>A High Bibliology and Contextualization
I want to clarify something before I move on with the other parts of this series. Being Reformed or Historic Evangelical (not implying the two are the same) presupposes a strong commitment to the Word and a high bibliology. Criticisms of concepts related to missional church, such as “contextualization,” suggest that considerations of cultural context are given precedence over the biblical context. Even if this is what some groups who call themselves missional believe, it is not because being missional inherently requires that our starting point for truth be the cultural context or that the cultural context is considered more relevant than the biblical context. I intended in the first post to provide some of the conceptual and theological foundations for being missional. The missional concept is derived from the fact that we are a people sent on mission in the world and for the world. Our starting point is the triune God and what He has revealed to us in Scripture.
I affirm what David Wells has written below in In Above All Earthly Pow’rs. In his introductory material, Wells addresses the issue of how to engage our cultural context [pgs.6-7].
“Those most self-consciously biblical in their views have often eschewed this work, and their suspicions about it are not entirely unjustified. There is a long trail of contextualized theologies, written over the last half century, in which the external dimension virtually replaces the internal, cultural interests eclipse biblical norms, and the result has been the kind of compromise, trendiness, and manipulation which ends up promoting worldly agendas, be they political, social, ideological, or personal, in place of biblical truth. This has been a sorry tale. And somewhere in the making of each of its works the fatal step was taken to allow the culture to say what God’s story should sound like rather than insisting that theology is not theology if it is not listening to God telling his own story in his own way.”
He goes to say that if theology is not a response to the biblical Word, it will be “empty, futile, and without meaning.” I wholeheartedly agree. If missional is a fad that merely ends up allowing “cultural interests [to] eclipse biblical norms” then it should be rejected. If anyone who calls themselves missional is promoting an idea such as this, they are importing this idea from somewhere else because that is not what being missional is about.
After affirming that his Christology has not changed, Wells states, “What has changed is a growing concern on my part to be able to say more exactly how Christ, in whom divine majesty and human frailty are joined in one person, is to be heard, and is to be preached, in a postmodern, multiethnic, multireligious society.” This is also the concern of those who are Reformissional (I know some folks have heartburn over the faddish nature of the terms used in this discussion but I’m just condescending to the fact that we need to use terms as shorthand in order to keep us from writing a paragraph of explanation every time we want to communicate something). We are committed to a high bibliology. The triune God and his Word are our starting points for our understanding of truth. This is to be presupposed in this series. In fact, it is because of our commitment to the Word that we are missional. Wells acknowledges [pgs.8-9] that critics have a point when they argue that contextualization is unnecessary because the Word is powerful, self-authenticating, and is the means God uses to accomplish his saving work. But these facts should not prevent efforts at contextualization. Wells explains,
“Not to proceed would be an unhappy outcome because theology, if it is true to its own nature, must be missiological in its intent. Its task is not only to understand the nature of biblical truth but also to ask how that truth addresses the issues of the day. Churches today, who send out missionaries to other parts of the world, would be considered greatly mistaken if they instructed those missionaries to depend only on the Word of God and not to attempt to understand the people to whom they have been sent to minister. By the same token, evangelical theology should not need to justify any attempt that it makes to understand the context into which it is called to speak.”
Yes! Because of what God has revealed to us in his Word and because of what we know of the work of the members of the Trinity, we also know that we are a people sent on mission. We are sent to all people and we must respect how these people are situated in the cultural contexts we all find ourselves in. By failing to understand our culture we end up merely representing our own internal agendas and interests while only pretending that these are the interests of the people we are sent to [Wells, pg.10]. Failing to understand our culture will leave us hobbled in our efforts to communicate the content of and the reasons for our message [pg.11]. “Missional” does not merely equal “contextualization” but contextualization is a legitimate part of the efforts of a church on mission. Our starting point is indeed the triune God and his Word but we also recognize our need to proclaim, serve, and be a blessing in a way that respects and is informed by the cultural contexts in which we find ourselves so that we might not unnecessarily hobble ourselves as we glorify God by being on mission.
To be continued…