Three Doctrines that “Challenge” Contextualization.

At least, these are three I’ve heard used:

1. Total Depravity. “Humans are totally corrupt. They can’t produce anything good. Therefore, we shouldn’t borrow from them.” I heard this used by a talk-show host firing at Tim Keller.

But ‘total depravity’ isn’t Calvin’s word: it’s a pneumonic device. We’re not totally corrupt, as in “as bad as possible.” We’re utterly corrupt. At root, we are corrupt.

But not all of us are Adolf Hitler. We’re not as bad as possible. God’s common grace gives unbelievers rain, and grace, and culture, and conscience. In fact, failing to acknowledge God’s common grace is blasphemy (Romans 1).

That’s what unbelievers do. Not Christians.

2. Scriptural Sufficiency. One “reformed” book for high-schoolers pitted scriptural sufficiency against using illustrations. Another preacher used it as a reason not to use humor. Another used it against video illustrations, and drama. These are well-known voices.

But what is scriptural sufficiency?

It means scripture contains all we need to know to understand and live out the gospel. We don’t pit this against translating the Bible into English. We don’t pit it against the need for preaching. We don’t pit it against acts of mercy (well, depending who you are).

So why would we pit it against contextualization? Answer: because this is a pet-doctrine used by us Reformers when we don’t like something.

3. God’s sovereignty. Admittedly, this one has been used by ME. I’ve already addressed this, but I’ll address it again. The question isn’t whether the Holy Spirit can sovereignly draw people to himself. The question is: “By what means does He delight to do it?”

We can agree that He delights to do it through the preaching of the gospel.

We can agree that He delights to do it through prayer.

And we’re comfortable saying: “More people will be saved in a given context when preachers preach the gospel and pray.” But when it comes to contextualization, we change the game-plan: “The Holy Spirit is Sovereign! He doesn’t need that!”

He doesn’t need it. Nor does He need prayer. Or preaching for that matter.

But he delights in it. Because, as I’ve noted, it 1. Honors His common grace, and 2. Is an act of Christ-like love. And yes, more people will be saved in our ministries when we do it.


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Breakfast Blend 10.24.14

6 Steps to Becoming an Authorpeneur: This is mainly for indie authors, but that seems to be a great track to be on these days.

Fiction Books within Fiction Books: A fun Huffpost on books we wish were real in fiction books.

The University as Cross-Cultural Mission: “So, if you are a Christ follower living, studying, or working within the increasingly difficult context of secular academic institutions, I offer 5 ways of applying the cross-cultural framework of global missions in the hope that it will help you as you seek to make disciples.”

How to Argue Like Jesus – Joe Carter’s book up for grabs at 99 cents.

This is the most epic Hobbit/airline video ever made. I guarantee it (click through if you can’t see it in e-mail):


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Isn’t Speaking English Enough?

A well-known blogger/author recently said about his church: “We do contextualize. Our services are in English.”

When pressed he said, “Sure, we could contextualize more.”

In other words:

  1. Contextualization means speaking the same language.
  2. Contextualization beyond this isn’t all that important.

But this is an abysmal definition of contextualization.

First, it fails to account for God’s common grace beyond the realm of language. God communicates through mountains. Music. Art. Poetry. Story. Life.

Second, it fails to see contextualization as an act of love. Speaking a language we already know does not suffice.

Third, it fails to follow the picture of contextualization woven throughout scripture. God does not merely use human language, but human experience to communicate: slaughtered animals, naked prophets, nations at war, etc. Language is merely the glue that connects these concrete realities to the unseen.

Fourth, it fails to understand the nature of language. C.S. Lewis (in an essay I’m dying to remember, if anyone does) once wrote that all real communication deals with concrete realities. For example: when I say ‘Cedar Tree’, I am communicating an image to you.

When I say ‘tree’, I communicate less.

When I say ‘nature’, I communicate even less.

When I say ‘thing’, I say nothing.

The more we categorize, the less we contextualize, and so – the less we communicate. If communication is mediating between us and the Mediator, we stand (as John Stott’s book notes) between two worlds.

It’s not enough to say ‘Trinity’ – we must also say, “Father, Son, and Family Lawyer”.

It’s not enough to say ‘Propitiation’, we must also say, ‘Lamb on the altar’.

But even this is not enough (contra John MacArthur). Because we no longer belong to that world: we belong to our world. We’re not shepherds, or priests, or money-lenders. The point of these pictures is to draw on concrete reality – but this is no longer our concrete reality. Now we’re movie-watchers, app-users and Facebook mongers.

The contextualization question, then, is: “How can we glue the concrete realities of daily life in our world to the concrete realities of the gospel?” And ‘daily life’ is shifting sand, consisting of one-thousand variations within English-speaking people groups.

That’s why contextualization isn’t just speaking English. It’s speaking their English.

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Breakfast Blend 10.23.14

Why Readers Prefer Books – an infographic that gives demonstrable proof.

Reflections on the “Lost” Series – “Ten years ago this fall, Lost debuted on ABC. It was groundbreaking drama with a premiere that smashed records and garnered a a rabidly devoted fan base. Six years later, Lost ended as a letdown for many of its most faithful fans. Why did the show draw such attention? And why did it prove ultimately unsatisfying for so many viewers?”

C.S. Lewis, Public Intellectual - A review of Lewis’s latest biography by Alister McGrath.

10 Steps to Promoting Your Ebook - “When you consider book marketing, it’s important to remember that there are long-term strategies that include things like blogging, videos and podcast interviews, professional speaking, and email list building. But there are also short-term spike tactics that can lift your book up the charts quickly, providing ranking and sales benefits. The ebook price promotion is the king of spike marketing and this article will help you optimize your efforts in this area.”

Advice to First Time Authors – “As the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson, I receive a lot of email from would-be authors who are trying to get published. Because I make my email address public, it’s pretty easy to get to me.”

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Breakfast Blend 10.22.14

How Schools Kill Creativity – if you haven’t seen this TEDx talk, check it out. It’s one of their top ten, and it’s incredible.

What did OT Writers know? J. Gresham Machen answers, and G.K. Beale follows up. Can’t find more wisdom on one page than that.

Defining ‘Secular’ and Why it Matters – “Before reading this book, I considered “secular” as a synonym for “non-spiritual” and used the term as an antonym for “sacred” or as an adjective to describe an increasingly non-religious Western world. Taylor’s work challenged me on the meaning of “secular” by offering three reference points for secularity, showing how the term can take on different meanings.”

Coming out as Christian – Margaret Eagen shares what it’s like to be in elite academics as an underground Christian.

From Papyrus to Pixels - An interactive journey on the future of books.

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Are Greek Poets More Eloquent than Scripture?

There’s no inherent power in wearing hipster clothes to reach hipsters.

Nor is there inherent power in quoting Keats to reach poets.

Nor is there inherent power in quoting Greek poets, to reach Greeks. Nor did they say more eloquently than scripture the truth about God. And yet, Paul quotes them, instead of the Old Testament.


Because all of the above are acts of love. Maybe I don’t like Keats – that’s not the point. The point is, God delights when we copy the pattern of incarnation set by Jesus (and nevermind that ‘taking on flesh’ can’t be repeated – as though that little juke entirely dismissed the explicit injunction of Philippians 2).

Contextualization is just that: clothing ourselves in another world, for the sake of the other. Giving up our own interests. Meeting sinners where they are.


Your carpet isn’t just a carpet. It’s a choice between love and selfishness.

Your website isn’t just a website: it’s a choice between love and selfishness.

Your preaching isn’t just preaching. It’s a choice between love and selfishness.

God doesn’t delight in the website. Or the carpet. Or the one-point sermon. He delights in the love that created it. He delights when the radical selflessness in Christ has taken effect. He delights when we show the gospel in word and deed (Acts 1:1).

He delights when we love sinners as sinners – as He did us.

That’s why God loves contextualization: it’s repeating Jesus, in word and deed.

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What’s so Amazing About (Common) Grace?

Evangelicals typically see God’s common grace (His goodness toward non-Christians) as a stream running eternally parallel to the stream of special grace (His goodness presented in the gospel).

But this is impossible.

The presentation of the gospel requires God’s universal common gift of language, syntax and conscience, for example. B.B. Warfield writes: “Without general revelation, special revelation would lack that basis in the fundamental knowledge of God as the mighty and wise, righteous and good, maker and ruler of all things, apart from which the further revelation of this great God’s interventions in the world for the salvation of sinners could not be either intelligible, credible or operative.”

So, common grace is not a parallel stream, running its course to the waterfall of judgment. It is potentially that, yes. But if we channel the stream of common grace into the ocean of special grace, we cooperate with God: we use the momentum of His common goodness to forge a path to His ultimate goodness: grace.

Which is why:

David celebrates God’s common grace in Creation alongside Israel’s redemptive history.

Jesus channels the common grace of shepherding, monarchies and money-systems to the ocean of God’s kingdom.

Paul forges a path between Gentile poets and Gospel wisdom.

Why does God love contextualization? The answer, in part, is this: we are exemplary worshipers when we honor the path God’s walked before us: His common goodness toward sinners like us. 


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Breakfast Blend 10.21.14

Coleridge’s Four Types of Readers – Austin Kleon with a helpful little excerpt.

14 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block – “It happens to every writer. It’s inevitable. Your prose has turned to mush, you don’t have a creative bone left in your body, and you want to throw in the towel.”

Staying Focused on a Project – “Every business has projects from time to time that demand our total focus and attention. The good news is that there are certain tactics we can use to keep our edge even when we’re under the gun.”

Quotes from “How Shall They Preach” – My good friend Alex Kato put together this Evernote collection from one of his favorite books on preaching.

Rhythm, Rhyme and Jesus – Dan Dewitt on his journey away from, and back to, hip-hop as a means of grace.



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Breakfast Blend 10.20.14


7 Ways to Attract Readers to Your Blog – COPYBLOGGER: “…when you think about large numbers of readers, you turn people into a faceless crowd. And when you write for a faceless crowd, your writing becomes colorless, drab, and boring.”

12 Treasures of Europe – NY TIMES: “For the Travel section’s Oct. 19 issue on Europe, writers and editors selected special items to profile from a dozen cities. Below, explore everything from chocolate in Brussels to silk in Florence to design in Copenhagen.”

Interview with John Steinbeck – THE PARIS REVIEW: “A man who writes a story is forced to put into it the best of his knowledge and the best of his feeling. The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty. A writer lives in awe of words for they can be cruel or kind, and they can change their meanings right in front of you. They pick up flavors and odors like butter in a refrigerator. Of course, there are dishonest writers who go on for a little while, but not for long—not for long.”

34 Things I Wish I Knew Before my Starting my PhD – BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: “These are geared toward PhD students, but are applicable to anyone, especially students: So I’ll cut right to the point: below is a list of handy tips, tricks, general advice and things I wish I knew when I started my PhD. The list was put together from chats with other PhD friends of mine, but is by no means exhaustive (nor is it in any particular order, though it did get quite long…).”

Google It… – SETH GODIN: “The job is no longer to recite facts, to read the bio out loud, to explain something better found or watched online. No, the job is to personally and passionately make us care enough to look up the facts for ourselves.”

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Will More People Be Saved if the Gospel is Contextualized?

From God’s perspective: No.

The question is, really: “Does God normally use a contextualized gospel to save people?” On one level there is an ecumenical head-nod to that question: common sense tells us God would normally not save people if the gospel were preached in Old Latin. He normally would save English-speaking people through an English-speaking preacher.

So at least at one level, we can say, “Yes – God normally will save more people through our ministry when we contextualize the message.” And – “Less (or no) peoplewill be saved through our ministry if we don’t contextualize the message (at least into the native tongue).”

This does not, of course, deny that the Holy Spirit COULD use a non-contextualized message: he could save someone if I presented the gospel in Klingon to African children. And it does not denythat He will save everyone He chooses.

It’s simply affirming that there is a way in which God delights to save people: He delights to save people through contextualization. Thus, a Bible that requires translation.

Why does He?

That’s a question for tomorrow.

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