10 March 2008

A Quick Pastiche for One of the busiest Days of My Year

by Phil Johnson

ell, for me this week marks the annual transition from my merely-busy time to the truly hectic season. I'll be basically closeted away for several weeks whilst I help turn a stack of sermon transcripts into a book.

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


S.J. Walker said...

Have a happy hectic time Phil,

looking forward to the posts in the future.

God Bless

A Lion Has Roared!

donsands said...

"if in our efforts to translate the message for other cultures we lose the transcendent truth of it, we've messed up big time."

Orthodoxy has become a dirty word. When in fact it's a refreshing and truly a quality word.

The Body of Christ should love truth, and yet we are seeing it slowly float away, down stream.

And yet Orthodoxy without compassion and grace is ugly.-Francis Schaeffer

Jason Robertson said...

Catholicism said, "Recycle or burn in hell."
But the Hinduism said, "Recycle or you will not."

Solameanie said...

Word to the readers -- Phil is much better on air than he thinks he is. He's been on my radio program a couple of times in connection with the Emergent issue, and he did just fine. And then some.

And yes, we're unscripted. I hate scripts unless I'm in a stage play.

Strong Tower said...

Yeah Phil, we've heard you preach.

"We were all just being prophetic, I guess." I take this in the Piperian controlled sense.

That's funny jason- budda boom!

I say burn your recylables, the Earth is cooling! It's biblical, dust to dust, ashes to ashes.... beside it's Lent. We've only got about a week to produce large amounts of ash. Burn away. This year Ash Day is on Mohammed's Birthday, how appropriate!

Well, from textualization to contextualiztion- from LTJ's write it yourself to *gents strip-searching texture-alization proof texts to accomodate culture -can't wait! I need a new T-shirt.

Did Turk ever get off that Camel?

GrayDave said...

Thanks to Phil I have spent much of my morning trying to read up on Cedarville. Having graduated from there in 1981 and being a regular supporter I was surprised to find this going on. Last fall I even made my first trip back there in 26 years to see all the changes. It does certainly look like there is big problems brewing. For anyone else who is interested in some more details, this site is pretty good:

And to think I just sent them another chunk of money, too....

Ron said...

I attend the church mentioned in the CT article, so I unfortunately have a front row seat to the dynamics Phil mentions.

Stefan Ewing said...

"...The greater need today is for evangelicals to remember that the central themes of redemptive truth—including sin, guilt, righteousness, faith, and grace—transcend culture...."

Words well chosen.

I listened to Mohler's radio show for the first time a couple of weeks ago. He sounded like he'd been doing radio ministry all his life. How in the world does he manage that, his blog, writing, preaching, conferences, and running SBTS full-time?

Seems like one of the gifts not mentioned in the Epistles may be ruthless time management!

Stefan Ewing said...

...A gift that it seems that many of our great teachers down through the ages—starting with Paul himself—have possessed, given their prolific output....

S.J. Walker said...


you said:
"...A gift that it seems that many of our great teachers down through the ages—starting with Paul himself—have possessed, given their prolific output...."

I know, and I think I'm doing good to get a blog post up once a week and be ready for my Sunday School lesson each Sunday...kind of pathetic in one sense, but not in another, Praise God.

Strong Tower said...


Blessed are the poor- for they shall wonder how they got done so quickly...

Blessed are the rich in talent, for they shall mourn every morning...but sleep comes quick to the exhausted...

From The Summons of the Mount of Toodoos...

DJP said...

1. Love the top graphic.

2. Like everyone else, I love it when Phil posts.

Stefan Ewing said...

Oh, I get it (the graphic): a quiet moment of respite before the train comes roaring through?

S.J.: Yeah, I hear you. I don't know how any pastor does it—especially the guys on their own in the small churches, striving to serve God through preaching, administration, visitations, counselling, weddings, funerals, and all the rest.

S.J. Walker said...


Re: "I don't know how any pastor does it--"

Yes, you do. The Holy Spirit is how "so that no man may boast".

A Lion Has Roared!

Anonymous said...

Listening to Al Mohler's broadcast wore me out...my hearing/thinking can barely keep up with his talking...

It's a good thing you were on there Phil, otherwise I'd've been completely out of breath. Well done.

Carla Rolfe said...

I'm spending my flu listening to good stuff, so that includes Phil's spot on the Albert Mohler show.

Focusing on the issues that matter - you did a great job there Phil. Thank you.


Randy said...

Enjoyed today's post and the sermon at the conference last week, lots of notes on "contextualization". From the young "old" looking guy who said hello and shook your hand before you preached last Friday.


FX Turk said...


Hindu version is, "Recycle or you will be recycled. Over and over."

Trinian said...

Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been ∞ days since my last confession.
This morning, I had impure thoughts about altering my cat's genetic structure so that she would glow in the dark.

...that'll be 3 Our Fathers, 5 Hail Marys, and 35 cents is your change.

S.J. Walker said...

I think, personally, there should be a prize for getting in the first comment. I wouldn't actually get it today, because someone deleted theirs first. But still, it seems to be a pretty good feat to accomplish a comment on a Pyro post before the thunderous stampede of solameanies, stafans, strategems, and donsands.

I'm just saying. Just a thought.

God bless

A Lion Has Roared!

Stefan Ewing said...

And strong towers. Don't forget Strong Tower!

S.J. Walker said...

sorry strong tower, forgive me. :)

A Lion Has Roared!

Strong Tower said...

S.J.- Those guys stage their comments. They're programmed to post automatically whenever Pyro starts to smolder. If their comments out too weird, then they delete them, but as you noticed their comments have to be really, really weird...

Now sewing on the other hand, he just likes the pd shuffle, post/delete, post/delete. He's got three bags full. Wait till you see the ones he pulls out of his hat for easter...

Strong Tower said...

Kind of yuz gys-

Oh s.j.- you may not have been here when stefan was sewing- for the longest time I thought he was from a site that blogged on needle point...

Stefan Ewing said...

Strong Tower wrote:

"If their comments out too weird, then they delete them, but as you noticed their comments have to be really, really weird..."

Well, it takes a farmer to know a farmer. ;)

The post/delete thing is because I'm too meticulous with my grammar and syntax, but keep forgetting to hit "preview" instead of "publish." Dan has reproved me a couple of times, so I'm trying to change my ways. (That wasn't I who posted and deleted the first comment, by the way.)

Solameanie said...

BTW, just to keep the music motif going a while longer....

"Pastiche" was the name of a 1970s album by The Manhattan Transfer.

Just in case no one knew.

Anonymous said...


I agree that contextualization is one of those words that can mean many things today. So can justification. So just because a word is problematic does not mean it is not worth fighting to be biblical and precise about it's proper meaning.

Since we are speaking English and not the original Greek when we use and discuss
the word justification, the point is moot as to whether we contextualize. Let's work hard at redeeming a good and biblical word, and concept.

Thanks for caring about the sheep.

Dan MacDonald

the postmortem said...

Good interview! Al Mohler definitely is capable of communicating quickly, but I wish he had given you a bit more time to give responses. Also, kindof a big move to say the crisis had already come when Mohler's book came out about a "Coming Crisis"! Hope he's willing to have you back on the show soon!

Gilbert said...

Wait a minute here...stop the presses! The Pope just supported TeamPyro!

"The Pope has updated the Roman Catholic Church's list of mortal sins. Warning: Recycle or burn in hell."

Since TeamPyro bump...er, recycles their posts, they're not going to hell. The Pope says so! And you thought his doctrine wasn't solid.

(Runs behind a Prius and says some hail twisty bulb prayers)

GrayDave said...

I posted first and deleted because I started reading on the Cedarville situation, got side tracked by a comment in a CT article about GARBC cutting ties with Cedarville, and launched into an inappropriate frenzy against the GARBC. I had no idea that I still had such hidden resentment in me after 30+ years.

Affy said...

It continues to amaze me how come the average catholic doesn't realise that their leaders keep making new rules and new laws to follow.

I work with genes and DNA. Does it mean i am going to hell? They didn't quote scripture for support anyway. This is again, proof that they arbitarily decide what are sins and what are not sins.

After all, if they didn't, people would instead focus on biblically defined sins and discover to their great surprise that their bishops et al. are liars and deceivers.

They need to inject a dose of self-righteousness in their population every now and then..

DJP said...

Finally got to hear it, Phil. Nice!

Al Mohler recognized you as a "scholar"! S-weeeet!!