Category Archives: Contextualizing
Now that all the Sovereign Grace Ministries messages are free, I’m slowly feasting message-by-message in a long and delicious buffet of audio. Today I finally arrived at Dave Harvey’s message from the SGM Leadership Conference this Spring (at the time, I was on the other side of the wall listening to Dever speak on his annual reading schedule).
Harvey, the author of the excellent book When Sinners Say I Do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage (Shepherd’s Press: 2007), is also an expert church planter and apostolic leader within SGF. This Spring in his session “Watch Your Mission: To Be, or Not to Be, ‘Missional,’” he assessed the strengths and weakness of the missional movement. In part, he argues the MM muddies the Cross-centered focus of the Church and misunderstands the apostolic context of the Great Commission.
Here’s the heart of his outline:
1. What are the Strengths of Missional Churches?
A. Missional Churches Have a Commendable Passion for Evangelism.
B. Missional Churches Have a Laudable Commitment to Engaging Culture.
C. Missional Churches Have a Profitable Impulse for Reexamining Church Tradition.
D. They Also Possess an Admirable Devotion to Social Impact.
2. What are the Weaknesses of Missional Churches?
A. Missional Churches Tend to Be Mission-Centered Rather Than Gospel-Centered.
B. Missional Churches Tend to Have a Reductionistic Ecclesiology.
C. Missional Churches Tend to Confuse Culture Engagement with Cultural Immersion.
D. Missional Churches Tend to Downplay the Institutional and Organizational Nature of the Church.
E. Missional Churches Tend to Have an Insufficient Understanding of Apostolic Ministry.
Update: It should be noted SGM believes in a continuing apostolic gift: “present-day apostles plant and build local churches for the sanctification of the believer, the expansion of the mission, and the exaltation of God.” For more on why they use the term, what it means and does not mean, see the SGM booklet by Harvey titled Polity: Serving and Leading the Local Church (2004), pages 17-26, 49-50.
Puritan fashion is hot! No kidding. A top designer recently announced the resurgence of the Puritan doily! Yes, that white thing around Richard Sibbes’ neck is coming back. [Once for a college video project to portray John Winthrop I cut a neck hole in a table doily. Yes, there are pictures of me sportin’ the thing. No, you’ll never see them.]
There is more to the Puritans than hip doily fashion. So who were they? This question receives a great deal of answers but one book relinquishes definition of Puritan culture to the words of the Puritans. The book is titled The Puritans: A Sourcebook of their Writings (Dover: 2001) edited by Perry Miller and Thomas H. Johnson.
Perry Miller (1905-1963) was a professor at Harvard and is remembered as a fine Puritan scholar and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Narrowed specifically on the American Puritans, this 1,000 book is loaded with original source writings and helpful introductions covering the true Puritan in their manners, customs, behaviors, poetry and their thoughts on art, education, politiks and science. It provides a fascinating background in the search to understand true Puritan culture.
Here are a few choice cuts from the intro:
“Without some understanding of Puritanism, it may be safely said, there is no understanding of America … In the mood of revolt against the ideals of previous generations which has swept over our period, Puritanism has become a shining target for many sorts of marksmen. Confusion becomes worse confounded if we attempt to correlate modern usages with anything that can be proved pertinent to the original Puritans themselves. To seek no further, it was the habit of proponents for the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment during the 1920’s to dub Prohibitionists ‘Puritans,’ and the cartoonists made the nation familiar with an image of the Puritan: a gaunt, lank-haired kill-joy, wearing a black steeple hat and compounding for sins he was inclined to by damning those to which he had no mind. Yet any acquaintance with the Puritans of the seventeenth century will reveal at once, not only that they did not wear such hats, but also that they attired themselves in all the hues of the rainbow, and furthermore that in their daily life they imbibed what seem to us prodigious quantities of alcoholic beverages, with never the slightest inkling that they were doing anything sinful. … if first of all we wish to take Puritan culture as a whole, we shall find, let us say, that about ninety per cent of the intellectual life, scientific knowledge, morality, manners and customs, notions and prejudices, was that of all Englishmen … They were not unique or extreme in thinking that religion was the primary and all-engrossing business of man, or that all human though and action should tend to the glory of God.”
This book is not Cross-centered but very useful in illustrating the Puritan Cross-centered spirituality existed within a cultural sensitivity to art, politiks, education, science and the world around them. Very useful to confront the caricature that the Puritans were dry, culturally withdrawn and excessive zealots.
“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” (Acts 17:16, NIV)
“His spirit was troubled and yet just a few verses later he walks into the Areopagus and proclaims the Gospel using the culture from which he came into and from which he was troubled. I think we need to have a troubled relationship with culture. It doesn’t mean – that because cultural relevance matters – that we just adapt culture without forethought or discernment. I think culture should disturb us. And the problem is that for many of us is that we are only disturbed by other people’s culture. I think there is part of our culture that should disturb us. There are sins and idols and hindrances and strongholds in our culture that ought to deeply concern us. So Paul’s spirit was troubled within him when he saw the city was full of idols … [But] context matters. The how of ministry is frequently determined by the who, and the when, and the where of ministry … If you are going to get the culture then part of the culture needs to trouble you. I’m concerned that for many right now in some emerging church circles that they are more troubled by the Gospel than they are by their culture. Brothers and sisters, I think we need to get troubled by the culture and rely on the Gospel.”
- Ed Stetzer, from the third session of The Resurgence conference titled Breaking the Missional Code.
I think most pastors would admit that our churches can improve when it comes to reaching our community. Some of the most community-centered and creative ideas I see originate from the Acts 29 Network. Here in my home city of Omaha, NE the Acts 29 network planted a church East of 108th street, where Gospel-centered churches are quite rare (Core Community Church). Core ministers to the unfortunate, homeless and those wanting to learn English. They are doing tremendous work in the Eastern half of Omaha often neglected.
Recently I came across another impressive Acts 29 church: Oikos Fellowship in Washington. The church is producing an excellent monthly magazine for the lost of their city. As you will see the magazine is a creative way to gauge the local thoughts about Christianity and communicate the message culture needs (like Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God). The magazine also highlights local ministries. It appears all their writings, photos and graphics originated from their own people, too. You can download the August magazine here.
In a church culture often centered around programs for Christians, this ministry philosophy goes a long way, I think, in pressing the church from its comfortable weekly activities out and into the community.
Anyways, grace-centered props to Oikos Fellowship.
The following quotes from Ed Stetzer come from the third session of The Resurgence conference titled Breaking the Missional Code. He mentioned the first two passages and concepts to set the stage for the following:
1. Contending for the faith (Jude 3)
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
2. Contextualizing culture (1 Cor. 9:22-23)
“To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
This is what he said about them together:
“If we are going to be biblical churches we’ve got to contend and contextualize at the same time and know that both deeply matter … Many churches contend, contend, contend but they never get to contextualization. And I caution for many of us – particularly predominate among those of us who are church planters – we want to contextualize, contextualize, contextualize and we forget to contend. We’ve got to contend and contextualize if biblical churches are to be birthed and grown in culture.”
Then an example of contextualizing with the DaVinci Code:
“Here is the question we asked 1,200 Americans: After reading or hearing about the DaVinci Code are you more or less likely to seek the truth by studying the Bible? Forty-four percent (44%) said they are more likely to seek the truth through studying the Bible. Do I want this false heretical expression? Of course I don’t. But do I recognize that God is already at work and what we need to do is acknowledge the positive – and yes, rebuke the negative – but at the same time see that God is already at work and join Him there by asking people to join in studying the Bible together to see what it says? Instead of picketing and protesting [the movie] many are seeing this as an opportunity to engage in missional ministry in context.”