Contextualization…it is all around us in Christianity. And it all stems from those taking 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 totally out of context.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. 1 Corinthians 9:22-23
Contextualizing is a pragmatic approach to evangelism by thinking that if one becomes more like the world and culture, they will be able to win more to Jesus. This is pragmatism at its best and where most “seeker-sensitive” approaches are founded upon. It is strange that those who tout 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 never quote Paul’s writing back in chapter 1 and 2.
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. 1 Corinthians 1:17
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
If Paul was promoting contextualization in chapter 9, he would have argued like the Athenians with human reason, discussions, and debate. But Paul understood that it was the power of the cross and God’s revealing of the truth through the Spirit that does the saving. It is not being a rock-star pastor, wearing the coolest clothes, wearing black-rimmed (non-prescription) glasses, ripped jeans, having rock-concert “worship” at one’s church, having cross tattoos, making You-Tube videos, cursing from the pulpit, or holding church at a pub.
Our job is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the bad news and the good news. The truth about God and about our sin and transgression against God’s Law, and the Good News of Jesus dying on the cross to atone for our sins, raising on the third day, and our response of repentance and faith to His kindness.
What Paul is writing in 1 Corinthians 9 (in context with the entire book as well as Scripture) is from a man who understands that he must submit himself to God and give up his rights, privileges, and his life for those he is evangelizing. It is about personal sacrifice not a free ticket to sin or become more like the culture.
John MacArthur took on this tough subject of Contextualization in 10 series of Blog entries. Check it out here.
Also, Al Mohler has addressed Mark Driscoll and his example of contextualization in a great audio clip. Check it out here.
John MacArthur ended with a plead for his church on a warning of contextualization. It is my plead for the church today as well…
By all means we are to seek the salvation of the lost. We must be servants to all, deferential to every kind of person. For Jews we should become Jewish; for Gentiles we should be like Gentiles; for children we should be childlike; and so on for every facet of humanity. But the primary means of evangelism we dare not overlook: the straightforward, Christ-centered proclamation of the unadulterated Word of God. Those who trade the Word for amusements or gimmicks will find they have no effective means to reach people with the truth of Christ.
– John MacArthur, Grace Community Church