02 April 2008

Paul and Culture

Another in our slowly unfolding series on Acts 17
by Phil Johnson



ead (and believe) enough of the trendy books and blogs that talk about missional living, and you'll get the distinct impression that fitting into this world's cultures is vastly more important—and a much more effective evangelistic strategy—than knowing the gospel message and communicating it with boldness, precision, and clarity.

What might Paul have thought of the missional fads of post-evangelicalism? Lots of people will argue that Paul is the very model of a postmodern ministry strategist, and that Acts 17 is the classic narrative passage where we see his genius for cultural assimilation in all its perfect splendor.

Really? Let's see how that chapter actually unfolds. At the start of it (Acts 17:1-9), Paul's ministry in Thessalonica so offends the Jewish populace that their leaders deliberately stir up civil unrest. As a result, the apostle can no longer minister publicly in Thessalonica without the threat of a riot. So he goes to Berea under cover of night (v. 10).

Berea is about forty miles inland from Thessalonica and not on a major trade route, so the plan might have been to go to the closest place where Paul might preach the gospel without quite so much deliberate opposition from Jewish leaders in the region. But when he arrived in Berea, he didn't lay low and hide out or try to minister silently through lifestyle evangelism. He started proclaiming the gospel in the synagogue and the public square there, too.

However, Luke says, "when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the Word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there" (v. 13). So Paul's missionary team spirited him away into hiding yet again. He was clearly not winning general admiration and grass-roots popularity in the cultures where he was taking the gospel. People kept trying to kill him.

Paul couldn't go back to Thessalonica or Berea now, because his enemies in those cities were determined to disrupt any ministry he did. So "those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed" (v. 15). Commentators generally assume he went by ship, because that seems the easiest, safest, and most reasonable way to travel from the coast near Berea to Athens.

Now, here's the scenario: Paul is cut off from his missionary team and sent to Athens for his own safety. From Berea and Thessalonica to Athens is about four days' travel by land and two or three days by sea (depending on the wind and the tides). So when Paul sends word back to Timothy and Silas to join him in Athens, he probably has about a two-week wait before they can join him there, and he spends that time alone in Athens, investigating the city and its culture. But he simultaneously launches his public ministry in Athens both at the synagogue there, and in the public square.
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, "What does this babbler want to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods," because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection (vv. 16-18).

What's crucial to notice here, first of all, is Paul's relationship to the culture. He doesn't try to assimilate. He doesn't embrace the culture and look for ways to shape the gospel to suit it. He is repulsed by it.

Look at verse 16 again: "his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols." The Greek word for "provoked" is paroxuno, which is a very intense word meaning "exasperated" or "agitated." It conveys the idea of outrage and indignation.

Paul, of course, was well educated, and he was fully aware of the history and the details of Greek mythology and the religion of Athens. (He even had memorized passages from Greek poets and writers, as we are about to see.) But this was his first time to be in Athens and see all the temples and the omnipresent idolatry with his own eyes. Wherever he looked, he saw the signs of it—sophisticated, intellectual, completely unspiritual religion that was utterly without any reference to the true God. That was the defining mark of that culture, and it grieved Paul deeply.

So he immediately began confronting the idolatry by proclaiming Christ. Notice: when Luke says in verse 17 that "he reasoned" with people in these public places, he's not suggesting that Paul had cream tea and quiet conversation with them. It means he stood somewhere where people couldn't possibly miss him and began to preach and proclaim like a herald, and then he interacted with hecklers and critics and honest inquirers alike. Luke uses the Greek word dialegomai, from which our word dialogue is derived, but the Greek expression is a strong one, conveying the idea of a debate or a verbal disputation. It can also speak of a sermon or a philosophical and polemical argument. Paul did all of that, because he took on all comers.

In fact, in the King James Version, it says he "disputed . . . in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with [whoever] met with him." That's not to say that he was belligerent or pugnacious, but he proclaimed the truth about Christ without low-keying the tough parts or shaving all the hard edges off the counter-cultural truths. And then he responded to whatever questions or arguments or objections people raised.

In other words, he confronted their false beliefs; he did not try to accommodate them. Paul was deliberately and intentionally counter-cultural. He didn't say, Oh, these people think the idea of bodily resurrection is foolish; I'd better soft-sell that part of the message. He did exactly the opposite. He studied the culture with an eye to confronting people with the very truths they were most prone to reject.

The Philosophers

He wasn't winning any admiration from the intellectual elite for his cultural sensitivity, either. Notice verse 18: "Certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him." They were not impressed. They called him a seed-picker and more or less made sport of him.

Who were these guys?

The Stoics were secular determinists who believed the height of human enlightenment was achieved by complete indifference to pleasure or pain. They believed everything is predestined unchangeably by random chance, and therefore nothing really matters in the ultimate sense. They were fatalistic. Think of them as secular hyper-Calvinists with a dose of Greek Mythology defining the theistic elements of their religion. Their goal was self-mastery through the overcoming of the emotions—and they lived austere, simple lives enjoying as few pleasures as possible. The Stoic sect was founded by Zeno around 300 BC, so the system was three and a half centuries old and a mainstay of Greek philosophy when Paul encountered these guys.

The Epicureans were at the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum. They believed the chief end of man was to enjoy pleasure and avoid pain. They indulged in all the finest things and richest pleasures this life had to offer. Epicureanism was likewise 350 years old, and one of its central ideas was that God is not to be feared. They did not believe in life after death, so their one goal was earthly happiness—practically the opposite of Stoicism.

The Stoics and the Epicureans were poles apart on the philosophical spectrum and obviously adversarial in many of their beliefs. There's no doubt that some of the most interesting debates between competing Greek philosophies pitted Stoics against Epicureans and vice versa. But they also shared some of their most fundamental beliefs in common, and those common beliefs were the defining elements of Greek thought and culture. Both philosophies were materialistic and man-centered and therefore they were united in their resistance to all biblical truth.

There was a third major strain of Greek philosophy not named here by Luke—the Cynics. Even though Cynicism isn't specifically named by Luke, it's almost certain that some Cynics were in the audience. The Cynics believed virtue is defined by nature—and true happiness is achieved by freeing oneself from unnatural vales like wealth, fame, and power and living in harmony with nature. They were first-century hippies, known for their neglect of things like personal hygiene, accountability, family responsibilities, and whatever. Cynicism was the oldest of the three major strains of Athenian philosophy, dating back to about 400 years before Christ, so Cynicism was also an ancient system—450 years old by the time Paul stood in the Areopagus. It was still a robust influence in the culture of Athens, and the Cynics had a peculiar knack for irritating the other philosophers.

Remember, Paul was grieved by Athenian culture. It would be foolish to suggest that he embraced any of the defining spiritual elements of such a culture. His message was counter-culture and disturbing to the ears of Stoics, Epicureans, and Cynics alike.

But some of these high-powered philosophers heard him disputing in the marketplace and thought, Hey, this guy would be interesting in a discussion with the elite minds of Athens. They could surely tell Paul was an educated man, not just a random crackpot. And yet his ideas seemed so bizarre to their way of thinking that they could not find a way to categorize him neatly in their systems. He was clearly neither Stoic nor Epicurean nor Cynic. He stood in opposition to all of them, and that was obvious, because of what he preached: "Jesus and the resurrection."

And their attitude toward him is obvious: "Some said, 'What does this babbler want to say?'" They used a word that meant "seed-picker"—comparing him to a chicken picking up a seed here and there—as if to say, "He has a cogent thought now and then, but it's so mixed with these strange notions about resurrection that we wonder where he picked up the knowledge he does have. He's rather like a seed-picking bird, pecking and swallowing here and there, but not really very sophisticated."

Paul was clearly out of step with every major system of human wisdom known at the time. Counter-cultural. That's exactly what they meant by "a proclaimer of foreign gods"—a prophet of some new and unconventional religion that fit nowhere comfortably into the existing culture.

Paul was nevertheless articulate enough and bold enough to catch these philosophers' attention, and that made him something of a novelty. That, according to verse 21, was something they loved: "For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing." Very much like our own culture. Athens was the place to surf the ancient Web and see what's new. Paul was the equivalent of a bizarre but intriguing viral YouTube video.

Mars Hill

So "they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, 'May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean'" (v. 19).

Now that finally gets us into the actual passage we want to survey: Paul's sermon. He is brought to the Areopagus ("Mars Hill" in the King James Version)—named for the place where these philosophers had started meeting centuries before. Here was Paul, surrounded by the most high-powered minds of the most intellectual city in the world, and he has an opportunity to speak to them.
Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you (vv. 22-23).

That is where many people today would say Paul adapted to and embraced their culture rather than being confrontive or antagonistic to the culture, because he begins with a reference to their beliefs (and especially the religious culture) of the city, and he makes that the point of contact.

But now remember, we have to read this in light of its own context, and verse 16 says this was the very aspect of Athenian culture that most grieved Paul. In other words, he homed in on the one point of culture that most disturbed him and began there, because that is what he most wanted to challenge. The false gods of Athens embodied the main lie he wanted to answer with the truth, and he made a beeline for it: "You are very religious," he says. "I can see it everywhere."

But the truth is, they weren't religious at all. They had all the trappings of religion, with temples and idols everywhere. But their ancient religions were nothing but superstition run amok, but all of that had long ago morphed into a simple love of human wisdom. That's what they worshiped: "The Greeks seek after wisdom" (1 Corinthians 1:22). Philosophy was the only god they really served.

The Epicureans didn't even believe in an afterlife, and the Stoics were materialists whose God was an amorphous and utterly impersonal notion of blind (but sovereign) chance. The Cynics deified nature. In other words, all the major strains of Greek philosophy were fundamentally materialistic. They had fashioned a kind of quasi-spirituality that in fact was not spiritual at all. None of them believed in a personal God. None of them had any higher value than human wisdom. Their ethics were naturalistic and materialistic. They were practical atheists—in many ways a mirror of our own society today.

They weren't truly religious at all. Paul was using sanctified sarcasm when he started out by observing how religious they were.

Now, their culture, like ours, had all the trappings of religion, and they were omnipresent: temples on every corner, idols, priests and priestesses, and lots of superstitions and deeply-ingrained traditions. But these were almost entirely devoid of any kind of true faith. That stuff just saturated all society. It had the very same significance as all the cathedrals in Europe today, or all the church buildings you'll see if you drive through New England.

The Unknown God

But in the tradition of their polytheistic mythology, the Greeks deified everything. There was a god of war (Ares); the sun god (Apollo); Hades, the Lord of the underworld; Hermes, the messenger-god; Poseidon, God of the sea; and Zeus, king of the gods. And those were just the Olympian gods. There were also primordial gods, including Aether, the god of the atmosphere; Chronos, the god of time; Eros, the god of love; Erebus, the god of shadow, and many more. Then there were the Titans, and the nymphs, and the giants, the river god, and hundreds of lesser gods. And of course no educated person in Athens really believed any of those gods were real, but they were part of the culture's mythology.

And when they ran out of things to deify, someone decided to erect a monument to whatever god there might be who was overlooked by the Greek system, just so that no deity was inadvertently slighted. They had this altar "To the Unknown God." Sort of like the tomb of the unknown soldier, but motivated by sheer superstition. Just in case they overlooked giving honor to a hidden deity somewhere, they had an altar that covered the bases.

Paul had seen that altar, and he seized on it for the opening of his message. This was by no means an affirmation of their culture. Just the opposite. It was Paul's way of homing in on what was spiritually most odious about the culture. In this quasi-religious, deeply superstitious, man-centered intellectual culture—here was an altar to something unknown. The irony was rich, because what they really worshiped was human wisdom and knowledge, but here was an altar to something they were admittedly ignorant about. And Paul more or less rubs salt in that wound. He places the accent on their utter ignorance of the one thing that matters most: This God whom you are utterly ignorant about; that's the God whose name I want to declare to you.

Don't miss what Paul was doing here. He wasn't shoe-horning God into an open niche in Greek mythology. He wasn't affirming their beliefs or embracing this aspect of their culture at all. He was seizing on this one supremely important point where they admitted their own ignorance, and he was using that as a foot in the door so that he could proclaim to them the gospel. As far as the religious aspect of their culture was concerned, he stood against it, and this opening statement made that fact absolutely clear to them. Far from using "culture" as a kind of pragmatic or ecumenical bridge in order to get himself into their inner circle and become a part of their group in order to win them, he stands in their midst as an alien to their culture and (in his own words) proclaimed the truth about God to them.

It was as if someone got in the midst of a bunch of academic postmodernists today and declared that the Bible is true. Just imagine an auditorium full of 21st-century university professors wringing their hands about epistemological humility and the dangers of overconfidence and the uncertainty of human knowledge and the subjectivity of all our opinions—and the whole dose of postmodern angst about being sure about anything. And suppose you stood up in front of that group with a Bible and declared, "Here's something you can be rock-solid certain about, because God Himself revealed it as absolute truth."

That's what this was like. It's hard to imagine any way he could have been more counter-cultural.

Phil's signature

PS: Hang on. There's lots more to come.


104 comments:

Gordon Cheng said...

In discussing the Epicureans and Stoics you are being far more culturally sensitive than Paul ever was at Athens, Phil. He just lines 'em all up like ducks in a shootin' gallery and blasts away with the buckshot of anti-idolatry. 'Take that ya varmints!'

JOYce@pfg said...

"PS: Hang on. There's lots more to come."

Looking forward to it gratefully, Phil.

:-)

John said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is very comforting to a nerd like me who couldn't fit in even if I tried. (Don't we learn that from experience anyway?)I wish that this were required reading for all the Sunday School teachers in my church.

Certainly the New Testament does not teach "cultural assimilation."

Puritan said...

Great post! Does that mean we don't have to become like Joel Olsteen to reach the rich, or like Mark Driscoll to reach the profane, or like Rob Bell to reach those from Cloud Cuckoo Land. :0)

donsands said...

"one of its central ideas was that God is not to be feared."

This is our nation today. I fear for us, because this nation doesn't fear God.

This is an excellent teaching and study of the Holy Writ. Thanks.

Carla said...

Really good post today. This is the same understanding I had of Paul and NOT blending into culture. I'm looking forward to more of this series.

Rick Frueh said...

If Paul had to massage the message for every culture he visited he would have had to be the United Nations of evangelism!

Johnny Dialectic said...

Great, rich exposition here, Phil. Some new insights for me.

What stood out in the passage this time was the word "ignorance." Talk about not being "pomotically correct" in theology! He wasn't there to give them any comfort in their error.

DJP said...

Very good and solid, as always, Phil.

1. An irony struck me. When an American-culture-embracing church names itself "Mars Hill," it's being functionally KJVO.

That is, virtually no major translation has rendered Acts 17:22 as Mars Hill. (In fact, even that's wrong, isn't it? Isn't it "Mars' Hill"?) Young's, ASV (1901), even the NKJV — they all have "Areopagus."

Funny throwback for a cutting-edge church, eh? Is any one named "Areopagus"?

2. Beyond honest question, Paul did not embrace the values or belief of the culture. But he did know and use it — though he did so to engage it, and overthrow it, not to flatter and befriend it.

HSAT, the narrative doesn't say that what caught their attention is that Paul's clothes were 50 years out of style, right? I take it his clothes and other incidentals were all unremarkable — because no remark was made about them!

So we raise an eyebrow at someone who goes and gets stapled and tatted and spiked, in a desperate plea to be relevant and all that. But mightn't there be an example on the other end, in the guy with (thinking in CA terms) an odd flat-top, 50's-style dress, and 50's-style music?

I mean, isn't the goal not to have the periphera distract from the center? We want people to go away thinking about God's word, truth, Gospel — not like how they feel like they just stepped out of a time machine.

Short Thoughts said...

In fact, in the King James Version, it says he "disputed . . . in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with [whoever] met with him." That's not to say that he was belligerent or pugnacious, but he proclaimed the truth about Christ without low-keying the tough parts or shaving all the hard edges off the counter-cultural truths. And then he responded to whatever questions or arguments or objections people raised.

What a contrast. Paul answered questions and objections, but they were those that came from his initial proclamation of the truth. He did not poll the people to see what topics interested them, what their fears and anxieties were, nor what questions were on their minds generally. Hmm . . .

The Doulos said...

Thanks again, Phil, for filling in some of the background in this exchange. I think the key distinction here between Paul's approach to the Athenians and much of today's cultural contextualization movement is the fact that Paul understood the culture he was speaking the Gospel into, but did not seek to affirm or accommodate that culture. But rather he used his knowledge of the culture to confront those in it at the main point of unbelief.

This speaks volumes to us about not withdrawing from the culture at large, but instead being aware of it yet still remaining separate from it and proclaiming the truth of the Gospel to attack at the culture's most foundationally wrong beliefs. Doesn't sound much like assimilation to me...

Don Fields said...

djp,

"I mean, isn't the goal not to have the periphera distract from the center? We want people to go away thinking about God's word, truth, Gospel — not like how they feel like they just stepped out of a time machine."

Yes! Yes! Yes! A very succinct and understandable way of saying what I have been trying to say to some people in my church. Thank you!

Hayden said...

Dan,

Point #2 was exactly what I was thinking.

On a positive note, I did hear someone who is on the 'missional team' echo much of what Phil said. Maybe there is some hope of restraint :)

Big A said...

An irony struck me. When an American-culture-embracing church names itself "Mars Hill,"

Dan, I found this trend in naming relevant churches "Mars Hill" interesting as well. What are they trying to say with the name? "All philosophies are accepted here." If so, many are doing a great job.

It seems to me that to name a church Mars Hill to follow the example of Paul should represent a place where truth is proclaimed confronting the culture not a place that looks like the culture.

DJP said...

Oh yeah, Big A, I think "Mars Hill" could be a great name for a church — if the "mission" is to go toe-to-toe with the culture for the Gospel.

With heavy artillery, but not a heavy hand, Paul hammered on some of the central ideas of his hearers: the cyclical notion of history, the idea that they'd sprung from the soil there, the denial of anastasis (resurrection). He gave a lesson in fundamental Biblical worldview that was shattering to his hearers' worldview. All that demo work so he could bring the Gospel out clearly.

They sure as heck didn't feel "affirmed" or "validated."

Shawn said...

Can you help me reconcile these two statements? They appear contradictory on the surface:

"Paul, of course, was well educated, and he was fully aware of the history and the details of Greek mythology and the religion of Athens."

"Paul was clearly out of step with every major system of human wisdom known at the time."

My reading comprehension skills are not always spectacular. You may just reply "read it again", but I can't seem to understand how Paul could have a full awareness of religious systems and be out of step with said systems at the same time. Thanks!

DJP said...

Since Phil has a life and may not be able to answer you soon, and I'm waiting for someone to tell to reboot, I'll take a stab.

I think the harmonizer is that Paul understood the culture, but did not embrace it. He grasped their worldview, but was not grasped by it. He didn't "buy in."

In that way, he knew it, but was out of step with it.

Phil will correct me where I err, I trust.

coldwell said...

Thanks, Phil for a spectacular post.

Shawn said...

Thanks for the quick response Dan. That helps...assuming Phil agrees with you!

Anyway, clarifications like these are necessary for me to be able to sort this out. I need to know if the intent of the post is to say that "understanding the culture" is wrong or "embracing the culture" is wrong.

I think this goes back to the original disagreement that has taken place here ad nauseum. Is contextualization understanding the culture or embracing the culture. 2 people can use the same term and have completely different meanings.

I know that is a dead horse, so I'll stop there. Thanks again.

DJP said...

"...assuming Phil agrees with you!"

Exactly.

If he doesn't, then I will have "misspoken," and my interpretation will be "no longer operative."

(c;

Phil Johnson said...

Shawn:

Yes, DJP answered you exactly as I would. To understand something is not necessarily to be in step with it.

To use an opposite example, Paul obviously understood Pharisaism as well as any Pharisee. But he was out of step with the Pharisees, and that's why they hounded him from town to town.

NoLongerBlind said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Spokesman said...

Thanks Phil!

Sound theology based on fidelity to the principles of hermeneutics to arrive at Authorial intent. Thus saith the Lord, "Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God"

Grace and peace
Olan

The Spokesman said...

Vance Havner once said, "They tell us now even in some evangelical circles that we ought to hobnob with Sodom and get chummy with Gomorrah in order to convert them. And the argument is not older than that the end justifies the means forgetting that the means determines the end. A few years of unworthy means and you've already spoiled the objective before you get to it. And these dear people are not turning the light on in Sodom, they're just getting used to the dark."

http://www.devcobaptist.org/clientimages/31831/excerpt1fromgettingusedtothedark.wma

Grace and peace
Olan

Rabbit said...

We've been studying ancient Greece in our homeschool and, this week, we will look at the Stoics, Cynics, and Epicureans. How'd you know I needed this to aid in my teaching?

There are those who want to defend that Paul adopted the culture of the Greeks, and that's what they claim to see. But we cannot look at Scripture through a lens that filters out what we'd prefer not to find!

Thank you, Phil, I am learning much from this series.

Matt said...

The Spokesman:authorial intent?! You mean you actually believe in that stuff? :-)

Excellent post, Phil. I noticed something as you were explaining the views of the Stoics and the Epicureans. Isn't it interesting how, on a practical level, the Stoics resemble modernists, and the Epicureans resemble postmodernists? And you're absolutely right, the taproot that connects Stoicism, Epicureanism, modernism, and postmodernism is "me".

Selfish autonomy is where worldviews that seem to be polar opposites actually converge. Isn't it ironic how John Shelby Spong (read: modernist) and Brian McLaren (read: postmodernist) actually have a striking amount of similarity?

If you start with finite man, you will invariably arrive at autonomous, authoritative, inerrant, infallible, arbitrary man.

SolaMeanie said...

Great post, Phil. And Dan stole my thunder with the irony of "Mars Hill."

Tim Bertolet said...

I didn't see that anybody mentioned this, but Paul stood in the Areopagus and said the one thing that Greeks had thoroughly rejected-- there was such a thing as resurrection. In fact, for Paul it serves as proof that Jesus bring judgment and that the day of judgment is fixed.

N.T. Wright points out that Aeschylus' Eumenides portrays Apollo standing in the Areopagus proclaiming "Once a man has died, and the dust has soaked up his blood, there is no resurrection."

Paul stands in the same place and says a guy died and rose again. Talk about counter cultural. It was probably the equivalent of standing at the holocaust memorial and claiming that there was no holocaust.

"Paul was the equivalent of a bizzarre but intriguing viral YouTube video" --Stop being culturally relevant. But what a great image in our day and age with the virtual Areopagus.

The Spokesman said...

Listen Here
to Vance Havner's excerpt.

Matt said...

DJP: what does HSAT stand for, dude?

DJP said...

Having
Said
All
That

Daniel said...

Phil said, The Epicureans didn't even believe in an afterlife, and the Stoics were materialists whose God was an amorphous and utterly impersonal notion of blind (but sovereign) chance...

I think what you meant to write was:

The Stoics didn't even believe in an afterlife, and the Epicureans were materialists whose God was an amorphous and utterly impersonal notion of blind (but sovereign) chance...

Am I mistaken?

Daniel said...

Oh and - excellent post too Phil, thank you very much. Can I share it at my prayer meeting tonight?

Phil Johnson said...

Daniel: "Am I mistaken?"

Perhaps. I meant it like I wrote it. Both Stoics and Epicureans were materialists, but the Epicureans were the ones who denied that the soul lives on in any sense after death, and the Stoics were the fatalistic ones.

michelle said...

I LOVE this post. We have been studying the book of Acts in Bible Study at my church, and recently discussed this very topic. AWESOME STUFF!!!

Kent Brandenburg said...

Dan,

I would think that, in light of the Mars Hill way of thinking, they chose Mars Hill because it was easier and therefore more culturally relevant. Mars Hill does have some cultural connotation. I don't think Areopagus has that, except in a small group of theological academia.

"Mar's Hill" isn't a wrong translation, so I don't think it is KJVO. Consider BDAG (hardly KJVO) on this: "the Areopagus or Hill of Ares (Ares, the Gk. god of war = Rom. Mars, hence the older ‘Mars’ Hill’), northwest of the Acropolis in Athens Ac 17:19, 22. But the A. is to be understood here less as a place (where speakers were permitted to hold forth freely, and listeners were always at hand) than as the council, which met on the hill."

I would think this part would seem attractive to the contemporary Mars Hill church: "speakers were permitted to hold forth freely, and listeners were always at hand."

DJP said...

You seem to be missing my point, Kent.

1. Emerg***s like to see themselves as cutting edge and NOW NOW NOW!!!

2. No modern translation (that I know of) has "Mars Hill" (let alone "Mars' Hill")

3. How would a 1611 rendering be cutting edge, NOW NOW NOW -- or even comprehensible to the kind of audience they SAY they're trying to reach?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Phil Johnson, Great Post!

Apostle Paul was counter-cultural to the elites at Mars Hill.

Likewise, you are counter-cultural to the missional, contextualizing, postmodern emergers who mis-exegete and mis-apply this passage to justify their distortion of the historic, culturally-transcendent Gospel.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Dan,

You wrote:

"So we raise an eyebrow at someone who goes and gets stapled and tatted and spiked, in a desperate plea to be relevant and all that. But mightn't there be an example on the other end, in the guy with (thinking in CA terms) an odd flat-top, 50's-style dress, and 50's-style music?"

That is an overtly simplistic explanation of a kind of cultural separation. Elvis in the 50s, on the Ed Sullavin show, wasn't shown from the waist down because that kind of gyration in that particular area of the body was offensive to most Americans. Now it isn't offensive. Are we to embrace this kind of trend?

Here's a good article that I read that might be helpful. I don't even know the guy and he is linked on Pyro, but it is a thoughtful essay on more of what the thinking is, Dan.

http://religiousaffections.org/content/view/505/31/

"I mean, isn't the goal not to have the periphera distract from the center? We want people to go away thinking about God's word, truth, Gospel — not like how they feel like they just stepped out of a time machine." Why should we care so much about how people feel? Shouldn't it be what God wants? Isn't that the whole think of contextualization, it is thinking way too much about people's feelings. If old hymns are more in line with the nature of God, people who are converted will want to offer them to God, irregardless of their feelings.

I agreed with Phil's article and enjoyed it.

Bill Honsberger said...

Great point. You can see this from some other points Paul makes as well. Following Plato's Republic - it was the highest aspiration of Greek thinkers, even more important than political power, to be able to ponder philosophy. The Mars Hill crowd had apparently realized the human potential zenith of its day, and having been around several philosophy departments of this day, I can guarantee you that virtually nothing would have been more offensive than to be told that they were "ignorant"! Nothing ruffles intellectuals pride and hubris like that kind of slam. Paul then goes on to slam virtually every major aspect of Greek idolotry. God doesn't live in your little houses (in full sight of numerous temples of all sort), nor does he need to be woken, fed, dressed, shined (in full sight of priests and priests wannabees who spend their full days doing just that!). He is sovereign without having need - No Greeks believed that. Everyone came from one man - No Greek (or no Texan!!! :) ) ever could bring himself to believe that a Greek was in some way related to a non-greek - unthinkable. He sovereignly controlled their lives. The old greek myths had a soap opera sense of this, but the more common believe was that of the fates; que sera sera. Then he nails them for their ignorance again, while he does offer the grace of the Lord's nearness. Then he gets real ugly - he brings up that horrible Jewish thing - repent. Judgement is coming. How Jeremiah of him. Hadn't Paul read Rob Bell - what was he thinking? To assert that pagans will face the wrath of a righteous God - well this Paul has got to go. And then of course he asserts a fact - a proof he says of all this - Didn't Paul know Kierkegaard says you can't do this sort of thing? Anyway somehow Paul foolishly plugs along and asserts the factual proof of the resurrection. And people reacted like they always tend to - some scorn, some ponder and some believe.
How this passage becomes the emerging paradigm is more inexplicable than the rest of their silliness and apostasy.
Bill

Mr. Director said...

Wow - this is beautiful. Clear, thorough, simple but not simplistic! I'm sending the link to all my friends who are getting sucked into Emergent thinking.

DJP said...

Kent, please deal with A before you introduce B.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Bill Honsberger: "How this passage becomes the emerging paradigm is more inexplicable than the rest of their silliness and apostasy."

I salute Bill Honsberger. I have read his posts elsewhere where he contends against postmodern emerging nonsense. He is an excellent at philosophical apologetics.

DJP said...

Bill Honsberger — so, are you saying that Paul was kind of a "Bullhorn Guy"?

Jim Crigler said...

Re: Mars Hill as a current church name

Near my home in suburban Atlanta, there is a Mars Hill Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). It is on Mars Hill Road, between the intersections of Mars Hill Church Road and North Cobb Parkway. I have never attended it, and (given its denominational affiliation with the knowledge that there are churches in that denomination that are protesting in favor of the Gospel, though I don't know where this particular church stands on the relevant issues) probably won't. But I bet there's a Deep South tradition that others may not appreciate and try to slough off as trying to be culturally hip when in fact it's really just traditionalism.

Reformed Servant said...

I am more of a puritanical person. I am reformed through and through. However, I am also a big fan of Mark Driscoll. I am vehemently opposed to the idea of changing the gospel in anyway for any reason. I don't think that contextualization is synonymous with changing the Gospel.

This post seems to have a buckshot effect. It seems to hit some peoples position, and miss others entirely.

I don't think Mark Driscoll would say we should change the gospel. In fact, he preaches harder on sin, righteousness and judgment than most churches. The Gospel thunders clearly from the pulpit at Mars Hill.

I am a little confused with my own position. I don't fully agree with either side of the argument. I think we should be culturally sensitive. That is a very ambiguous phrase that could have any meaning attached to it. I don't think we need to have ripped jeans and swear to reach people. However, I don't think we should be 1950's churches locked into a set style of worship or ecclesiology etc.

Mitch

Mike Riccardi said...

I don't think Mark Driscoll would say we should change the gospel.

Mitch, the thing is, I don't think anyone would say we should change the gospel, but a lot of people act like they think that.

One way I think contextualization as it's largely understood changes the gospel is by regarding it as less glorious and efficacious than it actually is. Proponents of contextualization insist that we have to place the Gospel in the context of the listener for that listener to respond to it. This is wrong-headed from the beginning. First of all, the Gospel is already in the right context: it's own. We are to present it as it's presented to us. Second, even if we were to become too clever for our own good and decide we have a better evangelism strategy than Christ and the Apostles did, the idea that the Gospel needs help to be responded to -- even if we're only changing the presentation and not the content -- borders on blasphemous in my opinion.

The pure, unadulterated Gospel presented as it is to unbelievers will, all by itself, pierce to the heart, divide soul and spirit, convict the sinner, and regenerate the elect. It doesn't need help. It's not a slave to culture.

Again, no one's gonna say that. But their actions tell a different story.

Phil Johnson said...

Reformed Servant: "I don't think Mark Driscoll would say we should change the gospel."

I don't think he would say we should change the gospel either. The question is whether his style of "contextualization" actually does alter the message. Sample Driscoll's description of Jesus' character on pp. 42-44 of Vintage Jesus, and then come back and let's have a discussion about whether Driscoll has, in fact, changed the story in his zeal to sound über-hip.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Dan,

Sorry about that A/B thing. I actually started writing B while you were answering A. Then I took off to teach a couple of classes.

You can surely tell me if I'm wrong, but I think your underlying point about the Seattle area church using Mars Hill was that it contradicted their contextualization philosophy because it was KJVO. I was somewhat dealing with your main point there with my answer, that being that "Mars Hill" is easier to remember and relate to than Areopagus.

However, to speak even more bullseye to your mainpoint, I do think it isn't right to use whatever translation that people might like, the most dumbed down version as long as people are the most comfortable. It's true that the KJV wouldn't be one of those, so using an only King James word instead of the Pierce and Tat translation seems to contradict in that sense one of their core values.

Thanks Dan!

donsands said...

When the Lord saved me, I was working for Anheuser Busch. I was deliver of drinking beer like water, and even in the morning. I worked there another two years, and didn't drink beer, quit swearing, and cussing, and went back to church. I left the other guys at the keg to tell their jokes and so on. I did play on the softball team, and I worked hard to do my job.

I began to share the Gospel with everyone, and maybe two guys listened.
Mostly it was: "I don't need anyone telling me how I'm doing with the man upstairs". That's cool with me. I won't bug you, but I'll seperate myself from much of the sin, that i used to love, but now was grieved by.

I remember wearing my Budweiser uniform into a Christian book store to buy a Bible, and it was a shocker I think for some, but at that time I was sinply in love with my new found salvation, and freedom from sin, and love for the things of the Lord.

God saves, and then cleans us up. He rids our minds of all the cobwebs in His timing. At least He did for me.

That was in 1984.

Reformed Servant said...

Mike, thanks for the reply.

However, like I said Mark preaches up a storm. He NEVER changes the Gospel in anyway. He presents it in its own context, and doesn't leave anything out. He is a Theological T-Rex in my opinion. I don't see why Dr. MacArthur and Phil give him a hard time. For the MOST part, he is right in line with me. I am more separate from the world, and the culture.

He tends to get more involved, and into the nitty gritty. I would never use Southpark, or Howard Stern in my preaching or teaching personally.

Like I said, its a buckshot post. I don't know if any of it is aimed at how Mark does things, but I wish someone could point out something specific.

How has Mark, altered, or just presented the Gospel different than he should?

Also, old stuff he might have. His most recent material you can really see God changing him. He rubs shoulders with alot of grey haired men who love Christ and have Godly wisdom. (CJ Mahaney, John Piper etc.)

He has plenty of material to choose from, its all on youtube and itunes.

Mitch

Reformed Servant said...

Phil, I appologize. I don't have his book. I know that Tim Challies digs it and he is a respected brother with PLENTY of discernment.

Could you perhaps clue me in on the basics of it?

I am only basing Mark off what I have heard. I never read any of his books, just listen to his preaching. Just a side note, I love Dr. MacArthur too. I am completely opposed to those Emergent heretics, and so is Mark. I don't toss out the H word lightly, its heresy.

Mitch

Phil Johnson said...

Incidentally. . .

Reformed Servant: "However, I don't think we should be 1950's churches locked into a set style of worship or ecclesiology etc."

Yeah, but no one here (except maybe Kent Brandenburg) has ever seriously suggested that 1950's style is the standard to pursue, either. What I have consistently argued for is clarity, biblical language (as opposed to some subculture's hip patois), sound doctrine, and boldness in our proclamation of the truth-claims of Scripture that aren't currently fashionable.

It's weird how that keeps getting morphed into 1950s-style haircuts and poodle skirts in the thinking of some of the very same people who are so keen to keep up with postmodern fashions. I've said nothing whatsoever about dress codes, hair styles, or '50s fashions in corporate worship or music. Let's not pretend this post is about that.

Matthew said...

Will there be more commentary on Acts 17:18 (specifically the end of the verse)? What does it mean for Paul to have preached Jesus and the resurrection? And why did some people say Paul seemed to be a "setter forth of strange gods"?

...Thanks...

Reformed Servant said...

Phil,

I don't mean this with disrespect, but have you heard Mark preach?

He is all about Biblical language, sound doctrine, using big theological words, exegesis etc. He is doing a series currently on doctrine. His sermons have more meat than most conservative preachers.

I didn't mean to insinuate that you were pushing for 50's hair style. I was unclear. I just don't get why Mark is getting so much heat. If you are arguing for solid Biblical teaching and Truth I think Mark would be on your side.

pastorbrianculver said...

Amen to this post! Why in the world would we want to be acceptable to the world? thank you for a very good post!

Phil Johnson said...

Reformed Servant: "I don't have his book. I know that Tim Challies digs it and he is a respected brother with PLENTY of discernment."

I don't think it does full justice to Tim's review of the book to say he "digs it." But here's where you can read the section of Vintage Jesus I referred to.

Reformed Servant: "I just don't get why Mark is getting so much heat."

That's hardly a fair criticism. No one even mentioned anything positive or negative about Driscoll until you did, and you suggested that he practices a kind of contextualization that leaves the biblical message completely intact. I think that's wishful thinking, and pointed you to a passage that illustrates why. I don't mean this with disrespect, but perhaps you should read the passage I cited before telling me how unfair I am being.

And yes, I've actually heard Driscoll preach. On many issues, we would indeed be on the same side. But certainly not when it comes to the question I've been dealing with in this post and its predecessors.

SolaMeanie said...

Phil, Dan etc...

In light of my having a sudden rush of 1950s nostalgia, I offer this just for you

Kent Brandenburg said...

Phil,

You're right on my dedication to the 50s. I did get truly a big laugh there. I also am devoted to the 30s and actually somewhere between the 30s and the 60s, 30-60 AD.

Again, I've liked your series on Acts 17; no complaints here.

As far as bringing in that kind of benign reasoning that mentions the imitation of a particular fashion era, it was found in DJP's first comment. However, I thought about culture too when I read this in your post:

What's crucial to notice here, first of all, is Paul's relationship to the culture. He doesn't try to assimilate. He doesn't embrace the culture and look for ways to shape the gospel to suit it. He is repulsed by it.

I'm sure there are some differences on what this is: shaping the gospel to fit the culture.

eastendjim said...

It appears that Paul's idea of contextualizing was to understand the culture so he could have a starting place to take people out of it and bring them to Jesus.

I think modern evangelism's idea of contextualizing is to understand the culture so they can find a place where they can insert Jesus in. Without offending anyone either of course.

Looking forward to more on this subject Phil.

Abaconian said...

Great Article Phil.
It is amazing to me that some would still find statements of cultural relevance ambiguous.

What I am saying is, to put it simply, you state your position, and then define explicitly what you mean.

I believe we are in the world, but not of the world. What this means to me is that 1. I live in a certain place, culture and time and I need to aware (understand it all as much as I am able) of all that it means to live in that culture. 2. I, as a Child of God need to be transformed (changed out of a product of this culture) by God's truth and conformed (align my thinking and actions with His truth) by His Spirit.

So why I understand the culture I live in I don't live the culture, but rather live by Christ's example following His footsteps which are out of step with popular culture.

In the world!

Not of the World!

EMC wants to be relevant. How do you be relevant? By speaking to the needs of the culture, not speaking along with the culture. No matter the audience, Christ, nor the apostles (except for the time Peter was rebuked by Paul) conformed to culture to reach them, but spoke the same truth consistently.

To be culturally relevant is to align yourselves with darkness. One of the major reasons for the decline of the church in the UK is because there was no difference seen between Christians and the rest of the world. Christians lived highly secular lives. The world sees that. The world knows that we as Christians are to be different than the world, but a lot of Christians don't seem to get that. We are the image of Christ to the lost (no I am not saying we are deities), we are to be the mirror of God's glory and grace. When we dirty ourselves with secular culture nothing can be seen except our old dirty sin nature and who wants to go to church for that?

We are set apart to reflect God's glory to a lost world. The only way that is going to happen is Romans 12:1-2...be not conformed...but transformed. This is why the apostles and others at the time were so dynamic, they were living lives that fully expressed Christ's life and they stood out and against the culture of the time.

May we be more like Jesus, set apart for the Master's use.

Rick Frueh said...

Serving a New York strip steak on a garbage can lid doesn't necessarily change the steak, but it sure makes it unappetizing to most except those who wish to continue to eat on a garbage can lid.

(see Mark Driscoll methodology)

Stefan said...

I suppose we could argue that if Paul really wanted to be culturally relevant, instead of seizing on the Unknown God, he should have likened God to Chronos or Zeus.

In Korean Catholicism, the two names used for God both mean literally, "sky god," a throwback to the peninsula's primitive shamanistic beliefs. It may not be entirely coincidental that Korean Catholicism and even Pentecostalism (which uses a non-syncretistic name for God) exhibits distinctly shamanistic undercurrents.

(Rewrite of an earlier comment—the previous one went off on too much of a tangent.)

Reformed Servant said...

Phil: I don't think it does full justice to Tim's review of the book to say he "digs it." But here's where you can read the section of Vintage Jesus I referred to.

The reason I said he digs it because he does not have a problem with the content, as much as he does with the some what crude phrases. He has no problem with the theology, or anything like that. He would totally endorse it if Mark didnt use "cuss words". Also, he has a banner ON his site to Marks book.



Phil: That's hardly a fair criticism. No one even mentioned anything positive or negative about Driscoll until you did, and you suggested that he practices a kind of contextualization that leaves the biblical message completely intact. I think that's wishful thinking, and pointed you to a passage that illustrates why. I don't mean this with disrespect, but perhaps you should read the passage I cited before telling me how unfair I am being.

Well I didn't mean this posting. Once again, my ambiguity slays me. I am ambiguous because I am trying to be as blogger friendly as possible and pithy.

Todd Friel says the same things you and Dr MacArthur say about Mark. I love and appreciate all of you and am a HUGE fan of you guys. So when I said "everyone" I didn't mean everyone. Just like all doesn't mean everyone in 1 Timothy 2:4. =)


Phil: And yes, I've actually heard Driscoll preach. On many issues, we would indeed be on the same side. But certainly not when it comes to the question I've been dealing with in this post and its predecessors.

I did not find anything in pages 42-44 that seemed like it was even on the subject. How did Mark Change the Gospel in anyway? He used updated and somewhat crude language to summarize Marks Gospel. I don't know if I would agree with him, but I don't think its opposed to the Gospel in anyway shape or form.

I admit, I am a bit dull. Can you point out your main problem with the passage?

Mitch

Rick Frueh said...

Mark Driscoll is a "professed" Calvinist who uses hyper-Arminian tactics and language in order to reach the theological bourgeoisie with language and imagery that they can and do indentify with. He seems to enjoy the collective discourse about him and ministry to the detriment of any message he projects.

Many times when a preacher uses such provocative and theatrical language he runs the very real risk of changing the message by the sheer weight of his personality, and in the end the gospel is obscured behind the unnecessary and titillating verbiage.

His smugness is sometimes palpable and his evangelistic efforts even make Arminians like me blush. I guess anyone can claim their a Calvinist, just like Osteen claims he's an Arminian.

Reformed Servant said...

Rick,

Can you give an example of "hyper Arminian" tactics? I am a staunch Calvinist and I didn't pick up any. He preaches the Gospel like a Calvinist in my opinion.

I see no titillating verbiage. Could you please explain?

Mitch

Rick Frueh said...

Did you check out his New Years Eve bash complete with alcohol and dancing? His sermon topics on the Song of Solomon include every imaginable sexual practice as well as calling anyone who sees Christ and His church in the symbolism as "wingnuts". Spurgeon a wingnut??

I call that seeker/Arminian tactics. As far as his titillating verbiage? If you have heard him extensively and have not heard any verbiage that falls within that category than you will not be swayed by my perspective.

Craig said...

Phil - I think you totally misunderstand what it means to be culturally relevant as a church.

Craig said...

And Phil - how about devoting more time to having an real impact on the world, telling people about Jesus and devoting less time to a holier-than-thou blog that just attacks fellow Christians you don't happen to agree with? How does this blog actually glorify Jesus?? How shocked would you be if Jesus tells you in heaven that it was all about Phil and not about Him?

dac said...

Chuck Colson, Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware and JI Packer all disagree with Phil's view of Vintage Jesus

I, on the other hand, think I agree with phil

ergo, phil is most likely wrong

Gabriel and Rachel said...

Here is trying again... my previous comment doesn't seem to want to come up.

I read a couple pages from that link of Vintage Jesus. The problem, I find, is glaring.

Driscoll has taken the timeless universal truth and narrowed it so much that it cannot be translated into another modern language to maintain its meaning. Only an American, or one fully informed in American jargon would understand the massive cultural phrases he uses. The meaning in virtually every sentence is held captive by a cultural reference.

Ten years ago most of his phraseology would meaningless. Ten years from now a 20 year old won't get it.

It may be that the essence and underlying truth is intact, but it is so cloaked with cultural inferences and metaphores that it is indistiguishable outside our culture.

Contrast that with, say, John MacAthur's books and sermons. Translated in dozens of languages all over the world used over decades. The new editions are not "language updates".

Cherie (Baker) Vann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RememberPolycarp said...

Phil: Excellent....oh most excellent indeed my friend!

Phil and Mike: Bingo on both of your references to that vital distinction between doing and saying among the emergents, as they simply cannot be trusted. They pride themselves, among a host of things except adherence to the Truth of the Gospel or the Word of God, on their wordplay and/or semantics. A few of them seem to have read Derrida, Fish, and Chomsky, thus giving them some insight into the power of language manipulation and sign/signifier relationships. For those who haven't studied these guys, they just know that saying three plus two equals six enough times, in as stubborn and immature a manner possible, will eventually get people to see this wrong conclusion the way they do (Emperor's New Clothes). The answer: we need to be even more resolved and determined to declare Truth in season and out, in a church we may never would have imagined going down the emergent road, in the face of emergent apostates who look at us with scorn and viewing us as irrelevant, disconnected, or unenlightened. Perhaps we may be fooling ourselves if we think the greatest opposition to truth will come from the outside; I've been working among pagan academics for years, and even though they clearly oppose the Gospel, their efforts haven't been mounted with nearly the degree of organization, anger, and "conspiracy" as the emergents (or whatever their new name will be in the next year or two). Again, their use of language manipulation--just like the ancient sophists, only without the sophistication necessarily--is one of their most effective tools in their assault on Truth.

Great series Phil!

RememberPolycarp said...

dac:

Or.....these guys are becoming more and more compromised?????

Bill Honsberger said...

- to truth - You are way too kind.
- to djp - I missed the Bullhorn guy thing. Guess I should drop in more often.
I think I would add, as a missionary, that it is more than helpful to understand how people think, which is why Paul is the paradigm missionary. He knew both the Jewish and Greek worlds. He understood the cultures that he was called to. We need to do the same - but that is different than what of the missions world is doing in the name of contextualization. We don't become emo to reach emos'. We don't become meth addicts to reach them either. Same problem and same solution applies to all. Some will be offended - nothing new there, but others will respond.
Bill

Mike Riccardi said...

There's that "like ministry" thing via Craig.

But so they won't have to defend themselves (Prov 27:2), I'll tell you a bit about how this blog glorifies Jesus.

First, Dan, Phil, and Frank are among the most biblical guys I know. By that I mean they handle the Word of God in such a way that presents it in its beautiful simplicity. They're transparent. I don't have to muddle through a bunch of clever inside jokes and idioms and peel back the covering to get to the truth. This blog glorifies Jesus because it presents Him to me (through the unfolding of His Word) clearly and without addition.

Second, because of this, they are constantly calling me back to worship Him, and not them. Guys who find the need for contextualization are among those who make their "ministry" all about them -- glorifying their cleverness and 'relevance' (whatever that means). I don't ever hear these guys talk about cool innovations that would glorify themselves or pad their resumes. They continue to bring all this garbage that 'evangelicalism' keeps vomiting out back to the filter of Scripture. Plain and simple: it doesn't stand up to what God has actually said, and these brothers show us that.

That brings me to number 3. They protect the sheep from the wolves. In fact, they even protect the shepherds from the wolves, as many readers are full-time ministers of some sort. Without strong teaching in every church in America, some Christians (and even some pastors) are left a bit vulnerable from the syrupy discourses of the emerging church, postmodernism, the seeker movement, charismania, etc. Because these movements are so a-biblical, it becomes difficult to even bring biblical categories to bear. These men have been given gifts and graces in greater measure than I, and so serve me by utilizing these gifts to protect me from the insidiousness of man-centeredness and me-worship -- from the temptation to be really infatuated with myself and my clever, cultural relevance-isms: all major products of the aforementioned movements.

So, hopefully three categories that encompass a large amount of fruit is enough for you, Craig. But those are just some of the ways (from one guy's perspective) in which this blog glorifies Jesus.

To Phil, Dan, and Frank: Persevere.

And thanks.

Reformed Servant said...

Rick: I call that seeker/Arminian tactics. As far as his titillating verbiage? If you have heard him extensively and have not heard any verbiage that falls within that category than you will not be swayed by my perspective.

My reply to this is. "If you don't know then I am not going to tell you"

A little childish? I was looking for an example of what YOU consider to be titillating verbiage.

And I guess you must be a baptist. The Bible forbids alcohol and dancing.

Where was that again? First hesitations?

I didn't hear of the bash, so I neither condone nor condemn it. However, how is that hyper arminian.

You made an assertion and have not backed it up in my opinion.

Mitch

farmboy said...

craig offers the following: "How does this blog actually glorify Jesus??"

In brief, Scripture reveals that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. As Mr. Johnson, Mr. Phillips and Mr. Turk contend for, defend and advance the truth with their work on Pyromaniacs, they are glorifying the Truth, Jesus Christ.

As an aside, it is objectively certain that Scripture reveals the above about Jesus Christ. It's not a matter of subjective assurance. That's one outcome of a biblical worldview as opposed to either a modern or postmodern worldview.

Gabriel and Rachel said...

Mitch,

I have heard Mark Driscoll say that part of the reason for starting Mars Hill was that people of a certain sub-culture (near direct quote) "were not coming to Christ in numbers that you would want." That's a blatant Arminian statement even if he is a Calvinist.

The idea that you have to cater to the culture in order to save more people is an Arminian concept. He is convinced that what he does is more important than what he says. In other words, if he acts likes them, talks like them, likes what they like, laughs at the same horrid jokes, watches what they watch, that in the end more of them will be saved.

That is practical Arminianism.

Gabriel and Rachel said...

One of the major things that frustrates me about Mark is how much he loves, supports, and promotes Ultimate Fighting.

Isn't it the closest thing America has gotten to Gladiator? What possible redeeming value does it have? How is it good is any sense of the word? What positive elements does it have for a Christian to watch two people in a cage tearing each other to pieces?

He has said that the sport is "reaching" men ages 15-40, the same men that the church is failing to reach or something like that. Well... pornography reaches all men... so what's wrong with the Church getting into that?

I just see blatant disregard for true sanctification and holiness. He relishes in worldliness despite his doctrinal orthodoxy. "Above reproach" is not a term I would use to describe him.

Heather said...

Mitch,

To be fair, the Pyros are not the worst offenders when it comes to what you are insinuating is 'Mark bashing'. They are generally fair when they critique things.

Also, they never mentioned Mark at all. I come down on a different side than Phil on this one and I do not think he was directing this to Mark Driscoll. He was just addressing the text which he did well.

To All,

Let's get back on track and talk about Paul at the Aeropagus and Acts 17 and NOT let this become another post about Mark Driscoll. There are plenty of blogs that devote time to that :)

Hayden (posting on my wife's account)

Hayden said...

Gabriel and Rachael,

If you want to talk about UFC fighting trek over to Fide-o where they had an extensive discussion on it. (They are in favor of it, and I am opposed to it)Let's chat about this post and not make it a Mark Thread, pleeeeeeease :)

Nevergall said...

Phil,

Have you preached this message? If so, do you have a download available?

The Spokesman said...

The root issues being dealt with in this post are: (1) do methods matter?, and (2) does becoming all things to all men mean what the postmodern ministry strategists say that it means?

The Bible is very clear on the truth that methods do matter.

This principle is clearly demonstrated in Acts 16:16-18. Paul and his companions were confronted with the temptation to allow a slave-girl with a spirit of divination help them get quick results. Allowing this popular slave-girl on the missionary team would have increased Paul's popularity, influence, and ability to get decisions. Paul wouldn't have to have such a hard ministry from now on - he could just become all things to all men the devil's way! But immediately there would have been no power because there would have been declaration with no illumination; there would have been head knowledge without heart knowledge; and there would have been professions of faith without possession of faith.

If methods don't matter then Paul could have used this girl that was energized by the devil! But he didn't because methods do matter!

This post on Acts 17 is showing the philosophy of today's postmodern ministry strategists who attempt to prove their philosophy that "methods don't matter" with Scriptures lifted out of context and/or twisted.

Mike Riccardi said...

Nevergall,

It's at the Shepherds' Fellowship page in the Media Vault.

You'll need to register if you haven't. Once you do, the cost to DL any message is $2.

Boaly said...

Thanks for a great post, looking forward to more.

Reformed Servant said...

Gabriel and Rachel,

I won't get started on this because its not the point, but I love UFC. I guess I am a heretic too. =) I think age has alot to do with what you like. I also really like hip hop music. However, the music I listen to is rock solid Calvinist theology rap. It sounds like an odd mix, but Christians have redeemed rap music and turned it into something that glorifies God.

I wont comment any further for respect to the blog.

Like I said before, I am a staunch Calvinist. I think what Mark is doing is not Arminian or Calvinist. He is being a Christian soul winner. The man wants to see people get saved. He is focusing on young people because they are the future. That has merit. For instance, my Church has LOST that generation. My wife and friend are the only 20 year olds in the church of about 150. Which is decent size for Rhode Island. I have been going there for 1 year, and finally we are starting to really get into gear and start doing real evangelism. Not non-confrontational pizza gatherings, but out in the street tracts and open air preaching.

Even though I have been defending Mark, I vehemently disagree with SOME of his ecclesiology.

Church is NOT an evangelistic tool. We don't use a building or gimmicks to bring in a crowd so we can share Jesus. Paul did't do that, they went out into the streets and pagan temples to share the Gospel.

Marks biggest hang up with me is that he is using his church as an evangelism tool.

Now allow me to be pragmatic, because we all know that as long as people are getting saved thats all that matters. =) Right?

"Look how many people are getting saved, so it must be ok".

I don't agree with the pragmatic approach. I believe the Bible teaches that Church is for believers to be strengthened, to fellowship, to worship the living God and to receive instruction.

If pagans stumble into a service, the message should be able to convict them of sin and the judgement to come so they might repent and be saved.

Nevergall said...

Thank you Mike.

eastendjim said...

"How does this blog actually glorify Jesus??"

Maybe because it "destroy(s) arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take(s)every thought captive to obey Christ".
2 Corinthians 10:5

Keep setting the fires, gentlemen.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I've never had this happen before to me. I participate in two blogs. And now one blog is blogging about the other blog. C. Michael Patton of Parchment & Pen over at reclaimingthemind.org has written a review of this series by Phil Johnson. It's at:

http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2008/04/03/phil-johnson-on-contextualization/

SolaMeanie said...

Craig's comments follow the usual Emergent/Pomo template. Rather than actually engage the points being made, they swell up like puff adders and give us endless, self-righteous whining about tone and being critical, etc.

I am beginning to wonder if they don't meet at seminars somewhere and draw up universal talking points on how to obfuscate their critics. They remind me of hecklers during a debate instead of genuine debaters.

Reformed Servant said...

Truth Unites...And divides, Thank you for the link. It was helpful.

I am most certainly not an emergent, and I do not embrace a culture just so I can witness to them. When I go out and street witness I do not dress all emo to reach the emo's. I confront their world views and ideas with the Word of God.

On the other hand, I do not dress or act any different. I speak like them, (minus cussing), dress similar to some,(I have no style, my wife typically dresses me), I talk about things in the culture perhaps. I don't come dressed in a suit with my hair parted in the typical pastor hair with my 5lb parallel study Bible tucked under my arm ready to smash someone who disagrees.

I usually have a backpack full of tracts, a J Mac Study Bible, and a pocket Evidence Bible from Ray Comfort. I look like a normal human, and act like one. I don't stand out in the culture.

People respect that, and like the fact that I am normal and open with them and not all holier than thou (even when I call them sinners and inform them they are going to hell). Once they get over the shock that I have approached them and start talking about Jesus they are typically open to talk!

One night I had 6 or 7 15-17 year olds mock me. Then 4 hours later they sat in front me me cross legged on the ground raising their hand asking questions. The Power of God was at work because I didn't alter my message, but I contextualized. I shared the Word of God without compromise. THAT is the kind of contextualizing I want. Thats all I am arguing for.

I agree with almost all of this post, in fact its brilliant. I just don't like the broad brushing of people. Even though Tony Jones, McLaren, Rob Bell and the other arch-heretics are all wrong.

Some people (like me) who contextualize should not be lumped in with them. Contextualization is not wrong, if done right.

sally said...

I agree with Craig's comment- I wish there were more
comments about just loving people and making Jesus real in your own life
rather than blogging ad nauseum about things that don't really matter. The
bottom line is this: Jesus ate and drank and talked with sinners. He
didn't "line them all up like ducks in a shooting gallery and blast away",
thank you gordon cheng. He met them where they are at. A good "relevant"
church does not mean that we forsake the gospel for relevantism. We meet
people where they are at as a method of loving them and showing them that
Christ loves them. Then the death of Christ as a penalty for all of our
sins is made more real in the context of LOVE. Not becuase some bonehead
christian is coming to them in a spirit of "I know better than you and
you're going to hell". Relevantism has for far too long been equated with
watering down the gospel. It's just not true. Flat out NOT TRUE. And I for
one would much rather live in the place of seeing lives changed and hearts
transformed and mountains moved becuase someone chose to love someone else
and show them Christ than in the nausea of "my systematic theology is
better than yours". And in the meantime the world goes to hell....

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Sally, go to this link and read the blog article titled "Christianity without Doctrine?"

The site is www.oldtruth.com

sally said...

Truth divder dude - I never said anything about having Christianity without Doctrine - this is such a typical assumption you are all making about things outside of the MacArthur world! I grew up at Grace Community Church, so I've probably heard more MacArthur than you. I have a heart-felt compassion for the Lord and the Word - and I could give you scripture after scripture about sharing the truth in love while keeping sound doctrine, etc. My point is that just having a head knowledge of God's Word does not make you the authority on how to reach people. God puts us all in different places, different positions, with different backgrounds and stories and puts us together with certain believers and non-believers for a purpose. He brings those people into our lives at just the right point - so that we can share with them not only the doctrinal statements of the gospel (which are most important) but also what God has done to change our lives, to fill our lives with Himself and make us true living testaments of what the cross accomplished. This is what MANY more churches than you all care to acknowledge call "relativeism". I AM called to meet people where they are at - to understand where they are coming from and to help them see that no matter where that's at, GOD meets them at that place too and calls them to something higher. It becomes a wonderful, marvelous thing to watch as God transforms a LIFE, not just a theology or a set of doctrinal creeds in someone's thinking. I'd much rather have someone I know or have met come to the Lord with less knowledge (not from me, but from what they are able to understand or at the point God chooses to save them) than to watch someone go through what I did - the incredibly painful process of giving up of what everyone told me was truth, the constant fear that my theology was inadequate or incorrect, the fear of not knowing all the right terminology, to just ask God "Who are you? Who does your word say you are? Please show me that you do love me" My life has been transformed becuase fellow believers met me where I was at and led me out of legalism. My relationship with God is stronger than it's ever been. My belief in the authority of the word is completely intact and I trust the Word more than I ever dared - becuase I learned in my HEART it was truth. I just have a greater commpassion for those who are lost becuase I've been humbled by how great God is and how much He loves and cares for all of us. This blog to me is what Paul was talking about - "but avoid folish disputes... and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless"

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"I never said anything about having Christianity without Doctrine"

Salty Girl, you did say this in your earlier comment: "And I for one would much rather live in the place of seeing lives changed and hearts transformed and mountains moved because someone chose to love someone else and show them Christ than in the nausea of "my systematic theology is better than yours".

"I grew up at Grace Community Church, so I've probably heard more MacArthur than you.

... My life has been transformed becuase fellow believers met me where I was at and led me out of legalism."


It sounds like you have become disenchanted with MacArthur and his exposition of the Word. Is that a correct understanding?

"This blog to me is what Paul was talking about - "but avoid foolish disputes... and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless"

Are you saying that the TeamPyro blog is about foolish disputes and unprofitable and useless?

Laura said...

One thing I always notice about emergent type christians, especially in cases like this, is their lack of deep interaction with the text. They go as far as they want to go and stop. Then they claim everyone else is "reading in" to the text. Sheesh.
Thanks for your devotion and loyalty to the text and context, it is a marvelous antedote.

eastendjim said...

"Then the death of Christ as a penalty for all of our
sins is made more real in the context of LOVE. Not becuase some bonehead christian is coming to them in a spirit of "I know better than you and you're going to hell".


Sally,
Are Peter, Paul, Stephen and everyone who preached in the book of Acts all bonehead christians?

"I know better (the truth) and you're going to hell(face judgement)" is a pretty good summary of what they all told their audience.
They did this because they LOVED these people and were more concerned with clearly presenting the TRUTH over whether anyone would like them or not.

Bonus trivia question.
How many times does the word "love" appear in Acts?

Bryan Riley said...

This is an excellent post.

I agree with much of what you've said, if not all, except that I'm not as certain as you appear to be that all who call for contextualization mean what you have defined it as being (like "affirming their culture," or "shoe-horning God into an open niche in their mythology.") I dont' think that is what Andrew Jones has said at all.

A couple of Questions:

Is he being truly counter-cultural or simply bringing the Kingdom to a culture?

Can God not provide someone a unique and creative way to address a culture that will move in and speak within the context of that culture?

SolaMeanie said...

Sally,

With all that time you were supposed to have spent at John MacArthur's church, I wish you had listened more closely. Loving the truth and communicating the truth is PART of loving others. To communicate false teaching and a low view of Scripture is one of the most unloving things you can do as it leads people into error, which of course has eternal consequences.

If you had really paid attention instead of getting in a snit, you might have learned that.

Reformed Servant said...

Sally,

Honestly, I am thinking the word Love should be removed from Christianity and replaced with a few different words that describe Love. The word love gets tossed around so much that it has completely lost meaning. Love is the most distorted word in the English language in my opinion. I can't take it anymore. I am beginning to hate the word Love!

Love is not being all squishy and soft. Love is not bound up in soft words and being gentle. It is not just agreeing with everyone. That is not love.

The epitome of Love is the cross. Jesus was brutally murdered by Gods own plan and purpose. So often "Christians" use the word love and it doesn't even come close to the same meaning given by scriptures. We need to stop.

Having good theology is how we love people. Phil shows how he loves by how he GUARDS us. He exposes error for thousands of Pastors, teachers and lay people. That is the epitome of love in my opinion.

The only people who don't think its not loving is because they are wrong. Don't simply call us unloving when we disagree, interact with what is said and explain why you disagree. Stop throwing the "thats not loving" card with every disagreement. It makes me sick.

In fact, saying that this post is in the spirit of "I know better than you and your going to hell" is judgmental. Your unloving! Ha I said it! How do you know the spirit in which Phil or anyone wrote? Do you judge mens hearts?

Theophilus said...

(...if this thread is even still active...)

so the Unknown god was a reference to the possibility of having someone left off the list?

I was under the impression that one of the philosophers -- (Plato?) had argued for the existance of a God unlike any offered by their pantheon. One who required unimpeachable moral purity, among other qualities of perfection.

(ie: notion of perfection must originate in something that is actually perfect. Perfection can only come from a perfect God... or something like that)

Was that incorrect?

Susan said...

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Susan

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Clark said...

Phil, my latest blog "MIssional, Missional, Missional: Can I be anti-missional and still saved?" ties in with this a little bit. AND, why isn't my blog on your blog-roll. I'm a little hurt. But only a little.
http://brotherclarksblog.blogspot.com/