The folks at Grace to You frequently condemn the concept of “contextualization” and do so by defining it in light of those who abuse the term. John MacArthur and Phil Johnson in particular have portrayed contextualization as watering down the message so people aren’t offended by it.
Ed Stetzer correctly defines contextualization and the need for it on his blog today:
I have said it many times, but it always seems to bear repeating — contextualization is not watering down the message. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. To contextualize the gospel means removing cultural and linguistic impediments to the gospel presentation so that only the offense of the cross remains. It is not removing the offensive parts of the gospel; it is using the appropriate means in each culture to clarify exactly who Jesus was, what He did, why He did it, and the implications that flow from it. Oftentimes, it is unclear communication (and a lack of contextualization) that contributes to some rejecting something they do not understand. If the feet of those who bring the gospel are beautiful upon the hills, it is at least partly due to the fact that those who hear the gospel understand and appreciate its life transforming truth. This often occurs through critical contextualization.
My often-used definition of contextualization: communicating in a way so as to make the offense of the gospel most clear.
John Piper posted a video — which looks like he recorded himself in his study — about talking to people for whom God is unreal. They say “don’t give me that God talk. This is a real problem.” It’s an “overflow” from his sermon of this past weekend.
In the chapter “Love: Always Craved and Yet Seldom Conveyed” he writes about the need to truly love people and not just use the appearance of love as a means to evangelize:
We need to love people simply because they are people, fashioned by God in his image; we should not show them love just as a way to evangelize them. Surely, we can find traits, common ground, unique gifts, personality nuances, and experiences we can affirm, and, better still, enjoy. But we must not love them merely as a manipulative prelude to preach at them. They’ll smell such nonlove miles away. Instead, we must ask God to enable us to love them. Period. No strings attached. If they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop — a shoe in the form of a gospel presentation — they won’t feel loved by us because, in fact, they’re not.
Manipulation as a means to the gospel is not evangelism — and risks creating a false convert. And that “common ground” — that’s the “point of contact” Francis Schaeffer advocated, a place where conversation can begin.
More importantly, that love does absolutely need to be genuine. As Albert Mohler said at a Desiring God conference whose topic was Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, we need to love them — the sinner, the unconverted — more than they love their sin.
After all, God showed his love for us, “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” ()
I had the great blessing of participating in the 2011 Earth Stove Society Think Tank this week with several presenters, including Pastor Dustin Segers of Greensboro, N.C. He is an active evangelist on the streets of his city and on college campuses.
One of his two presentations was on the topic of Apologetics and New Covenant Theology.
Dustin reminded us to “defend the Biblical God and the Biblical gospel with the Bible. Stand on the Hill of God’s word to defend that selfsame Hill. Jesus and the apostles did it, and you should too.”