The gospel is an affront to all men. An easily accepted form of Christianity is not indeed a form of Christianity.
image courtesy of revmocat
On Friday I defined contextualization as the way in which we share the truth of the gospel in any given culture. We seek to present the gospel while removing as many obstacles as possible, always aware, though — and not making excuses for the fact — that the gospel itself is never going to fit into a non-Christian’s current system of belief.
Paul described contextualization as being all things to all men — a Jew to the Jews and a Gentile to the Gentiles. Contextualization is crucial because there do exist so many barriers to the gospel in cultures around the world. Here are just a few that come to mind:
- socioeconomic background
- political affiliation
- music preference
- favorite sport
- shoe size
And it would be a shame to allow the above obstacles to deter non-believers from becoming disciples of Christ.
But today I’m afraid many Christians over-contextualize the gospel in attempts to make it more attractive to their target cultures. Rather than study a particular culture’s language and thought processes in attempts to make the Bible easier to understand, they have gone the route of simply modeling the gospel after a target culture. As a result their churches look and act exactly like the cultures in which they serve.
These churches demonstrate an approach to mission which consists of grace without truth. When we masquerade the gospel in the costume of our day and culture, we are removing truth.
We should not seek to remove EVERY existing obstacle when presenting the gospel to an unbelieving world. Because the truth of the gospel is itself always going to be an obstacle. It represents a whole other belief system and worldview — one which is in constant conflict (or should be) with any culture in which it is presented.
Our task, then, is to remove as many obstacles as possible… without hiding (or apologizing for the fact) that the gospel is never going to fit into a non-Christian’s current system of belief. The kingdom of God will not pledge allegiance to, or be ruled by, any other kingdom. Yet that is what we often see today: a version of the kingdom of God which is willing to bow down to the kingdom of local culture. We are increasingly seeing a culture-shaped Christianity — rather than a Christ-shaped culture.
A quick example: Any objective reading of scripture would tell us there’s no room in Christianity for materialism and greed — and that the Christian should be satisfied with less “stuff,” always progressing toward a more simple life. Yet our culture tells us we need the latest computer technology, social media gadgetry, and some new shoes.
So what do our churches do? Do we model simplicity and contentment in a lustful and materialistic world? Do we exhort our adherents to be filled with the Holy Spirit and not fulfilled by Apple? No, we use the collection plate money to buy the latest techno-gizmo devices, huge audio-video equipment, and Britney Spears hand-free microphones. Many of our churches might as well be advertisements for Best Buy (or whatever store you buy that kind of stuff in).
Culture is shaping Christianity, and not the other way around. And this is all in the name of contextualization.
But I digress. I’m not nearly so concerned with worship screens and money spent on video cameras as I am with a form of Christianity being offered that borders on syncretism. Syncretism is when you blend cultures, thoughts, or worldviews in an attempt to reconcile beliefs that are actually contrary. In the name of contextualization, many of our churches are attempting to sell their neighbors a syncretistic version of Christianity. ALL obstacles to faith have been removed — and I don’t mean language and hair color. We’re removing barriers like:
- God is the one true God.
- Jesus is the only savior of the world.
- God will judge all humanity.
In efforts to offer a palatable Christianity, I’m afraid some of us have stopped offering Christianity. And we’ve done so in the name of contextualization.