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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Get Out Of The Way

I've posted about this before, but I've been hearing and reading a lot about "contextualization"of the gospel. If you've every read my blog before, you likely know that I believe that we the church should do all that we can to minimize the cultural differences that hinder the communication of love and truth to the people around us. If that's what you mean by "contextualization," then call me a "contextualizer." The more foreign we are, the more foreign our message will seem. Context is important.

The other day I spoke with a friend who was concerned after reading my post "The Uncanny Valley." This friend thought that I might be too caught up in trying to make Christianity "hip" or "cool." I clarified my opinion for him, and we agreed that "contextualization" in the sense of trying to make Jesus seem "cool" is really a bad idea. The reason it's bad is simple: we're not cool. Especially this friend I was talking to.

There is a difference, then, between cultural translation of the message, and assuming the cultural appropriateness of a model or practice of the faith.

That's the problem with models of church or ministry or evangelism; they're only good during the life of the cultural context for which they were designed (and usually, not even that long.) The rate of change is so great these days; subcultures and population segments are moving "targets" (forgive me for using the word). I believe we should model (insofar as we're able) what life in Christ might look like in our cultural setting, but we've got to remember that the best people to decide what church might look like in any given culture are the people of that culture.

I have been targeted by many Christians. Churches tailor their programs to meet my needs without bothering to ask what they are. Bible study resources are written for my demographic in order to help my walk. Evangelism experts call me ineffective, and blame it on my laziness for not going, my fear for not being bold enough, or my ignorance for not figuring out the "5 Simple Steps to Effective Soul-Winning." I identify with the people most of you call "targets" and "contacts."

If you're comfortable with your current expression of your faith, good for you. I'm not; but please don't think I'm asking you for help with that. Stop trying to make church relevant to me. Teach me what the Bible says about church, and get out of my way. My friends and family will wrestle with the cultural implications. Teach me what you understand to be God's directive concerning leadership, worship, gifts, and service; leave it to us and the Spirit to work out the practice. Train me in truth, but don't expect me to look, act, dress, talk, or think like you.

Thank you.


Strider said...

Stepchild, I hear your pain and I understand your problem. That is why I am going to send you- for a mere $20 donation- a pamphlet that I think will solve your problems. It is called 'How to Be Me' and I think you will find it helpful. If I am reading you right then I think that 'Apendix A: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Evangelist' will be particularly useful to you.

In the meantime, let us consider how to love one another and let Jesus worry about how He will build His Church. Good post Brother!

Strider said...

Wow, two days and no one else has commented on this. I think your last paragraph where you told everyone to get out of your way was intimidating. Of course, I have not seen too many bloggers intimidated into silence before now so maybe there is something else going on?
If you take away all our crutches can we not stand?

stepchild said...

Apparently, you are my only reader. Thanks for commenting. I appreciate the evangelism resources you offer, but I'm hard at work on my own series, "Making Jesus a Cool Dude." In it, I translate the book of Numbers into 1980's L.A. street slang. Look for it in your local Christian Bookstore.

I find the thought of me being intimidating very funny. I guess I could at least use a better name: Max? Hoss? Rocco?

No, I'm thinking maybe my blog has lulled everyone to sleep.

Anonymous said...

WAKE UP, in all seriousness, i doubt anyone is asleep after a post like that. maybe just shell shocked into a coma state is all. i appreciate this post including the last paragraph. thanks. it led me to question what it is that makes me feel targeted by "the others" (other believers) and if i ever do that myself. i felt like this post made me uncomfortable. maybe because i agreed with it so much i had to ask myself a few questions. and now one for you...when is that version of numbers coming out?


Bryan Riley said...

I'm in therapy and haven't been reading anything that will engage my brain, so i've been away. i've been searching God's word about my heart and communing with it and with God. So, thus my absence. Interesting post. I'm still somewhat on sabbath from intellectualizing, so i'll just say that.

Bryan Riley said...

Some probably think my intellect is permanently on Sabbath.

ewinwe said...

nah, your post was not intimidating...only challenging. i'm NOT comfortable with my current expression of my faith. it is very difficult to try to be what i am (the product of my upbringing) in the place i am (the land of my forefathers). i am always bothered by, what does it look like to be a 'christian' in the society i live in? if i try to live like the amerikaner christians down the street, then i am a) NOT being true to the culture and b) NOT being true to myself. if i try to live like the locals, then i am not 'living as a witness' or else i have 'gone native'.

well gee whiz, there has GOT to be a balance. somewhere *between* drinking-the-local-beverage and offering-only-welches-grape-juice to my dinner guests is where i may find the real way to live and work over here. i just have to find that groove and get into it ...

great, thought-provoking post.

someday i'll run into you and say thanks for making my head hurt...

Watchman said...


i've been too busy writing blurbs to comment on your post. There's good money to be made out there...

Seriously, I believe you are identifying the wind of the Spirit these days. A few years ago I actually started making a list of men with whom I have had personal conversation, feeling disconnected with the church as we know it. Their feelings about it were all the same. i believe it has to do with the fact that the culture has changed, and the methods and paradigms employed by the church made sense to those men at that time, however short. I stopped adding to the list at 25.

Where I resonate deeply with this post is I acknowledge that for every generation there results a bias of the Gospel in order to try and interpret it to that generation. I bought into a framework of thinking 20yrs ago that I lived by and tried to promote. A highly disciplined, structured devotional life was good for whatever ails you. Struggle with depression? Have a Quiet Time. Struggle with porn? Memorize more verses? Struggle with laziness? Have a Quiet Time. I think to some degree it had its desired effect.

So as the church continues to offer the same paradigm, I am left feeling like I am out of step. But as I gain courage to feel that Wind and follow it, I too say, get out of my way.

Publius said...

Man, this is a hard post to respond to. I mean, it's kind of bitter, but if you're listening to a lot of Derek Webb right now I can understand why. ;)

I think what you're seeing is modern American Christians that have no idea what to do with Postmodernity. Our denomination is big, traditional, and a has a lot of really old people in charge. It's not going to change overnight, or probably even in the next decade. I can sympathize, but I can't really offer anything constructive, except maybe this:

Take courage. You are in the right place, doing the right thing. Remember the Reformation? Sure, we all know Martin Luther and John Huss, but there were a thousand other guys just like them catching flak from their archbishops for talking crazy things like, "We're saved by grace, not papal decree." They didn't make the history books, but they were in the right place, in their time, winning souls for Christ. Two hundred years later they were called Reformers. But at the time, they mostly just got in trouble, and vented bitterly to their friends while the boss wasn't looking. Kind of like us.

So take heart, my bitter but hopeful friend! In another two hundred years, nobody will think you're a heretic anymore!