Stetzer on Contextualization and Cultural Engagement

Ed Stetzer writes with wisdom and discernment in this recent post on contextualization. I'm glad to see him address the desparaging rhetoric about "engaging the culture" which leaders such as John MacArthur and Thabiti Anyabwile have recently used. Stetzer, who (with me) respects both of these brothers and agrees with much of what they are saying, provides some helpful (and charitable) clarification:

I don't actually believe that John or Thabiti believe that everything in culture must be rejected, but sometimes our rhetoric encourages some to adopt a posture to culture that works against the very mission of the church. And, it seems to me that a well-thought approach to cultural engagement would be exceedingly helpful in our theologically minded communities . . .

It is impossible to be entirely distinct from the culture in which one lives. Everyone connects with and interacts with the non-Christian culture that surrounds them. When we talk about "engaging culture" we simply mean that one needs to interact with the people, ideas, beliefs, customs, values, et al. intentionally, carefully, and biblically. Here, I think we can all agree. But this means that we cannot make disciples and work out our "pastoral concern" apart from engaging culture.


Near the end of the post, Stetzer point us to Joe Thorn's six rules of cultural engagement:

1. Be present. ... Being present means being a part of the community God has sent you to, not just the community he wants you to help create. Do you know the people, the local issues and struggles, the values, practices and interests of your neighbors? ...

2. Practice discernment.
... It is not always time to be the culture warrior, nor does Jesus call us to be spiritual pacifists. Sometimes we must fight, sometimes we share things in common, but we are always looking to heal.

3. Develop your theology.
You cannot be a culture engager if you are not a theologian. speak to the culture of sin, the gospel and the character of God requires that we understand these things.

4. Find courage.
Engaging the culture in this way demands great personal conviction. Like Jesus and the apostles, preaching the gospel in word and deed will both lead to you being favored as a helper, and hated as a meddler. ...

5. Speak clearly.
To properly engage your culture, whether rejecting what is evil, or receiving what is good, you must speak the language of the culture. ...

6. Love.
... most of the time you will not only be engaging ideas, but people; people made in God's image... It is not appropriate to claim we love our neighbors without a real demonstration of that love.

Near the end of the post, Stetzer gives this helpful and clarifying summary statement:

The call to contextualize is not a call to gospel compromise and syncretism, or living thoughtlessly and recklessly. The call to contextualize and engage the culture is simply an implication of being called to preach the gospel and make disciples.

Read the whole thing.

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