iMonk on the "C-Word" ~ BitterSweetLife

Saturday, March 08, 2008

iMonk on the "C-Word"

Michael Spencer addresses some of the confusing issues that continue to surround the (mis)understanding of what "contextualization" actually means when it comes to Christians interacting with their cultures. Spencer uses some perplexing comments by John MacArthur to get the discussion started.

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John B. said...

I don't know, Ariel. I come from a high-church, liturgically-based denomination, as you know, and I've stayed Lutheran (and while living in Mexico considered converting to Catholicism for a while) because I love liturgy and ritual, their links to something that reaches back, some of it, to the earliest days of the Church. Therefore, I tend to have a preternatural dislike, within Sunday worship, of deviations from that hearkening to Tradition.

Yet, I can't read either MacArthur's or iMonk's observations without thinking, All of this misses the point. Despite my preferences for worship styles, I realize that they are just that: my preferences. I personally have had little trouble that I'm aware of of keeping messenger and Message distinct. Turns away from the Gospel can occur whether the proclaimer of that Gospel is wearing an alb or a coat and tie or a leather jacket, as both the Catholic church and the evangelical movement can speak to with more than a little pain.

My big gripe with Driscoll fits in here, too: what I see as his obsession with image--his own and Jesus' as well--ultimately pays less attention to more substantive matters. Silly me, though: everywhere I look in the gospels, Jesus, through words and actions, speaks/acts out against image (broadly defined) while at the same time revealing that he does so out of knowledge of his various audiences. He embraces (literally) children, includes women in his ministry, finds expressions of faith in a centurion and in social outcasts, breaks religious laws in service to greater (read: human) needs. And all while wearing a tunic and (I imagine) not cutting his hair--an "image," I suspect, that most parishioners of both iMonk's and MacArthur's congregations would not long abide.

Are MacArthur and iMonk and Driscoll men of God? So far as I know, yes. But if the image each advocates intercedes and interferes between audience and message and, even worse, begins usurping the message, then we really haven't gotten very far in preaching the Gospel, now have we?

Ariel said...

Hey John, I appreciate your thoughts and don't really see much to disagree with. You're not alone in appreciating the beauty of some liturgy. In my experience, quite a few 20-something people enjoy it as well. I'm not immune to the appeal of tradition myself.

In such cases, I'd suggest that to embrace or revive appropriate liturgy is to contextualize to a certain audience. In some places, that audience may be large, while in other places, it may be small or nonexistent.

The same with Driscoll's shtick. He's said that his _____ (insert preferred adjective) approach would not fly so well outside Seattle. I don't know if Driscoll or MacArthur are obsessed with their personal images--hopefully not, since the elusive pursuit of cool is ultimately empty and contrary to the gospel.

But in the same way that all of us have a "style" (even if it's "sloppy"), every church will have one. The concern, I think, is to orient churches to their cultures so that they understand--and yes, to a degree, reflect--what surrounds them. To do otherwise would be merely ingrown and self-serving.

Hope I'm making sense here...whether churches are liturgical, suit-wearing, or tattoo-sporting, may all be done with an eye to the outsiders we are ostensibly serving--for the glory of God and the furtherance of the gospel.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife