Putting Things in Context

kinnon —  April 2, 2008 — 1 Comment

UPDATE: Note the comment from Dan MacDonald published below.

Certain edges of the interweb trumpet their correct understanding of the Scriptures and look down on the rest of us with great disdain – especially those poor souls (like me) who think that context is important.

My high-strung* friend, Andrew Jones finally found he needed to respond to these elevated (or is that inflated, I can never remember) voices with his post, Context. Does it matter? Andrew ends his post with this. (Please read the entire post. It is very good.)

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.

And I should note that Andrew is much more charitable towards the folk on the other side of the argument than I will ever be. I guess he understands their context better than I do, eh!

*"high-strung friend" is a height joke for the Tall Skinny Kiwi.

UPDATE: My good friend, Dan MacDonald responds at the blog that triggered TSK’s post.

Dan and I are good friends, even though he’s a 5-Point Calvinist and I lean Arminian (or perhaps a little Kuyperian Neo-calvinist. Dan sent this to me to see and gave me permission to publish it here. I won’t link to the post where he commented, however:

Clearly you agree with some contextualization, since you preach and teach in English and not in the original biblical languages. Ditto with any Study Bibles we produce and use- they are in the vernacular. And we use the idioms and cultural terms of our time and place to make the gospel clearer. Even Johnny Mac uses illustrations that his hearers can ‘get.’ He even clarifies illustrations from the Bible to make them more understandable to his hearers. That is what we do. But that is contextualization. You use sarcasm and humor to defend the truth, as I do- but that is contextualizing rhetoric for effective communication to our culture.

Paul contextualized in Acts 17 so that he could be more effective in preaching the gospel to the Athenians and confronting them with their need to repent. Jesus contextualized to the rich young ruler what it meant to follow Him – Jesus named the idol that was a rival to following Him, and then called the rich young ruler to repent. In doing so, he effectively clarified obedience so that the rich young ruler could not self-righteously hide behind his ‘obedience to the commandments.’

Your problem is not with contextualization, but with using the term to mean something else- compromise with the culture. Just because people whose theology you don’t like, use the word does not make it a bad word. Pentecostals use holiness all the time to mean something you and I don’t think it means – but we do not throw out the concept, or the word. I agree that often people use the word ‘contextualize’ to mask other agendas. But the abuse of a biblical idea is never warrant for abandoning the idea.

I agree with most of your post, but I think you should more carefully define the danger. Your attacks on contextualizing seem to be just silly. I am a reformed, Van Tillian, five point Calvinist Piper-head, but I think your shotgun blasts at emergents are starting to wound innocent bystanders.

Not that Dan supports shotgun blasts at anyone, of course. (At least, I hope not.)



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

One response to Putting Things in Context

  1. So far, this discussion is taking place within the confines of traditional Protestantism. From my perspective, it will not be long and we’ll be talking about post-Protestant theology and church order. MacArthur is representative of a brand of Protestantism that has been eclipsed by the post-modern world. His world is dependent upon the modernist fallacy that we can know things absolutely. It rests on a certain understanding of the Bible that requires it to be something it doesn’t portray itself to be in the Scripture. At the heart of this issue is the nature of Scripture, and this has been the battle ground between progressives and traditionalists for a long time. The question I have is how does one hold a high view of Scripture as the Word of God, and not buy into MacArthur’s narrow fundamentalist view? Time will tell, and the debate/conversation about where Scripture fits into the emerging church will be a very vital and beneficial one.


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