As I’ve been preparing to write a Seminary paper about the short history and current theology of the Emerging Church, I listened again to Mark Driscoll’s address to the 2007 Convergent Conference, hosted by the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. If you’ve got an hour and a half, it is an OUTSTANDING picture from the inside of the start of the Emerging Church movement and its theological dangers. I’ve posted it here if you’re interested.
As I listened and learned and thought about the implications for ministry today, Mark focused his attention on an issue that has me by the throat right now… CONTEXTUALIZATION. This post is a summary of his thoughts, blended with my own, in the hopes that we would be passionate preachers of the truth RIGHT NOW in this culture – neither bowing our doctrine to the whims of culture, nor stiff-arming culture as if to protect ourselves from it.
In the world… but not of it. But still in it. Right? And not of it.
Basically this: the local church exists (according to the Great Commission in Matt. 28 and the Greatest Commandments in Matt. 22) to make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God and love people. We (believers) have been born into this time and this place. In this cultural context. For THESE people. Therefore, we must find a way to take the timeless truth of the Gospel (and the hard truth that we are all depraved sinners who need rescue and resuscitation) and CONTEXTUALIZE it for the culture we have been placed in by God in His perfect wisdom. We’re here, right now, on purpose.
I see much energy being spent by by church people in the pursuit of conflict rather than converts. I see the liberal left wing of the Christian community, as personified by the open theism and narrative “trajectory” theology of the Emerging Church conversation, and the fundamentalist far right wing characterized by zealous dogma and self-righteous condemnation of cultural contamination in the church, as two hostile camps, each with their sights focused on the other.
In the middle ground are contextual cultural missionaries (like me), trying to find ways to communicate in today’s culture the timeless truth that we all need Jesus, and that his gospel message of hope is for us. Right now. These pastors, teachers, evangelists, writers, and church folk with a burning heart for God and a passion for the lost souls that surround us are getting shot in the crossfire, and the Church (capital “C”) is suffering for it.
We must be people of the middle ground. As Jesus prayed for us in John 17, not that we would be removed from the world, but that we would be protected from the evil one and united with other believers as we take the gospel to the time and place we have been sent to serve. Contextualization of the Word of God.
This stands in contrast to the left and right wings engaged in a theological cage match…
In the far left corner we have those emerging theologians who believe that theology, and God Himself, is evolving with culture. They are the syncretists, blending Christianity with paganism. They hold a low view of scripture, and they are asking the same basic question that the serpent asked Eve in the garden… “Did God really say…?” They have two hands. In one they hold DOCTRINE and in the other they hold church PRACTICE. In the far left corner, BOTH hands are open. Doctrine and practice are both open to change.
In the far right corner we have the cultural separatists and doctrinal purists who are more concerned with being contaminated by the culture than they are in changing it. They are the sectarians, who see New Testament references to the “world” as synonymous with “culture.” Ergo, “cultural relevance” = “worldliness.” They hold a high view of scripture, but practice “sanctification by separation” from sinners and their interests. They have two hands. In one they hold DOCTRINE and in the other they hold church PRACTICE. In the far right corner, BOTH hands are closed. Neither doctrine nor practice are open to change.
I’m with Mark Driscoll on this one. I don’t want to be a syncretist. I don’t want to be a sectarian. I want to be a SUBVERSIVE, infiltrating culture and speaking their language, with every intention of infusing that culture with the life-giving message of Jesus Christ. We hold a high view of scripture, and we embrace the culture to the degree that we can identify WITH it and not be identified BY it. While there are certainly elements of culture that are worldly, there are things we can receive, things we must reject, and things we can REDEEM in culture through the power of the Word of God.
We, the people of the middle ground, have two hands. In one we hold DOCTRINE and in the other we hold church PRACTICE. The cultural contextualizers (like me) hold doctrine tightly, like a treasure, with a CLOSED hand… but our other hand, the one gripping our church practices and the way we’ve always done things, that hand must always be OPEN.
We present timeless truth using timely methods. We seek to be Biblically faithful and culturally fruitful. We CONTEND for the faith (Jude vs. 3 — “Defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to His holy people…”) against creeping liberal theology, and at the same time we CONTEXTUALIZE our message for the culture we live in (per 1 Corinthians 9, verse 19 — I have become all things to all people in order that some may be saved.”)
That’s where I plant my flag. Next to Pastor Mark’s. And I stand with the greatest subversive, cultural contextualizer of all time, Jesus Christ, who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself in human likeness and humbled himself to save us from our sin.
If you have the time and want to consider all of this more carefully, please scroll up and listen to Pastor Mark Driscoll’s address to the 2007 Convergent Conference, hosted by the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary…
“emergent vs. fundamentalist smackdown :: where christians and culture collide” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.