There has been a well spirited and vigorous discussion on this blog and others about the postmodern notion of contextualization of the gospel. Without being redundant (for you can read the other articles and the metas on this subject here at COT if you choose) I am concerned about this latest trend in evangelicalism to make our methods in how we do evangelism and the messenger in who does it seemingly more important than simply the message it self.
As the Apostle Paul says in a very powerful clarification of the cross and the prohibiter inherent to the message of the cross:
"Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." -1 Corinthians 1:20-25 (emphasis mine)There is an offense to the cross beloved: "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." But to the elect of God (those who are called of both Jew and Greek) "Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God." And no amount of cultural identification, relevantism, or analysis will add to, increase, make or produce one more convert to Christianity. It is the gospel we proclaim - "we preach Christ crucified..." that saves. And notice, this pleased God to design effective evangelism by the preaching of the cross to save. It is this "folly" - proclaiming Jesus Christ the Lord to those who are perishing that honors God. Not calling in the latest marketing gurus; Barna pollsters; contextualized techniques; seeker sensible and relevant services.
This is what is needed in evangelical circles today. Not to contextualize the truth, but to reclaim the purity of the gospel message and to lovingly, boldly, uncompromisingly, unapologetically, and accurately herald its life-saving message.
My friend and mentor, Dr. John MacArthur, has really captured this burden in a recent interview on this subject. I commend his timely remarks to you highly:
You have no doubt heard the arguments: We need to take the message out of the bottle. We can't minister effectively if don't speak the language of contemporary counterculture. If we don't vernacularize the gospel, contextualize the church, and reimagine Christianity for each succeeding generation, how can we possibly reach young people? Above all else, we have got to stay in step with the times.
Those arguments have been stressed to the point that many evangelicals now seem to think stylishness is just about the worst imaginable threat to the expansion of the gospel and the influence of the church. They don't really care if they are worldly. They just don't want to be thought uncool.
That way of thinking has been around at least since modernism began its aggressive assault on biblical Christianity in the Victorian era. For half a century or more, most evangelicals resisted the pragmatic thrust of the modernist argument, believing it was a fundamentally worldly philosophy. They had enough biblical understanding to realize that "friendship with the world is enmity with God. Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4).
But the mainstream evangelical movement gave up the battle against worldliness half a century ago, and then completely capitulated to pragmatism just a couple of decades ago. After all, most of the best-known megachurches that rose to prominence after 1985 were built on a pragmatic philosophy of giving "unchurched" people whatever it takes to make them feel comfortable. Why would anyone criticize what "works"?
Whole churches have thus deliberately immersed themselves in "the culture"--by which they actually mean "whatever the world loves at the moment." We now have a new breed of trendy churches whose preachers can rattle off references to every popular icon, every trifling meme, every tasteless fashion, and every vapid trend that captures the fickle fancy of the postmodern secular mind.
Worldly preachers seem to go out of their way to put their carnal expertise on display--even in their sermons. In the name of connecting with "the culture" they want their people to know they have seen all the latest programs on MTV; familiarized themselves with all the key themes of "South Park"; learned the lyrics to countless tracks of gangsta rap and heavy metal music; and watched who-knows-how-many R-rated movies. They seem to know every fad top to bottom, back to front, and inside out. They've adopted both the style and the language of the world--including lavish use of language that used to be deemed inappropriate in polite society, much less in the pulpit. They want to fit right in with the world, and they seem to be making themselves quite comfortable there.