Context [Part 1]. Does it matter?

When John MacArthur reportedly said a few weeks ago at the Shepherds Conference that “contextualization is a curse” and “the apostles went out with a complete disdain for context”

. . . I said nothing.

When his sidekick Phil Johnson followed it up with “Regarding contextualization, Paul did not adapt his message to the values and beliefs of the culture the Athenians lived in”

. . . I went on pilgrimage to my inner monastery and renewed my vow of silence.

When Phil added a few days ago that Paul used NONE of the strategies of postmodern missional ministry [culture, contextualization, conversation, and charitableness]
. . . I stuck my teenage son’s smelly sock down my throat so that i could not speak and then smeared raspberry jam on my keyboard so that i could not blog.

But when a commenter on Phil’s blog responded with “I never thought that ANYONE would see Paul’s evangelism to the Athenians as “contextualisation”!

. . well . . . I could contain myself no longer. The sock popped from my mouth and nearly knocked my ‘Perspectives’ off the bookshelf, and the raspberry jam magically dissolved, presenting me with a bright and shiny set of keys to tap out some response.

A quick recap:

Phil over at Pyromaniacs has a big post called “Paul on Mars Hill: Part 1”. which is worth reading just to see how people can read the same story and come up with opposite conclusions. His second part “Paul in Athens” got posted today and is consistent with his argument.

Phil’s graphics are great, as usual.

Hen Punkn2

But I find his argument hard to swallow. Read on.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Phil’s says:

“People who are enthralled with style-driven missional strategies almost always single out this famous account. “Paul blended into the culture,” they say. “He adopted the worldview and communications style of his hearers. He observed their religion and listened to their beliefs and learned from them before he tried to teach them. And he didn’t step on their toes by refuting what they believed. Instead, he took their idea of the unknown god, embraced that, and used it as the starting point for his message about Christ. And there you have some of the major elements of postmodern missional ministry: culture, contextualization, conversation, and charitableness.” Phil 1:1 (
Phil’s first main point, in the first installment of his series)

Well, its true that I do see the need for some cultural sensitivity to both our own culture and the culture to which we are sent.

When some missionaries went to Africa with complete disdain for contextualization, they brought pipe-organs with them so the natives could worship God properly, without their nuances of culture.

When some missionaries went to North America with complete disdain for contextualization, they took away their native dances and forced the converts to learn English so that they could worship God properly, in the correct language, and without their nuances of culture.

Where is Gary Larson when we need him?


I like to think we have moved on from those embarrassing days, that we have gone back to the Scriptures where we find the model of Christ who laid aside his glory and ‘tablernacled’ among us, who grew up in a particular culture, who sent his disciples out on mission telling them to leave their bags behind. We see a Christ who was sensitive to the culture of the people to whom he communicated. He spoke of new birth to a theologian and the water of life to a thirsty outcast. To a blind and deaf man, Jesus used touch and sign gestures to get the message across before he healed him.

Context matters.

But being sensitive to culture is not the same as accommodation to culture. In 2005 I took a poll from emerging church practitioners based on Neibuhr’s 5 ways of understanding Christ and culture.


It turned out that “Christ the Transformer of Culture” was by far the most popular choice for emerging church people, at 70%, and “Christ of Culture” (accomodation/syncretism) was actually the lowest at 3%.

So what about Acts 17 with Paul peaching in Athens?

I believe that Paul does for the Athenians what he has just done recently for the Lystrians and the Jews. Paul recalls their ancient stories [myths?] and finds in them some “eye openers” or redemptive analogies to the gospel. In Acts 13, being contextually relevant to the Jews and God fearers, he retrieves prophecy from the Hebrew Scriptures that point to Christ. In Acts 14, being contextually relevant to the pagan animistic Lystrians, explains their humanness and points to the evidence for Christ in his creation. Did he know about the previous Zeus/Hermes encounter that formed a backdrop to their appearance? We are not sure. But he WAS sensitive to how they would receive the message.

We are pretty certain that he was familiar with Epimenides because he quotes the Epimenides paradox (All Cretans are liars) to Titus (Titus 1:12) and, now in Athens to follow the path already tred by Epimenides, he uses the concept of Epimenides’s “altar to the unknown god” as an eye-opener to the gospel to the Athenians in Acts 17.

If you havent read the story of the Athen’s plague and Epimendes suggestion to create altars to the unknown god to avert judgement then read it here. Even better, pick up a copy of Don Richardson’s Peace Child or Eternity in the Hearts for a deeper understanding of redemptive analogies and how Christ is often pre-figured in ancient cultures around the world. This is missiology 101. Basic stuff. But its so essential for best practise in mission. We need to listen, to dialogue, to understand the story (mythology) behind a culture as well as the art and philosophy that expresses it so that we can help create understanding of the good news that Christ suffered, died, rose again and ascended.

And for the missiology geeks out there, check out the stirrings of Fulfillment Theory at Edinburgh 1910 and follow it as it finds legs in India and then comes back to our home countries through Donovan (Catholic) and Richardson (Protestant) in the 1970’s.

Could it be that Paul knew nothing about Epimenides and the plague of Athens and just FLUKED it by either sheer luck or a prophetic burst of Spirit guided wisdom? I guess so but I find that hard to believe.

Does the context affect the message? Of course it does. The story stays the same – same Jesus who fleshed out his life with humans in their context, and who died, rose again, ascended and then appeared to many witnesses in their context, in a way they could acknowledge. Same story but it will be different every time you tell it because people and their environment are different. DUH! This is not compromise. This is telling the story.

And if we ignore the context of the hearers of the gospel, we will end up with a colonial Christianity shaped by the culture of ourselves, the message-bearers. Contextualization matters and the lack of it is a curse to those on the receiving end of our ministry.

I also think it is a mistake to turn the contextualization argument into an either-or argument. All of us contextualize but balance is needed. In my world of missions and emerging church, the argument for contextualization is normally done on a six stage scale and must be done carefully.

So I respectfully disagree with John MacArthur and Phil Johnson and encourage them to pour over the Scriptures again but with different eyes. As I am sure they will suggest to me.

Some bloggers have throwing in a few bones on Jonny Mac’s ideas so I dont feel I need to. I did jot down some links to follow up on.

Contend Earnestly has problems with MacArthur’s understanding of contextualization.

Internet Monk writes a respectful comeback to MacArthur and suggests that his suit is not supra-cultural by any means. Good point.

Boars Head Tavern says its like a “fish preaching against water.”

– Fide-O normally comes out against the emerging church but this time Jason offers some disagreement with MacArthur and says that ‘adaptation to culture is inevitable’.

Adrian Warnock notices that the power struggles have resumed along with boxing gloves [my interpretation], in particular between Phil Johnson and Michael Spencer (Internet Monk). And in my opinion, sometimes this is stupid male but sometimes this is how we stupid males communicate with each other. We dont sit down for a coffee and a chat when we can have a heated debate on the blogs and do it the manly way. Brodie Hackney has a good outline of the conference talks.

ContendEarnestly has some good thoughts.

And the conversation has begun on Pyromaniacs. Should be a worthwhile one, even if you tend to stay away from these controversies. I think this one could shed some light on how we can read the same Bible and end up on different playing fields.

BTW – I have a lot [lot lot lot lot . . . LOT] of respect for both John MacArthur and Phil Johnson. Phil and I almost had a cup of coffee together a month ago in London but we had to put it off for another day. Both are godly men who love God and the Scriptures and I look forward to meeting them in person one day.

Bottom line. I believe that the Apostle Paul listened and conversed and looked for the redemptive analogies that would help him convincingly and prophetically shed light on the good news of Christ. The next generation are finding their own mythologies that will influence how they understand concepts of redemption, salvation, blood sacrifice and other theological concepts. They will need eye openers. They already have stored away a few redemptive analogies from the poets and writers of their own day and will draw on them to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom. Some of those stories are helpful and some will need to be corrected. But we do need to be aware of them.

And thats why you might find me in the cinema watching Harry Potter.

But thats me. How about you. Does context matter?

UPDATE: Phil responds to this post here on Pyromaniacs. Worth reading. Phil has given more thought to contextualization that I realized. I should post again soon and address his thoughts.

This Series on Contextualization:

[Part 1]: Does it Matter?

[Part 2]: Between Mindlessness and Recklessness

[Part 3]: Between Absolutism and Relativism


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Well said. Fair, balanced and firm. Thanks!

  • hamo says:

    I must admit I find it hard to believe this is a debate!

  • Rob Grayson says:

    Great post Andrew – thanks for your balance, fairness and clarity.

  • Ben says:

    Is there any such thing as a non-contextualized gospel anymore?
    Is not the average church already contextualised to modern Christian culture when compared with the culture in 1st century Israel?
    Contextualisation is not about changing the gospel it’s about changing the other stuff we have bundled with it, right?
    At the end of the day Paul is not my model for contextualisation, Jesus is!
    Contextualisation is at the core of the incarnation.
    and then there is Philippians 2.

  • Henni says:

    thinking… if the gospel is identical with the person of Christ… then what would incarnation, God living under the circumstances and in the context of his very own creation – in a world that is radically different from eternity, is in complete disconnection even – be but contextualisation? if God would communicate with us in his very own eternal ways and not thru human language, human flesh even, we wouldn’t know a thing, wouldn’t know him… so yeah, it freaking matters!!!

  • Seth McBee says:

    Good balanced post. I also deeply respect MacArthur and all he has done, is doing and will do for the kingdom of God, but believe he has missed it here.
    Thanks for the link and for the discussion as I believe it is a very important one.
    I think here though John and Phil have thrown out the baby with the bath water.

  • Mike B. says:

    Great Post. Love it.

  • Chris says:

    I agree. The sad thing is that both John and Phil probably hunted Easter eggs a few weeks ago and thought that it was a purely “Christian” thing to do. It seems hypocritical to say that only their culture is Christian and somehow by incorporating other cultural practices into the worship of Jesus it is being diluted rather than strengthened

  • Peggy says:

    Well done, Andrew…hope you don’t have any residue of those toxic socks caught between your teeth, or anything!
    Restraint … the best of God’s attributes, IMO … did its work in and through you in this post, brother.
    Be blessed as you weather the ensuing storm….

  • I am slightly amused by their argument. I was first introduced to the concept of contextualization in grad school as I studied mission – at a very conservative evangelical school where postmodernism was treated as evil. It’s amazing what guilt by association can do for an idea over the years.
    At the time I questioned why it was perfectly okay to contextualize to indigenous peoples, but not to our own culture. The somewhat racist response was that we are either above culture or have achieved the best culture, so contextualization isn’t necessary for us. Are such assumptions still at play?

  • Of course context matters. For starters, it is essential to speak the same language. Basic, but true. Try sharing the English version of The Four Spiritual Laws (or King James Version or whatever) to people who do not understand English!
    On a related note, it is true that sometimes the messenger IS the message, at least when the messenger/context is either offensive or compelling. While I do not agree with everything articulated by Brian McLaren, for example, his humility is so winsome and attractive. I wish I could say the same thing about all pastors/evangelists/preachers/professors.
    Andrew, will you be in Orlando for the Exponential Conference again? It’d be great to see you (it always is!).

  • andrew jones says:

    Kirk – i was at exponential last year ( i saw you there, right) but will not be there this year. hope you enjoy it.

  • ally simpson says:

    See on something like context i cannot get my head around how someone like John MacArthur who you rightly state is “a Godly man who loves the scriptures” can throw it out it so bluntly, i often find him a bit arrogant and his quote above proves this once again for me…………..a “Godly” arrogant man?? mmm yea i dunno what to say, its obvious to me

  • Great post. Without contextualization we cannot speak and relate to the same language and values of the postmodern world.

  • andrew jones says:

    julie – this conflict is at the heart of the emerging-missonal church which, as i see it, is what happens when missions comes home.
    contextualization is normal overseas on teh mission field, even celebrated, but when you bring it home it is viewed with suspicion partly because it challenges our own cultural prejudices and exposes biases that we never thought we had.

  • andrew jones says:

    as for john macarthur, he might come across as arrogant (i am sure i do as well) and i kinda wish he would rethink his earlier stances against charismatics and saddlebackers, but if you do a quick google search on his name, you find that he is quite blameless – people might disagree with him, as i do, but there are no ghosts in his closet and no angry mob of disillusioned ex-church members.
    thats quite commendable. he is a man of character and is still standing firm after many decades of ministry.

  • Eddie says:

    When the evangelists came to write down Jesus’ words, they did so in Greek to fit the context for which they were writing. If context hadn’t mattered, they’d have written in Aramaic holding on to Jesus’ cultural background. From the very outset, ours is a contextualised faith.

  • Eddie says:

    Sorry for the second comment, but I just saw this…
    “contextualization is normal overseas on teh mission field, even celebrated, but when you bring it home it is viewed with suspicion partly because it challenges our own cultural prejudices and exposes biases that we never thought we had.”
    Andrew – what does a historic overseas mission have to offer the church in the West, apart from taking their money and their people? I’m trying to explore this as I give leadership to a UK mission and would value thoughts and advice.

  • andrew jones says:

    eddie, a good example of a mission thinking through this is the 200+ year old Church Mission Society that is not only continuing a good post-colonial mission presence, and releasing other continents to assume a partner role, but also supporting missional efforts in the UK.
    in fact, the top ranking emerging church website in the world ( is supported by CMS.
    And CMS is behind our cooperative and social enterprise in Scotland.
    Talk to Jonny Baker for more details.

  • brad says:

    i find it ironic that Phil’s graphics (which are really REALLY cool!) are actually a contextualized way to satirize contextualization by postmoderns.
    since postmoderns are ironic, and since Phil is ironically playing at being non-postmodern while using approaches with postmodern purchase like cultural contextualization, he is, in fact, actually being meta-ironic and not just ironic, is he not? in my understanding, that makes him a true postmodern.
    soooo … welcome to The Tribe, Phil! glad you have a sense of humor and were willing to be Punk’d yourself postmodernly while attempting to Punk postmodern others.
    p.s. since i used more traditional analytic and logical processes, with the more traditional medium of words rather than media, to create this comment on anti-contextualization, i actually contextualized for moderns … or, at least, i attempted to.
    more than meta-irony, it was meant as an irony!

  • andrew jones says:

    yeah . . . whatever brad said . . .

  • Bryan Riley says:

    Does context matter? In a word – “YES!”
    Here’s some of what I said to Phil’s post (cleaned up a little because I couldn’t believe all I had read and wrote too quickly). I definitely felt like his post was incorrect.
    Phil, you say – “The right question to ask is not how many people received the message warmly. (It’s nice if they do, but that’s not usually the majority response.) The right question to ask is whether the signs of conviction are seen in those who have heard… In fact, when unbelievers walk away without repenting of sin and embracing Christ, an overtly hostile reaction is a much better indication that the message was delivered clearly and accurately than a round of applause and an outpouring of good feeling from a crowd of appreciative worldlings.”
    I say – I think you are misplacing the focus while accusing others of doing the same. You are still focused on the hearer, and this results in the speaker getting fulfillment via the reception of the human hearers. Not to wax Piperesque, because that is not my intention, but I believe we absolutely must ask only whether God is pleased – and the only way we can know that is if we have sought Him diligently for His words and have delivered the word He has given us. (this, of course, can and often makes context matter!)
    You also say:
    “Paul was bold and plain-spoken. He was counter-cultural, confrontive, confident, and (by Athenian standards, much less today’s standards) closed-minded. He offended a significant number of Athens’s intellectual elite, and he walked away from that encounter without winning the admiration of society at large, but with just a small group of converts who followed him.
    That is the biblical approach to ministry.”
    I disagree. Being bold and plain spoken, counter-cultural, offensive and the like does not indicate biblical or loving. You can be those things and be very unbiblical and very unloving. At the same time you can be very loving and be those things – again, the appropriate focus/question is whether you are serving God or serving yourself/man.
    In general I want to like what you’ve written but I think you’ve just moved us from focusing on yourself when teaching to focusing on the audience when teaching. Let’s take the next step and focus on Christ.

  • Bryan Riley says:

    Doesn’t Phil contextualize with having such a mod blogsite with fancy graphics?

  • toddh says:

    MacArthur and company’s view does quite an injustice to Christian history as well. The entire history of Christianity is also the history of contextualization. That is what happened as Christianity was introduced to different peoples and cultures, along with changing and adapting with every translation of the Bible out of its original languages. The Missionary Movement in Christian History by Andrew Walls would be a great place for MacArthur, et al. to start.

  • Bill Kinnon says:

    I’m struggling to understand the context in which Johnny Mac and his sidekick, Phil, operate. Maybe their perspective comes from living in a place called Panorama City.
    Perhaps if I did understand their context, I’d have more Grace for them. I’m glad you do, TSK. Well said, and well done.

  • Rob says:

    I remember in my youth the wise elders saying that it is more important to be faithful to the Gospel and relevance was a slippery slide. The Lord has called us to faithfulness not success they told me. That made sense at the time, then as I watched I realised that faithfulness wasn’t necessarily to the Gospel, but to their own contextualised view of the Gospel. We weren’t experiencing success with the Gospel, and unfortunately, we weren’t being faithful either.

  • grace says:

    Americans in particular have a long history of exporting our culture and confusing that with sending the gospel message.
    I believe the people arguing against contextualization truly can’t distinguish the gospel of the kingdom apart from the “Christian culture” package they are accustomed to.

  • Jon Reid says:

    Ask a missionary. ‘Nuff said.

  • Russell says:

    I’m but one small voice in the conversation, but I’ve really been shaped by Lesslie Newbigin’s chapter on the c-word, “Contextualization, True and False” in his book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. I highly recommend it. Newbigin is an honest and moderate voice that really adds to this discussion.

  • “At the end of the day Paul is not my model for contextualisation, Jesus is!
    Contextualisation is at the core of the incarnation.
    and then there is Philippians 2.”
    Great comments. I agree.

  • Mike says:

    I made referance to this conversation on my blog:
    Thanks for keeping the debate civil. I have enjoyed your thoughts

  • JG says:

    Jesus specifically tells us to be shrewd because he expects us to contextualize.
    If you’re looking for one of the best authorities on contextualization, I would look to Tim Keller of Redeemer in New York City. Having a thriving church in Manhattan gives him all the street cred he needs. You may not be aware of his publication but it’s a must read. Here is an article on contextualization.

  • chrismc says:

    context counts people

    Ok so the Tall Skinny Kiwi and John Macarthur are having a debate on contextualization. I can’t believe Jmac has taken the position he has. There must be some sort of mis-understanding. TSK is right, this is missions 101. Actually it is missions 001. C…

  • barry says:

    There are two issues I see: MacArthur seems to think the center of Christian orthodoxy is squarely around his church (or at least in America).
    Secondly, he’s basically saying where Descartes failed MacArthur succeeds. The former tried earnestly to find a state where the person was just a blank sheet of paper devoid of any influence, context, culture, etc. The latter has discovered that right wing fundamentalism (or whatever the label is) IS the paper waiting to be photocopied on anything and anybody.

  • Mike Morrell says:

    Darn good post, Andrew. My friend Brittian has some different-but-related thoughts on contemporary context and how it influences our spiritual formation over at Sensual Jesus.

  • Rick says:

    Michael Patton has some good thoughts on this as well- and as a bonus, it includes more of his charts!

  • Paul Roberts says:

    Andrew, sometimes you are just so kind… much kinder than me!
    Anyone who rejects the contextual aspect of the Gospel in this day and age is surely rejecting the nature of our God as a God who engages in human history. To reject this view of God is surely to reject the total thrust of Judeo-Christian theology, and hence to reject the God who is revealed in our scriptures. The whole point about the Good News being contextualized is that it invites scriptural and eschatological critiques of its authenticity – which is a thoroughly good and healthy thing. To do otherwise is to adopt a dangerous false-naivete. All that such “context-free” approaches to the Good News then can do is cobble together an a-historical “theology” from the culture from which they have pretended to isolate themselves. The result? – an idol. The faith? – Folk religion. The message? – A soft-sellable fiction.
    Yeah, OK, I’ve got the gloves off. I admit it!

  • Ed Brenegar says:

    To understand the John MacArthur / Philip Johnson mindset is to understand their fundamental belief in inerrancy. That is the foundation of the idea that the Bible and the Gospel are uniform and universal, not contextual or relevant. It is a mindset that believes because there is perfection in the text, then there is no ambiguity, no differentiation, nothing that would point to the Bible having different voices. To admit to it is to let contextualization’s nose into the tent. This is a philosophical concept that comes right out of 18th and 19th century science. It is a belief that we can know something absolutely. To debate context, in one sense, is to miss the point. Many of you may be card-caring inerrantists, and not fall into this philosophical error. Very good. But at the core of fundamentalism is this disconnect from reality that posits the belief that the Bible, the Gospel and the church exist in some separate realm that is only available to those who share this belief.
    When I was in seminary 30 years ago, the battle line between the theology and biblical studies departments was the issue of context. What the theologists wanted to do was to apply a philosophical screen to scripture to fit into a specific set of theological categories. Your standard systematic theology is representative of this approach. The New Testament department in particular, and the Old Testament to a degree, was much more contextually oriented. They looked at history, culture and the text to determine what the Bible was saying. Context matters, but only if you have a philosophical conviction that reality matters. Reality in the sense that history, culture, philosophy and all the social sciences can illuminate a specific time and place which then provides insight into what the writers of the Scripture were dealing with when they wrote. This is an important issue for the church because this determines the right relationship between the believer, the church, the Bible and our Lord as it exists each and every day.

  • Glenn says:

    Have these guys ever heard of William Carey, Hudson Taylor, E Stanley Jones, etc? Do they believe in the Incarnation? What planet are they living on?

  • Glenn says:

    I heard Bruce Wilkinson shares Phil’s view on contextualization. Has anyone heard how Bruce’s Dream for Africa is going these days?

  • david says:

    Great post. Fantastic spirit as always. I only wanted to add this thought because you mentioned Richardson’s book PEACE CHILD almost in passing and it hasn’t gotten much play.
    I think everyone who seriously is interested in evaluating the contextualization question should read this book. It’s well-written, easily understood, and very powerful.
    Thanks for weighing in!

  • brad says:

    So, according to Ed’s comments (great summary, Ed – thanks!), one opposite of biblical countercultural contextualization is syncretization of theology with philosophy. And such things significantly affect our everyday lives.
    Every one of us searches for some form of consistency, and pursues some form of impact on the lives of others. It’s been my observation, however, that every system that is not fully biblical leads to at least one fatal flaw. And when that’s the case, ironically, our actions negate the very message we were hoping for.
    For instance, certain existential and postmodern philosophers believe words are ultimately meaningless because messages are interpreted by hearers. But then why do they even bother to use their meaningless words to tell us that words are meaningless?
    Similarly, Phil has anti-contextualization and anti-postmodernism messages, but actually contextualizes it for media-hungry “postmoderns” by using great, postmodern-friendly media and graphics.
    Liberals (and I used to be one) often identify closely with the cultures of populations they wish to impact and help, but often become irrelevant in the process because they absorb the total culture, become no different from it, and then it’s hard then to be biblically countercultural.
    Fundamentalists (and I used to be one) have listened too closely to an abstract, man-made philosophy of perfectionism through language and been captured by it, while accusing those who pursue concrete, humane contextualization of syncretism through listening to culture.
    And my theological system of dynamic tension and paradox? I guess it would be ironic if not everything proved to have its ironies …
    Hopefully we can at least give each other some grace and some space to keep working out our salvation with fear and trembling.

  • Chad Smith says:

    I guess someone should have broke the news to Timothy before he had his little surgery in Acts 16:3 that Paul didn’t believe in contextualization.

  • Tim Roberts says:

    I agree contextualization is needed, however, I would be sure to carefully define what that means, which I’m not sure I fully understand your position TSK.
    I define contextualization (for Christians sharing the Gospel) as:
    Being knowledgeable of the culture you are a part of(live in), understanding the language and world view, art, and music, and being able to speak to others of this culture in terms that they can understand, while holding in balance the ABSOLUTE TRUTH of God’s Word (not watering it down to make it acceptable, but speaking in terms that are understandable).
    Our commission is, as it relates to the Gospel, is to spread the Good News of the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is our responsibility to ensure that the message remains true to the Biblical account.
    Certainly missionaries learned the customs, mannerism and language of tribal people. However, I don’t believe if a missionary went to a tribe of cannibals he should partake in cannibalism. If he goes to a group that does self-mutilation, he needs not do likewise.
    The point is if contextualizing goes beyond communicating in a relevant way the unchanging Word of God, then we have overstepped our boundaries. We are to be in the world, but not of the world; not conformed to the world but transformed by the word of God (Rom 12:2)

  • Ish Engle says:

    Jesus told us to love one another.
    With this in mind, how can I NOT contextualize? If I refuse to listen to you, to understand and relate to your ideas and feelings, but force you to accept my ideas (because they are Biblical), isn’t that a cultural rape?
    If Jesus and His church are like a husband and wife (Paul’s idea, not mine), then their union should be one of love and affection, not one of forced acceptance.
    If Paul really had done no contextualization, Mars Hill would have been, “You are all sinners. You sin because you do not worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You will burn in Hell unless you turn to Jesus, the One True God’s Son, who died for you.” The response would not have been a few Athenian’s saying, “tell us more” but all of Athens saying, “what’s got into that Jew? Why should we care about this new prophet he speaks of?”
    Paul intentionally starts from where they are and transforms their understanding to see the need for Jesus. You don’t teach calculus to people who don’t understand functions, you lead them from addition to multiplication to functions to calculus. You don’t teach atonement to a society that doesn’t know/understand sin. You teach how violations of their cultural norms are sin, to how God views sin and what God considers sin, to Jesus atonement for sin.
    It ain’t rocket science! Jesus said a child gets it, so why do we try to make it more complex?

  • nator says:

    Looks like you shook the hornets nest… over there!

  • Makeesha says:

    good post and I appreciate your grace Andrew but in response to this:
    “thats quite commendable. he is a man of character and is still standing firm after many decades of ministry.”
    lots of people have “stood firm” without skeletons in their closets and ended up doing great damage to the cause of Christ, I don’t think that’s a valid litmus test for someone’s theological validity. (it’s certainly not a litmus test Mac uses himself when evaluating others) I’m sure he’s a good guy, that’s sort of beside the point.

  • Brittian says:

    Hey…rather than taking up your board space I posted my comments over at:
    Awesome post/comments guys…
    Thanks Andrew

  • Some two thousand years ago, a young Jewish prophet traveled along the dusty byways of Galilee telling a story by which He sought to illustrate the indescribable breadth of God’s grace. The story was about a young man and his quest to find fulfillment. Tired and bored of the humdrums of life tending to the family business, he asked his father for his share of the family inheritance so that he might see what the world had to offer. His father agreed, and off he went to start a new life, to stake his claim in the world.
    Two thousand years ago in the Middle East, that young man’s actions would have been considered scandalous, even unforgivable. In twenty-first-century America, it sounds like the start of a small town boy’s coming-of-age tale. A lot changes in 2,000 years.
    The indescribable breadth of God’s grace isn’t one of them.
    Grace and Peace,

  • learning says:

    Andrew, thanks for the post. Although I respect MacArthur in some areas sometimes he says the stupidest things. This is characteristic of macarthur….he goes on these dogmatic tangents that are filled with straw man arguments and exaggerations. Thanks for the post.

  • margaret place says:

    Weren’t the parables of Jesus contextual? Wasn’t he talking to people using images, metaphors, and stories which they would recognise as coming from their daily life? Why is this wrong now? Is the biblical context the only “correct” context for teaching the Good News?

  • grace says:

    Because if you give an inch on the issue of context, the next thing you know, you’re emerging. 😉

  • Tracy B. Dickerson says:

    You have taken the ‘less traveled high road’, and that makes all the difference. What a gracious and sentient post! Thank you. If our goal as missionals is to heal a broken world, how can we not meet people where they are? It is only in hearing my neighbor’s story that I am able to truly know him and how to best help him embrace that healing. Our faith is not a one-size fits all bandage, afterall. I love this quote and think it’s so apropos: “Healing means, first of all, the creation of an empty space where those who suffer can tell their story to someone who can listen with real attention. Healing is the humble but also very demanding task of creating and offering a friendly empty space where strangers can reflect on their pain and suffering without fear, and find the confidence that makes them look for new ways right in the center of their confusion.Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”
    Henri J.M. Nouwen
    Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life
    Grace and Peace~

  • John L says:

    Loving one’s enemies is the ultimate contextualization.

  • alistair mackinnon says:

    Hate to do this … but…
    If phil really knew what punk’n and being punk’d is in its original context he might just have a conversion experience.
    Nuowen sounds like Carl Rogers to me, or am I taking Rogers out of context here.
    Context In Christian Conversations
    Passive.. passive.. passive..AGGRESSIVE
    oH c u jimmy… Im gonna Calvinise your #@$£££
    (think Rab C. Nesbitt)
    Whoops thats contextual,
    having 2nd thoughts on posting this 🙂 but hey,
    going back to my beehive now

Leave a Reply