Contextualizing the Gospel
II Cor. 11:3-4 - But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that comes preaches another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if you receive another spirit which you have not received, or another gospel which you have not accepted...
The emergent church and its very loose definitions is in general an ecclesiastical think tank that revolves around new and innovative ways to re-emphasize and re-define Christianity and the gospel. In many corners of the boundary-less movement it goes beyond a different focused presentation, and the open discussion seems to have no ground rules and no well established precedent upon which to build. Truth is smugly acknowledged as very elusive and ever changing through cultural expansion, especially in what they call a "postmodern" world which is loosely defined as this modern, interactive world culture. It is widely accepted in these circles that traditional Christianity has interpreted Biblical truth through the pre-enlightened, pre-industrial revolutionary eyes. And with that identified as an obstacle to effectively communicating the gospel with this postmodern world culture, there needs to be a fresh look at how we understand, translate, and communicate Biblical truth. How do you describe the color red to a person born blind is a good metaphor for how do you communicate the gospel in centuries old linguistic and cultural terminology to a man born in this postmodern world with no understanding of that past culture? The emergents claim there is a built-in disconnect that is failing the world because the church by and large is intransigent in its presentation of truth. For example Spurgeon's mode of communicating truth is rapidly becoming of little use to a postmodern mindset.
Rom.1:16 - For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes...
So one of the core new emergent "truth-sculptures" is their universal agreement in "contextualizing" the gospel. When a missionary was sent to the jungles of the Brazilian Amazon he had to learn, if possible, the language and the customs of the people he was attempting to reach so he could communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. Some tribes had no word for Savior, no concept of redemption, and no knowledge of our definition of sin. So the missionary had to contextualize the gospel message to build a bridge of understanding between him and his hearers. When you read "Through the Gates of Splendor", the story of the five murdered missionaries, you will see the different strategies they used in an attempt to bring the salvation message in way that was germane to the Indians' sphere of understanding, and that is what is generally meant by contextualizing.
So what is so wrong with that, one might ask. In our postmodern culture we still understand religious and Biblical terms, and we are linguistic enough to fully unravel the meaning of some of the more culturally stagnant terms. So in a kind of reverse understanding, when you change (contextualize) the message of the gospel in the midst of a fully conversant culture that comprehends the meaning of Biblical terms, and that can understand common explanations of truths they are unsure about, you not only confuse the definitions of those Biblical truths, you run the risk of changing them. Now the average emergent would again read that and think "so what" because many emergent writers and way-showers believe the accepted definition of the gospel is in need of change, which some would assert is only a contextual representation of the same definition while others believe the standard definition no longer accurately defines God's redemptive message as seen through the prism of postmodernsim. In simple terms, some emergents believe in a redemptive message that is defined in much more humanitarian and communal terms, while still not totally rejecting the "forgiveness of sins" concept. And yet some emergents still hold to the "sin bearing" model of Jesus while seeking to significantly expand the humanitarian role and mission of Christ.
Let us illustrate. Say a map shows the directions from point A to point B. The directions read walk one mile and turn left; go one half mile and turn right; wade the creek and climb the hill and you will be at point B. But in some postmodern maps the emphasis is not getting to point B, it encourages a major focus on the turns, the creek, and the hill. And many of the streams of emergent thought so concentrate on the experience of the journey that they marginalize the eternal destination. As a matter of fact, many emergent teachers claim that traditional Christianity has over emphasized heaven to the neglect of Jesus' earthly ministry before the cross, and that these postmodern dwellers cannot relate anymore to a "pie in the sky" gospel without an earthly engagement that reveals a greater "kingdom" view of redemption which relates to the present human village. And I realize that some emergents would take issue with some of what I have observed and I do not wish to misrepresent anyone, but the spectrum of emergent teachings is so widespread that it is possible you could say almost anything and find some emergent corner that would tacitly agree in a general way while encouraging more dialogue, the gator aid of the emergent church.
So here we are. Most Americans have been raised with a Christian understanding which includes church, holidays, television preaching, and many other cultural seeds of Jesus and His mission. So in cultural terms the gospel needs just a clarification and personalization to be effective, as well as a faithful lifestyle that would help to substantiate our message. And language is no barrier, so by changing the message they have changed the message! (yes, I said that) Jesus prophesied about faith still being proclaimed upon His return, and we humans now want to package the gospel so as to make it appealing and finding a neat fitting niche in our busy schedules. Well the decreasing subset of believing followers that still believe in retaining and preaching the same message as was given the first disciples of the Lord Jesus are hanging by a thread ourselves. If we do not commit to prayer and fasting we will slip unknowingly toward the ecclesiastical morass and the clear and sparkling gospel of Jesus the Christ will still appear the same on paper, but with little if any power...almost like it is now. And we are being marginalized into convincing people with word badminton and comfortable dialogue with men that are quietly being used of the Evil One to teach a contextualized/changed/misrepresented/ reduced/ humanized/culturized/dumbed down/destroyed/blood less/cross diminishing/Word ignoring version of the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is the only hope for the entire world. And as I have wondered before, what will Spencer Burke's grandchildren believe and teach after having been discipled from the cradle with a theology without even semi-orthodox moorings?
And just so we don't put on the suit of self-righteousness, being orthodox in our theology is of little use without an unusual commitment to prayer, fasting, the Word, and an ever present buffer of humility. I can pick up a systematic theology book from my library, place it on a table, and proclaim "This book is orthodox!", and that book will have as much power as many of us in the "correct theology" bastions that have such little fire in our prayer closets that our presence in the world is nothing more than mere words, surely not "demonstration of the Spirit and of power". We can churn out the posts, like this one, but can we churn out elongated intercessory meetings? And we can grind our doctrinal teeth at MacLaren, Bell, and all the usual suspects, but can we weep at the porch for our wayward brothers? And it is to the point as we plumb the depths of the doctrinal melee of the present day church, that many cannot look into the mirror of God's Word and see themselves...they always see someone else. So many times the self righteous spirit in the orthodox blogasphere is palpable and safety from some of the indiscriminate attacks can only be found in congratulating the attacker.
And so the true preaching of God's message of hope seems to have very little anointing on the preachers, and the watered down and man centered versions of what used to be God's message are sometimes filled with excitement and good things. I have some bad news for us, the emergents are not coming back, ditto the seeker/purpose crowd, most of them have left the building and they are not returning. Some of us almost got caught in these growing movements, but by God's grace we remained true to the ancient landmarks. So what we need more than anything else is a massive move of God' Spirit that fills us in a way that will make us instruments of His glory and will use us to powerfully preach the everlasting gospel to the ends of the earth! But I have some more bad news for us...
This kind cometh forth not but by prayer and fasting.
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.