This week the Center for Church Renewal launches a Doctor of Ministry Degree (offered through Western Theological Seminary) entitled “Church Renewal in the North American Context.” As we begin, we will discuss, CENTER CHURCH by Tim Keller and PARTICIPATING IN GOD’S MISSION by Craig Van Gelder and Dwight Zscheile. Dr. Van Gelder is this week’s guest instructor. We are gathered at the base of Mt. Hood, Oregon which is near his home.
Both Keller and Van Gelder highlight the importance of connecting the Gospel to the real lives of real people living at a particular time in a particular place. Keller refers to this as “intentional contextualization” while Van Gelder names it as a “missiological engagement with culture.” Here is how Keller describes it:
“Contextualization is not—as is often argued— “giving people what they want to hear.” Rather, it is giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them.
Connecting with the real lives of real people is the work of renewal. Here are my thoughts about learning to connect.
7 commitments towards connecting:
Commitment 1: Begin With Empathy Not Judgement
Too much of evangelical Christianity has focused on an “us vs. them” attitude. Contextualization demands nurturing a compassion for those whom God loves. Compassion demands both empathy and understanding.
Commitment 2: Begin With Listening Not Speaking
At times it appears Christians have two mouths and one ear rather than the reverse (see James 1:19). Contextualization demands listening to understand the world as our neighbors see and experience it.
Commitment 3: Begin With Gospel Not Platitudes
True Gospel is about grace through the finished work of Jesus Christ. Sadly, in many Christian circles the temptation is to substitute moralistic platitudes for the lavishness of God’s love.
Commitment 4: Begin with Complexity Not Simplicity
Life is complicated. Still, many attempt to simplify the complexities of life to make life fit faith. Contextualization, on the other hand, lets faith fit the complexities of life. Hard things should not be made easy. [Note: if you would like to see how I’ve wrestled with the complexities of being “For-life” you can read here]
Commitment 5: Begin With History Not Headlines
There is a back story to the real lives of real people who are disconnected from faith and faith family. Cultural values came from somewhere. Being a student of that “somewhere” helps build a bridge to today’s headlines.
Commitment 6: Begin With Patience Not Panic
Having cultural conversations does not have to raise the temperature in the room. Contextualizing the Gospel is about patiently conversing about Gospel hope while giving space for the slow work of the Holy Spirit.
Commitment 7: Begin With Pictures Not Words
Contextualization happens best when we paint compelling pictures of God’s Shalom (the world as God would have it to be) rather than creating arguments to be accepted or rejected. In the end, “Christ’s love compels” (II Cor. 5).