Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Posts Tagged ‘Contextualization

Lovely Day for a Guinness

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Os Guinness that is...

Justin Taylor has a wonderful little interview of Os Guinness, where he peppers him with insightful questions regarding on old book, The Gravedigger File (in anticipation for his forthcoming book The Last Christian on Earth).  For those not familiar with Guinness, he is the great-great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness, brewer and founder of Guinness beer.  He is a keen analyzer of evangelicalism and a necessary read for developing both a Christian worldview and philosophy of ministry.  He is well-travelled, well thought out, cogent, and prescient in his thinking.  1983’s Gravedigger put forth the idea that Christianity was the major force behind modernization and capitalism in the West and what Christianity created it also uncritically adopted, thereby undermining Christianity.  Undoubtedly true.

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3 Month Introspective

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Introspective

So, I’ve been blogging consistently for three months.  This is the week of Christmas and I’ll be all over the place.  I thought I would briefly summarize the 3 months of blog series on here:

Blaise Pascal:  We took a look at Blaise Pascal’s thinking, its use of aphorism and its relationship to both tri-perspectivalism and presuppositionalism.  We also looked at his use of aphorism and his warnings against deism and atheism.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future, Parts 1-7:  We defined the term evangelical.  We looked at its historical roots in the First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and its ties to celebrity culture, democritization of knowledge, and modernism.  Then we looked at the roots of liberalism, the Protestant split and suburbanization, and defined and outlined evangelical populism and their game plan for reaching America.  Finally we assessed the current status of American evangelicalism and then made some predictions of future trends.

Introduction to Apologetics, Parts 1-7:  We looked in broad strokes at the various schools of apologetics.  We then took a more in-depth look at:  Classical Apologetics, Evidentialist Apologetics, Presuppositional Apologetics, and the specific apologetics of Blaise Pascal and Alvin Plantinga.  Finally, we employed the three phases football as an analogy for the different apologetic schools and I likened Tim Tebow to the presuppositionalists.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Parts 1-10:  We looked at some analysis of some shifts evangelicalism will need to make moving forward:  Doctrine, Worldview, Urbanization, Globality/Mobility, “Post-Modernism,” American Culture(s), Contextualization, Balance, and Final Analysis.

Top ~10 Books by Topic:

Top 10 Systematic Theology Texts

Top 10 Devotional Classics

Top 10 Books on the Church

Top 10 Books on Science and Christianity

Top 10 Books on Christian Biography

Top 10 Books on Culture

Top 10 Books on Eschatology

Top 5 Books on Worldview

Top 15 Books on Status of American Evangelicalism

Top 10 Books on Church History

Top 40 Books to Read While in College

Top 10 Books on Missions, Discipleship, and Evangelism

The 25 Most Destructive Books Ever Written…

Top 10 Apologetic Works

Top 10 Books on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

Top 10 Books by John Piper

Top 5 Children’s Books

Best Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms of the Christian Church

A Comprehensive List of Top 10 Book Lists of 2009

Up Next:  We will be looking at some thoughts on the economy and investment and then delve into the mind of Friedrich Nietzsche…

Written by Michael Graham

December 19, 2009 at 11:29 am

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 9: Balance

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"Because the deck of life is always shifting..."

Because the deck of life is always shifting balance can be nothing more than momentary synchronicity.  (Richard Pratt)

Balance is something that evangelicals know very little of.  We were birthed as a reaction against liberalism.  In doing so, much of the conservative theology and philosophy of ministry were an equal and opposite reaction against liberalism.  For much of fundamentalism-turned-evangelicalism’s existence, we defined ourselves anegativa against liberalism, rather than forming a positive definition from Scripture alone.  In many ways, early evangelicalism required liberalism to exist, in order for it to exist.

Moving forward, here are 9 (non-comprehensive) areas where evangelicals ought to seek balance:

1.  Words and Deeds

Some churches like to show the gospel, some like to preach the gospel – we should do birth.  The lost should see and hear Christ preached.

2.  Evangelism and Discipleship

Jesus called us to make disciples and this includes evangelism.  Jesus modeled evangelism as a part of his disipleship.  In many cases, Jesus sent out his disciples before him.  These two things go together.  When we do not model how to share our faith, we cannot expect that our disciples will ever multiply themselves.

3.  Boldness and Clarity

Boldness corresponds to preaching the gospel.  Clarity corresponds to showing the gospel in relationship.  Paul did both.

4.  Immanence and Transcendence

Immanence emphasizes God’s nearness.  Transcendence emphasizes God’s bigness and incomprehensibility.  Both are true and both need to be reflected in our personal and corporate worship.  Some like to emphasize God’s immanence at the expense of his transcendence (Pentecostalism).  Some like to emphasize God’s transcendence at the cost of his immanence (Liturgical).  We need to help people see both and not just pander to one or the other.  Who cares about the form of worship style if God is presented in both his immanence and transcendence.

5.  Preservation and Adaptation

We need to honor the vast tradition of the history of the church – preservation.  We need to innovate to adapt to the language of the culture (obviously, without over-contextualizing).

6.  Individual and Communal

We are saved as individuals.  We are called out to a community.  We are not saved by merely being in the church while we are called out to a church.

7.  “Already/Now” and “Not Yet”

Christ has already risen from the dead; Christ has not yet returned.  We stand between two worlds and must yearn for the one to come, while seeking to affect change on the one we reside.

8.  Reaching-up and Reaching-in and Reaching-out

Reaching-up is the vertical ministry of our relationship with God.  Reaching-in is the horizontal and inward ministry of those in our church.  Reaching-out is the horizontal outward ministry to the world.  If we fail to do any one of these, we have been deficient as a church.

9.  Orthodoxy and Orthopathos and Orthopraxis

All of the previous balances can be summarized in this final one.  Right belief, Right emotion, Right practice.  Balance is critical here.  If we are seeking sound doctrine it ought to produce right practice and right emotion.  If we are seeking right emotion it ought to produce right belief and right practice.  If we are seeking right practice it ought to produce right doctrine and right belief.

What balances would you add?

Moving forward, balance is critical.  Up next, we will look at some summarizing thoughts regarding evangelicalism in the future.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 8: Contextualization

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Contextualization: Are you balanced?

Moving forward, I am not sure if there is a more important issue for evangelicals than proper contextualization (assuming we are holding to orthodox Christianity). Contextualization is the art of explaining the Bible (especially the Gospel) without sacrificing the message, to people with varying cultural distance everywhere in ways they understand.  We are always contextualizing; under/over-contextualization is still contextualization.  We speak differently to children than adults; Westerners, than the Near East, than the Far East.  Contextualization is far too big a topic for one post, so this post serves the purpose of barely introducing the subject.

There are two obvious dangers in contextualization:  Under-contextualization and Over-contextualization:

Under-contextualization [fundamentalism, traditionalism]

Under-contextualization occurs when we ignore real cultural differences that are barriers to understanding the Gospel.  The fundamentalists were notorious under-contextualizers.  The main mistake that most under-contextualizers make is stating that all contextualization is wrong.  The problem with this kind of statement is that we can never avoid contextualization.  Language is the carrier of culture.  If I speak in English (or any other language), I am contextualizing.  It is ethnocentric of the highest order to think that when you speak all people should be able to understand you.

Over-contextualization [syncretism]

I think it was Mike Glodo, who said that,

Missionaries are the best heretics.

His point is that as missionaries are advancing the Gospel in culturally distant places, they face difficult decisions on how to far to go to explain the Christian message.  Do you allow ancestor worship in Japan?  Do you allow polygamy?  Do you worship at the mosque as a follower of Allah and Isa (Jesus) in a Muslim country? Do you think there are believers in the Roman Catholic church, and if so, do you partner with them in Italy?

The great danger of over-contextualization is compromise.  We compromise the Gospel when we marry it to some other worldview/faith that is against the Gospel.  It is inappropriate for us to marry Christianity to modernism (as evangelicals have done for some time), post-modernism (as the emergent church encourages), or any religion Islam/Voodoo/Oprah-Tolle.  This is syncretism.

Most of us will not be facing questions of how far to go to evangelize Muslims in the middle East but we do need to think through how far is inappropriate in trying to seek the lost here in America.  On this matter, Gregg Allison (Southern Seminary) has a more substantive paper addressing contextualization in the emergent church that is worth reading.

Proper contextualization

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was famously quoted as saying (in reference to defining hard-core pornography),

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so.  But I know it when I see it

I cannot define proper contextualization, but I know it when I see it.  Proper contextualization is an art and not a science.  Proper contextualization requires spiritual maturity.

If you were to spend time listening/watching a single treatment of the matter, I would highly commend D.A. Carson’s speech on contextualization in this video from closing message from The Gospel Coalition, 2009.  You can tell he has really though through the subject in his speech and that is likely do to his thoughtful book, Christ and Culture Revisited.  Here is a snarky little snippet from the Gospel Coalition message:

Paul refuses to circumcise Titus, even when it was demanded by many in the Jerusalem crowd, not because it didn’t matter to them, but because it mattered so much that if he acquiesced, he would have been giving the impression that faith in Jesus is not enough for salvation: one has to become a Jew first, before one can become a Christian. That would jeopardize the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus.  To create a contemporary analogy: If I’m called to preach the gospel among a lot of people who are cultural teetotallers, I’ll give up alcohol for the sake of the gospel. But if they start saying, “You cannot be a Christian and drink alcohol,” I’ll reply, “Pass the port” or “I’ll think I’ll have a glass of Beaujolais with my meal.” Paul is flexible and therefore prepared to circumcise Timothy when the exclusive sufficiency of Christ is not at stake and when a little cultural accommodation will advance the gospel; he is rigidly inflexible and therefore refuses to circumcise Titus when people are saying that Gentiles must be circumcised and become Jews to accept the Jewish Messiah.

The operative question is what is the proper relationship of the church to the world.  Ray Pennings has a nice summary of the four Reformed positions on the churches relationship to the world:

So to summarize the discussion within Reformed circles today: The neocalvinist says the fundamental presuppositions underlying the debate need to be changed if we are to have meaningful engagement. The two kingdom perspective responds that it won’t happen; when we try to engage in discussion, we end up calling things Christian that really aren’t, resulting in pride and a misrepresentation of the gospel. The neopuritans say that that is why we should avoid a systemic approach; we should focus more on the individual needs of our neighbors and show them, both in ministries of mercy as well as by positive examples, that faith makes a difference. The Old Calvinists say that in all of this activity, we are losing our focus and getting dirty as we dig around in the garbage cans of culture to retrieve a penny or two of value from the bottom. We and our culture need heart-surgery, not band-aids.

Here are a handful of other helpful articles/links:  Jonathan Dodson, and Hunter Beaumont.

Moving forward, my encouragement to evangelicalism is to think through this relationship thoughtfully.  This will require balance, which is the final subject in this series of posts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 7: No Cultural Center

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Is there really a cultural center to America?

Evangelicalism’s Strategy

Last time we examined how hasty evangelicals sought to lump an entire country into one philosophical category:  post-modernism.   Evangelicals like to do this – we like shortcuts, we like other people to think for us.  Evangelicals want someone to:

A.  tell them what is at the center of culture

B.  give them a brief definition of that thing

C.  give them some brief answers for why this thing is wrong

D.  make assembly line material on the wrong cultural belief

The Strategies Fundamental Flaw

The problem with this strategy is that it assumes that there is a center to American culture.  I wholeheartedly believe that there is no cultural center to the United States.  There may have been at some point in time, even so, that time is long gone.  In my view, there are at best several sub-cultures some of which overlap with other sub-cultures and some that do not.

Consider the following thought exercise:  Post in the comments section any adjectives that can describe all of American culture.  (I forbid the use of “consumer,” “sensate,” or “democratic.”)

We are not a melting pot, this would presume homogeneity.   We are at best a stew, and even this analogy seriously breaks down.

So What?

What are the consequences of America having no cultural center to the mission of the church?  Moving forward, evangelicalism needs to do what some missiologists have been saying for a little while:  Evangelicals need to acquire the skills of the cross-cultural missionary.  We need to be able to communicate the Gospel in ways that people understand and do it in a manner that does not compromise it’s message.

Every believer is sent by Jesus, with the message of the cross, from a community, to every culture, for the King and His Kingdom.

Moving forward, evangelicals need to avoid oversimplifying both individual people and the many (sub)culture(s) of America.  The evangelical strategy of trying to change America through politics alone is/was a dismal failure, as if politics was the center of an American mono-culture.  I have tried to show the fallacy of America also being a “post-modern” culture in the previous post.  I am trying to help us think beyond insulting misunderstanding in the evangelical mission to North America.

If we are to become more active in understanding the (sub)culture(s)-at-large we need to properly contextualize the Gospel.  Up next we will look at the twin dangers of over-contextualization and under-contextualization.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 1: Prolegomena

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” that classic Dickens opening, is so apt in describing my experiences within the broad and oft strange group we call Evangelicalism.  For better or for worse, I have spent my entire life as an insider into the evangelical movement.  I have been to Christian Missionary Alliance churches, Southern Baptist churches, megachurches, church plants, Evangelical Free-churches, non-denominational churches, charismatic churches, house churches, Reformed Baptist churches, and Presbyterian churches (PCA).  I have known the inner-workings of the largest evangelical parachurch ministry in the world, Campus Crusade for Christ.  I have seen dinosaurs and humans together, young-earth creationism, and premillenial pretribulation rapture dispensationalism be the core curriculum at youth group.  I have heard long sermon series on demonology.  I have heard pastors go on and on about their political agenda, neglecting to feed the sheep with the Word.  I have also seen some really healthy examples where the people were well taught, well shepherded, and making a difference in their spheres of influence.  I have seen severe anti-intellectualism and I have seen people who take the life of the mind seriously.  I have heard staunchly semi-pelagian teaching and I have heard sound Reformed doctrine.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

The culmination of these years of experiences lead me to a few thoughts moving forward.  We will look at several key things that I feel the evangelical movement will have to acquire or navigate.  Specifically, we will look at:  doctrine, worldview, urbanization, globality/mobility, no cultural center, contextualization, and balance.  Like anything else, evangelicalism’s goal ought always to be right belief (orthodoxy), right emotion (orthopathos), and right action (orthopraxis).

Up first we will look at the role of doctrine in evangelicalism moving forward.

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