Friday, December 14, 2007

Doing it Right

I've had a whole whack (I don't know for sure how much a 'whack' is, but I suppose it's a lot) of theological/doctrinal topics swirling about in my thoughts lately. This post is just the tip of where I am right now with this subject, and I don't pretend for a moment to have it all figured out.


Okay, so this means what, exactly? I know what it's supposed to mean (communicating a clear gospel message to the people around you in the surroundings and language they're familiar with, i.e. the very work that foreign missions workers do every day), but I also question if it really means that in the light of this new era we find evangelicism in. This week at fide-o I saw a post called Know Your Audience come through my bloglines with this definition:

"do you preach out of an English translation of the Bible, does your church have a men's ministry, does your church take your kids to summer camp? These are all ways that we contextualize the gospel."

Right before I read that, I read this at TeamPyro:

"The driving concept behind church growth and church marketing today begins with The idea that we need to find out what people want and adapt both our message and our delivery accordingly in order to reach them effectively. Pastors expend great amounts of energy taking opinion polls and canvassing their communities to find out people's tastes and preferences (especially with regard to style and subject matter). Then they make it their main object to reach those "felt needs."Now there's no question such an approach has sometimes been effective in drawing huge crowds. You can see it in several of the largest churches in the country. But can it be effective in the long-term? Is it more effective in reaching people for Christ, so that their lives are transformed and they truly live for him? The answer to that question is clearly no. It is not a biblical strategy. It is precisely the thing Paul says not to do."

On the one hand, I agree completely that we're to be missionaries in our own settings (work, school, community involvement, etc.) and that taking advantage of different types of ministry opportunities in our churches is a commendable thing, but on the other hand I also agree that we're to live a Christian life and proclaim a Christian message the way Paul did, without compromise and without watering down the message so much so as to blend in with the surrounding culture and be "relevent" to them. This reminds me of the idea that some call Friendship Evangelism. Essentially, you buddy up to folks (do what they do, go where they go, listen/watch/speak the same music, movies and language they use) and then you slip in gospel nuggets here and there when the opportunity comes up. I think that's the part where this whole contextualizing the gospel has become so messed up in our modern era of evangelicism. I think (and again, I could be wrong) that so many younger believers have latched onto this idea that you have to be this, wear that, watch this or play that - to be "relevent" to the lost culture, that they have completely forgotten (or never knew to begin with) that the focus is supposed to be the message, and not the method. Moreso, that the life changing power of that message should lay out in our conscience clear guidelines for the methods. The Bible says that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and if we believe that, then we should have no issue whatsoever with proclaiming it simply and clearly. The alternative seems to be programs, seeker friendly sermons, knowing your audience, using popular books or movies (even R rated ones) as sermon outlines, and all kinds of other tricks, bells and whistles to get the attention of a lost crowd. This approach screams out "I do not believe in God's sovereignty in the salvation of man, I must do this, this, this and that, to set the whole deal up!"

Oddly enough, this is the very topic that launched my research into the whole emerging/missional church mess, just over three years ago. What set the fire under me was a pastor who told me flat out that the gospel itself is in fact NOT enough, and we must do other things to reach the lost. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I set out to understand this way of thinking and why it's so common among young believers (the 40 and under crowd) especially, and even among those who call themselves 'reformed'.

To me the answer seems so simplistic that it must be wrong. To me, you live your Christian life according to what the Bible says (an audience of One, to coin a phrase), share the gospel with whoever you can, whenever you can, pray for folks, and trust that the Lord will send His word where He wants it and do with it what He intends (Isaiah 55:11). Of course this doesn't allow for programs and functions and using sleeze bag R rated movies for sermon outlines, and effectively plops me straight into "you're such a Victorian-era prude!", so I'm not sure this will be a good enough answer for anyone.

Maybe I'm just too simple minded to really get ahold of all this. Then again, maybe being and living a Christian life isn't all that complicated to begin with, and it's others who've made it out to be that way?

Yesterday I had a brief discussion with a friend who suggested I read this and share my thoughts on evangelism and culture - and it seemed to fit here with my thoughts on reading culture and bringing the gospel into it. While I do agree that approaching someone from the place they're at (ie, having a good working knowledge of their worldview and being able to Biblically and apologetically show them why they're in error. This would apply to postmodernism, atheism, agnosticism and any and all religious views such as Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, etc.) is a commendable effort and one that some in the body are incredibly gifted at, I don't agree at all that we should have "compassion" for the culture. All it takes is 5 minutes of watching the local news or walking on a downtown street to see that our culture is happily wallowing in every imaginable sinful, anti-God activity. Compassion for people, yes indeed - but compassion for the culture - no. The seriousness of how sick and twisted and sinful the culture is that we live in should motivate us and break our hearts to the point that we eagerly and often speak against it.

oooh, shiney thing!The idea behind the above linked post, is that we (Christians) see this flick so we can better minister truth to those who've seen it, liked it, and don't know the Lord. Anyone that knows me already knows that I don't buy into that line of thinking at all. While I agree that we should have at least some knowledge of not only this movie (which anyone can obtain by simply reading the vast amounts of info on the backstory online) but any other shiney thing that comes rolling along in our culture and dazzles the masses, I don't agree that we have to watch it, read it, participate in it or listen to it, to be able to better minister to those involved in it, that don't know the Lord. I'm a firm believer in the idea that more Christians should have a better working knowledge of their own faith, before they try to "engage the culture" and deconstruct anyone else's non-Christian worldview.

As Christians, we're supposed to be in the world but not of the world. We're supposed to be working out our salvation with fear and trembling. We're supposed to be decidedly different than the lost in the culture around us. We're supposed be constantly transformed to be more like Christ, and less conformed to the things in the world. All of these things are Biblical goals that we're supposed to be aiming for, and yet almost every time I read anything about contextualizing the gospel what I discover is a lot of downplaying Biblical truths for a lot of hand-holding and participation in worldly, self-indulgent things.

Like I said, I sure don't have it all figured out, but the more I read about Paul's life and ministry and the more I think about what a Paul would look like in our culture, the more convinced I become that too many of us in the evangelical camp have been overly dazzled by the shiney things (philosphy, "spirituality", entertainment, technology, etc.) in our day.