Shall We Contextualize the Gospel?

Contextualizing the gospel is the only way the church can impact our culture. If we want our message to gain a hearing, we must contextualize it—we must communicate it in a way that our hearers can relate to and understand. For example, since postmodernists reject the concepts of authority and truth that previous generations assumed, our approach cannot remain the same. The world has changed, and if we refuse to change with it, the gospel will get left behind. Or so we are told by the prophets of contextualization.

Mark Driscoll is one proponent of contextualization. He is a theological conservative who genuinely preaches the gospel. However, his understanding of contextualization has led to his citing the Simpsons and Madonna during his preaching, using crass language and edgy jokes (he has been dubbed “the cussing pastor”), and his church’s embracing of Indie rock music—all to help him communicate the gospel to his particular culture.

Far worse is Brian McLaren, the Emergent Church guru who has even Driscoll shaking his head. McLaren hasn’t just adapted his language and music; he’s thrown in the gospel itself for good measure:

“I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all?) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts” (McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 260).

McLaren, who is fond of using bridges to illustrate contextualization, has essentially crossed the bridge from contextualization to syncretism.

One of the biblical passages most frequently cited as an example of contextualization is Acts 17, where Paul preaches at Mars Hill (or to the Areopagus). In fact, Driscoll’s church in Seattle is called “Mars Hill Church.” It is often argued, even among fundamentalists, that Paul adapted his message to gain a hearing among the Athenian philosophers. This is not a new opinion; the message of Paul before the Athenian Supreme Court, or Areopagus, has been debated for centuries. Did Paul contextualize his message—did he adjust it to be especially appropriate for that unique setting? Yes—and no. Paul does begin his message with a reference to a local shrine (a point of departure which took all of ten seconds) and make two illustrative references to popular Greek poetry. He does not, however, adjust the content or even the method of his message. Though his illustrations might have changed, the heart of his message was unaltered. Let’s take a closer look at Paul’s ministry in the city of Athens and see if it supports the type of contextualization being proposed in our day.

Paul Confronted the Athenians with Their Ignorance and Sin
If ever a city were celebrated for its unique culture, Athens is that city. The birthplace of democracy and the cradle of philosophy and the arts, it was also home to a stunning number of idols, and it was the city’s idolatry that especially caught Paul’s attention during his brief visit. Paul had seen impressive temples and idols as he journeyed from Macedonia to southern Greece, but Athens far out-distanced other pagan cities for the sheer number and splendor of its gods. It is estimated that 30,000-plus public idols literally filled the city of only some 25,000 inhabitants. The images that moved others to wonder and envy moved Paul to indignation (v. 16). When he had the chance to preach to the Athenians—first in the synagogue (v. 17a), then in the agora or marketplace (vv. 17b–18), and finally before the Areopagus (vv. 19–31)—he gave full expression to that burden.

Much is made about Paul’s mentioning the altar to the “unknown god” (v. 23). It is suggested that his claim to declare that God to them was an attempt to establish “common ground,” as though their worship was in some way very close to his own. However, such an understanding ignores the rest of Paul’s message. Paul used the altar as an admission of their ignorance about God—a point he would note two other times and make a major theme of his message (vv. 23, 30). In addition to asserting that they worshipped in ignorance (which would make a rather awkward palm branch), Paul did nothing to tone down his message, but was extremely confrontational. Though surrounded by idols and temples, he dismissed them out of hand (vv. 24–25, 29). Though they were confident that the gods were pleased with them, he insisted that the one true God was not at all pleased, but that He would judge them along with the rest of the world (vv. 30–31). Despite their rejection of the resurrection, he presented to them a resurrected Savior—and he did so without attempting to prove that it was so (v. 31)! Rather than altering his message, Paul instead went straight for the jugular, condemning their polytheism, idolatry and ignorance, and demanding their repentance.

Paul Contrasted Their Idolatry with Biblical Monotheism
As already noted, rather than establishing “common ground,” Paul boldly highlighted the differences between the Athenians’ polytheistic idolatry and his monotheistic Christianity. He did nothing to minimize the distinctions between their paganism and his Christianity; indeed, he maximized them. He preached to them a stout theology proper as revealed in the Scriptures, contrasting their false gods with the one true God:

  • He preached God’s uniqueness and creative power (v. 24).
  • He preached God’s transcendence and sovereignty (vv. 24b–26).
  • He preached God’s immanence and goodness (vv. 27–28).
  • He preached God’s spirituality (v. 29).
  • He preached God’s waning patience (v. 30).
  • He preached God’s judgment (vv. 30b–31).
  • He preached Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection (v. 31b).

Paul De-Contextualized the Gospel
In addition to theology proper, Paul presented a sound anthropology to the Athenians. Rather than adjusting his message to meet the presuppositions or prejudices of his particular audience, Paul de-contextualized it: he repeatedly equated the Athenians with all men of all times and all places. Despite their sense of superiority over other peoples, Paul preached Scripture’s universal themes regarding humanity:

  • All men were created and are sustained by God (vv. 24–25).
  • All men are equal before God—and equally condemned (v. 26).
  • All men are accountable to God (vv. 27–30a, 31).
  • All men are commanded by God to repent (v. 30b).

The response of Paul’s hearers indicates that they didn’t understand Paul to have established “common ground.” He was mocked in the agora as a philosophical hack (literally a “seed-picker, ” v. 18). What he preached was considered “strange” to them (vv. 18, 20); it was something “new” (v. 21), not just a new twist on their own religion. His reception before the Areopagus was no warmer. It appears that his message may have been cut off before its conclusion (v. 32). Though a few believed and others had their interest piqued, most either ignored or mocked him (vv. 32–34). We read of no church being planted in Athens.

Paul Preached the Same Message He had Preached Elsewhere
Despite claims to the contrary, Paul’s message before the Areopagus is actually very consistent with other evangelistic messages in the book of Acts. Although he didn’t specifically quote Old Testament Scriptures with which his hearers were unfamiliar, he presented the Athenians with the same message that was repeatedly preached to the Jews throughout the Old Testament—including creation, God’s uniqueness, transcendence and spirituality, the inability of temples to contain him and the evils of idolatry. Contrary to some accounts, Paul didn’t appeal to biblical revelation with the Jews and natural revelation with the Greeks. Instead, his preaching of Jesus and the resurrection in the agora (v. 18) and before the Areopagus in Athens (v. 31) was precisely the same message which had so angered the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (Acts 4:2). Paul’s message was as offensive to the Athenian idolaters as it had been to the Thessalonian Jews (Acts 17:1–15), for it was essentially no different.

This is an important discussion. What is at stake is not merely a method of gospel presentation, but the very nature and power of the gospel itself. Contextualization run amok leads to another gospel. Further, to argue (as I have heard people argue) that taking in the latest movie or pumping out the latest music is an essential part of one’s gospel witness is a denial of the power of the gospel to effect sinners apart from human posturing. Paul, the alleged contextualizer of Acts 17, insisted that he did not handle the gospel as a product to be peddled (2 Cor 2:17). He certainly wouldn’t advocate our moving it to the clearance rack.

The gospel needs to be understood. I appreciate the desire of a man like Mark Driscoll to communicate the truth to a perishing world. Like Paul, I rejoice that Christ is preached (Phil 1:18). Furthermore, I suggest that we think critically about our own evangelism. We should use words that make sense to our hearers and we should explain essential theological terms. (“Dude, what is propitiation?”) We should be empathetic enough to consider whether our messages are flying over the heads of the unsaved and unchurched. Whether preaching a sermon or speaking with our neighbors, the goals of our evangelism should include clarity as well as accuracy. And frankly, all of us “contextualize” to some degree in this sense: our illustrations and vocabulary when speaking in children’s church will be (or had better be) at least somewhat distinct from what we do on a typical Sunday morning. Let’s work to communicate effectively.

However, the gospel doesn’t need to be updated; we need no Gospel 2.0. Our basic approach—regardless of our audience—is still confronting sinners with God, sin, Christ and believing repentance. Our vocabulary and illustrations may change a bit, but the essence of our message must not. We have no right to alter the gospel; we have no right to establish common ground with unbelief; we have no right to debase the gospel by tying it to ungodly speech, events, or associations. People are still people, whether in 1st century Athens or 21st century Atlanta. God’s message is still the crucified and risen Christ. God’s method is still the clear and authoritative communication of the gospel. God’s threat is still eternal judgment. God’s command is still that men repent—all men, everywhere.


This article was originally printed in the February 2007 edition of the OBF Visitor. Articles are available (after a 3-month delay) here, and subscription information can be obtained here.



  • N. B. Stonehouse’s classic article on Paul’s Mars Hill message (“The Areopagus Address”) can be found here.
  • John MacArthur’s take on Paul’s Mars Hill message (“From Athens to L.A.”) can be found here.
  • Pictures from my 2006 trip to Athens can be seen here. (Philippi pictures may be seen here.)

95 Responses

  1. I think you are too charitable to Driscoll. But you probably knew that already, eh?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. It might help, if you want to contextualize, to at least be up to date. Btw, I’m not saying you’re not up to date, but I was just reading something over at SI about facial hair and that goatee-type of look…………Ummm, do the people at SI realize that this was all the rage in about 1995-1997. In other words, more than a decade ago? They’re just catching onto this now???

    All kidding aside, do they also realize that many of those goatee type beards are gay? No, I don’t mean “gay” as in a derogatory term. They’re gay as in meaning a part of the homosexual culture. Gay men are often the trendsetters for men’s style and that whole goatee look was in large part a major homosexual look. Of course having facial hair is not a sign that one is necessarily gay! All I’m saying is that context can change with the times and with the culture and that if you want to either support or condemn contextualization, it’s helpful to be “with” the times. Heheh, it’s sort of humorous to see young fundamentalists finally catching on to a look that was in large part popularized by the gay movement. … I’ve never heard of that Driscoll guy, but his contextualization would be way above my head because I haven’t seen an episode of the Simpsons since about 1991 and missed the movie.

  3. Great article, Chris. No doubt the most effective men of God will be those who can ‘contextualize’ without compromise.

    And here is something interesting to look at regarding Mark Driscoll from an interview he did:

    Mark the Cussing Pastor
    “This infamous phrase is like the high school photo in the yearbook that you hope no one sees. In 1997 as the church was just getting started, a man came up from Oregon having heard what we were doing and was considering moving to Seattle to be a part of Mars Hill Church. Donald Miller was just getting started and had not published a book yet. At that point our church was very small and visitors stuck out. I took Don out to dinner to try to entice him to come back to our church. We went to a pizza place afterward and talked about the church. He really wanted to stay in Portland if a church like Mars Hill existed there. A friend of mine Rick McKinley did start a church in Portland and Don became a member there. For the first few years his book, Blue Like Jazz didn’t sell many copies. He didn’t even talk to me about the book but I must have said something over dinner that led him to label me as the cussing pastor. So over a decade later at a casual dinner my brand was immovably affixed. Don is a friend of mine but I just wish an off-comment at a meal isn’t my defining moment.

    What gets me into trouble is my humor. It is what keeps me sane. I have a stressful life and I fear that I will be the guy that shows up at work unknowingly with his underwear outside of his pants. The pressure and stress is great. I receive death threats. Our church has gone from 1,200 to 6,000 in four years. It is very intense. I have had no one else to lean on. So for me, telling jokes and being light hearted is my way of coping with stress. But sometimes when I get overly stressed, my mouth and anger gets me into trouble. My tone, my attitude and my mouth are indicators of how closely I walk with Jesus. I have come to realize that I speak for more than just Mark Driscoll. I speak for Jesus. I know I can’t be this foul-mouthed, gunslinger for Jesus. I still think strong language and a prophetic edge is appropriate. But shock-jock language isn’t.”

  4. The article really has very little to do with Mark Driscoll, but that’s the blogospher. Tim Challies has addressed Driscoll for the last two days (here and here).

    Now, if possible, I’d like some discussion on the gist of the article—the idea that in some ways Paul actually “de-contextualized” the gospel by lumping the Athenians and “all men everywhere” together and by preaching the same basic message he always did (points 3 and 4). Am I wrong?

  5. I am troubled sometimes when people contextualize by referencing movies. It takes me about 5 minutes to do the math in my head, but if I hear a reference to a movie that is 6 months or newer, then I am flabbergasted, flummoxed, and furious! How can any self-respecting Christian know anything about current movies?! That means they must have seen it in the theatre! Movies are magically changed and made clean when they are seen at home in the privacy of our own homes where we can hit “rewind” several times just to go over a certain scene and really get into it. Most movies do not come out on video for 6 months. If I hear a person referencing a movie that is less than 6 months old then I automatically write them off. If they reference a movie older than 6 months I usually think they have a great point and it makes me think. Unfortunately I sometimes miss 10 minutes of the sermon because I’m not good at math and it takes me that long to figure out of the pastor is spiritual or not.

  6. Wow. I’m speechless, and that never happens.

  7. Instead of “contextualizing” or otherwise, a good start would be to read the Scriptures in the context they were written and in context with the entirety of Scripture. The foundation of it all is Torah whose purpose is Messiah. Every word written or spoken thereafter is subject to Torah and the church refuses to keep in context of Scripture.

  8. Wow. I’m speechless again.

  9. Good post, Chris. Ironically, I just preached Acts 17 on Sunday night, and dealt with this very subject, particularly with Mark Driscoll!

  10. Full moon tonight? It seems a little ironic to follow a post against movies with one on Tora, Tora, Tora.

  11. Dave, I’m sure we’ve all seen Tora, Tora, Tora at home on DVD instead of the theatre. It is intrisically therefore a sanctified and good movie. If we had seen it at the theatre it would have been a violent and bad movie.

  12. Yes, but don’t forget: IMAX is sanctioned. Something about the 3D, I think.

  13. Scott,

    You’ve obviously not participated in the culture–IMAX isn’t 3D, it’s just huge. Dude, grow a goatee and get with it.

  14. This is hopeless. Blogging at its worst.

    As if Scott could grow a goatee anyway.

  15. Quote Chris: “This is hopeless. Blogging at its worst.”

    Wow. Now I am speechless, and that NEVER happens.

  16. Got me there. That’s why I’m not cool. I can’t grow a goatee.

  17. Let’s see if we can get back on track. I may not understand the terminology, but it seems that the points made would be hard to argue against. We have to do two things when we present the gospel.
    1. We have to present the gospel in an understandable way to the best of our ability. Obviously, we could do this poorly and the Holy Spirit could and does use our ignorance. If this is contextualization, than it is necessary. The rub will no doubt come in how far do you go to help your audience (from 1-10,000) relate to the gospel.

    2. We have to show the gospel as universal. It is obvious that the gospel needs no contextualization at all in this sense. If it did, it would not be applicable to all men at all points in history.

    Am I following you? Does that direct the conversation back towards where you intended it to go?

  18. Chris, your post is right on. One issue to consider in our current culture is the level of illiteracy of many of those with whom we are attempting to share the Gospel. Another is the degree of self-centeredness seen in many of the current youth of America today (the thinking that says, “how, and/or why, would anybody sacrifice their life for anybody? Not in my neighborhood. uh-uh no way That ain’t my deal. I get what’s mine, only for me, baby.”).

    Your assessment that we need to put the Gospel into clearly understood language is absolutely correct. The Gospel must never be cheapened in the process, however.

  19. Chris,

    I’ve been one of those bloggers that have tried to promote contextualization as I understand it, yet differently than either Driscoll or McLaren. So I found your article rather interesting.

    I agree that Paul did not reference the idols of the Athenians in order to establish common ground. And I also agree that Paul pointed the Athenians to what they had in common with all sinners everywhere.

    However, I think there are a few characteristics of contextualization that we should take note of.

    First, it is displayed in the local community (John 1:14). This is why I form redemptive relationships with the unsaved around me.

    Second, it is expressed in the local cultural language (1 Cor. 9:19-23). This is why I use a more contemporary style of ministry in my community (dress, music, etc.).

    Third, it seeks the welfare of its immediate context (Jer. 29:5-7). This is why I do community mercy projects.

    And finally, it uses the idols of its immediate context in order to point idolators to the gospel (Acts 17:22-23,27-28). This is why I get to know and reference the entertainment, business, and religious idols of my community in my ministry.

    Each of the four points I made about contextualization have profound implications on the type of ministry that we have. Whether or not you agree with it of course is another thing. But I thought I would at least try to make some kind of theological connection between what some of us contextualizers believe and what we practice.

    Thanks again for the thought-provoking article.


  20. I’d like to “contextualize” my last post a little if I may…

    I personally believe that God’s election and predestining of a soul in eternity past had nothing to do with what style of music I would one day play around them. God is not served with human hands as if He needed anything.

    Yet, I am also called to make disciples incarnationally as Christ did (John 17:18). As you said, the gospel must not change. It’s message is the same no matter the context. But our ministry should still be designed to point our specific communities to the gospel as Christ did. And as such, charity should be given for churches that minister the same unchanging gospel differently to different communities.

  21. It seems like some kind of definitional work needs to be done here in order to have a good discussion, i.e., what do “contextualization” and “contextualize” mean seems to be settled before moving on to how one does it. If not, then the discussion won’t have any boundaries.

    But this is where we have a serious problem–there is very little agreement on what the term “contextualization” means and, subsequently, there are wide and contradictory varieties of “contextualizing” happening and being claimed as the biblical way to do it.

    On the more conservative end of the definitional spectrum, it generally focuses on how to communicate the biblical message in a way that is meaningful/understandable for people in a specific cultural context. That part of it has biblical warrant and makes sense. But it seems like a terrible trivialization of both the gospel and the concept to reduce it to pop culture analogies and illustrations. That translates into hip, not contextualization.

    Rick, I appreciate your effort to make a case for your understanding of contextualization, but I have to admit that I disagree with you across the board in terms of contextualization.

    I don’t believe the Lord was contextualizing when He engaged in relationships since He did so with people who lived in the same culture that He did. It’s a stretch to call this contextualizing.

    Likewise, the claim that Paul’s practice in 1 Cor 9 is the basis for contemporary ministry styles begs for explication and qualification–his point is voluntary self-restriction in order to remove obstacles to his witness, not accommodation of “cultural languages” for communication purposes.

    While I agree that we must confront the idols of unbelievers, I wonder why I need to be up on modern entertainment to know what idols fill the hearts of modern Americans (or anyone else for that matter). I certainly would grant other reasons for being conversant with the influencers in our culture, I’ve seen nothing, for instance, in the preaching of the Driscoll’s of our day that represents some profound insight into the idolatries of our day drawn from pop culture. Again, it may impressive the pagan that a preacher knows who the latest UFC champ is, but that’s about it.

    I suppose my greatest point of disagreement, and concern, about the growing emphasis on contextualization is captured by your reference to Jeremiah and making disciples incarnationally. The former assumes a continuity between the dispersed nation of Israel and the church is really needs to be proven from NT texts. And the latter is a very poor reading of John 17:18 that not only mishandles that text, it misunderstands the ministry of Jesus. He didn’t make disciples incarnationally. He did it, based on 17:6 through the communication of the Word, and He expected that His disciples would do it the same way (cf. 17:20). The incarnation was a miracle that only a pre-incarnate person could do. It wasn’t about contextualization or ministry styles. It was about God becoming flesh. How He did ministry once He became flesh was driven by preaching (cf. Mark 1:38). The early church understood this, hence the emphasis in Acts on proclamation.

    Here is the irony, at least to me. A concept which is ostensibly designed to help us proclaim the gospel runs the risk of becoming a means of shifting the emphasis away from proclamation to worship styles, mercy minstries, etc. That’s not what contextualization is about.

  22. …which is what I said. :)

    Seriously, Dr. Doran, that was very helpful. Thank you.

  23. Rick, your comment about election is interesting to me. I’ve wondered how those who are reformed in their soteriology can lean so heavily on particular means (e.g. contemporary music) as such a key part of their witness. It seems like there is a great disconnect between “reaching people in their comfort zone is essential” and “God will draw the elect to Himself.” As I see it, contextualization that affects more than understandability makes sense for Arminians; not so much for Calvinists. As I said in the original article, it seems that relying on my hipness as part of my outreach “is a denial of the power of the gospel to effect sinners apart from human posturing.”

    Here’s another thought: though you sight 1 Corinthians as an argument for contextualization, chapters 1-2 of that epistle argue strongly against it. Paul went out of his way to avoid appealing to the Corinthians in the “hipness” of their culture “that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (2:5).

    BTW, D. A. Carson’s The Cross and Christian Ministry is exceptional on 1 Corinthians 1-2, and I think his commentary is germane to this conversation. Here are two gems:

    “Paul’s own example should have told the Corinthians Christians [and us!] that they were pursuing a dangerous path, for in his preaching he had self-consciously distanced himself from the rhetorical pomp of his day.” (p. 33)

    “[Paul] clearly…thinks the gospel is jeopardized by any kind of eloquence or rhetoric that does not reinforce the message of a crucified Messiah. Clever, witty, amusing, glittering discourse may be warmly applauded by the literati, but it does not easily square with the odium of the cross. So Paul will have none of it.” (p. 35)

  24. Hi Chris, been renovating all day, so no time for blogging… (One of these days I’m going to get a house that needs no maintenance.)

    On this one: “As I see it, contextualization that affects more than understandability makes sense for Arminians; not so much for Calvinists.” — Wouldn’t Rick’s comment above show you that your perception here is incorrect? Arminians fully submitted to the authority of Scriptures would have no more liberty for radical contextualization than Calvinists with the same submissive attitude. The issue isn’t theological system, but faithfulness and commitment to the efficacy of the Word of God alone.

    As for your article, I agree in the main. I have a message I have preached on deputation called “Preaching to Pagans”, from Ac 17. (I might have preached it in Dave’s church, but that has been so long ago the particulars are shrouded in the mists of time.) My point in the message is that we do need to be able to communicate to people in terms they understand, but in no way should we dilute or compromise the gospel in any way.

    … but I still think you were too kind to Driscoll, FWIW.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    PS: cite, cite, cite…

  25. Hey guys,

    I just got back from a true evening of contextualization. A group of guys in our church formed a Dodge Ball team! And we were ranked 2nd going into the playoffs, and then fell apart.

    I agree with Dave that there are about as many definitions of contextualization as there are people who say they believe in it, which makes this conversation kind of difficult.

    For me, the very foundation of it all comes from the John 17 passage. And just like the term “contextualization,” the term “incarnational” also has alot of baggage to it. So here’s my attempt at interpreting that passage without any labels.

    John 17:18 says, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

    Christ knew what a perfect holy culture was because He created and came from heaven. He also knew what perfect worship was since He created and lived in heaven.

    Yet, the Father sent Him from that context into another context in order to make disciples of the second context.

    In the same way, God sent me from Greenville, SC, which is like heaven…oh wait…just kidding.

    But seriously, God has sent me to make disciples in the Stapleton community of Denver just as He sent Christ to make disciples in His context (and ultimately being Christ, in every context).

    When I say contextualizing, I mean that we must learn to make disciples in our context just as Christ made disciples in His context because Christ has sent us just as the Father had sent Him.

    My Calvinistic view of the gospel is that God has elected, chosen, and predestined everybody that I will ever make a disciple of (Eph. 1).

    I also believe that God does not depend upon me to accomplish His purposes (Acts 17).

    However, God still chooses to use me (Rom. 10:14-17), and has still called me in the Great Commission to make disciples.

    So the manner in which I do this should reflect the manner in which Christ made disciples. This Christ-like reflection is not necessary for God to save (Phil. 1:18). But it still should be followed.

    So how did Christ do this?

    First, He was characterized by humility (Phil. 2:5-8). He became the servant of those whom God called Him to make disciples of. In the same way, we should become servants of those whom God has called us to make disciple of. Rather than placing ourselves above our community, we should place ourselves below it.

    Second, He lived in such a way that the glory of the Father was seen clearly by those whom God had called Him to make disciples of (John 1:14). This has profound implications for interacting on a daily level with those in your community in a way that connects with them, and yet finds its disctinction in the gospel.

    Third, as Dave said, He proclaimed the name of the Father (John 17:6,20). This is why we must be clear about the gospel, rather than unclear like McLaren and the emergent church practices.

    Fourth, He used stories to accomplish what He did or did not want to communicate to the audience (Matt. 13:10-17).

    Fifth, He met their physical needs in miraculous ways in order to point them to the gospel (John 20:30-31). While I do not believe that I can heal people, I can still attend to their physical needs as an opportunity to point them to their true spiritual need of the gospel.

    These are just a few points. And these don’t really address everybody’s objections concerning the use of contemporary culture in ministry and the other passages that I brought up earlier. But before I try to tackle any of those questions, I wanted to clear up what I believe concerning contextualization’s foundation and definition.

    It’s basically ministering as Christ did–for the glory of God, making disciples, in the world, but not of the world.

    With that said, I’m going to be off to bed. But I’ll try to answer some of your objectons more specifically tomorrow as I recover from our contextualized Dodge Ball tournament and prepare for our contexualized worship service on Sunday!


  26. Wow. What a great article and (mostly) really well thought out comments. I agree that the Gospel should never be watered down to make people comfortable. It isn’t a comfortable subject. Sin is sin, but His Grace is Sovereign and amazing!!

    As for having a worship band with a mix of hymns and contemporary songs that are cross/trinity centered glorifies Him in my opinion. I believe that is why there are different styles of worship, it reaches different people with His love. Lift high the Cross fellow christians!

  27. just as an edit I am not familiar with Mark Driscoll and his preaching style so I am in no way commenting on him nor his ministry. My comments are strictly on the fact that we should be focusing on God’s love for us , the cross and reaching others with the Gospel.

  28. Rick,

    Thanks for the response. This is an important subject that calls for careful thought, so I hope you won’t mind if I interact a little more with what you’ve written. I’ve found that it is helpful for me to engage like this.

    First, let me make a clarification on my earlier post. I don’t mean to suggest that cultural issues don’t affect our communication of the gospel. So, let me qualify my earlier statement about cultural language, etc. In some ways these matters are the non-verbal aspect of our communication (like body language, tone function in speech). In terms of missions, we recognize and grant this, i.e., we call for indigenous ministry so that the gospel isn’t perceived as a foreigner’s religion. I don’t want to give the impression that I reject this because I don’t. My concern is that just as cultural rejection is a problem, so is going native. Culture is never totally neutral since it reflects man’s values–to claim neutrality in this area is to deny depravity. The cultural choices we make affect the clarity of our message at both sides of the spectrum. There’s a lot that could be said, but I need to move on.

    On the use of John 17:18, let me simply say that I believe you are not handling that text correctly. The point of the verse is not the “as” but the “sent”–it isn’t about “how” He came into the world, but that He was commissioned by the Father. The sending theme is very clear in John’s gospel, and this text is part of that theme. Probably the best text to help us understand 17:18 (and 20:21) is 4:34-38. There Jesus talks about doing the will of Him who sent Me (v. 34) in terms of the harvest of the Samaritans, and then says about His disciples, “I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored…” (v. 38). The “sent” language is John is not about incarnational living, it’s about being commissioned. The Father sent the Son. The Son sends His disciples. Obviously, since the Son existed eternally without human flesh, He had to become incarnate as part of HIs being sent. But that’s not what 17:18 and 20:21 are talking about. You and I already are incarnate, so talking about developing an incarnational ministry is a poorly chosen metaphor.

    Likewise, I find it very strained to speak of the Son coming to earth as a cross-culturally ministry. I don’t seen any biblical warrant for this, and it frankly doesn’t make sense. The Son (if we think of His preexistence) didn’t need to learn anything culturally–He didn’t know the language or culture while being omniscient? Also, Jesus of Nazareth (if we think of His incarnation) didn’t need to do cross-cultural work either since He grew up in that culture, speaking its language, moving within its forms, observing its customs. To view the incarnation, then, as contextualization seems to read missiological concepts into the text, not out of the text (sort of like how Nehemiah becomes a textbook for a great business concepts).

    I hate to add one more thing to this too long post, but to view the Lord’s miracles as merely mercy ministries is to misread the Gospels. They were authenticating signs of His Messiahship–the works testified to who He was. If they were not miraculous, then they wouldn’t have been an authentication–anyone could give out medicine or food, only the Messiah could heal and “make” food. Again, I find the biblical and theological grounds for this kind of contextualization to be very weak.

    I am sorry to write so long and be so contradictory, but this discussion is one of the areas of great concern to me. Since Lausanne (1974), evangelicalism “formally” turned down a path that advocated a more “holistic” concept of mission that is radically reshaping the meaning of missions, evangelism, and church ministry. I am convinced it is a dangerous path which leads to tragic ministerial consequences.

  29. CHRIS SAID, “Rick, your comment about election is interesting to me. I’ve wondered how those who are reformed in their soteriology can lean so heavily on particular means (e.g. contemporary music) as such a key part of their witness. ”


    One key distinction to make for me is that I do not rely on particular means in order to make disciples. God’s election has nothing to do with human will or effort (Rom. 9).

    However, I should seek to reflect Christ in the way that I reach them (John 17:18). And when God chooses to make disciples in my community, I ask myself, “How is God glorified in this specific context?” The question then is not whether or not I will allow these disciples to worship God in their cultural language, but rather to what degree and on what basis.

    For example, since they speak English, our worship services are in English. Since they speak modern day English, we use the ESV. Since I have never seen a suit coat in our community, I generally wear dress casual to church. Sometimes some of us wear suit coats. But it’s not near as much as your typical fundamentalist church would in Greenville. Since, our community appreciates excellence and beauty in the arts, we have “CityLights” activities where we enjoy some aspect of art in our culture, and then evaluate it and discuss it thoroughly in light of the gospel. Also, I spend hours arranging our worship services and songs to reflect the community’s (and God’s) appreciation for excellence and beauty. I do not believe that excellence and beauty is restricted only to the contemporary style, or to the traditional style. But rather I believe that songs from different genres and in different styles can reflect the excellence and beauty of God in different ways. So I try to reflect that in our music. I’m well aware of the fact that most of you guys would say that many of my styles are tainted by sin, rather than true beauty. And I really don’t know if we need to waste time going down that route. But this at least gives you some logical reasoning behind what I do, even if you think my reasoning and practice are flawed.

    With regard to the 1 Cor 9 passage, I agree with Dave that Paul restricted his freedom to eat and drink based on the context he was ministering in. If I were in Greenville, I would restrict myself alot more. But because nobody in my community would even think twice about my use of certain cultural freedoms, then I will enjoy those freedoms to the glory of God in order to serve them out here.

    For example, if I tell people in my church that it is a sin to drink wine moderately, then I do nothing to serve them. Instead, I place an unneeded burden on them simply because of what other people feel in a location totally foreign to my church. If I tell them to do whatever they want, then I also fail to serve them since wine has great potential for good as well as for evil influence. But if I show them how to enjoy wine in a God-centered, gospel-driven way, then I serve them. So I do believe that this passage at least points out that ministries in different contexts will look differently than one another in order to serve each specific community.

    I also appreciate the D.A. Carson quote. And I would invite any of you to check out our sermonaudio sermons at If anybody can find just one example of us following the rhetorical pomp of our day since we began, I would be very surprised. Because we have a Christ-centered, gospel-driven hermeneutic, the central message of every sermon is Christ, not some popular feeling of the day to make people feel good about having their best life now. In fact, our last Sunday was about “teaching one another” where Matt approached this issue directly.

    DAVE SAID, ” I don’t believe the Lord was contextualizing when He engaged in relationships since He did so with people who lived in the same culture that He did. It’s a stretch to call this contextualizing.”

    I see what you’re saying. But the culture that Christ ministered in was not His own. He humbled Himself to wear our clothes, speak our language, hang out with us, and worship God with us. So in a sense, that is making disciples in the language of a specific context. He never once yelled out, “That music style is not worthy of a holy God! I know because I am God!” How humbling it must have been to go from the perfect worship of heaven to the imperfect worship of the earth. Also, when making disciples, He did approach different people differently depending on the context (woman at well, Nicodemus, dying thief, etc.). They all received the same message of repentant faith in the gospel. But its presentation was different.

    DAVE SAID, While I agree that we must confront the idols of unbelievers, I wonder why I need to be up on modern entertainment to know what idols fill the hearts of modern Americans (or anyone else for that matter).”

    Modern entertainment reveals what the world holds up as having utmost value. So we can immerse ourselves in it with no distinction. Or we can choose to not know much of anything about it and just condemn it all as evil. Or we can interact with it in order to be able to point out how specific idols fall short of specific character traits of God. This is what I see Paul doing in Acts 17. Also, it helps us to disciple those being saved within that context to know how to glorify God best within that context. If we don’t even know what and how that context worships, then we will just make clones of our personal past contexts out of them. I think this is why alot of fundamentalist churches in such different contexts look so similar to one another.

    Regarding your objection to my use of the Jeremiah passage, there’s not much we will be able to settle on that one. I believe in a Christ-centered, gospel-driven hermeneutic which I believe allows me to view the Jeremiah passage as having some worth for how God wants His people to interact with the community He has sovereignly placed them in. But I’m guessing that your dispensationalist hermeneutic causes you to view Israel as totally different from the church. So if I’m right that we have totally different hermeneutics, then I doubt we could find common ground on that passage.

    Of course, we’re probably no closer now than we were before on any of these points. But hopefully some edification is accomplished through this interaction. I know it’s causing me to re-evaluate my ministry philosophy and grow accordingly.


  30. Dave,

    I think we were writing at the same time. So don’t take my last past as a response to your last post. I’ll have to go back and read your last post. Hopefully that doesn’t make things even more confusing!


  31. Dave,

    Regarding your last post, I agree whole-heartedly with paragraph 2.

    I also see your point about the John 17 being a commission. I’ll have to look into that one a little bit more. My initial reaction is to view that passage in connection with the Phil. 2 call to “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” In other words, we should minister in our commission just as Christ ministered in His commission.

    DAVE SAID, “The Son (if we think of His preexistence) didn’t need to learn anything culturally–He didn’t know the language or culture while being omniscient?”

    How would you reconcile this statement with Luke 2:52 where Christ, though omniscient as God, grows in wisdom and stature as a man?

    Regarding the mercy ministry being the modern-day miracle thing, I agree that miracles served a totally different purpose of autenticating His Messiahship. But I also see a benefit in following Christ’s example of serving people physically as well as spiritually.

    I’m not too familiar with Lausanne. So I don’t want to defend him at all. But what do you find so dangerous about ministering to people’s physical needs as an opportunity to minister to them spiritually?


  32. Karen, whose posts were not well thought out? Are you anti-Chrysler? Were you giving Rick the needle when you said that (most) comments were well thought out? Maybe you didn’t like him because he is on a Dodge ball team. Maybe if he were in a Kia ball team you would like him better?

  33. It has been helpful for me to distinguish in my mind between “contextualizing” in terms of seeking to understand my audience’s presuppositions, worldview, values, etc. and “contextualizing” by immersing myself in the culture of the audience so that I can package the message in their cultural idioms.

    There is a vast difference between the two, IMO. I think Paul did contextualize in the first way in Acts 17, but he didn’t in the second way. In no way did he immerse himself in the culture of the Athenians in order to “connect” with them. His purpose was to discredit their presuppositions and worldview. That is why he quoted their poets — to show the inconsistency of their own thinking. That’s biblical contextualization.

  34. Scott makes a very interesting distinction. We need to understand our audience’s presuppositions, wordview, values, etc.

    In order to quote their poets, we need to know about what their poets value and promote.

    Then we show them how the values of their poets fall short of what has ultimate worth–God’s love for His own glory.

    Btw, hopefully I can dodge your objections better than our dodgball team dodged the balls last night!

  35. Please excuse the bullet-style response, but I’m trying to make it quick and clear:
    –Some places to look regarding John 17 would be: (1) “The Battle for World Evangelism” by Johnston; (2) “The Missions of Jesus and His Disciples” by Kostenberger; and (3) “For the Sake of His Name” by Doran, Johnson, and Eckman (sorry for the plug, Chris).

    –Luke 2:52 isn’t referring to the Lord’s divine nature, but to His human development. That’s why I made a clear distinction between the Son in His pre-existent state and after the incarnation. The internal workings of the relationship between the two natures of Christ are beyond our full comprehension, but they exist without co-mingling. I believe the standard answer to the question is that Jesus, as fully human, went through the same process of learning that all humans do (although without the limitations of sin). The divine nature never learned anything.

    –Sorry for the lack of clarity regarding Lausanne, that’s a reference to a conference on world evangelism held in that city in Switzerland in 1974. It was a pivotal moment in the evangelical movement regarding a number of evangelism and missions issues.

    –Regarding, the dangers of ministering to people’s physical needs as an opportunity to minister to them spiritually: (1) sola Scriptura calls for explicit biblical warrant for our ministerial practices, so, for me, the lack of biblical warrant indicates a shift away from biblical authority (obviously others disagree with me on this point); (2) the very concept of doing the one as a means to the other introduces a potentially less than genuine motivation for ministering to physical needs–it’s not done as love for neighbor, but for pre-evangelism; (3) if, in response to #2, it is argued that meeting physical stands on its own as part of the church’s mission, then we’ve introduced a significant redirection of the church, one that’s happened a few times before in church history, all with ill consequences. The inevitable pull of materialism and the cares of this world seem to drive ministry to focus more and more on temporal, material needs.

    –In anticipation of an objection, I am not saying that it is wrong to “do good to all men” (Gal 6:10). I disagree with the argument: Christ healed and fed people as the means of making disciples, so we must also. I think that argument is wrong in its assessment of the Lord’s ministry, and I believe it is wrong in light of how Acts and the Epistles detail the early church in obedience to the Lord’s commission.

    (I meant to say something in the earlier post about your reference to the Lord’s use of stories–I think the reference to Matt 13 is against your point, i.e., Jesus said they were designed as a judgment, not an evangelistic strategy. You might be able to make the point from another text, but that one is not favorable to your point.)

  36. Dr. Doran,

    It’s interesting you mention Lausanne. I just re-read their statement on culture the other day, and actually thought most of it was pretty good, i.e., they attach religion/value to culture, etc.

    So where did they go wrong in their methodology/implementation?

    Thanks for your time.

  37. I would be interested in hearing more about the Lausanne thing too.

    On a more practical level regarding mercy ministry, for Christmas, we spent some money to buy 1500 incandescent lightbulbs as a gift to our community. By doing this, we will save our community over $75,000 over the next four years. We inserted an invitation to our Christmas program and an explanation that we want to love our neighbors as ourselves since Christ has loved us.

    Also, this Saturday morning, we are going downtown to a drug and prostitution addiction recovery home to donate food, clothing, and to clean and paint.

    So are these things “a dangerous path which leads to tragic ministerial consequences”? If so how? If not, maybe I’m just misunderstanding you.

  38. Dave,
    Maybe I’m completely misunderstanding you, but it sounds as if you are saying that not only do you not see a Scriptural command to help the unsaved with their physical needs, but that you also do not participate in such services because you don’t have a Scriptural mandate. This almost sounds too outlandish to be true, so I’m hoping that I just misunderstood your post.
    Or perhaps I did understand it. And that is why I find myself moving farther and farther away from some of the “truths” that I was brought up under.
    Flip side illustration: I spent hundreds of Friday and Saturday nights on the street corners of downtown Greenville trying to get people to take tracts, listen to the Bible or just engage me in discussion. 90% of the time I was ignored, ridiculed or politely declined. And I remember the specific place I was standing when I realized that the people I was trying to share the gospel with did know how much I loved them and wanted what was best for them. So I took another approach. I started to look for need. A blanket for a homeless man, sandwich for a hungry man – even a meal for a couple dining outside. 100% of the time, I had the opportunity to present the love of Christ to them in both a physical and spiritual way. I find it hard to believe that this approach to ‘loving your neighbor’ could be rejected by someone claiming to be a minister of the gospel.
    And that is why I hope that I have simply misunderstood. I would appreciate any light you could shed on your position.

  39. If you haven’t read Doran’s For the Sake of His Name, you really should do so, both to understand his position on these matters and why the shift toward pre-evangelism and away from direct gospel communication is a concern to him.

    At any rate, to dismiss his arguments (much less to take shots at him) without a basic understanding of the theology and history (e.g. Lausanne) behind his argumentation is weak.

    Finally, though extending mercy is obviously a good thing, several texts have been tortured to explain why these and other “incarnational” actions are biblically mandated. In Acts 17, Paul confronts false religion with shocking boldness—apparently within a few hours or days of his arrival in Athens!—and calls them to repent and turn to Christ. How that forms a foundation for the modern concepts of contextualization being promoted within evangelicalism is beyond me.

    One more finally: Michael, I don’t know of any church that has done more to promote the cause of world evangelization and indigenous church planting than your old church. Except perhaps Dave’s.

  40. I suppose that one could ask this question in this context: Do you believe that preaching alone is sufficient to bring men to salvation? Or put another way, do you believe 1Cor 1.18-21?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  41. Chris,
    Thanks for clarifying my position. Because I haven’t read any of Dave’s books and because I have not spent a considerable amount of time studying the history or theology behind his argument, I began my post with words of concern about possibly misunderstanding his position. I think I even ended my post with a polite request for a possible shedding of light on his position. My intention was not to take a ‘weak’ position of dismissing his argumentation. I was simply asking for a clarification for my own understanding.
    I’m also having a hard time finding anyone who took ‘shots’ at Dave. I expressed concern that any minister of Christ would consider ministering to someone’s physical needs as being unscriptural. Did not Christ bless the idea of giving a cup of cold water in His name? How does that fit into the idea that you appear to be promoting?
    And I’m not sure anyone is trying to present the idea that the gospel should be preached ‘indirectly’ or without boldness. I honestly believe in the axiom (from my much appreciated training) that ‘people will not care what you know until they know how much you care.’ It may not be Scripture, but it is reality. That’s all I’m trying to say. How else do you gain contact with the people who need the gospel? Standing on the street corner with a bullhorn just doesn’t work anymore. It has nothing to do with the message. It has to do with the presentation.

    Lastly, I don’t know how where I used to go to church appropriately fits into the conversation, but I agree with you that they have put much effort, time and money into evangelization. In fact, after 45 years in their current location, they now have a ministry that brings in people from the neighborhood on Sundays to minister to them in what used to be their old sanctuary. That is a huge step up from 10 years ago when all it was was a church packed out with people from BJ. I am honestly rejoicing that they have made this progress. My understanding is that they have a full time pastor that oversees this part of their work. I’m not familiar with Dave’s church or it’s work, so I really will have to take your word for it.

  42. We are all first called to live out the gospel (Rom. 12:1,2; Eph. 4:1;5:1). Read some of Chris’s posts on CJ Mahaney’s Cross-centered Life books.

    One way that living out the gospel expresses itself is through the verbal proclamation of the gospel.

    The proclamation of the gospel is definitely necessary to bring men to salvation. Without it, man cannot be saved. But we can proclaim the gospel in ways other than preaching in church or passing out tracts. For example, we can proclaim the gospel in writing, singing, and art as well.

  43. Once again though, contextualization has much more to do with ministry that merely how we make disciples. Rather, it also has to do with how we worship God with those disciples in their cultural context, rather than forcing them to become like the church we grew up in on the other side of the country.

  44. Don,
    That is an appropriate question. The Bible is clear on the fact that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. And how will they hear?

    I think man’s wisdom is foolishness compared to God. I don’t think man can explain perfectly how the Holy Spirit draws men to Himself. These shouldn’t be debatable. The question I am working through personally here is what steps should I take to gain an audience with someone in order to share the gospel with them? There are clear Scriptural mandates that disallow certain activities, but what can I do and not compromise my testimony of Christ? If you note my first post, that is where this started. I don’t think anyone is advocating how men are saved or where the power lies that brings men to salvation. The question is now , ‘what is appropriate/allowable/expedient in gaining the opportunity to share the gospel?’

  45. BTW, the ‘how will they hear?’ part of the post was rhetorical. :)

  46. Rick,
    I just got to read your posts. I must have missed them earlier. I began thinking globally after reading your comments. Hudson Taylor came to mind in how he adapted the dress, customs and even hairstyle of his culture. Is this along the lines of what you are thinking? It seems the contextualization hits heavy on the disciple making part of the ministry, but I am seeing your point on the worship part.

  47. Yes that’s what I mean.

    And I don’t understand why many fundamentalists get that point when it applies to a distant Hudson Taylor situation. But as soon as we try to apply that thinking to 21st century Denver, CO, they label us as worldly, emmergent, and dangerous.

    I’m not saying that anybody on this thread has explicitly said that. But none of you really need me to give specific examples of this in order to understand that we get labeled this way.

  48. Rick, if you read my posts in response to Chris’ first article, you will realize that Mahaney has no credibility with me. What can a charismatic know about the will of God? With respect to Rm 12, etc, the call isn’t ‘living out the gospel’, but being transformed from the natural man to the spiritual man. It has to do with internals, not externals.

    I am sure more could be said here, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

    Mike, the question of how they will hear is one that plagues me constantly. In my almost entirely secular city, no one will stop to listen. (Or almost no one.) I often ask myself, how do I get them to hear? The answer I have come up with is in keeping with Acts 17:

    I have to go where the people are and speak.

    There is such a thing as ‘rice Christians’, and I am not really interested in producing any of those. The rationale many give for the “good works”/contextualization is very little different from the bus ministry tactics and strategies of earlier days. The only difference is the type of work that is being done to gather the crowd.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  49. Don,
    You have not really added anything to the discussion, unfortunately. I use to go where the people are and speak. No one was listening. I’m not saying that the gospel was absolutely not heard. I’m saying it can be more effectively preached. I do not know what methods you use, so I cannot comment.
    I can say that if your uncharitable and, IMO, foolish statement regarding charismatics is an indicator of the spirit with which you deal with those who believe differently than yourself, than you are probably doing more harm than good.
    If by chance that statement was made in jest, I apologize. It certainly did not come across that way.

  50. Don,

    Why can’t a charismatic know anything about the will of God?

  51. Don,

    How is worshiping God with the common instruments of my culture (guitar, keyboard, bass guitar, viola, etc.), in the common dress of my culture (khaki pants and a collared shirt) with understandable songs to my culture (The Solid Rock, Enough, Everlasting God) within the theological context of a Calvinistic view of and response to the gospel the same as the Arminian approach to gathering a crowd?

    As far as CJ Mahaney goes, if you really think that he has nothing to edify us with then we’re just on totally different planets.

    With regard to living out the gospel, Paul repeatedly lays out his letters with theology first, and living out that theology on a practical level second. Again, if you don’t believe that, then there’s no way that we could ever get on the same page in this thread.

    I don’t mean to sound fatalistic. But the reason I disagree with you and Dave has nothing to do with styles or song choices. In reality, I think this thread reveals that we have fundamental differences of belief about how to interpret Scripture, what role the gospel plays, and how to apply the gospel practically to life and ministry.

    Thus, if we view Scripture and the role of the gospel so differently, then it is no wonder that these differeces evidence themselves in the implications of contextualization. It’s just the unfortunate way things are in a fallen world.

    I guess I would have to just try to bring us back to what does bring us together, which is the nature of God (John 17:20-23) and the gospel (Eph. 4:4). That is what our unity should be based on, rather than on agreeing in every single application of contextualization.


  52. Don,

    If you answer the Mahaney question (on which I disagree with you), please do so at your blog, then link to that discussion, if you’d like. This thread has enough problems of its own.

  53. To see what a Reformed Charismatic has to say about the will of God, go here:

    And see the post he responded to from Mark Dever.

    But I am not sure how going after Mahaney is really germane to this topic.

  54. Sorry Chris … I cross-posted with you on that Mahaney deal. You may delete my post if you think it is too out of context.

  55. Wow. I man goes into a staff meeting and comes back to a comment explosion. I have a few minutes before I need to go home for dinner and I leave tomorrow morning to speak in a conference over the weekend, so I am not going to be able to do all of this justice. I will just launch a bunch of responses out there.

    1. My concern with Lausanne is the major introduction of holistic mission into the thinking of evangelicals (and now fundamentalists), i.e., that the mission of Jesus Christ for the church is to preach the gospel and pursue social justice. The latter started as being called something which would be an implication of the gospel, then something that would serve the gospel, then something that was equal to gospel ministry. That’s the way it worked in the first round of this at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuryy, and that’s what’s happening again 100 years later. Ultimately, the answer is to be decided by Scripture, but Proverbs says a lot about the prudent foreseeing the evil and passing by.

    2. My comments about the dangerous path refer specifically to this aspect of the discussion–our theology of evangelism, missions, and the church. Personally, I don’t see how anything I’ve said could be interpreted in the ways that Rick and Michael have, but perhaps I am blinded to it because they are my words. I’ve said nothing, though, that would rule out love for neighbor, but we’re not talking about neighbor to neighbor, we were talking contextualization and church ministry. It is wrong to assume that the church body has an obligation to do whatever an individual believer has an obligation to do. I’ll write it again, I am not saying it is wrong to do good to all men.

    3. I can’t recall who said it or in what particular vein the discussion was moving, but I am saying that the church must have biblical warrant for what it does when it claims to be fulfulling the mission of Jesus Christ. How can anyone deny or argue with this? Are we free to simply decide for ourselves what the Head of the church wants or are we obligated to follow His Word? Disagree with me about how I’ve interpreted a text, or show me texts that I’ve missed or ignored, but don’t assume that your position is right simply because it is your position. Rick, if I may be blunt, I ignored it the first time, but it is really weak to throw the cloak of a “gospel-driven hermeneutic” over the discussion. I’d counter that a text-driven hermeneutic serves the gospel better. But it won’t do any of us any good to engage in special pleading like that–let’s look at the Scriptures to see which position best accounts for what they say.

    4. Please do not think that Don and I are on the same side in this discussion. Disagreeing with you does not mean we agree with each other. We may on some points, but we clearly don’t on others, most notably being the way in which the interaction should be conducted.

  56. Dave,
    I think I understand where you are coming from in #2, but in Acts 17 Paul was operating as an individual. I am having a hard time making a huge break between what I do to evangelize or minister and what my church does. The truth is, most evangelization and ministering is done under the auspices of the local church or at least as a representative. I do see areas where there is an obvious separation of personal conduct vs. church sanctioned activities, etc. But this doesn’t seem to be one to me. I haven’t done my homework enough to have a passage to support this position from the Scriptures, but I think it would be more fun to find ones don’t support yours! :)
    It will be a good study regardless.

  57. Michael,

    Where is there anything in Acts 17 to suggest the activities that you’ve mentioned? If I were taking your position, that would be the last place on which I’d base my argument. Paul did no mercy ministry in Athens or at Mars Hill. He stood in the market and the synagogue and preached, then he was invited to the Aeropagus and he preached there. I’d be happy if you restricted yourself to Paul’s pattern in Acts 17.

    I think it bears repeating that I believe at some point you will face the question of whether you do good for your neighbors in order to evangelize (i.e., it is a means to an end) or because it is what God has commanded you to do (i.e., it is an end, not a means). There is a significant difference between the two.

    I hope you do the study you mentioned and that it proves a rich time in God’s Word. And I’d love to see whatever you find that you think corrects me on this.

  58. Hi all

    I’ll not pursue the Mahaney question here per Chris’ request. I will point out that I responded to an appeal to Mahaney’s authority as if it settles something in the discussion. Mahaney isn’t inspired (nor do I think he would claim to be), but we tend to cite men as authorities when only the Bible is the authority.

    [I say ‘we’ because we all tend to do this, me included.]

    As far as the argument goes, on this topic, I think I agree with almost everything Dave says. The part I don’t agree he has already noted. We also disagree in a couple of other significant areas, but that is another thread.

    Rick said above

    I think this thread reveals that we have fundamental differences of belief about how to interpret Scripture

    I agree with that statement. I was thinking the same thing as I was replying above. I think this conversation is prima facie evidence of differing hermeneutics.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  59. Gospel contextualization . . . now this is an important topic.

    Vital subject indeed.

    I am waiting for a Driscoll church planter to contextualize the gospel in the conservative Mormon corridor.

  60. McLaren is probably the inspiration for the “Born Again Mormon” community.

    I need to write a post on this sometime.

    Yet McLaren is way out there.

    His latest book, Everything Must Change, is the boldest yet for the new “McLaren-style Christianity”.

    But of course, nothing is new.

  61. Dave,
    I guess my mentioning of Acts was not so much in support of my view as it was that he was there individually. You had stressed the importance of distinguishing between the church and the individual.
    Anyway. Are we splitting hairs here? I minister to peoples needs and share the gospel for the same reason – to show Christ’s love. It just so happens that just about every time I minister to someone’s physical need I have an opportunity to share the gospel. But if I try to go straight in with the gospel without establishing any kind of relationship or point of care, most of the time it is ineffective. So what about Christ’s statement of giving a cup of water in His name? That seems like a very clear example of meeting a physical need not for needs sake alone, but to do it in Christ’s name. What would the point of mentioning Christ’s name when you give the cup if not to invite people to know the Saviour who motivates the action?
    I will readily admit that I do not have the background to speak authoritatively on most issues Scriptural, but this seems so elementary. I’m not advocating a church who’s purpose is social improvement. The gospel will always be the point. It just seems ridiculous to say that ministering to someone out of love with the hope of being able to share the gospel with them is wrong.
    We’ve discussed Christ’s miracles, but what about Peter’s? Why did the Lord allow Peter to heal the lame man? The man wanted money, but instead Peter gave him the ability to walk. Why did this happen? The man immediately began to praise God. Could it be that Peter was given the power to heal a man so that the man would in turn praise God? In fact, the crowds that gathered to see the man who was healed then got quite the earful along with a call to repent. And all of this came from meeting someone’s physical need?
    Later on, Peter was used by God to heal many. In fact, just his shadow had to pass over them for them to be healed. And the number of believers grew. But who were the ones who didn’t like this part of Peter’s ministry? And why? Its all in Acts 5.
    Why was Stephen first attacked? Because he preached the gospel? No. Because he was performing wonders and signs. I don’t know what they were, but based on other similar accounts in Scripture, they were most likely need meeting wonders.
    Acts 8:6 says that when the crowds heard Phillip and say the works he did that they paid close attention to what he said. His works drew them in to pay close attention to what he was saying.
    Acts 9:32-35 Peter heals a man. Many come to Christ after seeing the lame man walking.
    What about Peter’s vision in Acts 10? Peter apparently had issues with ministering to Gentiles. God wanted it stopped. Time to cross the cultural border Peter. When the people were blessed by the Holy Spirit, the men with Peter were amazed that God would do such a thing for the Gentiles. How long has it been since we have been amazed by the transforming power of God?
    Acts 11 – Peter takes heat for going in among the Gentiles and eating with them. Sounds like many modern day scenarios.
    As far as Acts 17 goes, the culture and context in which Paul entered is described as “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” You don’t really have to do a lot of contextualization when you have a group like that!
    Obviously there are many illustrations where the gospel is presented without any deeds of mercy. But the how can you explain away the prominence of the idea that acts of love and mercy are used to open an opportunity for the gospel to be presented. I’m not a smart man, but this seems so simple.

    It seems that all of this to do about contextualization is a fearful reaction to something that could possibly go astray one day down the road if we aren’t careful. That is what living is, so why not embrace the truth and hold onto it instead of fearfully stepping back from legitimate ministry opportunities based on what could happen?

  62. I do think that Paul was more willing to “contextualize” the gospel compared to some of his conservative Jewish brethren in Jerusalem.

    Some are into holding their own scruples of conscience rather than reaching out to the heathen Gentiles.

  63. Sorry, Michael. I am off your train of thought.

    Church planting is one the best things for conservative believers all grouped together in huddle formation.

    It forces them to lovingly contextualize, to think beyond themselves about the lost around them in the culture.

    Though in America, my culture is different than yours, Chris.

    There must be “good contextualization of the gospel” taking place.

    Effective church planting.

    Btw, I haven’t read any of the thread. Again, I apologize for just butting in.

    It is a great topic. Key topic in any missions discussion.

  64. Michael, I think you’re makign the same mistake regarding apostolic miracles that Rick (if memory serves) made regarding the miracles of Christ.

    1. They were not normative, as you must agree. You can’t do them. And they certainly don’t have anything to do with contextualization.

    2. They were divine authentication of their ministry of direct revelation, per passages like Hebrews 2:3-4.

    That’s not to say (again) that ministries of mercy are a bad thing. But to site the example of Christ’s miracles or apostolic miracles doesn’t prove the point at all.

    Again, in Acts 17, Paul went into a pagan environment, was there for a couple days, and carried out his typical M.O. of preaching a very confrontational message calling men to repentance. I’ve said this before, perhaps to no avail, but how such a passage can be used to argue for all sorts of non-gospel ministries is beyond me.

  65. Larry’s comment on Mahaney (which will be the last, please) got caught in my moderation que and is now buried. You can see it here.

  66. I guess my point on Acts 17 was not so much trying to prove my point, but to show that it doesn’t really support yours that well either. Paul didn’t have to do a whole lot to gain an audience among people like that.
    Wait a minute. Did you mean in your last post that you didn’t want any more posts on C.J. or on this thread?
    I see where you are coming from with the miracles. But you ignore the context to say that the only reason they occurred was to give credence to the apostles authority. People were saved because of what was done. You are right. I cannot do miracles. But I can minister to people’s needs. And that just might open a door for witness. You keep saying that ministries of mercy are not a bad thing, but why is it hard to say that they are a necessary part of an effective Christian walk? And if establishing a relationship through an act of mercy is not the Scripturally mandate means of gaining an audience, then please provide some. And don’t just say go to the people and preach. We’ve established that faith comes by hearing. We are now working on getting them to hear. I guess what I’m asking for is a practical application of your ministry philosophy and maybe an idea of how well that is working. I live in an area of churches who hold your same views and the only growth in numbers they see are from new BJ students and transfers. And it is not because Greenville is already saved! Where are the first generation Christians in our churches? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I’m saying it doesn’t happen enough. And maybe that is because we have failed to gain an audience with the people who need to hear a bold, clear presentation of the gospel.

  67. Todd,
    I came across your article on SI the other day. It was great to see how things are going for you and to read a little on your ministry. I appreciated your thoughts. I think your statements hit my heart. I’m not advocating unscriptural silliness. But we have got to go where the people are and relate.
    May the Lord bless your work.

  68. Thanks, Chris. You are a scholar and a gentleman! You are one of the few boards linked to SI that doesn’t automatically delete everything I say. For some crazy reason, people don’t like what I say and they like to delete my comments. Who’d a thunk?

  69. DAVE SAID, “Rick, if I may be blunt, I ignored it the first time, but it is really weak to throw the cloak of a “gospel-driven hermeneutic” over the discussion. I’d counter that a text-driven hermeneutic serves the gospel better. ”

    I know that Dave is not here right now to discuss this. But I want to try to explain what I said about my gospel-driven hermeneutic vs. his dispensational one.

    Earlier in this discussion, I brought up Jeremiah 29:5-7 to show that God wants His people to seek the welfare of the community He has placed them in.

    Dave responded by saying that I was assuming “a continuity between the dispersed nation of Israel and the church (which) really needs to be proven from NT texts.”

    Maybe I’m just missing the point here. But as I understand him, he views Israel as a totally different dispensation than the church. Thus, if something about Israel applies to the church, he thinks it must be restated in the NT.

    A Gospel-driven hermeneutic, on the other hand, asks more than simply, “What does the text mean in its immediate context?” Instead, it asks, “How does this specific text ultimately point me back to broader theme of the Bible, which is the gospel? How is it interpreted through the lense of the gospel?”

    Thus, when I read the Jeremiah passage, I see how God wants His people to seek the welfare of the community He has placed them in. So I apply that to myself by seeking the welfare of my community in the same way.

    Our different views on the miracles also are based on a different hermeneutic. Dave’s text-driven approach says that the purpose of the miracles were only to authenticate the Messiahship. Whereas through the lense of the gospel, I also see Christ extending mercy to people physically as well as spiritually. And as such, I should extend physical and spiritual mercy to others. I doubt that Christ’s attitude was, “I’m not really doing this to help you physically. So you’d better be glad that I’m authenticating my Messiahship because otherwise you’d be blind the rest of your life.”

    Our different view on John 17 also is a product of a different hermeneutic. Once again, his text-driven approach says that Christ has commissioned us to preach like the Father had commissioned Him to preach since the text explicitly says that. But that seems to be all that Dave gets out of that passage. A gospel-driven view of this passage begins to explore the condescention of Christ in being sent to our community. And as such, we in turn model Christ’s humility by dwelling amongst and ministering to sinners as He did.

    So it’s not weak to “throw the cloak of a gospel-driven hermeneutic over the discussion.” We simply look at the Bible differently. He looks at the text for what it means in its immediate context. I look at it for how it relates back to the gospel. And that different hermeneutic is showing itself in basically every interpretive disagreement we have.

    Btw, I do see that there are somethings an individual believer should do that the church should not. There are certainly things that take place in marriage for instance that the church shouldn’t have official church get-together’s for.

    On the other hand, extending mercy to others is a responsibility of individuals. And it is something that can be accomplished much more effectively if church leadership provides opportunities for the body to extend mercy, rather than just leaving them on their own.

    Anyway, I think I’ve stated my case. And I think this thread does a good job of highlighting where our differences lie. I’m willing to interact some more on this. But I don’t want to just waste all of our time spinning our wheels and never seeing much progress in anybody’s lives. Isn’t it hypocritical for me to promote contextualization by spending hours on the internet???


  70. Rick,
    I’ve got family in Denver. In particular a sister-in-law that is looking for a church. Could you contact me with some specifics as to location, contacts, etc.?

  71. I think that I won’t pursue this conversation any longer. (hold down the applause, Dave!)

    But I will commend the book Evangelical Hermeneutics by Robert L. Thomas. It highlights the dangers inherent in Rick’s so-called ‘gospel driven hermeneutic’. As he describes it above, I can see why people may criticize him as being emerging. Perhaps he is right that he is not, but he is treading on dangerous ground and seriously misrepresenting the Scriptures.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  72. Rick,

    Thank you for the discussion. It has been profitable for me. I think much of the problem that some have with your arguments is the same problem that we have had with much of the preaching in fundamentalism over the past many years. You are arguing for something that does not seem to be in the text. Take Jeremiah 29, for example. I simply do not see where that passage is in any way calling for God’s people to “seek the welfare of the community that God has placed them in” for the purpose of sharing the gospel. Others have shown how this is also true of some people’s understanding of Acts 17 and the miracles of Christ and His disciples. You are arguing for something that does not seem to be supported by the text, no matter what you call your hermeneutic.

    Grace and peace to you and Matt as you all seek to serve Him today out in Denver.

  73. Chris may not want this to turn into a big hermeneutical discussion. And I understand the concerns that many of you have with my handling of the text within the context of the gospel.

    So if you are interested in reading any short articles in light of this thread that represent where I am coming from regarding a gospel-centered hermeneutic or missional ministry, I would highly recommend each of these.

    PREACH ING CHRIST ALONE by Michael Horton


    THE HERMENEUTICAL MATRIX by Christopher Wright



  74. Sorry to be an extremely late “jumper inner” here…


    Jeremiah 29 is a passage that God used to burden me for inner city ministry. I appreciate your thoughts.


    Can somebody give me an example of how you would preach Jeremiah 29? Or any of the OT for that matter? How would you make application to us today?

    As I read through the posts, I get the impression that some seem to elevate the NT over the OT to an extent that I am not comfortable with. Maybe this does all go back to the dispensational vs. covenantal issue, which is ironic because “covenantal” is not one of the first things that comes to mind when I am forced to describe myself.

    I fear I may be suffering from “Hermeneutic Identity Crisis Disorder” :)

    Probably no worse than the disorder this poor thread is feeling :)…certainly some strange twists and turns, but a great discussion nonetheless.

    Great article Chris.

  75. Andy,
    I know you were not addressing me, so don’t feel as if you have to answer. But do you feel comfortable taking the passages I listed in Acts and ignoring their contexts (ie the results of their works) in order dismiss the argument? Does the end justify the means? Does it have to if the means are Scriptural?
    And what do you think the purpose of God’s directives in Jeremiah was?

  76. I posted a comment a little bit ago with some links to a couple articles on gospel-centered hermeneutics. But it’s still awaiting moderation due to the fact that it has links in it.

    So I’ll just post two quick quotes that summarize this approach.

    In his book “The Mission of God,” Christopher Wright says, “To speak of the Bible being ‘all about Christ’ does not (or should not) mean that we try to find Jesus of Nazareth in every verse by some feat of imagination. Rather we mean that the person and work of Jesus become the central hermeneutical key by which we, as Christians, articulate the overall significance of these texts in both Testaments. Christ provides the hermeneutical matrix for our reading of the whole Bible” (The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, 31).

    Also, regarding the typical verse-by-verse expository preaching that most of us use, Michael Horton says, “This approach is…dangerous because it ‘misses the forest for the trees.’ In other words, revelation is one long, unfolding drama of redemption and to get wrapped up in a technical analysis of bits and pieces fails to do justice to the larger context of the text.”

    The OT reveals Christ in many more ways than merely some Psalms and prophecies. Christ said in a number of places that all of the Bible ultimately reveals Him. So that is why in the case of Jeremiah 29, I do not relegate it to something strictly for Israel. But rather, I believe that it reveals how the people of Christ should extend mercy to the community that Christ placed them in just as Christ extended mercy to us, which in my mind is biblical contextualization.


  77. Michael said:

    “You keep saying that ministries of mercy are not a bad thing, but why is it hard to say that they are a necessary part of an effective Christian walk?”

    It’s not hard to say that, Michael. “Ministries of mercy are a necessary part of an effective Christian walk.” The question is whether they are mandated in the passages being suggested, whether they are included as part of the great commission, etc. Doran has argued for the importance of doing good; he’s just done it from a clear text like Gal. 6:10 rather than torturing other texts.

    As for the Jeremiah passage, it’s not merely a matter of dispensationalism. It’s a matter of context and original intent. To take commands or promise given specifically to God’s chosen nation (as is often done with 2 Chron. 7:14, for example) and claim them as our own won’t do. There may be principles we can apply, but we can’t take all OT commands and promises as immediately applicable to us. That’s obvious…and I see more continuity between the testaments than Dr. Doran does. Notice Jer. 29:4 addresses this letter “unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon.” That’s not us. There are plenty of other passages that commend mercy; why not let those carry your arguments?

    Ironically, we just approved a significant expenditure to help communicate the gospel to some suffering people. We’re not opposed to that at all. But to use the examples of Christ’s becoming man, or of Christ’s miracles, or of apostolic miracles to argue for these things is careless. You can’t support good conclusions (assuming we agreed on some of the conclusions) with bad exegesis. Frankly, we’re talking more about exegesis and eisegesis than a system of hermeneutics. Making unrepeatable things like the incarnation(!) and miracles the basis for our philosophy is ill-advised, regardless of one’s hermeneutic.

    BTW, Michael, my response addressing your previous church was due to your saying “that is why I find myself moving farther and farther away from some of the ‘truths’ that I was brought up under” comment, which I thought was an unfair indictment of a church doing more for genuine cross-cultural evangelism than any other I’m aware of.

    Last thing: if you are looking to Acts as an example of ministry, you have a book filled with apostolic preaching that was far from “with it.” They got in people’s faces with the truth—whether Jews or Gentiles—often resulting in their being imprisoned or stoned. To see Acts defending a “win them to me so I can win them to Christ” strategy is unsupportable. The M.O. we pick up from Acts is very simple: proclaim the gospel in private and in public.

  78. The gospel is all about the sufficiency of Christ.

    Faith is all about depending on Christ.

    Worship, both whole-life and corporate, is all about glorifying Christ.

    So doesn’t it make sense that Scripture would be all about revealing Christ? Why would the Scripture be any different than the gospel, faith, and worship?

    In the same way, biblical contextualization is all about dwelling among sinners as Christ did in a way that points them to the glory of God.

  79. We’re getting nowhere, Rick. Of course your first 3 statements are true. Nobody denies that.

    Neither does anyone deny that the point of all Scripture is to reveal Christ. John 5:39 makes that undeniable. But that doesn’t mean that every single verse has some hidden Christological gem in it. The OT prepared for Christ with unmistakable prophecies, with demonstration of human sinfulness, with records of God’s sovereign working to protect the Messiah’s line, etc. But you can’t just pick an OT verse and say it’s immediately about Christ.

    As for your last sentence, saying it doesn’t prove it, especially when the data you’ve cited so far is unrepeatable. If you were to note how he ate with sinners rather than ostracizing them or something, I’d agree. But you keep going back to these hidden, obscure things like the incarnation. You don’t need to do that. Christ told us to preach the gospel, so we should do that. Christ told us to love as he loved, so we should do that. It’s not complicated.

    The funny thing is, I don’t disagree with many of your conclusions. We’re not making a big deal about wearing suits and dresses to church. We’re not trying to recreate Greenville in NE Ohio. And by God’s grace, we’re seeing a number of converts, including 2 of 4 deacons, 3 of 7 members we just took in, etc. But that’s due to the power of the gospel being shared by our members to their friends and family members and co-workers, not to some clever “incarnational ministry.” I think you’re making it way more complicated than it needs to be.

    I probably come off as though I’m frustrated. I’m not. Not at all.

  80. Chris,
    You said,

    ‘It’s not hard to say that, Michael. “Ministries of mercy are a necessary part of an effective Christian walk.”’

    See? We agree. Now let’s hug and make up. :)

    As far as my old church goes, I actually didn’t have them in mind or name them. Like I said, they have made some great strides recently. It was really more of a system of thought that I feel created barriers. But that’s another story . . .

  81. Can we all acknowledge that the only real strategy for outreach in the NT—both by command and example—is the straightforward proclamation of the gospel? That was the point of the original article (which I’m sure has become cloudy in most minds by now): that Paul preached the same gospel message regardless of the “context” of his hearers, and that he did so with unwavering boldness. Modern “contextualization” ministries don’t reflect Paul’s M.O. in Athens at all. He came, he preached, he left.

  82. Paul the Gospel Gunslinger! ;)

  83. Chris frustrated? No way. :)

    I get frustrated all the time, bro. In fact, you should see me stomping around in my office over what I read. It would make Don Johnson look like a marshmellow. (laughing so hard I am about ready to fall out of my chair)

    I just rifled through Tony Jones’ latest book on the Emergent Frontier (2008).

    Here is a dispatch straight from the horse’s mouth: church planting is more about saving one’s own faith than outreach.

    Is this what gospel proclamation and church planting is all about?

    Ah, he loves to provoke the fundamentalist spud on the frontier in Idaho.

    And one thing about Acts 17, just because a church isn’t planted, a fundamentalist shouldn’t chalk that up as a failure. Far from it.

  84. I wasn’t going to comment again, but Todd, have you seen me? I do look like a marshmallow. Too many Tim Hortons donuts, I am afraid.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  85. One more thing…

    I like the Cavs’ trade.

    (Which is the only topic this thread hasn’t hit yet)

  86. Heh–I was wondering when Big Ben was going to get mentioned here. I like the trade too–Cav fans will love Ben’s free throw and field goal percentages [heh heh]. My Pistons unloaded him just in time.

  87. Interesting take, Dan.

    Of course, another take is that your Pistons haven’t won a thing since he left and are perennial underachievers despite a glut of talent.

    Precious memories.

  88. Michael,

    Some things never change. You are just as aggravating today as you were at the info desk and on drama team. What were like as a kid? I am kidding, of course. It is always good to talk to you.

    I am just getting in and have not been around the computer since lunch. If it is alright, I will scroll back to see the Acts passages that you mentioned and get you an answer in the next couple of days. I will not be able to do much tomorrow other than finish preparations for Sunday.

    By the way, I do not disagree with all the things that you and Rick have been saying. I just want to make sure that one does not put his thoughts into the text of Scripture to prove his point, but establish his point by correctly interpreting the text of Scripture.

    Have a great weekend, my friend.

  89. Andy,
    :) (I don’t know how to make a really big smile, but it would be if I could!) I am told I was even worse as a kid. I’m finding that out with the three I have!

    I will admit that it took me a while to figure out what the real point of contention here was. I can see the concern and readily agree. At the same time, I think we can even see in Acts 17 how Paul at least tried to make his message relevant. He didn’t create an neighborhood blood drive or anything, but bringing in familiar poets and concepts helped to make his point. If you wanted a parallel, you could say (to use Chris’ illustration of Driscoll) that Madonna is a poet of our day and the Simpsons are gods. In this sense, we are being very literal in following Paul’s example. My e-mail is posted earlier in this thread if you want to converse that way. That way we can use all kind of nasty language when things really heat up! :)
    Love you, bro!

  90. This good post from Unashamed Workman—“Not Every Verse Is About Jesus“—addresses with greater clarity the point I was trying to make to Rick (and in general) with this comment.

    Saying that we are preaching or studying the Scriptures in a Christ-centered way doesn’t legitimize strained interpretations. As the UW post aptly says, “not every verse is about Jesus.”

    It’s important that we realize this, not just for the contextualization discussion, but for basic exegesis.

  91. Chris,

    I’m interested in getting your take on part of the quote you recommended. Unashamed Workman said,

    “Sometimes trying to find Jesus in a story can become a distraction from what the original author was trying to help us to understand or do, and we can end up missing the real point he was trying to make.”

    So if trying to find Jesus in a story can distract us from what the author wants us to understand, then are you saying that God’s revelation is not always about Christ? In some instances, it’s about something else?

    Also, if trying to find Jesus in a story can distratct us from what the author wants us to do, then are you saying that God sometimes calls us to obedience outside of the context of faith in the gospel of Christ?

    This is how this quote appears to me.

    Revelation (not about Christ) + Command (not about Christ) = undistracted growth.

    How does that jive with your positive review of CJ Mahaney’s “Cross-centered Life”?

    I don’t mean to start this whole huge debate all over again, especially now that I am back to working 6 days a week again. I agree that every stick is not a picture of the cross, and every river is not a picture of the Spirit. But it seems a bit alarming to me to say that revelation apart from Christ that leads to doing things apart from Christ is equivalent to undistracted growth. In my mind, that is the most distracted growth because it distracts you from the only thing that matters, which is Christ.


  92. Sorry, I don’t have much time in my ministry schedule to follow the discussions of the blogosphere. But someone just drew it to my attention that the church I am fortunate enough to pastor is referenced in this thread – especially as it pertains to our hermeneutic and practice of the Gospel. So now that nobody is reading or commenting on this thread, let me clarify in a way that addresses Chris’ original article.

    I absolutely agree that we have no authority as professing believers to tinker with the essence of the Gospel as it has been historically preached by Christ and the apostles. That includes selectively preaching only portions of the Gospel that are most palatable to our present culture. It is my ambition to fully preach the full Gospel.

    I think we’d all agree that a certain amount of contextualization takes place every time we preach/teach God’s Word. Chris says as much in his article. We do not live in 15th Century B.C. or even 1st Century Palestine. We don’t speak Aramaic or Greek. We don’t wear loincloths and sandals (with the exception of maybe some youth pastors out there). We certainly do not take live animals to the Temple to be sacrificed to our God. We may not draw all the lines in all the same places, but we all understand the need for reclothing the pure Word of God in terminology and practices that fit 21st Century America (for most of us) – unless, of course, the NT prescribes a specific practice for the Church, in which case we follow that no matter how “outdated” it seems.

    There is a difference between “contextualizing” the Gospel (as this article discusses) and “practicing or living out the implications of the Gospel.” Much of what is discussed in this thread, I would personally think of as living out the necessary implications of the Gospel, not contextualizing it. For example, our church shows mercy both to members and to nonmembers. Why? Because Gal. 6:10 says to, yes. But more fundamentally than that, because the Good News includes this life-transforming reality that our God is a merciful God. We, the Church, are fundamentally people who have experienced God’s mercy.

    My method of message preparation is probably much like many of you. In spite of what others have said, it is very much text driven. It begins with an ordinary grammatical-historical approach to the text. I do not look for quirky, novel links to Jesus in every phrase. I look at a preaching text as a whole and ask, “How does this reveal Christ?” or “How is the ultimate meaning revealed only in the New Covenant?” (I ask many similar, related questions).

    The heart of my understanding of Scripture is Christ and the Gospel. I read the Bible as redemptive history. I’m never satisfied until I can discover (God reveals to me through the text itself or throught the analogy of Scripture) how a passage connects to Christ (and there are many ways Scripture does this).

    But I also engage in the kind of “double listening” described by Stott and others. I’m not interested in cultural imperialism. My present church family is radically different than the two or three churches I grew up in. I have to explain a lot more. I have to be a little more basic. I have to use a little different vernacular (though certainly not crass or corrupting). If that’s what people mean on this thread by “contextualizing” the Gospel, I can’t see anybody having a problem with that.

    What is important for the redemption and consummation God has in store is not that we propogate a certain specific subset of cultural Christianity from some time in the past. What is important is that we clearly, comprehensibly preach a historic Gospel that reveals the biblical Christ as he is, and summons people to repent and believe on him.

  93. […] of the message is available at the Pulpit Magazine blog. What he said is very much in line with my recent post on Contextualization from the same passage—a post which garnered a fair amount of controversy (to the tune of 92 […]

  94. I really appreciated Phil Johnson’s message at 2009 Shepherd’s conference. I thought he hit the nail on the head. Chris – what were your thoughts on it?

  95. I’ve not heard it, Ryan. I appreciated his message (last year?) on the topic very much—his address on Acts 17 and Mars Hill. We actually emailed a bit about it.

    Anyway, when I get a chance to hear it, I’ll try to comment. Thanks for the tip.

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