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March 30, 2017

The Gospel “In” Context

By Daniel Im

The Gospel “In” Context

When something is seen or heard out of context, it can be confusing or misunderstood. One of my favorite scenes in the movie, The Sandlot, is where the boys are in the tree house camping out to share the story of “the beast”—the dog behind the fence where the baseballs disappear. During the campout, Ham asks Scotty Smalls if he would like a s’more, to which Smalls replies, “Some more of what.” Ham assumes Smalls didn’t hear him correctly and asks again, “No, would you like a s’more?” Smalls, a little flustered, responds, “How can I have some more of something I haven’t had?” And then Ham responds with the classic line, universally known, “You’re killing me Smalls!” Ham then proceeds to tell Smalls what a s’more is.

This scene illustrates that when something is seen or heard out of context, it’s easy for people to misunderstand or be confused. Smalls had never heard of a s’more, so when he heard about it for the first time, it was a little confusing until someone explained it to him.

Similarly, the gospel is like the s’more scene. We cannot assume people know what we are talking about or why we do what we do. This is where contextualization comes into play.

Recently, Dhati Lewis, Founding and Lead Pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, GA, shared four principles of contextualization from 1 Corinthians 9:19-27.

1. The gospel must be contextualized.

Communicating the gospel is like cooking a steak. But as many of you know, some people like their steak raw, medium rare, medium, medium well, and well-done.

So if communicating the gospel is like cooking a steak, then contextualization is the art of understanding how the person likes the steak and cooking it to order. Thus, when cooking the steak, you don’t want to undercook or overcook it. Undercooking or overcooking can make the steak uneatable, distort the savory taste, or make people sick.

For some churches, they under-contextualize the gospel, making it virtually irrelevant. As Dhati comically put it, it’s as if many churches want to see how dry and boring they can make their corporate gatherings. In doing so, they cloak the gospel in practices and patterns of the past that make seeing and understanding the gospel very difficult in the present.

However, on the other hand, some churches tend to over-contextualize the gospel, which overshadows its transforming power. Such features of over-contextualization include a lack of teaching from the Bible, the watering-down or avoidance of truth, or the absence of sharing the gospel—the good news that Jesus died, was buried, but rose on the third day and offers forgiveness of sin to all of those who would call upon His name as Lord and Savior.

If we are going to reach our neighbors that don’t look like us, talk like us, or act like us, then we must become cookers of the gospel, which requires us learning the tastes and hungers of our neighbors and being able to communicate (to their spiritual taste buds) the beauty and savory of the good news of Jesus Christ.

2. Our confidence shouldn’t be in our ability to contextualize but in the gospel’s power to save.

While contextualization is an art like cooking, our confidence shouldn’t be put on our ability to cook but on God’s ability to make palpable the gospel to those who are spiritually dead. The Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the church at Corinth, “[W]hen I came to you, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. … so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:1,5).

Dhati soberly states, “Even if you perfectly contextualize the gospel, only some will be saved.” If this is the case, then some might reason, “If salvation isn’t predicated on our ability to contextualize but God’s ability to save, why contextualize?” Because contextualization makes the gospel personal and relational. And throughout Scripture, God is on mission to save people from every tribe, nation, tongue, and people group. Therefore, contextualization is culturally and personally communicating the truth—both verbally and demonstrably—that God desires to save a people from all peoples for Himself. And if we don’t contextualize the gospel to those God has called us to reach, we end up distorting the personal and relational nature of the gospel to all nations and peoples.

To read the final two principles on contextualization, and to watch Dhati’s session at Mosaix, click here for the full video and post.

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Tweetables:

  • Churches cannot assume people know what they are talking about or why they do what they do.
  • Contextualization is the art of properly communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ in the heart language of people.
  • Churches who under-contextualize the gospel virtually make it irrelevant.
  • Churches who over-contextualize the gospel overshadow its transforming power.
  • If we don’t contextualize the gospel, we end up distorting the personal & relational aspect of the gospel to all nations & peoples.
  • The struggle of contextualization is real; it involves the church going after people who don’t look like them, talk like them, or act like them.
  • The goal of contextualization is reconciliation. Dhati Lewis

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Im

Daniel Im (@danielsangi) is the Founder of NewChurches.com and the Director of Church Multiplication for LifeWay Christian Resources. He is a Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship, a multisite church in Nashville. He is the author of No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry, and co-author of Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply (2nd ed) with Ed Stetzer. He also co-hosts the New Churches Q&A Podcast, the 5 Leadership Questions Podcast, and a brand new podcast with his wife on marriage and parenting called the IMbetween Podcast. He has an M.A. in Global Leadership and has served and pastored in church plants and multisite churches ranging from 100 people to 50,000 people in Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Korea, Edmonton, and Nashville. Visit Danielim.com to learn more.

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