Confront or Adapt

December 6, 2006

Reading through recent mailouts of upcoming pastors conferences, knowing some of the speakers’ books and churches, reading the topics to be addressed, I’m struck again by the carefulness with which a faithful pastor must consider the issue of adapting the unchanging Gospel to his current context.  Of course contextualization always takes place, whether acknowledged or unacknowledged.  To acknowledge it is better, because then we are more self-aware of choices we’re making, and we are also better able to be examined by others on those choices.  Such awareness of our contextualizing also encourages humility, and hinders us from claiming alone to be the "I am of Christ" kind of party that Paul warned the Corinthians about.

And yet, contextualization presumes either positive or at least neutral cultural images or ways of communication which can be used by the Gospel.  Are there any cultural images or ways of communicating that can’t be used for Gospel purposes?  The answer would have to be "Yes", (though we might disagree about what those are). 

And what happens when a certain image or mode of communicating is inextricably linked with an anti-Christian worldview?  David Wells summarizes the issue:  “To put the matter succinctly: those who see only the contemporaneity of this spirituality—and who, typically, yearn to be seen as being contemporary—usually make tactical maneuvers to win a hearing for their Christian views; those who see its underlying worldview will not. . . . When rival worldviews are in play, it is not adaptation that is called for but confrontation.”David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs (2005), pp. 155-156.

To find out more of what David specifically uses as an example, you’ll need to turn to that section of his book.  But in all our concern for evangelism and contextualization (excellent, Christ-like concerns) we should not be blind to implications of our decisions.

In a decision you’re making right now about your own congregation, could you imagine a situation in which your intention is simply to adapt becoming a situation in which you would have no option but to confront?  It’s worth thinking about.