Friday, June 01, 2007

One More Thought from Tim Keller

Tim Keller is very interested in the subject of how the church is to interface with the culture at large. He has taught and written on this subject at length, and he shared a few of his thoughts with us last week. Perhaps the most interesting thing he said about the subject was this:

"When Christians over-contextualize they buy into the culture' s idols; when Christians under-contextualize they buy into their own idols."

Examples of over-contextualization are rampant in our day. Churches are forsaking the Bible and sound doctrine for video, cutting-edge music, drama, and such like things--in a word, for entertainment. But by going so far they not only use tools to bridge the gap between God and people, they buy into, support, and even promote the culture's idols. I read an article about a guy just yesterday who's first book sold nearly 1 million copies. He asked an audience, "What's your favorite movie?" There were many responses. Then he asked, "What's your favorite part of the Nicene Creed?" There were no responses, at least not serious ones. His solution? We need to stop teaching propositional theology and start telling more stories. Not a good solution.

Examples of under-contextualization are not only rampant in our day, but have plauged the church for generations. The essential mindset of people in this category is that the world is evil and if we expose ourselves to it, and more so our children, we will also become evil. Therefore, we have to retreat and protect ourselves from the world. This mindset, Keller said, is tantamount to buying into our own idols.

What we need, then, is to find a balance so that both of these texts characterize our lives and ministries: "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned," and "What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.'" (Mark 16:15-16, 2 Cor. 6:16-18).


  1. Movies and Nicene Creed are good examples of over and under contextualization. Perhaps a good movie about the Nicene Creed would be a proper contextualization then.

  2. Funny.

    Actually the better solution is to teach the people of God the truths of God in such a way that they live and grab their attention more than the plethora of entertainment options available to us today. By and large, American Christians do not love the glory of God more than their favorite forms of entertainment, and surely one of the functions of the church is to labor for transformation in this area rather than abdicate to the culture.

    Furthermore, a better solution is to mobilize the people of God so that they engaged in the work of the Kingdom of God. When a person takes up their cross and enters into the suffering of Jesus it changes his or her perspective on things like culture and entertainment. Suffering with Christ for the sake of the gospel has a way of maturing and sobering a soul.

    So thanks for the humor, but I sincerely hope that you put more serious thought into these matters than your comment shows.