Paul became a Jew to Jews, and a Gentile to Gentiles.
At least in part, that meant knowing their presuppositions, and building on them in dialogue (see Acts 13 and 17). But often-times, Paul’s “becoming a Gentile” justifies all sorts of practices that Paul would have found ludicrous. Paul could not have included meeting college students at the bar as a viable act of contextualization.
Yes, Paul understood the Gentiles, spoke their language, and used their literature to reach them. But he probably didn’t attend Toga-Parties. I mean, really.
Paul isn’t DISGUISING himself as a Greek, or pretending to be something he’s not. In fact, it’s possible that all Paul means by “becoming a Gentile” is that he’s willing to associate with them, unlike other Jews. We don’t really know. Personally, I can’t see Paul changing outfits in a chariot on the way from Jerusalem to Rome. Maybe – MAYBE – but I just doubt it.
That would be camouflage, not contextualization.
So if I see one more mid-20-something wearing a stylized dragon-print button up to reach high-schoolers, I’ll accidentally spill hot-coffee over such a one.
That’s not contextualization. That’s camouflage (and not very good, at that).
Contextualization makes us understandable, not invisible. And certainly not dishonest.
Social Media, Civil Discourse and the Fear of Missing Out - “Social media has taken the concept of the famous “Speaker’s Corner” in Hyde Park and expanded it to a world-sized stage. It has leveled the playing field. We all have a platform and a microphone, a chance to throw our ideas against the same wall with everyone else. We can speak without thinking with very little consequence.”
One reason, at least, is this: we cannot separate politics and religion.
The political realm in which we operate shapes our allegiances, our paradigms, our vocabulary, our self-identity. And as pluralistic North Americans, we were always bound to create a pluralistic Christianity. Sharing the gospel becomes my personal testimony. God’s blessing becomes the acquisition of financial/career goals. The ethic of love is stripped down to tolerance.
We are our politics – to say anything less was naïve or dishonest.
Which is why Jesus advocates the language: “Kingdom of God”. No, Jesus didn’t take the crown then – but what he is coming to do is unapologetically political. He will be crowned with all our crowns. He has already been coronated in his resurrection.
Lose that, and we lose the gospel. We smash the gospel into a preconceived, politically tainted sandwich like a piece of American cheese. It’s not American cheese. It has little or nothing to do with it. It’s the story of God becoming King through Jesus Christ.
If we want to stay true to Jesus in the midst of a different politick, we need to recover and use kingdom language.
Rome deified Caesar, Egypt deified Pharaoh, Persians deified Cyrus - these cultures aren’t archaic. Just realistic.
Peter Enns’ Tired Argument – This article addresses just one of Peter Enns’ flawed rhetorical devices against scriptural inspiration…but on a macro-level, it points out what all the hubbub of scriptural “contradictions” is really about: intellectual laziness.
The Final Trailer for The Hunger Games (Click through if you can’t see it):
They have great things to say, no doubt. No doubt, I’ve benefited from them.
The problem is, you’re not anything like them. While it’s true that “those who can’t do, teach”, it may be equally true that “those who can’t teach, do.” Why? Because the best writers are also the most naturally gifted writers.
In other words: storytelling, character development, theme, structure, style – these things come naturally to the world’s best writers. Which means: they haven’t put much thought into them.
Now, check through their books on writing. What do you find? Not too much, really – a few great thoughts on style. A few thoughts on discipline. Virtually nothing about the most basic elements of writing: how to develop characters, structure plots, and say things in an orderly fashion.
So, before you dismiss a writing book because the author isn’t a best-seller, stop. This guy had to figure out a system. He had to learn how to do something that didn’t come naturally.
How to Schedule Facebook Posts – “As authors, social media can take up quite a bit of our time that might be better spent doing other marketing or writing activities. One way I have found to combat the time I spend on social media is by taking one day a week to pre-schedule some of my facebook posts.”
“13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” -James 3:13
According to James, wisdom is that which produces a “harvest of righteousness.” It’s what reconciles us to God and one another.
And the defining trait of wisdom is not only “purity” – that is, accuracy – but meekness. Gentleness. Openness to reason (17). Contextualizing our message demonstrates that we are not only correct. We are wise. We’ve been listening.
Because we’re not just using illustrations. We’re using their illustrations. We’ve had conversations. We’ve been “quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19). We’ve asked questions. We’ve put ourselves in the shoes of those to whom we’re speaking. We know their world.
And that shines through when we contextualize. In other words, contextualization demonstrates the meekness of wisdom, which produces a harvest of righteousness in those who hear. We meet people where they are, then gently lead them home. That’s meekness. That’s wisdom.
As Charles Spurgeon once quipped: “Our Lord said ‘feed my sheep’, not ‘feed my giraffes’.”
George Whitefield, Drama, and Preaching: “I’m not sure I would call him the divine dramatist, but he brought his background in the theater into his preaching, so he didn’t use notes, and he would take on the character of those in the biblical stories. He would act out the prodigal son, not just talking about the prodigal son, but he would take on the voice of the prodigal son in his sermons and act it out in a very dramatic, emotional way.”
Genres, Conventions, and Obligatory Scenes – “Conventions are not obligatory scenes, which I’ll cover next. Rather they are specific requirements in terms of the Story’s cast or methods in moving the plot forward (minor revelatory turning points that must be there but can be weaved into the story at the writer’s discretion).”
Biblical Inerrancy and the Greener Pastures Fallacy - “There has been quite a lot of discussion in recent years about evangelical scholarship in the Old Testament and the validity of the doctrine of Scriptural inerrancy. As I watch from my perch in an evangelical and Reformed seminary, I have a few preliminary thoughts on some of the issues that seem to keep coming up.”
The answer, according to John Calvin, is “Preaching IS accommodating sinful nature”. According to Calvin, preaching would not be necessary if it weren’t for sinful nature.
We would read scripture on our own.
We could comprehend it without sinful bias.
We would apply it to our lives.
Preaching exists to place the Word before sinful men and women who resist it.
The second answer is: we DO accommodate sinful nature in our preaching. North American preachers – do you preach for a good Puritan 2-hour block? Wouldn’t it be better if you did? Of course it would. But sinful nature is such that we cannot viably sit through a 2-hour stretch of preaching.
The point is, there is always some measure of compromising the message for the medium. The question isn’t whether we should accommodate sinful nature. The question is, “How can we accommodate sinful nature without compromising the message?”
Welcome to Scribblepreach - I'm Nicholas McDonald. I'm the husband of an amazing woman, father of two awesome boys, a writer and a preacher. I've studied communication and creative writing at Olivet Nazarene University and Oxford University, and I'm currently pursuing my M.Div at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. I love to hear from my readers!