Near the end of February, the blogs were buzzing about an address Ed Stetzer
gave at the SBC's "Baptist Identity" conference
. The iMonk and centuri0n decided to have a back and forth
discussing Stetzer's address that was particularly interesting
For me, the issue of contextualization hits close to home. After all, I'm interested in church planting... So, how would I envision 'doing church' in a way that's contextually genuine and yet biblically faithful above all else? As if on cue, I got a copy of Stetzer's Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age
(thank goodness for birthdays and Amazon Wishlists).
So, here are a couple thoughts on the whole missional church/contextualization issue...
I'm completely for recognizing that style of dress, musical forms, room decor, and any number of other details are open for variation based on cultural context. In San Francisco I might wear untucked shirts and Birkenstocks
while in Maine I might wear flannel and a down-filled parka
. I might play the latest Sovereign Grace songs
in a college town but find myself singing Fannie Crosby [ick] as we minister in a retirement community.
Underneath all these cultural contexts needs to be the same, solid, bedrock Gospel truth that was 'delivered once for all to the saints'. To borrow a phrase from Stetzer, we must study the culture of our mission field and learn what questions they are asking to which the Gospel is the answer. We can tell the story different ways (consider the 3 synoptic, but not idential, Gospels) but the ending must be the same.
The real challenge in all this is idolotry... Sounds strange, right? But I'm serious. We elevate ministry style far above simply contextualizing and quickly start setting Scripture aside in favor of our methods. The simple fact is that I don't need to be
just like the people I minister to. I do
need to understand them and their struggles. As soon as you find myself clinging to my style of dress or music as key to your ministry, I think you better take a step back and reconsider.
Far too many young pastors are looking at the birth of the postmodern church to validate their failure to think through their ministry methodology in light of transforming grace. Perhaps an equal number of older pastors/churches have moved their own preferences to the point of dogma. Still, I think arrogance is characteristic of youth and so we need to be watchful.
The Gospel is key. And the Gospel transforms. If we reach people with the Gospel and they are the same, we better ask ourselves what's wrong. I don't mean that I expect a tribesman in Africa to start wearing a western suit to Sunday meetin'. But I expect their behavior, attitude, practices, and perhaps even elements of their dress to change in response to the work of Christ.
If we look just like the world, the reason is probably because we are
just like the world. We need to be in the world enough to connect with people for Christ's glory while at the same time not being worldly. Paul labored with all means he could to save some... But he labored to save
, and we must remember that above all.
My half-hour, and then some, is up.