Is contextualization just glorified approval seeking?

Commenting on the decline of the mainline, Kevin DeYoung suggests it their “Oh, please, approve of me” message, which makes a poor substitute for the gospel.

I tend to agree. You can’t make a difference in the world if you’re no different from the world. But the obvious question is, “Well, what then do we make of missional contextualization?” Is it just glorified approval seeking?

I say no, but I would support that by arguing that there are two sides to missional contextualization: that of being in the world, but not of the world. The “Oh, please, approve of me” message is what happens when you only take notice of the first half of that Jesus equation and forget the second. What mainline churches are doing when they chase after approval for approval’s sake is not genuine contextualization.

7 thoughts on “Is contextualization just glorified approval seeking?

  1. I agree. One of the dangers of contextualization is that Christians end up doing something that makes them more comfortable, accommodating the culture rather than providing a contrast and critique. When I speak of contextualization I think that the big issue is that the ways Christians maintain their distinctiveness ought to be to some extent comprehensible, in a sense they ought to be pointing to the iceberg below the surface. My hunch is that many mission strategies can backfire by making Christians more comfortable and not allowing the sharp edges of the good news of Jesus to stick out.
    As you have put it Christians seek ‘approval and acceptance’ rather than Christian distinctiveness.

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  2. Here’s a thought; Pete Davies, at a recent speaking engagement the that faithful in a working class context challenged the locals to be people of –
    Hope in the face of discouragement
    • Light in the midst of dark times
    • Peace in the midst of turmoil
    • Forgiveness when we are the victim
    • Justice for others rather than for ourselves
    • Generosity in tight financial times
    • Mercy, making it more important than justice
    • Reconciliation rather than feuding with each other
    • Sexual integrity in the midst of a promiscuous
    society
    • Offering others dignity, responsibility & trust
    rather than merely welfare
    The challenge was to be different but in a way that others could understand. I am sure there are different insights for different situations. We need a bit more action/reflection rather than the reflection/reflection of the right and the action/action of the left.

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  3. In the light of what what Brett and Brian have described, I think that the list Brian quoted are examples of the “sharp edges of the good news” that Brett mentions. Such contrasting behaviour sticks out straight in a crooked world through non-violent means.
    Contextualisation, for me, is about spending the time with and listening to the people that God has called us to be amongst. Of course, it’s not just limited to that, but it reminds me of the concepts of abstinence (abstaining from particular practices) and engagement (engaging in behaviour opposite to that which one is abstaining from), both necessary to have an effective Christian life. There may be variations in particular contexts, but overall the basic Christ-taught and exemplified principles are the same.

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  4. I agree with your comments and in some sense with the original blog post you cite. However I don’t think the mainline (US?) churches have been completely accommodating culturally.
    I agree they have tended to accommodate in terms of traditional beliefs about God and church (hence the article references some of the ancient creeds of mainline denominations as potential remedies for the current malaise). But they have also taken a prophetic voice (if not lifestyle) towards the two great American sins of greed and racism.
    Less mainline churches have been pretty prophetic in terms of lifestyle (if not words) with regard to racism, but have all too often embraced the culture of greed. (Think Glen Beck’s recent rant on “social justice” issues in churches. There was little serious backlash from evangelical circles.) All the less mainline church have maintained reasonably orthodox beliefs about God.
    Mainline churches have also generally been extremely conservative in terms of style or mode of presentation (commitment to hymns, archaic language, pulpits, reverence (vs joy) and a whole host of other examples), while the less mainline churches have been more liberal in terms of how they present the message.
    Is it possible that it’s not a question of “contextualization” vs “lack of contextualization” but rather a question of what you choose to contextualize and what you choose not to?

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  5. In our contextuallizing, to remain authentic and true to the Spirit of the Gospels, we also need to embrace our missionally transformative role of prophetically, nd honestly critiquing the culture we are working in, whilst properly respecting the dignity of the people who live in that culture. Our demonstrated lifestyle of biblically-driven bottom line alternatives may not, and probably won’t be enough to convince people where there is a say an clash over ethics between our faith and their culture. We may actually have to say things that aren’t going to be culturally popular like Jesus did in Luke 4 and nearly got chucked off a cliff for it. But I think any successful navigation within this faith and culture stuff necessitates an incarnational approach which builds mutual respect over time through honest but kind relationships where grace and patience prevail, and the will to dialogue with and understand the other is valued.

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