I think I’m coming to hate the word “contextualization”. It’s not the idea behind it, it’s the thought that it is being held to the same level of importance as doctrine, and in some ways, as more important. At Desiring God 2006, Marc Driscoll said that we should have two hands, in the one, which is tightly clenched, we hold the unchangeable truths of God’s Word and in the other, which is open, we hold a contextualized, timely message. “And you’re anchored to the truth,” says Driscoll, “so you can be creative.” But what I get from this, is that the unchangeable truths have no unchangeable practical implications. What I pick up, is that we keep those truths held tightly in our hand, so that they are not able to get in the way of our “creative” ministry.
Even John Piper made the following statement shortly after Driscoll finished speaking and left the conference to catch a plane:
Let me tell you how I think and how I decide who I’m going to hang with. As I look across the broad spectrum of Evangelicalism and all the different styles, what concerns me is doctrine. And if Mark Driscoll holds those nine truths firmly in his left hand, then I don’t care what’s in his open hand.
He went on to say,
Now the problem is that some of us believe that what you have in your open hand may subtly undermine what you have in your closed hand. And so I would sit down with Mark and say things like, ‘Mark, you cannot be clever in the pulpit and be faithful to the gospel message.’ But what matters to me is doctrine, and I don’t care about form or style.
[quotes taken from Piper, Driscoll, and Contextualization]
And so, I say the hand analogy is bad, in fact, I say it’s fatal. We are to preach what God has given us. We are to dilligently seek his face, read his word. When contextualization occurs, I believe it is in the spirit of Proverbs 16:1 “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD.”
There is one more thing that we should remember about contextualization and Postmodernism, and that is this: Jesus Christ lived in a Postmodern world, so did Paul. You don’t get much more cynical or pluralistic than the Roman Empire. You would be hard pressed to find a people more inured to metanarratives (or incredulous, with apologies to Jean-Francois Lyotard). And when you look at Paul and Christ, the major way they contextualized their message was in deciding whether to start with Genesis or Matthew.