Tuesday, January 12, 2010

...but to proclaim it!


Current evangelicalism is vibrant with the latest of buzz words - contextualization. It is a central theme to Bible conferences; it is the focus of books, blogs, pulpits and preachers. We tend to forget that It's not the audience what is sovereign but the message that is sovereign.

At its most base level, contextualization is about proclaiming the gospel to a specific audience group without violating the truth claims of Scripture. To some, it is the attempt to make Jesus relatable by making the gospel germane; to others it is about more effectively making those truth claims lucid and salient.

For example: some missionally minded (cultural in scope, unique in literary apprehension, and operating with concinnity and concision without diluting gospel content) have asserted that even reformers like Calvin experienced explosive church growth and saw thousands of souls regenerated through evangelism because he contextualized the gospel. Considering the religious and political climate of Calvin's day, this conclusion may not be entirely inaccurate, but has some merit to it.

I understood that Calvin's consolidation of Geneva and the creation of The Consistory dramatically changed Geneva and France, so we shouldn't be surprised to see great numbers. But also, the massive growth in Huguenot churches had as much to do with southern French provincialism and the refusal to join the growing nation states as it did with the power of reformed teaching and the spreading of the gospel. To be clear, Calvin had a tremendous burden for missions, church planting, and evangelism; but he remained a faithful contender for the truth of the gospel until his death.

Beloved, the gospel does not benefit from our programs, methods, target specific agendas, cultural analysis, when those programs are do not uphold gospel truth at its core. We must lead with theology in our evangelism and not with methodology. Scripture affords no luxury for such human pragmatics when it comes to the salvation of lost souls. The gospel IS the power of God unto salvation (Roms. 1:16-17); and it is the Lord who adds to the church daily (Acts 2:42ff)--not us.

Paul combats an early rise of sectarian views of ministry when saying,
"So, what is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth" (1 Cor. 3:5-7).
Paul never sought to primarily contextualize the message by being culturally relevant, but "sought to nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). He contextualized himself and became all things to all men so that he might win some for the gospel. But he never once watered-down the truth the gospel in order to adapt to his culture. That is why the gospel message remained constant in all of his epistles and did not change from one cultural distinctive to another.

In this same vain, it has been asserted today that the church should strive to have a "humble orthodoxy" out of concern that civility must lead the day in the proclamation of Christianity. Truth by definition is exclusive; truth is commanding; it is bold; and it is unwavering. Christian doctrine and theology contained in the pages of Holy Scripture (the 66 books of the O.T. and N.T.) is objective truth; it is unbending, unyielding, uncompromising, and it asks not for man's approval, but demands obedience to its claims. It is... God's Word and He does not negotiate with His creatures as to what is acceptable or not. His Word silences all other "truth assertions" by taking "every thought captive to the obedience in Christ" (2 Cor. 10:1-5). There is nothing humble about truth, about orthodoxy; however, the truth does humble its listeners.

In the same vain, what we do need in the proclamation of a "bold orthodoxy" are "humble servants" of Christ proclaiming a bold orthodoxy; not watering down the offense of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18ff); but in and of ourselves, we are not to be the offense (2 Cor. 6:1-3). Paul was such a man: "For they say, 'His letters are weighty and strong' (a bold orthodoxy), 'but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible'" (a humble servant) (2 Cor. 10:10). There was the perfect marriage of humility and orthodoxy.

Again, Paul represented a bold orthodoxy and yet remained a humble bond-servant of Christ.
"For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it" (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
Notice in these verses above that there is not one instance where Paul ever "contextualized" the truth claims of the gospel to adapt to any cultural setting - not once. He simply sought to remove any offense of his own person, or cultural barriers, so that "he might win some." Should we seek to understand the times in which we live; understand the people we are ministering to? Yes. Should we do all we can to remove any offense of ourselves and without compromising the Word of God, be all things to all men so that by all means some may be saved? Absolutely.

But Paul never comprised or yielded ground on the message of the cross, the gospel, the truth claims of Scripture, or even by redefining the gospel to his listeners. On the contrary, if that were the case, they would have never sought to persecute him or kill him for his ministry in the gospel.
"As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! ¶ For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:9-10).
Paul was not seeker sensitive; he opposed relativism and never sought to be relevant. He was not a man pleaser in any fashion, but a bond-servant of Christ--an ambassador in chains. Like Paul, one man in his day who stood against the pragmatics of the gospel was Charles Spurgeon. Please read these quotes below by Spurgeon on the gospel. My prayer is that it will impact you as greatly as it has so impacted myself.

And may we always remember: though He calls us to be His witnesses and to herald His gospel and truth to all people everywhere, that the fruit of it and the efficaciousness of it and the results of it belong to and are caused solely by God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit - and not to us.

May we be spectators of His grace, going into all the world empowered with His Spirit to do the work that He has sovereignly prepared for us in advance to do. And as we go, may we go armed with nothing by the truth of His life-changing gospel; proclaiming it plainly to every man's conscience, calling all men everywhere to repent.

Shipwrecked on His grace; for apart from Him—we can do nothing!
2 Cor. 4:5-7

Spurgeon Quotes on The Gospel

"If the professed convert distinctly and deliberately declares that he knows the Lord's will but does not mean to attend to it, you are not to pamper his presumption, but it is your duty to assure him that he is not saved. Do not suppose that the Gospel is magnified or God glorified by going to the worldlings and telling them that they may be saved at this moment by simply accepting Christ as their Savior, while they are wedded to their idols, and their hearts are still in love with sin. If I do so I tell them a lie, pervert the Gospel , insult Christ, and turn the grace of God into lasciviousness." -Charles Haddon Spurgeon

"The hearing of the gospel involves the hearer in responsibility. It is a great privilege to hear the gospel. You may smile and think there is nothing very great in it. The damned in hell know. Oh, what would they give if they could hear the gospel now? If they could come back and entertain but the shadow of a hope that they might escape from the wrath to come? The saved in heaven estimate this privilege at a high rate, for, having obtained salvation through the preaching of this gospel, they can never cease to bless their God for calling them by his word of truth. O that you knew it! On your dying beds the listening to a gospel sermon will seem another thing than it seems now." -C.H. Spurgeon

"Do you know, my dear unsaved hearer, what God’s estimate of the gospel is? Do you not know that it has been the chief subject of his thoughts and acts from all eternity? He looks on it as the grandest of all his works. You cannot imagine that he has sent his gospel into the world to be a football for you to play with–that you may give it a kick, as Felix did when he said to Paul, "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee" (Acts 24:25). You surely cannot believe that God sent his gospel into the world for you to make a toy of it, and to say, as Agrippa said to Paul, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26:28), and then put away all thought of it out of your souls. You cannot even speak of it irreverently without committing a great sin." -C.H. Spurgeon

"Avoid a sugared gospel as you would shun sugar of lead. Seek the gospel which rips up and tears and cuts and wounds and hacks and even kills, for that is the gospel that makes alive again. And when you have found it, give good heed to it. Let it enter into your inmost being. As the rain soaks into the ground, so pray the Lord to let his gospel soak into your soul." -C.H. Spurgeon

"Jesus is the Truth. We believe in Him, —not merely in His words. He Himself is Doctor and Doctrine, Revealer and Revelation, the Illuminator and the Light of Men. He is exalted in every word of truth, because He is its sum and substance. He sits above the gospel, like a prince on His own throne. Doctrine is most precious when we see it distilling from His lips and embodied in His person. Sermons [and songs] are valuable in proportion as they speak of Him and point to Him. A Christ-less gospel is no gospel and a Christ-less discourse is the cause of merriment to devils." -C.H. Spurgeon

"Never lose heart in the power of the gospel. Do not believe that there exists any man, much less any race of men, for whom the gospel is not fitted." -C.H. Spurgeon

"I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter. I hope that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, 'You are mine, and you shall be mine. I claim you for myself.' My hope arises from the freeness of [sovereign] grace, and not from the freedom of the will." -C.H. Spurgeon

"Let this be to you the mark of true gospel preaching - where Christ is everything, and the creature is nothing; where it is salvation all of grace, through the work of the Holy Spirit applying to the soul the precious blood of Jesus." -C.H. Spurgeon

"On Christ, and what he has done, my soul hangs for time and eternity. And if your soul also hangs there, it will be saved as surely as mine shall be. And if you are lost trusting in Christ, I will be lost with you and will go to hell with you. I must do so, for I have nothing else to rely upon but the fact that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived, died, was buried, rose again, went to heaven, and still lives and pleads for sinners at the right hand of God." -C.H. Spurgeon

"We have an unchanging gospel, which is not today green grass and tomorrow dry hay; but always the abiding truth of the immutable Jehovah." -C.H. Spurgeon

"The heart of the gospel is redemption, and the essence of redemption is the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ." -C.H. Spurgeon

"When we preach Christ crucified, we have no reason to stammer, or stutter, or hesitate, or apologize; there is nothing in the gospel of which we have any cause to be ashamed." -C.H. Spurgeon


Des71 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Des71 said...

Yes the gospel IS the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16-17). It is sad then to see today's synthetic gospel being employed by the masses which contains no mention of God's perfect law.

"through the law comes knowledge of sin." ~ Romans 3:20b

Great quotes by Charles "The Surgeon" Spurgeon. I think its time to break out my copy of "The Soul Winner."

ann_in_grace said...

Amen and Amen to that.
The biggest mistake already made in Sweden is the customer's church phenomenon everywhere. You can hardly find a scriptural congregation, clean in teaching, as most churches have embraced various marketing techniques in hope of gaining the audience, compromising the Gospel as a result. The worst part of it is that when you want the church to be true to Gospel, there are many who shall accuse you of being too radical, too fundamentalistic, too old-fashioned. Sectarian even.
The result of this is 35 kilometers of driving to my church. This is as close as it gets for me to be able to listen to GOSPEL unabridged.

Dan said...

Hi Steve.....

Poking in to add a few questions. Hope all is well in Steve-land!

Anyway, I find this interesting as I do see people like Calvin and the Reformers totally contextualizing how they presented and lived the gospel out. Calvin who was never trained in theology, but a lawyer, chose to bring in the wearing of robes to the church, because culturally he contextualized how academics were an important value - so he chose to wear the robes of a lawyer to gain the respect from people that he had a high degree and to show he was educated. So for the message, he didn't just wear common clothing or even nice dress clothing, he chose to wear the clothing of an academic which became the norm for most Reformed pastors. Even black becme the color of may robes because it represented a doctor or lawyer and clergy wanted to get the respect of how the people viewed them in the same manner. So cultural consideration in how the gospel can be communicted was very important to them with this.

If you study the history of preaching, you will find that the Reformation did change and contextualize what preaching looked like and how it was done. I would recommend reading some church history books which specifically address the history and changes of format (contextualizing) of preaching. If you look at how they chose to bring in a pulpit, hve people sit in pews (which weren't there before), they changed the design of what a worship gathering looked like, contextualized church architecture, how they took the Lord's Supper - it was VERY different from the early church to the point where a church gathering would be barely recognizable to someone from the first century church.

So because of their heart for the gospel, they culturally contextualized so much of what they did, how they preached, what they dressed like, how they took communion, they didn't give each other "holy kisses" anymore, all due to cultural contextualiztion.

They didn't go against Scripture, as we were never bound by the New Testament to always have commmunionin a meal (like the early church did) or to only dress in normal day to day clothes and not a robe or somethng to set them apart (which was non-existant in the early church) or to have a "pulpit" which was also cultural adaptation but non-existent in the early church.

So to me, Calvin, Spurgeon, they all contextualized what they did by the culture they lived in to communicate and live out the gospel in their particular time period and cultural context.

I don't see what Calvin and thos did as watering anything down by cultural contextualization, I see it as them being passionate about the gospel and adjusting to what would best communcate and live out the gospel to their time period and culture.


donsands said...

Very good post. Excellent balance.

All things to all people, but never denying the power of the gospel to save, and the gospel alone.

"it's your duty to assure him that he is not saved"

Now that's something that I needed to hear.

Breuss Wane said...

Inherent to the Sola Scriptura of the Reformers is this: the Scriptures are self-relevant. To deny this is to deny sola scriptura.

Calvins and robes: this is what is commonly called a "red herring".

Andrew said...

Steve, this is an accurate portrayal of the EC and their commitment to insist on ministry being earthed in a local context. But I would argue that Calvin did the same in his time and day. In fact, I spent time in Geneva last year visiting the buildings involved in Calvin's ministry that seemed to be very contextually relevant to the needs of the day.
Spurgeon did not use the word "contextual" but their is ample illustration of his commitment to it in the simple [contextual to working class] language of "John Plouhman's Talk", in the everyday icons from "Sermons in Candles"

"A sermon without ilustrations is like a room without windows," C.H. Spurgeon
[from a guide to Spurgeon on Gospelcom which says "A constant theme of Spurgeon's sermons and writings is the use of everyday situations by way of spiritual parallel and illustration, all woven naturally into his material; what we would now call 'contextualization' and 'redemptive analogy'".) link

Tom Chantry said...

"gifts of concinnity":

I love any post that makes me go to dictionary.com early in the morning!

Very good stuff. Thank you.

anonintx said...

Alistair Begg is doing a series on preaching on his daily program. One of the examples he used today was of Paul preaching to Felix and Drusilla in Acts chapter 24. (Felix had taken his brother's wife, Druscilla as his own. Here the two of them have come to hear Paul preach.) Listen to Paul contextualize the gospel for the adulterers:

After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.
And as he (Paul) reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, "Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you." (Act 24:25)

Grosey's Messages said...

Thank you Steve for a very good post, one that sums up so much of what is happening worldwide.
Steve in Australia

SJ Camp said...


Welcme back... Always good to hear from you.

Q: Do you think that the emphasis and focus on contextualization within the emerging community makes the gospel more impacting and relevant?

Col. 1:9-14

Dan said...

Hi again Steve,

No, i don't think contextualization more impacting, as I believe it is te Holy SPirit who changes lives etc. and the gospel itself doesn't need to be made relevant as it is the gospel is eternally relevant, not culturally. BUT i do believe (as Calvin and others did) making it understandable to the specific time period and culture we live in, thinking through how we communicate and live it etc. is what enables it to be understood more powerfully in terms of people having walls broken down to hear, watch, observe and participate in it. If calvin didn't feel surface things like robes weren't important, or where they placed the pulpit etc. he wouldn't have bothered with things that created barriers between him and th people of his time (as in that case, NOT wearing a robe may have been a barrier). but he did as he was smart and understood that culture does matter in that regard and made changes accordingly.

thanks for asking my further thoughts!


Breuss Wane said...

"making it understandable to the specific time period and culture we live in...enables it to be understood more powerfully in terms of people having walls broken down to hear, watch, observe and participate in it."

This is emergentspeak for dumbing down the gospel message in the belief that the gospel needs help in being relevant because it isn't self-relevant.

Dan said...

Breuss Wane -

i think you didn't read in the post what i said and missed that i said "the gospel itself doesn't need to be made relevant as it is the gospel is eternally relevant". so i don't know why you are disagreeing with what I just said.

i am making a case that how we live it out and communicate it does change, as Calvin and others also did for their time period and specific culture.

i don't know why you are saying that by Calvin and the Reformers changing their dress, changed the archtitecture of their churches, adding pulpits, changed what preaching was like etc. is "dumbing down the gospel" , as that was my point of stating that in diferent time periods and culture situations how we worship and communicate changes. It is not "dumbing down" anything.

Can we not have even brief dialogue without you instantly generalizing and slamming something I say and say it is "dumbing down"?


Breuss Wane said...


I didn't miss your point. I believe what you have stated about contextualization is a de facto denial of what you claim about the gospel not needing to be made relevant. Why? Because the emergent church has yet to prove that one can *change* what it claims is the form of communication without changing the actual content of the gospel itself.

Calvin and his robes has nothing to do with how the emergent church is sacrificing the gospel in the name of relevance. It is a red herring argument. Calvin and his robes are not a "form" of communication. Pulpits are not a "form" of communication. These, historically, have been considered mere circumstance of worship.

OTOH, the emergent church is far beyond the circumstance of worship in its contextualization. The "equivalence" between robes and the EC's understanding of relevance is a false one. The EC insists on changing the content of worship and the gospel when it unbiblically insists that the preaching of the word is merely one of many ways that the word can be communicated in the assembly.

And the EC isn't merely dumbing down the gospel, but radically changing it's content, when it claims that the gospel is primarily defined as an "imperative of mission". Imperative of mission, and all of its postmodern trappings, is not the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

If the gospel needs no relevantizing and is self-relevant, then the word "relevant" shouldn't be used to describe the gospel's communication...for the gospel and its communication are inseparable.

Dan said...

Breuss Wane -

I'm not sure what to say. You are just throwing out accusations that aren't related to what I was specifically talking about, and I don't know what "EC" you keep describing, but it certainly isn't the one I am part of.

Sorry we can't just have normal dialogue - I did try.

Breuss Wane said...


Our protest (I'm presuming for Steve at this point) is that this statement is false:

"the gospel itself doesn't need to be made relevant as it is the gospel is eternally relevant, not culturally."

For the gospel to be eternally relevant is for the gospel to be culturally relevant. These are one and the same.

One cannot say "the gospel itself doesn't need to be made relevant" and then say that relevance is "what enables it to be understood more powerfully in terms of people having walls broken down to hear, watch, observe and participate in it."

If the gospel is self-relevant as you claim, then the gospel needs no "enablement" help in order to be "more powerfully in terms of people having walls broken down to hear, watch, observe and participate in it." The gospel needs no "enablement" from relevantizing its presentation.

I empathize with your frustration. But I firmly believe that the EC will always be frustrated by those who understand Sola Scriptura in the manner in which the reformers meant it. The gospel does not need our help. The use of robes and pulpits does not "enable the gospel to be understood more powerfully in terms of people having walls broken down to hear, watch, observe and participate in it." The gospel already does that. To suggest or practice otherwise is to dumb it down. This was the point of Steve's post, I think.

Breuss Wane said...


You should be given credit where credit is due. I applaud the fact that you would stick your head in here. Your willingness to engage those with whom you disagree says much of you and your ministry.

I've read your book (at least most of it). I acknowledge the fact that the EC is not monolithic. However, there are some *basic* and *fundamental* presuppositions that most, if not all, in the "EC" share, and it is in those *basic* and *fundamental* presuppositions where we disagree. What is being said about contextualization by those in the EC, even the conservatives, is a major point of fundamental disagreement. IMHO, what underlies what is being said about contextualization is Arminianism in postmodern clothing (hence Steve's comments on the inherent "seeker-friendliness" in its methods.

SB said...

I thought this was helpful Breuss and Dan(and Steve)

"There is no particular virtue to being seriously unreadable." – Charles Spurgeon

"And we could say the same for the preacher. Preaching has no value if the people don’t get it. Some sermons go so deep that the listener would drown trying to get at it, or would get the bends coming back up. The preacher succeeds when the audience understands and is moved. A meal from the best cook, using the finest ingredients and prepared with the utmost care, still has no value until it reaches the table, and from the table to the plate, and from the plate to the mouth, and from the mouth to the belly.

So, the preacher must consider his audience. Some argue that only the text should be considered. Those preachers love the text, love the material, all very honorable and good. But God calls us to love one another as well. Certainly, the text gets the priority, but there are other considerations as well.

In fact, in every sermon there must be three considerations. The preacher preaches to a congregation. So, the three considerations would be the giver, the receiver, and the thing given and received. Every preacher should consider himself, his audience, and his message. Ancient rhetoricians referred to this as ethos, pathos, and logos. And Paul instructed Timothy to do exactly this —

1Timothy 4:16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee."

Read the rest here at Jackhammer.org

Dan said...


that is exactly what i was trying to stress. even as paul communicated the gospel to both the jews in the synagogue he used a particular contextualization and approach because of the audience and the culture of that audience. then when he presented the gospel to the people at mars hill, he entirely changed hs presentation, quoted a pagan poet,and took into coonsideration the context and people.

that is what i am saying that if people do car about the audience, then they do contextualize the message accordingly in all types of ways.

thanks for commenting, and for Breuss Wane thanks for responding with more heart and being nice!


SJ Camp said...


Is this a matter of semantics within the ECM? I wouldn't call speaking to your audience in a way that they can comprehend as "contextualizing." It seems that the ECM is interested in having their own nomenclature that people have to learn in order to communicate with them. Isn't this antithetical to what you are saying the ECM should represent to those "outside the faith?"

I don't see any biblical evidence where Paul ever changed or altered the message of the cross in order to target a certain people group so that the truth of Scripture could be marketed to them as many are doing today.

IOW, has the very "contextualized pragmatics" of the ECM eclipsed the very message of the gospel that you and others long to proclaim?

Eph. 1:4-14

Mike Ratliff said...


Would you say that Jonah contextulized the message he preached to the Ninevites? All he said was, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"

In Hebrew that message contains 4 words. Jonah hated the Assyrians. He didn't want to be there. He wanted God to strike them, not save them. However, when he preached his one sentence sermon, God pierced the hearts of everyone in the city, from top to bottom.

Salvation is God's work and he has chosen to use the foolishness of preaching as the focal point of His saving Grace being poured out on the hearts of those He draws to Himself via our preaching.

In Christ

Mike Ratliff

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

And the atmosphere of the comments reveals the "straight betwixt two" that we "traditionalists" are in. Some of the emergents (make your own definition) are affable and delightful believers who will gladly enjoin a doctrinal conversation with a well mannered traditionalist. But let's be frank about this, guys, many of our camp (no relation!) are still not sure that we should converse with the body of "Emergency" because some of the subjects are and always will be settled, so a give and take by definition is not possible, and I have never come across an emergent who has admitted he was on the wrong path. So how do we converse without coming across as "correcting", because that is really what we believe we are doing? And they believe they are postmodern (make up your own definition) way-showers so they are not coming back.

Many of the emergents have somewhat traditional evangelical roots, so we feel we are attempting to "call them back". And the most serious aspect is this, Kimball (and others) may be a "traditionalist" when he is forced to take a written doctrinal test (some of them kicking and screaming), but what will Burke's grandchildren teach after three generations of raising children in a doctrinal playground where the fences are almost non-existent?

And finally, to avoid the scenario I just described, where are the "watchmen" within the emrgent conclave that call their own to task when needed? While they point back at some stiffness and judgmentalism in their former camp (sometimes with good reason), they point forward with no accountability from anyone except those from the former camp who they marginalize and sometimes, overtly or subliminally, show an air of superiority.

Gentlemen, we are in a mess that only an unusual and elongated season of prayer coupled with repentance from all of us will remedy. Help us Lord!

Marcia said...

after three generations of raising children in a doctrinal playground where the fences are almost non-existent?

Wow. Great statement.

"What does Emergent Village believe?
We believe in God, beauty, future, and hope – but you won’t find a traditional statement of faith here. We don’t have a problem with faith, but with statements (read more here). Whereas statements of faith and doctrine have a tendency to stifle friendships, we hope to further conversation and action around the things of God."

(From the Emergent Village website.)

This is a problem. As my husband says, all voids of information are filled with negative thought.

If they will not state faith and doctrine, those on the outside looking in are left to fill the void.

Carla said...

"And the most serious aspect is this, Kimball (and others) may be a "traditionalist" when he is forced to take a written doctrinal test (some of them kicking and screaming), but what will Burke's grandchildren teach after three generations of raising children in a doctrinal playground where the fences are almost non-existent?"

A most astute observation. This was the point I was going to comment on myself, but you said it far better than I ever could have.

For me, the solution is simple - we (professing believers) submit to the authority of the written word. But that isn't so simple for those who want to unpack, redefine, re-imagine and re-this or re-that everything that the written word has been teaching Christ's people all along.

I certainly understand the desire to really dig deep into the word and see if what we've been taught and what we've been practicing is in fact what the Bible says, and I would be among the first to commend anyone that's doing that very thing.

It's when we (professing believers) start re-defining things because they fit better with our worldview, that we have left the narrow road.

It really does come back to Sola Scriptura. Without that, it's a doctrinal free-for-all and massive amounts of confusion, arguments, and broken churches filled with people who have no idea what they believe, or why they believe it.

Just thinking outloud...

Larry said...

I wonder if Steve and Dan are not talking past each other here but using a common word (contextualization), but using it differently.

I have read some from Dan, as well as other emergents. I have some serious concerns with the theology and its outworking.

But on this topic, it seems that Dan agrees with Steve that the gospel itself is eternally relevant, and therefore cannot be contextualized. For Dan, what is contextualized is the communication of it. (Correct me if I am reading you wrongly.)

It is true that some contextualizations compromise the message (as someone pointed out), but it is also true that not all contextualizations compromise the message. Again, I wonder if we are not using two different meanings of contextualize here, or at least two different connotations of it. If by "contextualize," you mean don't talk about sin and atonement, then yes, that is changing the gospel. If by contextualize, you mean use examples and illustrations of sin and atonement that the audience can understand, that is not changing teh gospel.

Mrs Pilgrim said...

I'm kind of new to being a Christian (and I don't think I'm going to hit "maturity" before many a year), so could someone please help me out with something?

As I was reading this discussion, I ran face-first into a question worth asking: How does being "born again" tie into "cultural relevancy"?

When I was born again, I found that my own worldview, my personal opinions, my prejudices, my tastes, and my "culture" were all out-of-whack from God's. I had to pitch it all out and learn to live, all over again. Start fresh, just like a newborn baby. Anything less has only been disastrous.

So here I am, still trying to figure out how to walk and talk aright. Whenever I try to "feed" myself, I still make a mess. (Fortunately there are "adults" around me who care enough to spoonfeed as needed.)

I guess, in light of my own experience (which I hope I have assessed correctly, and Mr. Camp is welcome to delete this comment if I'm wrong), my question boils down to whether it's even loving to let a Christian think that his New Life is compatible with his old? Isn't that the ultimate effect of "contextualization"?

I need someone kind with a spoon to help me here--either to feed, or to take away the rotten red herring I'm playing with...

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

We run the risk, Steve, of giving credibility to some of these emergent views, which was my point in dialoguing with them, especially well after most of what should be said has been with continuing intransigence. For emample, Piper invites an emergent, Driscoll, to speak at the Desiring God conference. In his introduction Piper humorously refers to Driscoll's occasional use of coarse language and everyone laughs (should we teach our children that vulgarity is humorous?).

And then Driscoll, true to form, speaks about - OF ALL THINGS - the dangerers of overemphasizing the incarnation, especially the divine aspect. So Piper holds out an olive branch and he gets bitten! And if Driscoll marginalizes the incarnation in front of Piper's crowd, what do you think he says to MacLaren, Bell, and the boys? And so we must ask ourselves is dialogue accomplishing anything, after all, the emergents are not resistant to the table of open dialogue, in fact they run to it.

And are the obvious friendly and well spoken personalities such as Kimball, Driscoll, McKnight, and others, being used of the Destroyer to either compromise our Biblical stands or at least temper our opposition? These are dangerous times that require much fasting and prayer before we begin a friendly detante with many who carry the deceptive virus in their very words.

Kimball and his wing of the EC are perhaps the most dangerous because they are the most careful, friendly, and they are welcomed in open forums like Piper's and...um...yours, Steve.

But the end of all things is at hand, therefroe be serious and watchful in your prayers.

Rick - an unprofitable servant

Dan said...

the way i am using the word "contextualize" is like the words means by defintition:


–verb (used with object), -ized, -iz‧ing. to put (a linguistic element, an action, etc.) in a context, esp. one that is characteristic or appropriate, as for purposes of study.

that's what i see Paul doing in acts 17 when he changes the way he communicated the gospel contextualizing his approach to different audiences,used a pagan poem to communicate which is now part of our scriptures.

that's what i feel calvin and the reformers did by contextualizing their form of a church's worship gathering to a form that was very unlike the early church in terms of the meeting, but they contextulaized how they preached, dressed, the format of meeting etc. for that time period and the people of Europe.

the other thing is see several making some comments about, is getting mixed up about doctrinal statements. "Emergent" or ("Emergent Village") the organization does not have a doctrinal statement. but almost every emerging church i know has a doctrinal statement. there is a difference between the two.

in the church membership class i am prepping we have a doctrinal statement and list many of our theological beliefs.

i have always been very open for anyone to ever ask me what I personally believe doctrinally or our church, or about anything we specifically practice in our church. i cannot represent others and i shouldn't, but i can speak for myself in that regard. i do wish people would not make general assumptions, when they don't ever specifically ever ask.

thanks for listening -

hope this clarifies things on that.

thank you!

Phil Miller said...

I don’t know if this even worth my time, but here goes.

I think the reason this is such an issue with “Emergents” (I hate that term, but I’ll use it for arguments sake) is that churches do not exist outside of some sort of culture. I grew up as a pastor’s son in a very conservative church, and there are many things that were forced upon me by the congregants that weren’t Biblical directives, they were just Christian cultural preferences. For example, there was a couple in the church that became very upset with my dad because they saw my brothers and me playing with toy guns. I’m 30 now, so this was back in the early 80’s, way before anyone heard of school shootings. I have plenty of other examples. I think the issue is that we (Christians) do not just present the gospel; we present this whole bag of Christian cultural trappings that come with most churches. It gives people the idea that in order to be a Christian you have to be a white, middle-class Republican and drive an SUV (ironically, all of which I am except the SUV part) to be a Christian. I’ve actually had international students confirm this to me. They say they respect Jesus, but to them Christianity is an American religion.

To me what Dan is saying (please correct me if I’m wrong, Dan – I don’t want to put words in your mouth) is that, yes the gospel is timeless, but we have to communicate to people in a way that is understood. In my mind it’s actually trying to separate the message from some of the extra-Biblical trappings we’ve attached to it. And yes, the Holy Spirit is essential in this, but we are involved in the process to some extent. Otherwise, God would just have the Holy Spirit do all the work. Maybe those of us from traditional church backgrounds needs to be willing to admit that not everything that we do in church is a Biblical mandate. Please understand, I come from this background and am still in it to a large degree, so I can empathize with the need to defend the church. I’m not saying all tradition is wrong, I’m just saying we need to evaluate what is essential and what is our preference.

Dan said...

hi phil ---

i appreciate your heart and insight there and i think you are understanding what i am saying. thank you!!!

LivingDust said...

I always enjoy reading these dicussions regarding how we, as the Church of Jesus Christ, need make the Gospel "relavent" to a lost and dying world. Some of the issues that come up are difficult for me to understand and follow. However, I've always been of the understanding and belief that their is only one Gospel message (even for EC's and Traditionalists) . The story is beyond debate - The events of history led to one defining moment in time - Calvary. Now that we are beyond Calvary all humans are living in a time of grace awaiting the Lord's return.

Those of us who have been bought with a price are commanded to share to the gospel to the ends of the earth. I contend that the Gospel is a two part message.

The first part of the message pertains to the condition of the human race - dead in their trespasses and condemned to eternal death.

Part 1 - As a human being, we all belong to a fallen race. All human beings are separated from God, by the single rebellious act of our forefather, Adam. This act of disobedience has resulted in the death of every human being. We are sinners by nature, transgressors of God's law and not one of us is righteous. We live under a curse and are objects of God's wrath. The wages of our sin is physical and spiritual Death. We are condemned to die, bound for a day of judgement before a Perfect Judge. Our God, because he is Holy and Just, will give us exactly what we have earned - a second death and eternal punishment in a lake of fire. We all need a Savior.

Unfortunately, its doesn't seem that Christian folk of today are keen on speaking with non-believers about sin, judgement and God's requirement for obedience and belief. This is the part that Christian folk like to skip, because society has taught us not to be offensive or confrontational. Repentance requires humility, contrition and obedience. By ignoring Part 1 we unknowingly participate in the creation of false converts.

Part 2 is the greatest story ever told - God's redemption of the human race.

Part 2 - In an act of grace and mercy, God has provided the one and only acceptable sacrifice of atonement (a perfect unblemished Lamb) for the sins of every human being - His only begotten Son, Jesus. In obedience to God, Jesus shed his blood and died on a Roman Cross as an act of reconciliation. This lone act of obedience at Calvary is what brought peace between human beings and God. Because of Jesus' death, we can be presented before God holy and blameless and beyond reproach. We have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Jesus has risen, firstborn from among the dead, and is seated at the right hand of God. Accordingly, all human beings are called by God to repent, believe (faith), be baptized and be conformed to the likeness of His Son. God loves us and Calvary is the proof.

I believe there will come a day when their will be a worldwide separating in the church. We will all see who is willing to risk their very life for the Gospel (real Christians) and those who will walk away (those who thought they were Christians). What events and circumstances that will forge that agreement are yet to be recognized.

Is the Emerging Church movement calling human beings to repentance, faith and salvation or signing up members for another time of great apostacy in the church?

Phil Miller said...

Living Dust,
I have no problem with the gospel presentation as you share it in your post. And yes, I think there is something that will always be offensive about the gospel to people. Accepting Christ's sacrifice requires a great amount of humility on our part, and that just goes against human nature.

The part that I have a problem with is that many gospel presentations come off as very self-righteous. The messenger becomes a stumbling block. When Jesus saved me, yes he began a good work, but it's not completed yet. I have a lot to go before I hit perfection. I heard someone say that many times Christians assume that just because they're saved they are right about every issue. I can definitely see the truth in that point. Even though we are sharing the gospel, we still need to do so in a spirit of humility - after all we are called to be Christ's ambassadors, not his lynch mob.

There is a man on campus here who preaches outside everyday. He constantly is telling everyone they are going to Hell, but rarely if ever talks about God's love. That's not a balanced presentation of the gospel. I think there is a time and place for confrontation, but I think it is most effective when done in the context of a relationship. To just yell at people all day causes them to turn a deaf ear. Also, it's my firm belief that most people realize they are sinners before someone tells them. I've had people call me out of the blue and want to talk becasue they knew something was wrong in their life and they needed to change. The Holy Spirit does a much better job of bringing people to a place of conviction then we can.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Phil - "Some save with fear...".

The overwhelming majority of evangelical churches that say they believe in hell but NEVER preach it, they provide the balance for that guy on Campus.

Phil Miller said...

ptl rick,
Yes, but what about the ones that would never set foot in a church because of that guy?

I can't really speak for all churches, but I personally think Hell is not a great motivator for people to be saved. It may work sometimes, but I don't think it should be our focus. I've heard too many "hellfire and brimstone" sermons where people have "accepted Christ", and then turned away within the next week. The love of Christ is what keeps me going.

I know - I probably sound like a happy hippie or something to you ;-)...

I guess my point is preaching the gospel is good, but the gospel includes much more than conversion. It involves making disciples, and that's not easy work. I probably share your unease about a lot of evangelical churches today. I think we are soft-selling the gospel. We present the church as something people can attend, similar to a movie or concert. I think Jesus wants and requires a lot more from people. To be a disciple means surrendering everything.

I'm sorry for going off-topic a little, Steve.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Phil - that poor guy is just attempting to warn people best he can. May not be postmodern, but John the Baptist would endorse him. Additionally, as a preacher you cannot touch every theological base with every message. It is easy for Rob Bell to disparage a guy like your campus preacher, heaven forbid we cut him a break and at least give him credit for boldness that many do not have. I am guessing he doesn't take up an offering either?

Phil Miller said...

ptl rick,
The guy is actually Greek Orthodox, and he says pretty much all Protestants are going hell. He doesn't have to take up an offering because he's paid to be on staff at the Greek Orthodox church here. I have little respect for him. He actively trains "moles" to try and steal converts from the Christian fellowships on campus - no kidding. We have a couple that come to our fellowship that I've had to just about kick out before.

The thing is, I think this model of preaching is based on the Old Testament prophet, and John the Baptist would probably fit in there. Thet were preaching to the people of Israel for the most part. They had left God, and needed to be called back. The extreme methods were called for. On the other hand, many people today are living in a post-Christian environment. They may hear bits and pieces of the gospel at different times, but they really have no understanding. Someone operating in a confrontational way is just confusing them or reinforcing bad stereotypes. You may think I'm wrong, but I have to deal with the people this guy and others like him mess up. I've seen this man and his trainees rejoice in winning an argument with an atheist, but have never seen them rejoice in someone coming to the Lord. So no, I cannot give him credit.

Ken Silva said...

Here's the emerging problem in a new evangelical nutshell:

"the gospel is timeless, but we have to communicate to people in a way that is understood...separate the message from some of the extra-Biblical trappings...the Holy Spirit is essential in this, but we are involved in the process to some extent. Otherwise, God would just have the Holy Spirit do all the work."

God the Holy Spirit does do all the work but only through obedient believers willing to die to self and let Him use them as empty vessels filled with Christ. To do this means we simply must be open to more than mere intellectual "contextualization," we must be willing preach the Biblical Gospel of the historic orthodox Christian faith from the Scriptures alone regardless of the culture or the personal cost.

But we don't want to do that anymore because people will get mad at us. To quote my teacher Dr. Walter Martin: "Poor baby." I tell you in the Lord that until we humble ourselves and let God use us as the bondslaves we are in Christ then we are not going to see His converting power. There will never be any power to convert anyone behind pragmatism.

Paul Washer said it well using a touch of hyperbole and incidentally on TBN and right in front of Todd Friel and Kirk Cameron of WOTM who were both squirming a bit themselves. Washer said that he would teach his missionaries that the kind of Gospel preaching God honors is sending a man into the town square with nothing but a Bible where he preaches Jesus Christ and Him crucified until people either are converted or he is stoned to death.

So the question really is: Got faith?

cyshift said...

Great message, Steve! And I admire Dan’s willingness to venture into “the lion’s den.” A willingness to “sharpen iron” in the other’s camp (pun intended) should always be welcome. I have had the opposite experience when I posted to a friend’s “emerging” website and had my post promptly deleted. They said they wanted to engage in a “conversation” but apparently they were willing to endure everything except sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3,4).

Ptl Rick:

I agree whole-heartedly with your concern about the long-term effects of the “emerging” movement. What (if anything) will be left of the gospel if the Lord tarries and we see a second or third generation of “emergents?” And it is one thing to engage in a conversation one-to-one or on a website concerning their views and another to let them speak from your platform or pulpit. Repentance and prayer, indeed.


You hit it right on the head! It does become a “doctrinal free-for-all” once you discard the scriptures as being absolutely true (or saying that they can be interpreted to mean anything which equates to the same thing).


You gave a very good summary of the Gospel. Dan, would you be willing to say that you agree with these tenets?

Is the “emerging” movement calling people to repentance or signing up members for the Church of the Great Apostasy?

ken silva

Love the Paul Washer quote!

Dan, allow me to say right off the bat that I don’t consider myself a Calvinist (and neither am I of Paul or Apollo) but I agree with much of Reformed theology. Having said that, I see the “emerging” movement as one of the greatest threats to the survival of Christianity in the West. The reason is that there is a general disdain for the idea of absolute truth in general and a specific aversion to much of the foundational truths (i.e., doctrine) of Christianity. These are neither complicated nor reserved for professors of theology. Allow me to list a few (not meant to be all inclusive):

- The Bible is God’s Word and without error (John, 17:17, Matt 24:35, 2 Tm 3:16, 2 Pt 1:21)

- God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are real (Heb 11:6, John 16:7-15, John 14:9, Matt 28:19)

- Satan is real and is the enemy of God and His followers (1 Pt 5:8, 1 John 3:8, Matt 25:41, 2 Cor 11:14)

- Absolute truth exists and it is possible to know it through the leading of the Holy Spirit as defined through God’s Word (John 17:17, John 16:13, 1 John 4:1, John 14:6, 1 John 2:21)

- Right and wrong exist and it is possible to know them through the leading of the Holy Spirit as defined through God’s Word (Heb 5:12-14, James 4:17, 2 Tim 3:16, Is 5:20)

- Heaven and Hell are real (John 14:2,3, Matt 18:3, Matt 25:41, Matt 7:21-23, 2 Pt 2:4, Matt 7:13)

- Man rejected God and is under a sentence of death (both physical and spiritual)(Rom 5:12, Gal 3:22, John 3:18, Rom 3:9-18,23, Rom 6:23, Luke 13:3)

- Man is unable to make himself worthy to be reconciled to God (Eph 2:8-9, Is 64:6, Gal 2:21, Gal 3:21, Rom 3:27,28, Rom 9:32)

- Jesus came to earth, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died for our sins on the cross, and rose from the dead on the third day (Matt 1:18-25, Luke 1:26-35, Heb 4:15, I Cor 15:3-8, 1 Pet 3:18, Rom 6:9,10, 1 Cor 15:12-19, Col 2:13,14)

- Man is saved through repentance and faith in the completed work of Christ (Luke 24:46,47, Acts 2:36-39, Gal 3:21,22, John 19:30, 2 Cor 5:21, Rom 6:9,10)

- There is no other way to God other than through faith in Jesus (John 14:6, 1 John 2:23, 1 Cor 3:11, 1 Tim 2:5,6, Gal 3:21,22)

- Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead (Matt 25:31-33, John 5:24-29, John 12:48, Heb 9:27,28, Acts 10:42, Acts 17:30,31, 2 Tim 4:1, Heb 10:29-31, Rev 20:12)

- Those who have accepted Him will spend eternity in heaven with Him (Matt 25:46, John 3:16, John 3:36, John 5:24, John 6:40, John 14:2,3, Rom 6:22, 1 John 2:25, 1 John 5:13

-Those who have rejected Him will spend eternity in Hell (Matt 13:40-42, Matt 13:49,50, Matt 25:41, Matt 25:46, John 3:36, , Mark 9:47,48, 2 Thess 1:8,9, Rev 20:10-15)

Does the “emerging” movement (or your group) profess and teach these essentials of the faith? If not, why? How do you find the truth by disdaining the truth? How much of “the gospel” can you leave out before it stops being “the gospel?” How many basic principles of Christianity can you deny before it stops being Christianity?

There is an article I wrote on the subject last week called “Emerging Madness” and I invite you to read it at http://www.cyshift.com/emerging.html

Grosey's Messages said...

Good arguments Dan and Beuss.. I think we all agree with you both at this point,
The issue of contextualisation is to what extent it is appropriate and to what extent contextualisation itself hides the gospel or is another gospel.
Friends involved in Mission in Malawai have said that the greatest problem on that mission field is Baptist missionaries (I wont say from which Southern island continent) who have contextualised the gospel away.
They offer a slightly christian islamic service, using islamic terms and basically an islamic theology except for some good things about Jesus. This is to attract the Yau folk to the gospel without offending them unnecessarily.
I asked one of these missionaries who believed that all muslims were going to heaven anyway, whether they heard the gospel or not, what he was going to Malawi to do? What benefit was there in sharing the gospel with the Malawi people? His reply was, that "we have a nicer way socially".

Sadly, the confusion that this idea of contextualisation caused on the mission field for the Malawi people, and other missionaries who were more conservative was enormous.

In God's sovereignty, another missionary with Sowers Intenational (from a southern island continent which shall remain unnamed)taught some of the nationals to do straight open air evangelism. This "difficult people group with only a few converts" in one year had 100 evangelical churches planted with more than 50 new converts in each one.

So lets see.. which worked? Massive contextualisation... a hand ful of converts!

No contextualisation except the gospel stories presented with paint and paper by bible weilding young men standing in the masrket place.. close to 10,000 converts from this impossible people group.

The bottom line then is.. what is appropriate contextualisation, and when does the contextualisation actually obscure the gospel message.

In the main, just plainly declaring the gospel as it is there in Scripture is the God ordained way of evangelism.. proclamation.
James 1:18
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

1Peter 1 :23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

Steve G

SJ Camp said...


That really says it for me brother! Thank you,
2 Cor. 4:5-7

Phil Miller said...

I'm not concerned about offending people with the gospel, but I don't think I should do things just for the purpose of getting a reaction. I have seen this a lot. Some Christians act like complete idiots and are just plain rude and obnoxious, then they complain about being persecuted. It's one thing to be persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, it's quite another to just be a person that no one wants to be around.

According to your last comment, the Holy Spirit does all the work in bringing someone to salvation. In one sense, I can totally agree with that - I guess in a very real way all the work was done on the cross. However, even in your example you say the Holy Spirit works "only through obedient believers willing to die to self and let Him use them as empty vessels filled with Christ". Well, is this not still a choice of this person to allow himself to be used? God does not want us to be robots or slaves in the sense that we are mindless. I can see a very real danger in this view that promotes intellectual laziness and an anti-educational environment. Indeed, I've seen a lot of this in my church background. My view is that God wants to partner with us. This may sometimes include a more confrontational type of preaching, but other times it may be an approach that is more discussional. The main thing is that the preacher or teacher is responsible for his obedience to the Holy Spirit. I am no fan of PDL type teaching, either. I don’t think we should treat the gospel like a product.

Additionally, I believe some contextualization is inevitable. A missionary will learn the language and customs before leaving for the field. I don't see why we shouldn't do that too. We don't have to water down anything. I will say this, however – I have come to believe that the gospel involves a lot more than getting people saved. I think it involves teaching people how to be disciples. We are commanded to “go and make disciples.”

Perhaps as Breuss Wane stated above, a lot of the “Emergent movement is Arminianism in postmodern clothing”. That may be where a lot of this criticism is coming from. I come from a long line of Pentecostals, so they don’t get much more Arminian than me. I guess I never knew so many people considered me a heretic. ;-)

~Mark said...

Slightly off-topic...I just find it amazing that God puts these topics in front of me that mirror exactly the point of study I am at in my Hermenutics course on a weekly, if not daily basis!

Thanks for the discussion and for helping me to see clearly that I'm using good tools. (I was briefly concerned as I like to check myself from time to time just to be certain that I'm not enjoying a course simply because it agrees with me, but that it is TRUE.)

john said...

If you're going to "proclaim" the gospel, shouldn't you do it in a language the audience can understand. If you go to Mexico and preach in English, you may be missing the point. It seems like a no-brainer to me. Wasn't Jesus "contextualizing" when he told fishermen spiritual truths by using fishing? He spoke to them from what they knew.

And just as an observation, I don't agree with all of the stands of people within the "emergent" movement, but I give them credit for being patient, thoughtful and gracious.

In contrast, Breuss Wane, Ken Silva and others that bash the movement seems agressive, arrogant and self-righteous. They seem like the "clanging cymbals" of 1 Cor 13. Even if you guys are right, your approach makes you unhearable - and I'm on your side.

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

The Foxes are Officially in the Henhouse.


~Mark said...

"Wasn't Jesus "contextualizing" when he told fishermen spiritual truths by using fishing? He spoke to them from what they knew."

~The degree of contextualizing that becomes problematic isn't using personal metaphors to explain Biblical truth, it's changing Biblical truth to match personal experience.

Phil Miller said...

I just reread my post from earlier, and I want to make sure it was clear I wasn't calling you intellectually lazy or anti-education. From your posts you seem very bright and articulate, and I think on some issues we are free to agree to disagree. I also want to make clear that I share a lot of your concerns about the direction of the Church in general. It's interesting to me that it seems a lot of the Emerging Church literature arose as a reaction to the seeker-sensitive stuff, but they too are facing some of the same criticisms. I would say that my personal belief is that both may have good points, but both have potential dangers and obvious excesses. I cannot discredit an entire movement because of the worst examples, though. The same thing could be said about most denominations, although, I fear some of those are very far gone now.

Breuss Wane said...

Some random thoughts about what has been written so far:

Steve and Dan are not talking past each other. The issue is not contextualization, but how contextualization is defined and the methods being employed in the name of contextualization. Of course the gospel is contextualized, if by contextualization one means how the message is conveyed. Steve isn’t against contextualization per se. After all, he’s been giving the gospel message in a rock and roll package for the last 50... uh... 30 years. :-) Contextualization isn’t the point. Dumbing down the message in the name of contextualization is the point.

Those who are conservatives in the EC make the claim that they can contextualize and are contextualizing the gospel and the faith once for all delivered to the saints without dumbing down or changing the message. And therein lies the rub and the flashpoint for debate. While those of us in the reformed and Calvinist community agree that the message *can* be contextualized, the methods being employed even by conservatives in the EC movement go beyond what is compatible with scripture in contextualization. For instance, shock preaching, despite the feeble attempts to ground its use in Pauline practice, is beyond what is compatible with scripture in contextualization. Devaluation of the proclamation of the word in preaching by making it merely one of many components of worship (rather than THE primary impetus for the assembly as is reflected in the NT) is beyond what is compatible with scripture in contextualization. And this list could be extended ad infinitem.

To reiterate what I think grates some of us about even the conservatives in the EC movement (those who attempt to place themselves within orthodoxy and ground themselves in the text), the EC movement is Arminianism in postmodern clothing. If one studies closely the critique against the EC movement one realizes it is very similar, if not the same, to the critique that has been made against the seeker-friendly models: the seeker/worshipper/congregant has been placed front and center as the primary consideration for contextualization. Being “missional” has replaced intentional growth and evangelism as the primary purpose for the church’s existence on earth; yet, the underlying paradigms are essentially the same. While we’re all for evangelism and winning people to Christ, and influence on culture and social reform is all well and good (though the cultural transformation that pervades the EC paradigm is also problematic...that’s another discussion), we must insist with our Reformed forbears that those are not the primary purposes for the church’s existence on earth. These constructs are inherently Arminian and ultimately, unbiblical.

The “missional” model is still shackled by Charles Finney’s moralism which for the past 150 years has generally defined the church as an agency of personal and community reform. The church was not left here on earth to win the world for Christ. The church is not biblically defined, either explicitly or implicitly, as “missional”. Evangelism is *a* function of church body life, but not THE primary purpose for its existence Bringing glory to God in the proclamation of the Word in preaching and sacrament *is*, to put it simplistically, the biblical understanding of the primary purpose for assembly; God’s people, having fed on Christ in word and sacrament then spread God’s fame through image-bearing over the whole of the earth is the biblical understanding of the kingdom expansion.

Even the missional model continues Finney’s shift of emphasis from Word and sacrament to the personal reform of the individual and social reform employed by the corporate body. Oh sure, the decisionalism that marked Finney’s paradigm and the generations that followed is consummately modern....as are the consumerist rock concerts that pass for worship services in many contemporary ministry models. But the EC doesn’t escape the critique against anthropocentric methodology in ministry. The EC, just like the contemporary church (what the EC calls *modern*), is infatuated with studying the culture. Thinking it has improved on the seeker-friendly paradigm it considers too modern, the EC still employs demographic and psychographic research to get the pulse of the culture. Much time and energy is spent, not just on contextualization, but finding the right contextualization, as if the church’s biggest sin would be to misinterpret culture. And it’s all done in the name of “mission”...helping the congregant experience the kingdom as Jesus would have experienced it. In the end, it’s the *experience* and *mission*, not the objective Word and sacrament, that rules the methodology. And *that* kind of methology in which the experience of the participant is central to the ministry is precisely our complaint.

The reality is that, regardless of the fact that the EC is not monolithic, there are *some* philosophies that are common to most, if not all, of the EC movement. There are some things in McLaren, Jones, and Bell that are common to Driscoll, Kimball, and Stetzer. One of the common philosophies, though its articulation is unique to the one who is doing the articulation, is what I’ve mentioned above: the church’s relationship to the culture is driving the ministry paradigms. What we see in the EC is the same “Enlightened” characteristic we see in the older church growth, seeker friendly movement: the enculturalization of the church. Culture, in the name of “mission”, is driving the agenda. Even though it has shifted the emphasis from the individual to the community, in the end, the EC has not shed modernity’s anthropocentrism. Its desire to not misinterpret culture and thus possibly fail the church’s (so-called) mission is its own indictment. The result is a church which is no different than the culture.

The infatuation with the culture is most prominent in the MarsHillification of missiology. The EC is addictively enamored with Acts 17. It doesn’t take more than 60 seconds for the EC proponents to throw Mars Hill into every discussion over methodology, as if the sole reason for the event’s inclusion in Luke’s contribution to the canon is “Missiology 101”. The Mars Hill card is overplayed. Way overplayed, as in the way John 3:16 was overplayed in Finneyan decisionism. Why not be enamored with “Herod’s Hall” where J-Bap lost his head or “Felix’s Festhaus” where Paul ensured his own imprisonment? Surely there are a multitude of other “missional” examples to be pulled from the text. Why this one? Because the culture is pagan like ours? Paul caused a riot in pagan Ephesus when he told them they had false gods. Surely he had forgotten to “contextualize” like he had done at the Areopagus.

The reality is that Paul’s missiology at the Areopagus is no different than his missiology at Felix’s Festhaus or John’s at Herod’s Hall. The only thing missing in the story is a riot and a headless corpse. Contra the claims made by even conservative ECer’s, Paul did not soft-pedal the gospel or adjust it to his audience. He used a pagan poem. But the pagan poem was a slap at Greek mythology, not an ethos-builder. Nearly the entire sermon is biblical language drawn from the OT. Do we really think the Mars Hill pagans understood the "righteousness" Paul speaks of in the manner in which he is using it? (Ps. 9:8; Isaiah 2:12) Do we really believe that those pagan philosophers steeped in Aristotelian rhetoric knew what he meant by "appointed"? "made the world and everything in it"? (Isaiah 42) "Adonai of heaven and earth"? (Deut. 10:14) "breath"? (Gen. 2:7) "temples made by man"? (Chron. 2:7) "repent" (Ezek. 18:30). It is highly improbable that the Athenians knew the full extent of any of these OT terms and references. Yet Paul doesn’t shrink from *proclaiming* an objective Word from the Septuagint. And he emphatically lands on the objective Resurrection of Christ, an offense to any Greek worth his Zeus salt. Paul saturated his speech with the Septuagint as “enticements” to get his pagan audience to pick up a Koine copy of the OT and be Athenians like the Bereans... if they didn’t riot first.

And this misinterpretation of Acts 17 isn’t the only example of the EC’s faulty hermeneutic, especially in its use of Acts as justification for miscontextualization of the gospel. The EC reads like a “back to Acts” movement, as if everything about our church body life and our worship has been contextualized beyond biblical recognition. Again, the reality of what the text says was taking place in Acts and what the EC tells us was true of the early church aren’t all that compatible (further... and I don’t have time to get into here... there is an implicit denial in the “back to Acts” mentality that our current ecclesiology represents a divinely ordained progression of ecclesiology in redemptive history; IOW, the Great Shepherd who has been overseeing his church in redemptive history from his throne never planned for the church to function “just like it did in Acts”). Did the early church have pulpits? No. But the pulpit (and robe) is representative of another biblical reality of the early church: the centrality of the word proclaimed in preaching and sacrament. The presence or non-presence of a pulpit is not the issue. Singing before or after the sermon is not the issue. The centrality of the Word proclaimed in preaching and sacrament *is* the issue. And while it is true that there are various applications of contextualization of that proclamation, it is not true that the proclamation itself has multiple applications. And it is not true that our preaching today bears little resemblance to the early church’s preaching. There’s only so many ways the Word preached and the Word given in sacrament can be prominently central in the assembled body of believers on a Sunday. The proclamation has never been dialogue. It has never been discussion. Yet the emphasis on the Word as conversation and dialogue is the way some in the “back to Acts” movement seemingly portray the practice of the early church. The text simply doesn’t bear out that portrayal.

We applaud the desire of some in the EC movement to move the church away from the consumer driven models of ministry. The answer for what ails evangelicals is not more programs and self-help groups. The EC has rightly fingered many of these ailments. But its answer to date has been replacing one anthropocentric paradigm for another. Despite the EC’s shift from the inward focus of the consumer model, the missional focus is still centralized in the individual and his/her participation in the kingdom. Personal experience is still primary. What was once called “seeker” is now called a “postmodern” and the postmodern is dictating the ministry paradigm (via contextualization) rather than Christ through His text. The EC would have us believe that for disciples to be made and God’s fame to be spread one must get in touch with the culture. The text doesn’t call us to get in touch with our culture. Christ through His text objectively calls His people to gather and feed on Him through the Word proclaimed in preaching and sacrament. It is through the proclamation of the faith once for all delivered to the saints that disciples are made of all nations and God’s fame is spread over the whole earth.

SWilson said...

Breuss' last post is a profound expression of the issues at hand. Thanks for the insightful summary of the discussion.

Thanks Steve for allowing the exchange.

Glad to Defend,
Steve at Grace BG

Grosey's Messages said...

WOW Breuss,
That was a tremendous analysis.
Best I have ever read.
Steve in Australia

Everyday Mommy said...

"In contrast, Breuss Wane, Ken Silva and others that bash the movement seems agressive, arrogant and self-righteous. They seem like the "clanging cymbals" of 1 Cor 13. Even if you guys are right, your approach makes you unhearable - and I'm on your side."

Observation: When a position is challenged and indefensible its proponents frequently resort to illogical arguments such as ad hominem.

SJ Camp said...

To Breuss Wane:

Well said my brother... thank you for the time and energy invested here--I am richer in Christ for your words.

One thing for you: I have always wondered why the conservative orthodox arm of the emerging movement (Driscoll and Kimball to name two) do not make a clear definitive clarion call publicly by affirming the essentials of biblical Christianity, call to repentance the heretical teachers in the movement collectively, remove the liberal aberrant material from the Acts 29 Network recommended reading list, and then proactively encourage their affiliation of churches to retreat from ANY involvement or support of men like McLaren, Jones, Miller, Pagitt, Burke, Bell, etc.?

They could also prove to be excellent examples of this by ceasing to co-author books with these men or share a platform with them at conferences until they repent. If they persist in going to those same conferences, then they (men like Driscoll and Kimball) should only go to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9). IOW, to confront the error propogated by these men, call them publicly to repentance, and then if necessary to shake the dust off their feet.

That would be an easy thing to do and would go a long way to removing any "guilt by association." It would also prove to be a ministry to the general body of Christ who do not discern between all of the players in this movement or the constantly blurred doctrinal convictions between them all as well.

To everyday mommy
We all need to learn how to speak the truth in love better than we are. However, I must say though in my personal experience that the overwhelming obstreperous comments are coming from those associated with the Emerging Camp and not from those of us who are concerned about their beliefs and practices.

But I do thank you for your gentle word of exhortation and I pray that it is made more evident in my life by the Lord's sanctifying grace.

Grace and peace to you all,
2 Cor. 4:5-7

john said...

As someone has often sat on the fringes of the emergent debate, I want to offer my perspective. I have no interest in propping up the "emergent movement". I have no agenda here - just to help people understand why some have chosen to leave more traditional churches.

I grew up in a church-going home. I was baptized when I was 8 and made a more adult decision for Christ when I was 23. For 10 years, I served in a good, solid "bapti-costal" church. My wife and I taught children's church and ran VBS. I was a musician in all three of the praise teams - I played sax pretty much every week.

Eventually, I was asked to be a part of the "Vision Team" - a group of younger men in the church who would dream big dreams of where we could go as a body.

It was then that I ran smack into the church growth movement. They had us reading John Maxwell and Rick Warren. While I wanted to reach out to the poor in our area, leadership only wanted to invite the self-sufficient. When my wife and I proposed a bus to go through the neighborhood each Sunday picking up kids for church, we were shot down. They didn't want the kids if they couldn't get the parents. Bad church growth formula.

Anyway, over a two year period, we became pretty disillusioned. We began to question a lot of the things most churches preach as gospel.

Why should I tithe to a body that doesn't help anybody but themselves?

How does spiritual authority work if your authorities are wrong and God keeps ringing your bell about it?

Who says that we need buildings and staff? If we only have X dollars, why don't we use it on stuff that matters?

Why must everything we do be driven by what people like or don't like? What about worshipping in spirit and truth?

Why do I get the feeling we've lost our anchor - that we've drifted from our historic roots? Everyone in our church acted as if Christianity started in 1970. Isn't there anything deeper? More eternal? Aren't our roots ancient?

Anyway, you can see how this line of thinking landed us in the "emergent" camp. I read Dan Kimball's "Emberging Worship" and
Tony Jones' book on ancient forms of worship. . As a person who was all about worship, it really got me thinking. I learned about ancient forms of worship. I began to experience incredible times with God - in silence. Meditating on scripture. Being still. I learned about the symbolism and beauty of the stations of the cross. I celebrated Advent and Lent for the first time in my life. I began to be convinced that God wants us involved in our society as forces of good for Him - not disconnected and content in our own churchy counter-culture.

While I didn't get everything in these books, much of it really helped me connect in a deeper way with God.

So often, the EC debate turns into a debate about what McLaren or Kimball or Jones or whoever says. But for me, they're just other travellers on the road. They can say things. I will listen. You and Ken Silva can say things. I will listen. I will respect all of you and consider what you're saying. But at the end of the day, God is MY God. He is personal. His Spirit will lead me through scripture and His presence. I believe this is the attitude each of us should have. The Christian life is one lived out between believer and Creator.

I think the process of "deconstructing" is an important one. If we believe what we believe blindly, then we are weak-minded. We must pull apart what we've been taught and allow the Spirit to teach us how to put it all back together. That's why I think for many of us, the emergent conversation is a stop along the way rather than a final destination.

I appreciate that most leaders who are considered emergent get this. They're not interested in making everyone believe as they do. They allow people to make up their own minds. It's not a lock-step process. Seekers and thinkers are welcomed there. That's not always true of some conservative evangelicals who believe they've got everything figured out. So it makes sense that so many are seeking out emergent groups as they are struggling to understand their place in creation. They simply aren't welcomed elsewhere. They're told "this is how it is - just believe it". That isn't going to work for them anymore.

Anyway, that's how I find myself where I am. I'm pretty much done with "deconstructing". For a year or so, we simply met with friends in their home and worhsipped. It was a great time. Now, we're moving on. I don't know if I'll wind up in an "emergent" congregation or a more traditional one. Frankly, I hope I can find a group of people who love God and could care less about labels we choose to give things. One where I can "work through my salvation with fear and trembling" alongside others doing the same.

Phil Miller said...

Your story sounds similar to mine. I have read a lot of the Emergent stuff, and have gleaned a lot of worthwhile stuff from it. I don't think I have to agree with someone 100% to learn from them - if that were the case, my reading list would be very short if not non-existent.

From where this discussion has headed I do believe this is getting into a Calvinism verses Arminianism type of debate, which has been debated almost endlessly for years and years now. So I guess if this is what it boiling down to, it may end up pretty fruitless.

I do have a serious question for Breuss and the others in the Reformed camp here. Is someone not in that camp automatically considered a heretic to you? If so that automatically puts a big percentage of Christians in the heretic category.

I respect Calvinism, especially the love of the Word it embraces, however there are other reasons I am not a Calvinist. I don't for one minute think they are heretics, though.

Steve, in your last post you asked why men like Driscoll don't publicly denounce Brian McClaren and Rob Bell. I really don't see what good that does. Are we as the Church called to denounce and disassociate with everything and everyone we don't agree with? I personally would not expect my Pastor to get up and make these kind of pronouncements - I don't see that as his job. He is responsible for his teaching, not everyone else's. Driscoll did separate himself somewhat from McLaren in his latest book, but I guess he did not go far enough. Anyway, Driscoll is kind of Calvinist-lite in his theology. He says he holds it in an open hand, meaning he's open to being persuaded otherwise, I suppose.

Also it seems like people really do not believe that Bell, McClaren, and others are even Christians at all. Am I correct in that assumption? I have many of their books, and did not agree with everything, but I do not question their salvation. They seem to affirm orthodox Christianity in that they believe in the Virgin birth, the death and resurrection, atonement, the second coming, and yes, even hell. I understand McClaren's view of hell is something that has generated a lot of controversy, but I won't get into it here. To me what he get's into is copying a lot of what C.S Lewis said. I also understand the concern with some of the sources they quote (this caused a lot of concern with my senior pastor, actually), but again it's hard for me condemn someone based on those things. Maybe I am too lenient, and am trying to give the benefit of a doubt, but to me a lot of what is said in these books is not different from what I learned growing up. When I read the "Secret Message of Jesus", I seriously did not understand what the big deal was. At the end of the book, McClaren encourages people to read the Bible together. Well if you believe in Sola Scriptura, you have to believe that the Word is self-evident and anyone reading with an open heart will be led in the right direction.

OK, I've probably given you all enough ammo. I'll check back, but probably won't be posting on this thread any more.

Breuss Wane said...

john wrote:
"at the end of the day, God is MY God"

I suppose this comment encapsulates our grave concern about the E.C.

Phil wrote:
"They seem to affirm orthodox Christianity"

Is this true, Carla? :-)

The purpose of Generous Orthodoxy was to redefine orthodoxy. One cannot affirm open theism and claim to be orthodox. One cannot deny sola fide (in suggesting we need to "rethink" it) and claim to be preaching the true gospel.

Phil asked:
"Is someone not in that camp automatically considered a heretic to you?"

Of course not.

Phil Miller said...

OK - that's good to know.

Maybe I unintentionally lied about not posting on this thread again. I have honestly enjoyed the discussion.

I guess part of my internal struggle here is that I feel torn between the Reformed and Arminian camps on a lot of these things. I see good in both, and dangers in both. I wouldn't go as far to say I am an Open Theist, but I see things in scripture that seem to point that way. I completey believe in Sola Fida, but again "faith without works is dead." So I guess in the end, I'm left to trust in the faithfulness and grace of God, not in myself. Maybe I'm a Calvinist after all. :-)

It's been fun.

john said...

And you crystalized my thoughts on the traditional church as well. I laid out my heart honestly and transparently and you picked one short sentence you could slam me on so you could feel superior in some way. And on top of that, you didn't even come back with an intelligent comment about it - just something vague and pithy.

What exactly is your problem with that statement?

Breuss Wane said...


I don't believe I wrote enough for you to read my motives. Had I wanted to pick it apart, I would have.

What I found ironic in your statement is that I had posted some thoughts on how individualistic the EC paradigm is, and you post thoughts that are pure individualism.

The Bible does not reflect such an individualistic spirit. It is not biblical that the Christian life is lived out between the believer and Creator. In fact, it's just the opposite. God says "I will be your (plural) God, and you (plural) will be my people." And he says "I will be their (plural) God, and they (plural) will be my people." There is no room for "God is MY God" in the biblical paradigm for the Christian life. Yes, God is personal, but in a corporate way.

I appreciate the transparency. But the thoughts expressed in that transparency were a good example of why some of us are so concerned about the EC movement's direction away from sound biblical exegesis.

john said...

I'm not sure what was individualistic about my post. I told you where I was coming from, but the ideas all hinge on my understanding of scripture.

The issue seems to be that you view anyone who comes to a different understanding after studying scripture as wrong. If people lean away from calvinism or towards social justice, it's like you write them off as not engaging in thorough exegesis. Isn't it possible for good, sincere believers to disagree? Isn't it possible that you don't have everything figured out? I certainly don't claim to understand all the subtleties of the Bible.

But I must be true to where I feel God is leading me. When I read and see areas where I'm not lining up, I need to change. That's the motivation behind my actions - not a desire to rebel against the leadership of the evangelical community, but to line up with the teachings of Christ as I understand them through study and prayer.

Shouldn't we all have grace with each other as we study and ask God to help us understand His ways? Should we all remember that His ways are so foreign to us, they are impossible to fully understand. We see as through a mirror dimly, no? I'd rather converse with people who have wrestled with God any day. I doubt that it's even possible to possess faith that has not been tested and refined.

If your opinion is to shut down any "original thinking" with regards to spiritual things, you would have cheated the Church out of Luther and Tyndale and John of the Cross and CS Lewis and many other great Christian thinkers. Would you classify those men as "individualists"?

Jack said...


Breuss is not questioning your sincerity or motives - his comments have been objectively about doctrine. Why are you making this about you? He's not "shutting down" anyone, he's responding to you in terms of doctrine. You need to articulate your understanding of Scripture and defend it.

Breuss Wane said...

>the ideas all hinge on my >understanding of scripture.

>as I understand them through >study and prayer.

The *my* and the *I* in these various statements is what is bothersome. We're dancing around the edges of a discussion on ecclesiology, which would require more time than I have and should be part of a separate discussion.

The ecclessiology of the E.C., prominent in its "back to Acts" hermeneutic and its emphasis on the individual's "experience", is generally weak (unbiblical). But this is the result of our Finneyan context in which the "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is enthroned as paradigmatic for the Christian life.

No Christian is an island. It is the local or visible church (Eph. 3:10) through which Christ has chosen to display His glory to the world.

Breuss Wane said...

>the ideas all hinge on my >understanding of scripture.

>as I understand them through >study and prayer.

The *my* and the *I* in these various statements is what is bothersome. We're dancing around the edges of a discussion on ecclesiology, which would require more time than I have and should be part of a separate discussion.

The ecclessiology of the E.C., prominent in its "back to Acts" hermeneutic and its emphasis on the individual's "experience", is generally weak (unbiblical). But this is the result of our Finneyan context in which the "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is enthroned as paradigmatic for the Christian life.

No Christian is an island. It is the local or visible church (Eph. 3:10) through which Christ has chosen to display His glory to the world.

And yes, ecclesiology is a hill I would die on. It does not belong to that nebulous category that EC's like to throw into the absolute-truth-is-generally-unknowable-and-therefore-we-can't-be-dogmatic-about-it "darkly glass".

john said...

OK Bruce - I guess we're not going to find any common ground. Thank you for taking the time to respond to a couple of my thoughts.

My prayer - like Christ's in the garden - is that all true believers will be as one - even as our Lord and the Father are one - regardless of labels or politics or stylistic preferences.

I pray that we would die on together on the field defending the essentials of our faith, but have grace with each other on the rest. May no one be killed (believer or non) over secondary doctrines that are not clearly defined in scripture.

And I pray that God would continue to perfect us and mold us into the image of Christ in whatever way He chooses. May we be pliable in His hand. I look forward to seeing how He will build His kingdom through such weak vessels as you or I or Dan. Thank God that He chooses the weak to show forth His strength. This is our hope.

All glory to Him,

Breuss Wane said...

FWIW... ecclesiology is not a secondary issue and is clearly defined in the scriptures.

Mrs Pilgrim said...

John, I'm going to throw in opposite you. (And, apparently, I'm going to do it at great length, because I can't seem to keep it short. *sigh*)

As a former Catholic, I did all the practices you mention, and then some. Rosaries, repetitive prayers, etc...I really thought I was drawing "nearer" to God--well, as far as a good Catholic girl could draw to a vengeful and angry God who demanded these practices.

I put those aside when I was born again, as part of the "culture" of mine that was not in tune with God's that I mentioned earlier. I realized that no amount of ritual was going to draw me nearer to the REAL Christ--Who had already forgiven me and was now residing in my heart. It would be better simply to wait and find out what HE wanted, I decided.

My "drawing nearer" exercises are now limited to study of Scripture (both in English and Greek, thanks to Dr. Thayer), reading (and listening to) the teachings of more mature Christians, and the "good works" of daily life. And you'll never guess what! It works. I'm having daily breakthroughs of understanding that are rather obviously not derived from my own narrow view of the world. It's like nothing I ever experienced in my ritualistic days. Hours of chanting to myself could never yield the illumination of only ten minutes with God's Word.

I know the things of which you speak; I know whence they come, and I know that they made precisely zero difference in my spiritual life. In fact, they distract from the REAL growth exercises, and make one proud for being "good" in performing them!

-=This comment was intended out of love. If you can't see past the "contradicting your opinion" part of the comment to the underlying concern, please discontinue use immediately and consult with the Holy Spirit.=-

-=I'm in an odd sort of mood today. Please forgive me if I'm too irreverent.=-

john said...

Thanks for you comments. I hear what you're saying. Certainly studying scripture, reading and listening to other believers and good works draw us near to God.

But I disagree with your characterization of what I described as "ritual". It's only a ritual if our heart isn't in it. I understand many grew up doing these things week in and week out - often never really knowing the God they were supposed to point to.

I didn't grow up with them, though. To me, walking through a field with the stations of the cross posted - praying at each stop and considering the price Christ paid for me...that's good stuff.

And I do believe that one of the big things the American church has left out of our sprituality is silence, stillness and waiting and listening to God. Scripture teaches us to "be still and know that I am God". Jesus retreated early in the morning to spend time with God alone.

I'm not saying that corporate worship and involvement is not important. I'm saying that we also need times where we each personally slow down and listen for the voice of God - however that happens for us.

Each of us are different. For some, music really winds our clock. For others, it's studying scripture. Some sense they're greatest peace while serving the poor. We should all engage in each of these activities - but for some it will hit their "sweet spot" - call it gifting or whatever.

We must have grace with each other and not expect everyone to experience things exactly like we do. Instead, we should encourage each other to continue looking for ways to draw near to Him. We also can't write certain practices off because it has become ritual to a few.

Remember, many of those great men you talk about reading practiced many of these same forms of worship. Luther, Brother Lawrence, Watchman Nee, CS Lewis - all practiced and espoused some sort of contemplative worship.

But I'm all for not allowing it to become ritualistic.

Autumn Leaves said...

I happened upon your blog while searching out truth regarding the Emergent Church movement. I will be reading further. Thanks!

Jade said...

Phil Miller wrote:
To me what Dan is saying (please correct me if I’m wrong, Dan – I don’t want to put words in your mouth) is that, yes the gospel is timeless, but we have to communicate to people in a way that is understood.

Phil, I'm really confused by your statement ... but what's wrong with English? I think it suffices to say that to read the Bible is sufficient. Contextualizing is not necessary just to get the message across if the hearers understand English.

You wrote:
In my mind it’s actually trying to separate the message from some of the extra-Biblical trappings we’ve attached to it.
I’m not saying all tradition is wrong, I’m just saying we need to evaluate what is essential and what is our preference.

But getting the Gospel out is not dependent on "preferences". If the Gospel is timeless, then it has nothing to do with one's preference. Again, I think it suffices to just quote Scriptures. Do we not believe that the Word of God is sufficient to save?

This whole movement of "contextualizing" has nothing to do with separating "the message from some of the extra-Biblical trappings we’ve attached to it". It's about accommodating the style/preference of a godless society. They want to reach godless sinners (which we should), but they think that to reach them, we need to be like them (speaking like they do or making our music more palatable for their taste, etc). That's nonsense. They have no trouble understanding English, so just speak to them quoting the Bible. You don't need to candy coat the Gospel to get them to understand. Looking cool or trying to assimilate to what their preference, isn't going to get them to heaven. Only the Holy Spirit can do that through regeneration. The only thing the Lord calls us to do is to speak the words as directed from the Bible. Nothing more and nothing less.

Do you see the need for contextualization when stating, "Repent and believe in Christ"? Did John the Baptist contextualize when he called a godless society to repent for the kingdom of God was at hand? No. Nor should we. In fact John the Baptist was nothing like the current culture then. He was probably marked as an oddity or an outcast in that society (and probably mocked for his appearance and asceticism) --- he lived out in the desert, wearing camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. John was just being... well, John. He wasn't accommodating the godless society to "their preference" and surely the last thing on his mind was contextualizing! John merely spoke the words the Lord commanded to him. He wasn't concerned about whether the message was going to be understood or accepted. He merely spoke the words of repentance, making way for the Lord. And how does Scriptures records John the Baptist? In the words of our Lord Jesus Christ:

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

I doubt it that John is held at such high honors because he was contextualizing. No, he is recorded in Scriptures as such because he was faithful in getting the raw message out there, as commanded by his Lord, even if no one showed up. He wasn't concerned about the people's response; his responsibility was just getting the Word out there to repent. Our responsibility shouldn't be any different. We shouldn't try to improve upon God's Word; we should just preach it as it is, without all the whistle and blow!

SJ Camp said...

To All

I've updated some my remarks here on contextualization to represent a more balanced and redemptive view. They represent fruit from my own Bible study and dialogue with others.

I would be interested in your views.

Thank you,
Col. 1:9-14

Hayden said...

Dan and Steve,

I remember a prolonged series by Phil Johnson over at "Teampyro" on the topic. Phil gave an extended definition of what 'contextualization' is historically and then talked about it at length.

Here is part of the thread of articles. (http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2008/03/context-and-contextualization.html)

Hope this helps in the discussion

SJ Camp said...

Thank you brother for your comment and link.

While I appreciate greatly much of Phil writes, he has been less than accurate on this issue. His characterizations are over the top and his research inadequate. It woud be as if he wrote a scathing piece villifying all charsimatics and then using as his proof-texts Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland to illustrate his points. While we know that men like Wayne Grudem, Gordan Fee, CJ Mahaney, etc. represent a completely different aspect of the charismatics.

Grace to you,

Hayden said...


I agree with you on the Charismatic issue, but the article I read seemed accurate when I looked at it. The historical background seemed pretty accurate to me.

I sometimes disagree with him, but found his articles challenging on 'contextualization'. Though I don't agree with him completely, he did did challenge me in my thinking.

It's funny, I remember going through this issue with you a couple years ago and if I remember correctly, you had a little different stance. It is neat to see you growing in this area. I was maybe more liberal in this area than I am now. Funny how being a Pastor has changed both of us :--)

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