on the side of Paul the Apostle.
Also if you think about it...we are on a blog... there's no use in arguing that we shouldn't use contextualization, when we are contradicting ourselves at the same time.
It's like singing the praises of a hybrid from the rolled down window of your hummer.

The Spokesman said...

barrydean: Will we see any like a Dionysius, or a Damaris from the post-modern bunch?

Some for sure will be "snatched out of the fire" (Jude 23). However, the majority will not - "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7).

The great benefit of solid exegesis in the presence of those who oppose the truth is their lack of understanding will become obvious to God's sheep - "Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes' and Jambres' folly was also" (2 Timothy 3:8-9).

Grace and peace,
Olan

Mike Riccardi said...

...we are on a blog... there's no use in arguing that we shouldn't use contextualization, when we are contradicting ourselves at the same time.

Yeah... I've heard some emergers sound this point over and over again, talking about how everything we do is contextualization. Don't buy it in the least.

When MacArthur decried contextualization at the Conference, everyone went nuts about him wearing a suit. "Oh... MacArthur doesn't think he's contextualizing by wearing that suit?" That's such a bonus argument. By wearing a suit he's showing respect for the office and for the activity of the gathering of the assembly of God's people for worship. It's a high calling. He's not thinking about how he can appeal to unbelievers in their fallenness by connecting with their business-man mentality.

Apples and oranges.

Preson said...

Really Mike? Is that why we meet on sunday mornings?
And have steeples on our churches?
and sing hymns that are rewritten bar tunes?
And make christian music that sounds just like everything else except for the lyrics?
and write christian fiction books?
and try and use science to prove God (a-la ray comfort)?
and create massive liberal arts universities (liberty university - of which I and most of my EC peers are alumni)?
and make christian movies?
and have christian law practices?
and try and create a christian nation?

I could go all day long naming places where Christianity is contextualized by people claiming to have no such habit.

But I know, I know... its all just a red herring.

Jugulum said...

Preson,

There's an odd bit of irony in your reply.

A value in post-modernistic criticism--and I do believe there is value, when it's taken with a slab of salt--is the reminder of some of the pitfalls of communication. (Error comes if and when they conclude that we're irretrievably lost in a fog of uncertainty about meaning.) (Sidenote: I'm not saying that post-moderns are the first or only ones to notice and try to deal with these problems. That would be silly. It's just something they do talk about.) One of those pitfalls is, "The same word can mean different things to different people in different contexts."

A good missional contextualizer, when entering a new context, takes the time to figure out what people mean before criticizing. This is something you failed to do adequately.

We are not talking about whether Chinese pastors have to wear Western-style suits, or whether African churches have to sing translations of American hymns. We are not talking about whether the forms of Western Christian practice are sacrosanct.

threegirldad said...

and sing hymns that are rewritten bar tunes?

"Bar form" is a type of musical composition. It has nothing at all to do with "songs that were originally sung in bars."

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi Phil J. and the TeamPyro bloggers! How would you interact with Al Hsu's piece from Christianity Today?

Here's an excerpt: "The same is true today, in evangelical thinking about the nature of the gospel. Because we are a biblical people, we want to preserve the gospel in as pure a form as possible, which is why many people and institutions (like this magazine) prioritize substitutionary Atonement. But because we are an evangelistic, missional people, we want to contextualize the gospel to reach as many as possible.

Communication theory teaches that messages are conditioned by the social location of both sender and receiver. You can tell two people the same sentence, and they might hear entirely different things. Likewise, people naturally tell the gospel in their own particular way. Some focus on a change of heart, mind, or direction; others major on judgment or conviction of sin. Some speak about the promise of new life, now and eternally; others stress individual transformation or societal and cosmic renewal.

We need all of the above. Jesus did not speak the same blanket message to all people. Instead, he used a variety of metaphors to explain his identity: light, door, bread, way, truth, life. Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman received very different messages. Jesus proclaimed the Good News sometimes in parables, sometimes through denunciation, sometimes by action."

From: A Multifaceted Gospel

Rick Frueh said...

Everybody contexualizes. Everybody. Unless you stand and verbatim recite the original manuscripts without additional commentary you are contextualizing - providing an understandable context for truth.

The objectionable contextualization is to so culturize Biblical truth that you leave the truth and create another "truth" that isn't truth at all. So since we no longer use a cross to execute, you say Jesus died at the hands of a firing squad.

That, my friends, is objectionable contextualization. It may be a little melodramatic, but it gets the point across.

Polycarp said...

Right-on target Mike!

There's a certain point when debating with the EC crowd reaches a degree of such silly, dishonest, relativistic and disingenious wordplay among them that they declare an end to their own so-called conversations. Here's a parable of sorts: you are swiftly making your way down the sidewalk on a cold December afternoon towards your destination; you are in a hurry because there has been torrential rainstorms for several days straight, including all throughout the night before this day, and there is increasing wind along with ominous dark clouds looming overhead. Amidst your stride, you pass a chap who seems to be leaning against a lightpole, not going in any particular direction, and hardly dressed for inclement weather. You say to the man: "it will sure be nice when this rainy weather is over". To your astonishment, rather than simply agreeing with the obvious, he takes you to task for your statement, asserting that we are not in "rainy weather" because it is presently not raining. You stop, begin to explain the logic of the matter--the previous days of rain, the puddles, the increasing wind, the clouds--and he hears none of it as he smugly believes you are ignorant for calling a perfectly dry hour of the day "rainy weather." As soon as you realize that such a "conversation" is entirely worthless, you make your way towards your destination where it will be dry when it starts pouring again. About an hour or so later, as you look out at that sidewalk amidst the pouring rain, you cannot help but wonder what the point of that deluded individual's "argument" about rainy weather actually was.

Go figure.

Polycarp said...

Just in case the rain analogy wasn't your cup of tea, I'll express the same point through an illustration from antiquity: the famous debate between Socrates and Callicles, in The Gorgias, illustrates a turning point in rhetorical debate of that period when Callicles essentially argued for the sake of arguing in order to feel as though he "won" that famous debate...arguing for a position that was clearly wrong and to which I believe he was smart enough to see all of its flaws (of course, I'm afraid I cannot credit many/most Ecers with the same). Callicles was a member of the Sophists (i.e. where we get sophisticated), and he simply had a heyday on that particular afternoon throwing the wiser, more mature Socrates for what he saw as a major curve. In reality, Callicles was exhibiting the postmodern "virtues" of relativism, rebellion (for the sake of rebellion), stubborn ignorance, and illogic. He never allowed Socrates any assumptions-- something he must have fancied as a cute little game just to mix it up a bit from what he saw as the 'same-ol' around the academy. Surely his buddies were on the sidelines just eating this sharade of an ethical debate up like popcorn, making all the same sort of cocky (sophisticated) remarks against what they saw as boring, traditional, or "ineffective". Of course, what made it famous was this shift in rhetorical mode, but interestingly the content of the debate is worthy to note in this analogy to the EC, as Socrates position was one against hedonism! The debate serves as a case study today because people debate over who actually "won", given Callicles so-called approach. He was an idiot, plain and simple, with a ridiculous position that Socrates should have merely laughed at I suppose and said something to him like: come back when you are ready to play by the rules...or when wish to argue ethically.

Polycarp said...

PS: The above comparison is BY NO MEANS an endorsement of Socrates nor his particular views; as a believer and follower of Christ, I'm well aware of the fact that recognition of any value in the general content of Socrates' worldview is highly inconsistent and downright wrong. He and Callicles, in my example, merely serve as types--rhetorically first, and to some extent as representative types of modernism/postmodernism perhaps.

Tom Chantry said...

I have a somewhat different take on Presson's comment:

Is that why we meet on sunday mornings?

This really doesn't fit in your list, since the New Testament has at least enough references to the disciples gathering post-resurrection on the first day of the week that you should charitably allow that Christians are following this practice from biblical conviction, even if you disagree.

And have steeples on our churches?

OK - yes. A contextualized symbol on our buildings - means something in our culture. We could do without it.

and sing hymns that are rewritten bar tunes?

Already pointed out on this thread to be a mythical statement. Reformation hymns were a unique development in music, not directly related to anything that went before. They were almost anti-contextualized.

And make christian music that sounds just like everything else except for the lyrics?

Yeah, that's contextualization. Shouldn't happen, really.

and write christian fiction books?

Kind of useless, really.

and try and use science to prove God (a-la ray comfort)?

I wouldn't.

and create massive liberal arts universities (liberty university - of which I and most of my EC peers are alumni)?

That raises an interesting question: are Christians parroting the culture by creating universities, or has the culture counterfeited the church?

and make christian movies?

I wouldn't.

and have christian law practices?

I wouldn't.

and try and create a christian nation?

That means so many things to so many people it's tough to categorize.

Alright, so in my opinion you've misfired a few times but identified some things which could rightly be called "contextualization" - even if we take the word to mean "changed to fit the culture." Let's categorize them:

Some of these are contextualizations of church methods and practices - music based on secular forms, possibly steeples, and really not any others. These are at most issues to be discussed under the category of the Regulative Principle. The most adamant teachers of the RP, though, will distinguish that principle in importance from the gospel message.

Some other issues here, such as forming a law practice, are matters of personal life. You could argue that a Christian plumber runs a Christian plumbing business, but he's not really contextualizing. It's the insistence that these things be stamped with ichthus medallions and called "ministries" that offends - but again, the offense is minor.

Where in your list is there even a hint of contextualizing the message of the gospel? The contention here is that the truth claims of scripture are too precious to be fuzzied up by loose handling.

Only on those items on your list which have to do with communication of truth is there a possible connection. In those matters: whether it's writing a Christian novel or making a movie to communicate the gospel culturally, or even adopting an evidentialistic apologetic, you'll find a range of responses from those of us who oppose "contextualization" as Phil has defined it. Some of us may only say, "Be very careful of the message," while others would say, "Don't do that." All of us would want to see the truth claims of the gospel remain intact.

That's where your list falls short. Phil was responding to the idea that Paul adopted the Athenian worldview and tailored the gospel message to it. We're talking about the truth claims of Scripture, here. Even if some of us may happen to agree that other practices are silly and unnecessary, they don't correspond with the truth issues under discussion here.

Daryl said...

Just a small point here...universities are hardly a case for Christian contextualization. They, like hospitals, were originally Christian instiutions which non-believers eventually took over and copied for their own devices.

If anything, they are an example of the world "contextualizing" themselves for the church.

dac said...

Phil

No, actually I am curious as to who these hordes are. The purpose of my google search is to find them. I do not see any great hordes of evangelicals who both

Define contextualization the way you have for this article

and

Use Acts 17 to justify it.

Andrew doesnt. Tim Keller doesnt. John Piper does not. CMP does not. I dont.

Just who are these hordes you are inviting to a conversation?

Now many people believe contextualization is important. None of them define it as you do.

Usage defines a words definition. Many (most?) evangelicals define the word differently than you have.

Note I am not arguing with the veracity of your definition. Many words have multiple usages. Neither am I disagreeing with conclusion - it fact I agree - you have completly slayed the arguement, so long as you use the word "contextualization" exactly as you have so precisely defined it.

You have completly won the field of battle. I am just not sure there was anyone on the other side.

david rudd said...

You have completly won the field of battle. I am just not sure there was anyone on the other side.

LOL!

Daryl said...

Dac,

I thought Phil was pretty clear about the identity of the hordes. I'm pretty sure he meant all the EC commenters who run to the battle when anything sarcastic or satirical is posted on this blog (like the posters for instance). Those who so quickly accuse this blog of being "uncharitable", where are they?
Never mind the nether regions of the blogosphere, where are the ones who comment here.

When a solid answer is provided...they don't comment, when that same point is brought home satirically, they comment, on the satire, not on the point.

dac said...

Daryl:

Phil has put forth a very technical, correct definition of contextualization, one that people do use. He is absolutely correct that it is not supported in anyway by Acts 17.

It's just that I am curious as to which evangelical, or emergents use the word in the manner defined by Phil. All other evangelicals and emergents that I am aware of define the word differently than the one that Phil has provided.

And I am not alone in this. Jugulum has expressed his wonderment at how wide spread this definitional use is. CMP has commented that he is not aware of anyone who uses this definition.

If no one uses the word in the way Phil defines it, who is there to have a conversation with?

Jugulum said...

Jugulum has expressed his wonderment at how wide spread this definitional use is.

Uh, "wonderment" is the wrong word. That means "astonishment".

I think you meant that I've expressed that I wonder how widespread that use is. That is, I just don't know who uses which meanings how often.

This is a little bit different from you and CMP. Y'all are saying that you think Phil's definition is rarely-if-ever used. I'm saying, I don't have much basis for judging either way.

Daryl said...

I thought that Dac's assessment was a little un-Jugulumish...

Jugulum said...

Nice. I have my own adjective now.

Of course, like all words, it can mean different things to different people in different contexts. :D

Daryl said...

In 500 years you'll be a hero to the Buddhist Christian Catholic United Church because of something you we're supposed to have said about liking Brian MacLarens giant tortise collection...

But we'll know the truth...

(Hey, if the Arminians can claim Spurgeon...)

Jugulum said...

dac said,
"If no one uses the word in the way Phil defines it, who is there to have a conversation with?"

If there's no one to have a conversation with, why did Presson speak up?

Phil is saying that when "contextualization" means anything other than "good translation & illustration", it's bad. You're saying that no one uses it in another way. That no one has a broader definition.

But Presson thinks that Phil objects to Presson's kind of contextualization. Doesn't that mean that Presson has a broader definition?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Al Hsu from Christianity Today writes: "Because we are a biblical people, we want to preserve the gospel in as pure a form as possible, which is why many people and institutions (like this magazine) prioritize substitutionary Atonement. But because we are an evangelistic, missional people, we want to contextualize the gospel to reach as many as possible."

Translate-and-Illustrate contextualizers says that we can do both. Gospel Fidelity and Contextualization can both be done if we translate-and-illustrate accurately.

But with what measures can one safely discern that contextualization has been wrongfully abused and that false converts are being generated?

Jugulum said...

I said,
"But Presson thinks that Phil objects to Presson's kind of contextualization. Doesn't that mean that Presson has a broader definition?"

Of course, the other possibility, which I pointed out to Presson, is that he was misunderstanding what this series is about. Maybe Presson just cares about good T&I, too. And maybe he sticks a lot of things under the "contextualization" label--but that doesn't necessarily mean he's putting anything bad under that label.

Phil Johnson said...

dac: "It's just that I am curious as to which evangelical, or emergents use the word in the manner defined by Phil."

I have on more than one occasion cited a string of concrete, well-known examples of "contextualization" that all illustrate my definition perfectly (but these don't fit your toned-down definition)—ranging from "the changing of sheep to sea lions in Bible translations, to the revisionist treatment of Scripture practiced by Eugene Peterson. . . , 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 [this] document."

All of those things have been done under the rubric of contextualization. Would all the purveyors of those tactics if pressed accept my definition of the word? Probably not, because the definition exposes precisely what is wrong with the practice. They certainly would not accept my definition in the heat of controversy about it, because it's a favorite tactic of the postmodernized mind to avoid uncomfortable truths by quibbling about definitions. You, dac, have been doing that throughout this comment-thread (and this is not the first time I've pointed that out).

However, the question you need to grapple with is whether the kinds of things Emergers and other post-evangelicals are actually doing fit my definition or not. The answer to that question is simpler than I suspect you want to admit:

Of course they do.

Mike Riccardi said...

Speaking of people who define contextualization this way or that way, where's our buddy Drew? Did he ever get banned?

Beth said...

Phil,

http://www.fairoakschurch.org/index2.html

Check out the link. The church is having a new sermon series on The Gospel according to the Beatles. You just can’t make this stuff up…Check out what he says about Paul using the “secular poets of his day”. Someone may want to give him a heads up on your post before his sermon series starts.

Here are some excerpts:

“We all know about the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke & John but have you ever considered the good news according to John, Paul, George & Ringo?”

“I’ll be sharing a sermon series in April entitled The Gospel according to the Beatles.”

“I will use some of their unforgettable music as a springboard to a discussion about important and relevant aspects of God’s word to today’s culture.”

“The Apostle Paul used secular poets of his day to get the attention of the Athenians. He understood that culture is like the wind..it could be harnessed and used.”

“…The Gospel according to the Beatles at Fair Oaks Church every Sunday in April.”

Stephen said...

Brilliant!
The only one who did not have a mask to hide behind (as if he needed to) was Paul.
The rest of them, and I say that the entities behind the greek idols are included, stand behind these masks. These Stoics and Epicureans were standing behind theirs of "materialistic determinism" and a belief in "sovereignty of blind, mechanistic chance"
Evidently a mask given to them and inspired by demons! This whole affair was abit of a Mardi Gras. Paul was the only one they could all see and understand whether they accepted him or not.

Bryan Riley said...

As I read through the comments I still see a lot of common ground - at least once you get away from the twenty-five cent word, "contextualization." It seems to me that those who call Jesus Lord and desire for the world to know Jesus as Lord and Savior all agree that we cannot water that Truth down. It is Truth. Jesus is Truth. Period.

Jesus as Christ alone - Truth.

Jesus as Lord alone - Truth.

Jesus as Savior alone - Truth.

Jesus crucified and risen - Truth.

These things are all straightforward and true. We seem to be arguing about really trivial and unimportant things when we talk about whether the gospel should be presented in clown outfits or not so long as the gospel is presented by people who are seeking to present the gospel as God leads them to do. We all have different gifts and passions, and they were all placed in us by our loving Heavenly Father, so that we can use them for His glory - given their diversity they will be presented in a myriad of ways.

Just because the method of presenting the message makes it easy for someone to understand the gospel doesn't make it bad. The message is easy to understand - it is the good news that even a little child can accept. ultimately, it doesn't matter how the message is presented nearly so much as whether the individual receiving the message is given the grace to be able to hear God's Spirit speak and then the grace to believe and obey.

Lastly, isn't it silly to base the correctness of an argument on the absence of comment from others one perceives to be opposed? That would be very subjective to interpret the absence of comment as favorable to one's apology. People might be busy; they might agree; they might not care at the moment; they might be tired; they might not like argument; they might be....[fill in the blank].

Polycarp said...

Brian, Brian, Brian....this is where you miss it I'm afraid, as you believe that so long as you cling to the distinctives that you attribute to the terms "methodology" and "theology", then everything that falls into the former is perfectly okay if it does not interfere with the latter. This is hogwash, and it is the rabbit trail so many "soft" emergents and/or emergent sypathizers seem to run down--clinging to these self-construed notions of distinction between the two terms, and subsequently accepting nearly anything and everything that might be pulled out from the garbage heap as a legitimate form of methodology. Secondly, there is hardly any basis whatsoever in scripture for clinging to these distinctions--between method and belief--because they are simply not there; Paul was complete and whole as a follower of Christ, as a preacher of Christ crucified, as a scholar whose mind was given to Christ, as a theologian who saw Christ in scripture past, present, and future. Whether he spoke to one or to many, I contend that he was the same man, his message was essentially the same, and even his so-called methodology hardly varied beyond an obvious awareness--cognitive, historical, factual, even cultural perhaps--of the audience to whom he preached. If you wish to make distinctions, try this one: Paul's knowlege and/or awareness of his varying audiences, as opposed to the erroneous and ridiculous suggestion that he became one of his many audiences, makes all the difference in the world! Of course, a consistency in the man, the message, and the approach was entirely true of our Lord Jesus. It was true of all the apostles. For that matter, it was true of the prophets of old. But, emergents/liberals want nothing of facts, as they are simply looking for a way out of counting the cost our Lord said we must do if we would call ourselves His followers; they are looking for nice comfy ways around the inevitable rejection and persecution we will receive if we deliver the TRUE Gospel. In seeking to shrug responsibility, emergents so desperately wish Paul, especially, was advocating the life of a cameleon in order to satisfy the guilt (for the ones who are actually believers) from the Holy Spirit who convicts them of their delusion and (intentional?) misunderstanding; however, before they rush out to get that next tat/piercing (that they really just wanted to get for years anyhow), write that next book or create that next blog of rebellious angst and downright blaspemy in too many cases (that expresses what what they really believe, and have believed for some time, anyhow), or attempt to marry the glory of the Lord God with ecumenical pluralism/paganism as they look for the "good" among harlot false religions (that they have really thought were given a bad rap for too many years by modernist Christians anyhow), they should consider seriously in whose name they are doing any of it or where exactly they think they find sanction in the Bible for it. You see, the supposed line of distinction between method and belief is an amplification (into serious error) of nothing more than ordinary and commonplace. For example, I teach various groups of students different courses; I even teach more than one section of the same course quite often in a given semester. When this occurs, I am the same person when I teach all of these sections of the same course (and all of the other courses for that matter); I do not become someone different in each classroom, although I make myself aware of various details, namely those factors that might pose a challenge to my ability to teach effectively. The audience varies drastically sometimes, especially when I teach the same course on different campuses, but I do not and the course content certainly does not, as such would be absurd. I do not "become one of them" as various gurus of my discipline and/or higher education in general suggest we do if we really want to "connect" with our students. Of course, in the pagan world of humanism and postmodern liberalism, this is of no surprise, but in the church?????

Polycarp said...

sorry for the oversight once again with your name (I meant to say: Bryan, Bryan, Bryan). Oh, and one more thing, if Paul was in-fact doing all of this "contextualizing" the emergents would like to believe he did, wouldn't we have on record somewhere in the NT a reference to his hanging out, even worshipping ("it's okay, I'm just being missional") at the temple of Artemis? Of course not, becuase he made it abundntly clear what they can do with their idols...and you might recall that bit of a chant by the masses in Paul's name that occurred as a result?

Bryan Riley said...

Polycarp,

It seems to me that you are more interested in categorizing people than you are in entering into mutually edifying discourse. It makes a conversation difficult when whatever is said by one is reduced to a box by you that you can then understand and dismiss.

You have an understanding of what you think I said that I do not - or at least it seems that most of your comment is nonresponsive to mine. I suppose that means either (a) I'm an awful communicator or (b) you have an amazing talent. LOL. I don't have a problem being a poor communicator in blog comments - although I try to be coherent - and I do use paragraph breaks.

That last paragraph is meant to be taken lightheartedly.

I'm writing as I read through your comment to me, and i didn't even know I distinguished between method and belief. Fantastic talent I have.

As I read your comment I see that you not only know me well, you also know Paul just as well, and all people you call "emergents" (who apparently all want tattoos). Does it ever become difficult walking around with so much knowledge?

And, how was all this in your concluding remarks -

"Oh, and one more thing, if Paul was in-fact doing all of this "contextualizing" the emergents would like to believe he did, wouldn't we have on record somewhere in the NT a reference to his hanging out, even worshipping ("it's okay, I'm just being missional") at the temple of Artemis? Of course not, becuase he made it abundntly clear what they can do with their idols...and you might recall that bit of a chant by the masses in Paul's name that occurred as a result?"

responsive to any of my comment, which really was about getting over the word contextualization and realizing that people across the spectrum of Christendom really are preaching Christ and Christ crucified, just like Paul did?

Mike Riccardi said...

Bryan,

Our presentation of the message does indeed matter if our manner of presentation communicates or implies something about the message that is untrue.

This is the problem with the practice of "contextualization." When we believe that we should change our presentation of the message based on the characteristics of our audience we are demonstrating what we believe about the message itself, and what we believe about the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

If the message is truly proclaimed, I don't have to worry about adapting the manner in which I present it to the various listeners I might have, because the message properly proclaimed is sufficient in and of itself to accomplish what God desires (Is. 55:10-11, Rom 10:17, 1Pet 1:23-25).

When we think we need to adapt our methods to our audience, we implicitly deny the sufficiency of the Gospel to do what God intends it to do. It really is as if we believe the Holy Spirit needs our help "getting in the door" so to speak, and so we have to help the message with our methods.

But this is just not the case. The Word of God properly preached is sufficient. If we say the manner of the presentation of the message doesn't matter, we may communicate something about the message which is untrue. Therefore, methods do matter. They should be consistent with how the Scripture presents the message. Some folks would like us to believe that doctrine is in one closed hand but methods are in another open hand. This is not so. Both are in the same hand, because the methods flow out of the doctrine.

Polycarp said...

Bryan:

Yes, as in the Bereans, as in Jude, as in John's writing, as in Paul's writing...I am quite interested indeed in grouping of people according to their beliefs. Bingo.

Yes, I make "conversation" difficult for those who find conversation more appealing than declarations of truth (or equal to it). In light of the latest definitions for conversation within Christianity, I think conversation glorifies man and reduces God to one of the conversationalists. As for what or whom I dismiss, you seem to dismiss anyone who declares distinctions with conviction.

Please go back and read your comment prior to mine; it is plainly about the distinction between message and methodology. More specifically, you first explain how important it is for everyone to see the unity a broad range of professing believers have in their core beliefs (message), to which I agree wholeheartedly IF we are indeed talking about people with whom we do have such core beliefs. However, you then go on to minimize the disagreements of those--myself included--who see great importance in examining and scrutinizing methodology among those who claim the name of Christ because we readily embrace Paul's and John's stern warnings regarding "them" groups we need to be on guard against: heretics, aposates, and/or false teachers ("they went out from us but they were not of us" 1 Jn. 2:19). This seemingly "gray area" of methodology is where THEY exploit the freedom we indeed have, and always had, in Christ to speak into the hearts of people--not as robots with programmed message, but as people who are truly motivated by extending the love of Christ and His gospel to the lost. Like all things postmodern, emergents (they) rebelliously like to see just how far they can stretch this allowance.

Hence, THEY have taken this wonderful dimension of freedom and turned it into a circus by stretching it out to sheer absurdity...of which I describe as nothing short of blasphemy in many cases. In THEIR efforts to focus on (and hide behind) methodology, they keep their beliefs/message out of the picture by either criticizing doctrinal statements and/or the very presence of doctrine or by simply refusing to state/commit to core beliefs, saying that such a preoccupation gets in the way of worship and reaching the unchurched. In fact, they often cite the pursuit "unity" (ecumenicism?) as their rationale for rejecting the warnings of the NT against false teachers.

Bryan Riley said...

Polycarp,

I think you are capturing one of the dangers facing those who approach sharing and living the good news by those you call emergent or postmodern - the enemy wants to trap them in a lie that they must be relevant - even at the expense of the gospel.

But, I think those you call postmodern may be pointing out one of the dangers facign those who approach sharing the good news by those they would call conservative or evangelical - the enemy wants to trap then in a lie that belief is more important than action.

It is neither one nor the other; it is both. Belief does precede action but belief without action is heinous. Action without belief is vanity. It sounds to me like there is much truth to be learned from both sides of the aisle - perhaps it is that radical middle we need to be finding - but both sides want to believe that the middle means compromise and God forbid we ever do that. :)