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Contextualization: Becoming All Things To All Men To Save Some (Part 2).


Contextualization begins with a broken heart for the lost and a driving desire to help them understand God’s liberating truth. Only by real listening and learning can we hope to persuasively communicate God’s unchanging Word to our constantly changing world. (Tullian Tchividjian)

In my earlier post I wrote that the aim of Paul in becoming all things to all people is “that [he] may by all means save some”—from the wrath of God.  When coming into a culture to live as long term missionaries, there are certain aspects of the culture we need to receive, reject and redeem.”  What part do we receive?  What part do we reject? And what part do we redeem?  I mentioned that this takes years of hard work, risks, discernment and labor of love.  We are called to proclaim the unadulterated Word of God, but we are also called to live as “a slave to all, that [we] might win the more” and “by all means save some.”  And I raised a warning from 1 Corinthians 9:19–23.

“As soon as you say, “I have made myself slave to all” (v. 19), and “I have become all things to all men” (v. 23), you are on the brink of idolatry and compromise and worldliness and sin.  You are walking the razor’s edge between fruitless separatism and unprincipled expediency.  If you fall one way, you are of no use because you have no connection with the world; if you fall the other way, you are of no use because you are just like the world.  How do you keep your faith and your freedom and your radical zeal to win people and not just copy people? The answer is that you think hard about your relation to the law of God—the way Paul did.” (Piper).

So we’re settled that becoming “all things to all people” does not mean fitting in with the fallen patterns of this world so that there is no distinguishable difference between Christians and non-Christians.  Below is a post by Tim Keller that presses home this point further on the question I raised here in my earlier post: How do we contextualize without syncretizing? And I believe the first step is that we rediscover the biblical gospel in the Church where the gospel is often assumed.  He writes:

While I agree that it’s very important to believe that every word in the Bible is true, both Jesus and the Pharisees agreed with that. You can believe that every word in the Bible is true and be lost, absolutely lost, as the Pharisees were. The church loses its life-changing dynamism to the degree that its theology goes off to this side or that side—into either uptight legalistic moralism, or into latitudinarianism, broadness, not believing the Bible, licentiousness, relativism.

By saying the biblical gospel is in the middle, that’s not saying “moderation in all things.”  Jesus wasn’t moderate in anything.  He was radically gentle and radically truth loving at the same time. The gospel isn’t a kind of middle-of-the-road, lukewarm thing. But the gospel is neither legalism nor licentiousness.  And to the degree we lose the biblical gospel, we’re never going to be a movement that reaches the city.

The core of the movement is also a contextualized gospel.

Contextualization has not so much to do with theology as with culture.

So, for example, recently I was talking to a young Christian woman who had moved to New York City years ago with her family from another country and grew up in a wonderful ethnic church. But eventually she became frustrated with that church because, as she said, “It was more important for them to stay inside their culture than to reach out to the rest of New York. The only people who would ever find faith in that church were people who were absolutely like everybody from my homeland.”  They refused to assimilate, to adapt to the fact that they’re in New York. Everything was so culturally narrow that the only people who would ever find faith there were people who had just gotten off a plane or a boat.

That’s a failure to adapt, failure to contextualize. 

Paul said, “I’ve become all things to all people. I’m a Jew to the Jew; I’m a Greek to the Greek, in order that all people will receive the gospel.”  Of course, you can over-adapt.  To adapt too much to the culture of New York City is to adapt to worldliness, sin,greed, and idolatry. So where do you find that middle ground, where we contextualizing to the culture around us so that people there will hear the gospel, but we’re not capitulating culturally? Ah, that’s the area of wisdom. That’s a contextualized biblical gospel theology. (Whole article here).

Read previous post: Part 1 HERE.


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