Monday, October 30, 2017

How We Practice Contextualization In Ministry (Whether We Realize It Or Not)

Photo Credit: DVS1mn
From Timothy Keller's Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City:
"All gospel ministry and communication are already heavily adapted to a particular culture. So it is important to do contextualization consciously. If we never deliberately think through ways to rightly contextualize gospel ministry to a new culture, we will unconsciously be deeply contextualized to some other culture.  
Our gospel ministry will be both overadapted to our own culture and underadapted to new cultures at once, which ultimately leads to a distortion of the Christian message. The subject of contextualization is particularly hard to grasp for members of socially dominant groups. Because ethnic minorities must live in two cultures — the dominant culture and their own subculture — they frequently become aware of how deeply culture affects the way we perceive things.  
In the movie Gran Torino, an older blue-collar American named Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) lives alongside an Asian family in a deteriorating Detroit neighborhood. He finds it impossible to understand the cultural forms of the Hmongs, just as the elderly Hmongs (who cannot speak English and live completely within their ethnic enclave) find Walt strange and inexplicable. But the teenage Hmong girl, Sue, is bicultural — she lives in both worlds at once. So she understands and appreciates both Walt and her own parents and grandparents. As a result, she is able to communicate persuasively to both about the other. Isn’t this the very thing we are doing whenever we present the truth of the gospel to a culture that has alienated itself from it? 
In the United States, Anglo-Americans’ public and private lives are lived in the same culture. As a result, they are often culturally clueless. They relate to their own culture in the same way a fish that, when asked about water, said, “What’s water?” If you have never been out of water, you don’t know you are in it. Anglo Christians sometimes find talk of contextualization troubling. They don’t see any part of how they express or live the gospel to be “Anglo” — it is just the way things are. They feel that any change in how they preach, worship, or minister is somehow a compromise of the gospel. 
In this they may be doing what Jesus warns against — elevating the “traditions of men” to the same level as biblical truth (Mark 7:8). This happens when one’s cultural approach to time or emotional expressiveness or way to communicate becomes enshrined as the Christian way to act and live. 
Bruce Nicholls writes the following: 
"A contemporary example of cultural syncretism is the unconscious identification of biblical Christianity with “the American way of life.” This form of syncretism is often found in both Western and Third World, middle-class, suburban, conservative, evangelical congregations who seem unaware that their lifestyle has more affinity to the consumer principles of capitalistic society than to the realities of the New Testament, and whose enthusiasm for evangelism and overseas missions is used to justify [lives of materialism and complacency]."  
Lack of cultural awareness leads to distorted Christian living and ministry. Believers who live in individualistic cultures such as the United States are blind to the importance of being in deep community and placing themselves under spiritual accountability and discipline. This is why many church hoppers attend a variety of churches and don’t join or fully enter any of them. American Christians see church membership as optional. They take a non-biblical feature of American culture and bring it into their Christian life. 
On the other hand, Christians in more authoritarian and patriarchal cultures often are blind to what the Bible says about freedom of conscience and the grace-related aspects of Christianity. Instead, their leaders stress duty and are heavy-handed rather than eager to follow Jesus’ words that “if anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). 
An inability to see one’s own enculturation has other results. One of the most basic mistakes ministers make is to regurgitate the methods and programs that have personally influenced them. After experiencing the impact of a ministry in one part of the world, they take up the programs and methods of that ministry and reproduce them elsewhere virtually unchanged. If they have been moved by a ministry that has forty-five-minute verse-by-verse expository sermons, a particular kind of singing, or a specific order and length to the services, they reproduce it down to the smallest detail. Without realizing it, they become method driven and program driven rather than theologically driven. They are contextualizing their ministry expression to themselves, not to the people they want to reach. 
I have been moved to see how churches and ministries around the world have looked at what we do at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and how they have expressed their appreciation and have sought to learn from this ministry. But I have been disappointed to visit some congregations that have imitated our programs — even our bulletins — and haven’t grasped the underlying theological principles that animate us. In other words, they haven’t done the hard work of contextualization, reflecting on their own cultural situation and perspective to seek to better communicate the gospel to their own context. They have also failed to spend time reflecting on what they see in Redeemer and how we have adapted our ministry to an urban U.S. culture. 
Everyone contextualizes — but few think much about how they are doing it. We should not only contextualize but also think about how we do it. We must make our contextualization processes visible, and then intentional, to ourselves and to others."

Saturday, August 05, 2017

July Web Roundup

Photo Credit: Joanbrebo
Here is a collection of items from around the web that caught my attention the past several weeks:

A Checkpoint for Your Ambition by Michael Kelley (For the Gospel)
"Ambition is the strong desire to do something or achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work. Nothing wrong there; ambition, like so many other things, is neither good or bad. It is simply a desire that can either be redeemed or corrupted. Like most anything else involving desire – sex, power, eating – the question becomes how that desire is fulfilled. That fulfillment, though, is where things get complicated."
Six Reasons We Must Seek Solitude by Todd Gaddis (LifeWay)
"I recently wore out a set of tires prematurely due to an alignment problem. Likewise, we wear ourselves out and minister ineffectively when out of alignment. Solitude helps us recalibrate. Take Elijah for example. Fearful and exhausted, he fled into the wilderness, yearning to die. Thankfully, following a period of rejuvenation, he left the presence of the Lord with a renewed outlook and updated assignment (1 Kings 19:15-16). According to Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline, “goals are discovered, not made.” Our chances of making such a find increases exponentially in solitude. Early African converts to Christianity found time and eagerly participated in private devotions. It is said that each person had an isolated spot in the thicket where he/she would commune alone with God. In the course of time, their paths to these places became well worn. Consequently, if one grew lax in this discipline, it soon became apparent to others. They would then lovingly remind the negligent one, “Brother, the grass grows on your path.”
It's Disadvantaged Groups That Suffer Most When Free Speech Is Curtailed on Campus by Musa Al-Gharbi & Jonathan Haidt (The Atlantic)
"In virtue of their heavy reliance on taxpayer funding and major donors, public colleges are much more receptive to calls from outside the university to punish faculty and staff for espousing controversial speech or ideas. Groups like Professor Watchlist, Campus Reform, or Campus Watch exploit this vulnerability, launching populist campaigns to get professors fired, or to prevent them from being hired, on the basis of something they said. The primary targets of these efforts end up being mostly women, people of color, and religious minorities (especially Muslims and the irreligious) when they too forcefully or bluntly condemn systems, institutions, policies, practices, and ideologies they view as corrupt, exploitative, oppressive, or otherwise intolerable."
Between Two Cultures: How Latina Christians Approach Leadership by Andrea Ramirez (Christianity Today)
"What is unique to Hispanic students is their home life. If parents are not assimilated to “American” culture, there is a great disconnect that occurs with their student. There is a lack of understanding of the pressures their children are facing at school, most of it peer pressure to belong. Ironically, what may have most provoked parents to move to the United States—an education—can become the cause of a slipping apart between parents and children. I can't stress enough how great a conflict this can cause. Teen years are turbulent, anyway. Add to it the pressure that students feel in an environment they may not completely understand, and the pressure from peers, teachers, and from home ... It can be very overwhelming."
Implicit Bias vs Explicit Bias (By Their Strange Fruit)
"Racial implicit bias manifests itself in everything from assumptions about sports prowess, to who we hire/fire, to who we are afraid of as we walk down the street. To combat our implicit biases, we must first become aware of their existence (try an IAT test!), so that we can consciously combat their effects on our thought processes and actions. Implicit bias can’t be fixed with colorblindness, in fact colorblindness makes it worse. While overt racism never really went away, over the years implicit bias was allowed to take root and fester, unexamined and unchecked. The result has been decades of accumulated disparity, often perpetuated by unwitting 'basically good' people. Resumes were overlooked, mortgages and leases were declined, school applications were denied--indeed innocent people were shot. All because largely well-meaning people, acted on their implicit biases, often without even realizing they are contributing to systemic racism in our society."
Reading Wars by Philip Yancey
"I’ve concluded that a commitment to reading is an ongoing battle, somewhat like the battle against the seduction of internet pornography. We have to build a fortress with walls strong enough to withstand the temptations of that powerful dopamine rush while also providing shelter for an environment that allows deep reading to flourish.  Christians especially need that sheltering space, for quiet meditation is one of the most important spiritual disciplines. As a writer in the age of social media, I host a Facebook page and a website and write an occasional blog.  Thirty years ago I got a lot of letters from readers, and they did not expect an answer for a week or more.  Now I get emails, and if they don’t hear back in two days they write again, “Did you get my email?”  The tyranny of the urgent crowds in around me."
50 Years Later: Remembering the Detroit Riots of 1967 by Candace Howze (Urban Faith)
"Much of the city was destroyed during the riots, leaving thousands without a place to work or live, and businesses that were unharmed shut down for safety purposes. Taylor and his brother worked for General Motors at the time and were told not to go into work because of the hostile atmosphere throughout the city, which included curfew violations, fights, and multiple fires. Looters continued to steal millions of dollars of merchandise, including a few of Taylor’s friends who stole TV sets from a local business. “It got so bad that they canceled our work because it was too dangerous to move. Black people were mad and white people were scared and everyone was kinda scared to go anywhere.”"
Hugh Freeze and the Peril of Public Faith by Cameron Cole (The Gospel Coalition)
"No matter the Christian—whether the non-drinking teenager, the stay-at-home mom, or the preacher—if he or she projects an air that righteousness comes from religious performance, he or she will be viewed as self-righteous. When that person demonstrates even a hint of moral failure, detractors will pile on the charge of hypocrisy. What non-Christians seem to hate most about believers is the perception of moral superiority. And when well-known Christians fall, some take opportunity to say, “See, you’re not any better than I am.” And they’re right. Absolutely right."
Little Girl Won't Let Her Mother Be Alone

I'm sure moms everywhere can relate to this little girl who just won't let her mom use the restroom in peace and quiet.



Saturday, July 01, 2017

Weekly Web Roundup (7/1/17)

Photo Credit: Golden_Ribbon
Here is a collection of items from around the web that caught my attention the past couple of weeks:

Watch Your Mouth by Randy Nabors
"The consciousness of racial injustice and its attendant social, economic, psychic, emotional, and physical realities are like a punch in the gut.  We have no alternative but to spell them out, to both the ignorant and the resistant.  Yet, if we allowed hate to fill us, these truths could inflame our hearts and push us to be fiery-eyed zealots and avengers, we instead seek to speak the truth in love; as Ephesians 4:15 teaches us to do.  This is not always easy to do, to speak hard truths in love.  We cannot be flippant about what love means (claiming we love people but producing no demonstrable proof) in our communication, especially not in having read the James passage in how the “wisdom from above” is to be imparted.  In other words people who hear hard truths from us must also hear and feel the love as far as it may depend on us."
Surprise! We Need to Learn from Christians from Other Cultures by Amy Medina
"When we talk about church in America with our Tanzanian friends, it's their turn to be shocked.  Your church services are only an hour and fifteen minutes long?  And that's the only service you attend all week?  And you've never, ever done an all-night prayer vigil? Like, never?  Are there even any Christians in America? In America, your devotion to Christ is measured by the amount of personal time you spend in prayer and Bible study.  Am I right or am I right?  Well, in Tanzania, your devotion to Christ is measured by the amount of time you spend in prayer and worship with others. Of course, you might protest that measuring godliness sounds like legalism.  Which is true--but we still do it, don't we? If you are American, what would you say to a Christian who never did personal devotions, but spent many hours every week in church worship services? Would you even know where to put that person in your spiritual hierarchy?  And would you be able to back up your conclusion with Scripture? It's easy for us, as foreigners, to come to Tanzania and point out what they are doing wrong. Those deficiencies pop up to us broadly and clearly.  But I wonder, what if a Tanzanian Christian came to the States and was given a voice in the white American Church?  What deficiencies would be glaringly obvious to him?"
I preached about a gun rights advocate. He wasn't who I thought. by Amy Butler (USA Today)
"I sat there, startled briefly by the unlikely situation in which we found ourselves. We couldn’t be more different. But Todd and I share at least one fundamental belief: nobody is the stereotype we believe they are. We do ourselves and our world a fundamental disservice when we won’t summon the courage to listen to each other and try as hard as we can to find the things we share, small as they may be."
Poll shows a dramatic generational divide in white evangelical attitudes on gay marriage by Sarah Pulliam Bailey (The Washington Post)
"The question for many evangelicals has been whether LGBT issues are matters where they can agree to disagree and still work together, perhaps like the question of when children should be baptized or whether women can be ordained. When the issue came up for World Vision, one of the largest Christian nonprofits in the country, in 2012, the answer was a sharp no — it lost thousands of donors right away. And InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a major ministry, announced last fall that its employees must affirm its views that marriage is between a man and a woman. Some evangelicals believe there’s a difference between supporting gay marriage as a public policy matter and gay marriage as sanctioned by churches. A large majority of white evangelicals (including younger generations) continue to see homosexual relations as morally wrong, according to the General Social Survey. The 2016 survey found 75 percent of white evangelicals saying homosexual sexual relations are always or nearly always wrong. That number is down from 82 percent in 1996 and 90 percent in 1987. The survey does not show a large generational gap, however. In 2014-2016 surveys, 70 percent of Generation X/millennial white evangelicals said same-sex sexual relations are nearly always or always wrong, compared to 81 percent of baby boomers/older generations."
7 ways the iPhone has made life worse by Kara Alaimo (CNN)

I'm an iPhone user but I share the concerns listed in this article from Kara Alaimo. Here she lists seven ways that she feels our smartphones have made our lives worse:
1. They're bad for our brains.
2. While we're busy on our phones, we're ignoring the world around us.
3. We're also ignoring one other.
4. They're ruining our relationships.
5. They promote FOMO ("fear of missing out") syndrome.
6. We have come to need constant validation.
7. We're expected to be available for work 24-7.
Smartphones can be useful if we use them and they don't use us. But these concerns are worth considering.

My 3 Big Fears in Parenting Teenagers by Trevin Wax (The Gospel Coalition)
"As fathers and mothers, we model the love of God to our kids in different ways. I know that whenever my children think of their Heavenly Father, they will in some way associate Him with their earthly father. The responsibility of modeling the character of God to my children makes me feel so honored and so inadequate. My fear for the teenage years is that, in the midst of the drama, the mood swings, the debates and disagreements, and the inevitable growth of independence, I will respond in ways that push my kids away from God instead of toward Him. That I will consistently model something untrue about God. For this reason, I pray that God would give me a soft and repentant heart, a willingness to own up to my sins, so that our kids would see that leadership in the home is not opposed to admitting I'm wrong, or that I need forgiveness. I also pray that God will not allow my fear of making mistakes to make me passive and thus forfeit my leadership role through apathy. A good father needs to have a combination of grace and boldness, with strands of love and authority tied so tightly you can't untangle one without the other."