There is a lot of on-going conversation in pastoral circles about contextualizing the Gospel, particularly in light of the Emergent Village (think Brian McLauren); the Emerging Church (think Rob Bell & Dan Kimball) – and, no, the EV and EC aren’t the same thing; the conservative, sympathetically emerging, theologically orthodox church (think Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church and Matt Chandler at Village Church); postmodern epistemology; the conservative, theologically orthodox, semi-traditional urban church (think Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City); and the drive towards a more missional approach to Western culture (think Leslie Newbigin).

Now, you may be asking: What is contextualization? To put it simply, contextualizing the Gospel is understanding that the Gospel is always being communicated within a particular context (i.e., culture) and thus it is the responsibility of the one communicating the Gospel, if he/she wants to be effective, to present it in a language that is discernable and understandable within that particular context. Missionaries contextualize all the time when they learn the language of their indigenous people, adopt the customs of the people that are not contrary to the teachings of Scripture, and move to live among those they are trying to reach.

But what about contextualization within Western culture? This is one of the issues that I am going to be speaking about on the young adult retreat next week at our church, so I don’t want to give away too much here. But this is what we must realize about culture. Culture is never neutral. It is either promoting and embracing God or it exists in hostility to God and His glory. You see, the point of contextualization is to speak about Jesus, and through the supernatural work of the Spirit, be a means of bringing people into God’s Kingdom – His culture if you will. But for many people, particularly for us in the West, this isn’t the impetus behind contextualization. We contextualize because we love this Western culture just as much as unbelievers do. We love the comforts, pleasures, security, abundance, wealth and opportunities that Western culture secures for her citizens just as much as believers as those who live as enemies of Jesus in this culture do. And so we contextualize, not necessarily in hopes of moving the enemies of God into a glorious Kingdom that is better – because I am not convinced the Western church really believes Jesus’ Kingdom is of more value than the benefits of Western culture – but in hopes of retaining and justifying the benefits we receive from Western culture for ourselves. Perhaps our contextualization is nothing more than idolatry cloaked in the pretense of the Gospel. Just a thought. What do you think?

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