14 September 2012

A Better Indication

To commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro is posting a "best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from The PyroManiacs blog back in 27 March 2008, wherein Phil introduces his response to people who use Acts 17 as a justification for excessive "contextualization".

As usual, the comments are closed.

People who are enthralled with style-driven missional strategies almost always single out this famous account [in Acts 17]. "Paul blended into the culture," they say. "He adopted the worldview and communications style of his hearers. He observed their religion and listened to their beliefs and learned from them before he tried to teach them. And he didn't step on their toes by refuting what they believed. Instead, he took their idea of the unknown god, embraced that, and used it as the starting point for his message about Christ. And there you have some of the major elements of postmodern missional ministry: culture, contextualization, conversation, and charitableness.

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

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

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

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