Living at the Crossroads: A Faithful and Relevant Witness in ...
Living at the Crossroads of the Biblical and Western Story: Faithfulness and Relevance Michael W. Goheen Vancouver, B.C. Living at the Crossroads Dilemma of the Missionary Solidarity: Wants to be part of culture Has
good news for them in their setting Rejection: Whole of culture distorted by sinful idolatry Fundamental incompatibility between Scriptural and cultural story Danger: Relevance may lead to unfaithfulness;
attempts to be faithful may lead to irrelevance Illustration: Model of Cross-Cultural Communication Proclaim good news to Hindu Adopt language/cultural categories (Tamil) Who is Jesus? Swamy (Lord)? 330m.! Avatar (god incarnate)? No finality!
Just tell story? Maya! Kadavul (transcendent god)? Satguru (teacher)? Chit (second member of triad of ultimate reality)? Adipurushan (primal man)? Etc. Problem! Relevance seems to lead to unfaithfulness What all these answers have in common is that they necessarily describe Jesus in terms of model [story] which embodies an interpretation of experience significantly
different from the interpretation which arises when Jesus is accepted as Lord absolutely. (Newbigin) No escape from this tension Relevant: Must use understandable categories Faithful: Must communicate gospel Caging the Gospel The gospel is like a caged lion; it does
not need to be defended, just released. Two sets of bars that cage gospel: Irrelevance: Holding older or foreign forms of the gospel (in attempt to avoid cultural idols) Unfaithfulness: Capitulation to idols of culture (in attempt to be relevant) Gospel of John:
Model of Contextualization I suppose that the boldest and most brilliant essay in the communication of the gospel to a particular culture in all Christian history is the gospel according to John. Here the language and thoughtforms of that Hellenistic world are so employed that Gnostics in all ages have thought that the book was written especially for them. And yet nowhere in Scripture is the absolute contradiction between the word of God and human culture stated with more terrible clarity (Newbigin).
Gospel of John: Model of Contextualization In one sense the entire Gospel is a case study in how John recontextualizes the story of Jesus for a new audience and a new generation. . . . The Gospel of John, then, is a shining example of an effort to reexpress the story of Jesus in a new theological idiom and language, thereby enabling it to speak afresh to a new audience and their needs. (Flemming)
The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news. (Mark 1:15) I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to other towns also, because that is why I was sent. (Luke 4:43) In the synoptic gospels the Kingdom of God is:
Central image for the Jews Central image for Jesus Central image for Matthew, Mark, Luke In Johns gospel... He employs images popular in classical culture and philosophy E.g., Heaven/earth, life/death, light/darkness, flesh/spirit Do we have a different gospel?
Bultmanns answer: Yes. [Gospel has been co-opted into idolatrous cultural categories.] - S y n o p tic s J e w is h c a te g o rie s H o riz o n ta l, in tim e R e n e w a l o f c re a tio n In k in g d o m o f G o d -Jo h n G re e k c a te g o rie s
V e rtic a l, in s p a c e S a lv a tio n o f in d iv id u a ls In h e a v e n Do we have a different gospel? My answer: No J o h n a rtic u la te s th e s a m e g o s p e l in fr e s h la n g u a g e in a n e w c u ltu ra l c o n te x t. T h e la n g u a g e re fle c ts a p a g a n w o rld v ie w y e t is tra n s fo rm e d a n d s u b v e rte d b y th e g o sp e l.
John 1:1,14 In the beginning was the logos... ...and the logos became sarx. Johns employment of the concept [logos] to introduce the story of Jesus was a master-stroke of communication to the world of his day. (Beasley-Murray)
New translation or articulation of the gospel is both: Relevant: He uses language of classical dualism familiar to hearers Faithful: Challenges the idolatry of the classical dualism Subversive Fulfillment or Challenging Relevance Fulfills religious longing for order and
origin [relevant] Subverts and challenges idolatrous understanding [faithful] New Testament Contextualization The conclusion that we derive from the New Testament, the book that contains the expression of the revelation in its concrete conflict and intermingling with the Jewish and Hellenistic world of religion and civilization, is that the religion of revelation stands in revolutionary
contrast to this concrete Jewish and Hellenistic world, but at the same time freely uses its ideas and thought-forms to express itself, and so Christian truth experiences its first incarnation (Kraemer). True Contextualization Bridge-building and contrast-making (Kraemer) Relevance and challenge (Newbigin)
Contextualization . . . Often considered to be only how to be relevant, buildbridges, meet felt needs, etc. Also challenging idols! Paul . . . calmly uses the terminology of the naturalist and sacramental mysticisms of the mystery-religions and thereby forcefully expresses the opposite character of the prophetic religion of revelation. He does not bother about making contrasts or building bridges, but he is entirely absorbed in expressing the truth and so reveals gulfs and bridges at the same time. . . . Again Paul uses these terms and ideas freely
to express forcefully the revelation in Christ, the exact opposite of what these mystery-religions were seeking after (Kraemer). John and the world World: Pagan culture shaped by idolatry Overstated by Robert Gundry: John not only leaves the world outside the scope of Jesus praying and loving. He also describes the world as full of sin; as ignorant of God, Gods Son, and Gods children; as opposed to and hateful of
Gods Son and Gods children; as rejoicing over Jesus death; as dominated by Satan; and as subject to Gods wrath. In the only one of the four gospels to mention the incarnation, then, the world looks wholly negative. . . . The Fourth Gospel is unalterably countercultural . . . World in John World: Pagan culture shaped by idolatry How can the language categories of the
world be used? World: Place of missional involvement In but not of the world . . . there is a tension in Johns Gospel between separation from the world and missional involvement in the world, a tension faced by the church in every generation. True, the world is a dangerous place and Satan is its ruler (John 12:31), but it is also the object of Gods redemptive love (John 3:16). The disciples do not
belong to the world but they are sent into the world on Jesus own saving mission (John 17:15, 18; 20:21). [Flemming] In the world but not of it Jesus Prayer for His Disciples I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. - John 17:14-18 Cross as Model The Cross is in one sense an act of total identification with the world. But in another sense it is an act of radical separation. It is both of these at the same time. (Newbigin)
Cross as Model We must always, it seems to me, in every situation, be wrestling with both sides of this reality: that the Church is for the world against the world. The Church is against the world for the world. The Church is for the human community in that place, that village, that city, that nation, in the sense that Christ is for the world. And that must be the determining criterion at every point
(Newbigin) Importance of Unbearable Tension The deeper the consciousness of the tension and the urge to take this yoke upon itself are felt, the healthier the Church is. The more oblivious of this tension the Church is, the more well established and at home in this world it feels, the more it is in deadly danger of being the salt that has lost its savour (Kraemer).
Reasons we do not feel this tension Fragmentation of Scriptural story Comfortable co-habitation in seemingly harmless [Christian? Neutral?] culture Christendom mindset accepting private role Missionarys Inner Dialogue Way of being in the culture; state of mind
Desire to live in both worlds fully Faithfulness to Biblical story Views all of culture through lens of Scripture Seeks to discern idolatrous twisting of words, institutions, cultural practices, etc. Seeks to discern good creational structure Romans 12.1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Gods mercy, to offer your
bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Godthis is true worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Gods will is--his good, pleasing, and perfect will. Model for whole Christian life This model of contextualization in cross-cultural communication is . . .
NOT JUST FOR COMMUNICATION OF THE GOSPEL FOR ALL OF HUMAN LIFE! Western Culture Common way of life rooted in a shared story. Two levels of contextualization Social and cultural institutions/
practices/ customs Foundational story or cultural beliefs Foundational Beliefs of Modernity Insight and Idolatry Progress Humanism Rationalism Scientism Technicism
Individualism Foundational Beliefs Today Insight and Idolatry Disillusionment and suspicion Pluralism Consumerism Non-rational anthropology Spiritualism Ecological concern Egalitarian
Contrast Community A community of justice in a world of economic and ecological injustice A community of generosity and simplicity (of enough) in a consumer world A community of selfless giving in a world of selfishness A community of truth (humility and boldness) in a world of relativism A community of hope in a world of disillusionment and consumer satiation
A community of joy and thanksgiving in a world of entitlement A community who experiences Gods presence in a secular world Questions: What idols (modern or pm) do we need to oppose? [antithetical stance] What creational insight is being idolized and needs to be embraced? [affirmative stance]
Contextualization in . . . Communal church life Mission in the world Communal Church Life: Some questions How does Western culture (with its idols and insights) . . . Shape our understanding of the gospel? Shape our understanding of truth? Shape our understanding and practice of being church? Shape our understanding and practice of preaching?
Shape our understanding and practice of worship? Shape our understanding and practice of leadership? Shape our understanding and practice of prayer? Shape our understanding and practice of ecumenical relations in church? Shape our understanding and practice of church discipline? Shape our understanding of gender roles, participation, etc. in church? Understanding of the gospel Public truth
vs. private religious message or therapeutic formula vs. relativism or rationalism Story of universal history vs. doctrine, unchanging ideas Message of comprehensive restoration vs. otherworldly platonism
vs. spiritual or religious message only vs. individualistic reduction Power vs. doctrinalism Ecclesial self-understanding The images which the church uses for its selfunderstanding will largely determine what the church will
actually become. (Driver) Images will be drawn from culture 96 images of church in NT (Minear) Images unconsciously assumed by many today?
Economic or business: Supermarket or cafeteria of programs Social institutions: friendliest church around; community centre as hub for special interest group activities Entertainment industry: Impact with music, technology, rhetoric Educational institutions: Dominance of Bible study and teaching Therapeutic industry: Place of spiritual/psychological healing Charity institutions: Care for needy and poor Political institutions: Pressure group; democratic ideal Insight to be embrace and idolatry to be challenged
Advanced state of syncretism? I see people who are desperately trying to reach the posteverythings who in their desperation are trying to throw out essential elements such as the substitutionary atonement, forensic justification, imputed righteousness, the Sovereignty of God, or the inerrancy of Scripture. Many of them are probably over-adapting to the post-everything situation. But while they do not have our theological resources, often we do not have their level of engagement with the people of the emerging society. To correct this, let us confess that we really have failure across all our parties to reach the coming society,
and let us resolve to use the premier resources of Reformed theology. If we can make these changes, then we may really start to see renewal and outreach, and we might actually be a resource for the broader body of Christ in this culture (Keller). Relevance or Capitulation to PM? I was part of what is now known as the Emerging Church Movement in its early days. I had to distance myself, however, from one of many streams in the emerging church because of theological differences. Since the late 1990s, this stream has become known as Emergent. The
emergent church is part of the Emerging Church Movement but does not embrace the dominant ideology of the movement. Rather, the emergent church is the latest version of liberalism. The only difference is that the old liberalism accommodated modernity and the new liberalism accommodates postmodernity (Driscoll). What are the implications of contextualization for . . . Our communal church life? Our mission in the world?
Evangelism Diaconal mercy Seeking justice Missions Our callings in culture Our Mission in the World How does Western culture (with its insights and idols) . . .
Shape our understanding and practice of evangelism? Shape our understanding and practice of diaconal mercy? Shape our understanding and practice of missions? Shape our callings in public life of culture? Comprehensive Vision for Cultural Engagement Two biblical starting points:
Lordship of Christ Comprehensive scope of salvation Developments in evangelicalism Early 20th c: Individualistic, otherworldly, dualistic Mid-late 20th c: Increasingly
comprehensive Some Starting Examples Businesswoman in business driven by profit motive Ph.D. student in postmodern university Worker in humanistic psych hospital History teacher in public school Athlete in professional world of greed Politician in liberal government Pastor in consumer-driven church
Unfaithful Ways to Resolve Unbearable Tension Withdrawal Accommodation Dualism The Gospel speaks: Word of grace culture is good creation Word of judgement culture is
idolatrously twisted and sinfully distorted Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil (I Thess. 5:21f). Creational design-Spiritual power misdirected by power of sin redirected by redemptive
power of Spirit Good creational design Cultural Discernment What is the creational insight or structure? What is the idolatrous distortion or direction? What kind of healing action is
possible? Biblical Example: Household OIKOS: Extended family in Roman empire structured hierarchically and oppressively Fundamental social building block of Roman empire Undifferentiated institution made up of marital, family, economic, political relationships Oppressive and hierarchical distortion
Response of the early church Reject? Affirm? Transformation! Subversive Fulfillment Ephesians 5:21ff. Discerned creational relationships Transformed relationships creating new institution recognizable as good
news to culture Faithful Witness in Culture . . . Christian living will need to be done within culture. . . . but Gods presence in this world aims at reformation and transformation of its structures, never uncritical acceptance of them. (Philip Towner) Four final comments
A faithful witness will produce suffering A Suffering Witness Missionary encounter with idols of culture will produce suffering . . . if we take seriously our duty as servants of God within the institutions of human society, we shall find plenty of opportunity to learn what it means to suffer for righteousness sake, and we shall learn that to suffer for
righteousness sake is really a blessed thing. (Newbigin) Four final comments A faithful witness will produce suffering A faithful witness will need community Equipping, nourishing, supporting
A faithful witness will need to be rooted in a healthy spirituality Need for Prayer If the church is indeed to be Jesus agent in bringing his whole agenda to his whole world, it needs his own Spirit. Indeed, if the church attempts to do what has to be done without constantly seeking to be filled and equipped by Jesus own Spirit, it is committing blasphemy each time it opens its mouth. This is not a plea that all Christians
should enlist in the charismatic movement. Rather, it is a plea that all Christians, particularly those involved at the leading edge of the churchs mission to bring healing and renewal to the world, should be people of prayer, invoking the Spirit of Jesus daily and hourly as they go about their tasks, lest they be betrayed into the arrogance of their own agendas or into the cowardice of relativism. Four final comments A faithful witness will produce suffering A faithful witness will need community
A faithful witness will need to be rooted in a healthy spirituality A faithful witness will be together with all the saints (Eph 3.18) Blind spotsneed for new eyes to see conformity with world Dialogue across history, culture, traditions
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