Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Impacting the Hindu Diaspora in North America

Here is an excellent paper by Timothy Paul.

Impacting the Hindu Diaspora in North America

Shariah in the UK

This is quite a video. Check it out.



Answering Muslims: Will the Senseless Harassment of Muslims Never End?

CRBC Pastoral Blog: A Declaration from Liberty

I liked reading through this analysis by Tom Chantry. It is pretty well-reasoned and insightful. Not just a gossipy piece about Caner, but a call to the Church to a deeper faith. Also, his reflections on Liberty's actions are well-thought and gracious. Chantry has helped me to see a bit more of their perspective in this whole ordeal.

CRBC Pastoral Blog: A Declaration from Liberty

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Baptist Press Fluff Piece - Caner no longer dean but stays on faculty - News with a Christian Perspective

A bit of a fluff piece on the Caner scandal. Not exactly a model of investigative journalism. Oh well.

Baptist Press - Caner no longer dean but stays on faculty - News with a Christian Perspective

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ed Stetzer - Calling for Contextualization: Part 2, The Need to Contend and Contextualize

Stetzer's second dose of contextualization is a good read. I have made my own comments on his blog. But, I'll add them here too under the hyperlink.

Ed Stetzer - Calling for Contextualization: Part 2, The Need to Contend and Contextualize


Ed, another great article. As a reflective practitioner who named his third child after Hiebert and Roberto de Nobili, I almost expect to find a major divergence with you eventually. But, so far, so good. Just a few comments . . .

You’ve written:

“Some of the ways we worship, how we present eternal truths, and how we live in and relate to society all must be considered.”

Not “some”, brother, ALL.

“What we find in the New Testament is that to be biblical requires contextualization.”

I just want to give a hearty, Bible-believing, Jesus-centered, Sanskrit-chanting, AMEN! . . . errrr . . . tathasthu!

“Yes, contextualization is a dangerous thing.”

Ultimately, this may be a statement that I agree with. However, I am tired of it being assumed (Gilliland’s “razor” and Travis’s scale) rather than demonstrated. Why is it that the practitioner of contextualization always has the burden of demonstrating the danger of non-contextualization while everyone just assumes that an essential relationship between contextualization and syncretism exists. Can it be demonstrated that those who are intentionally pursuing contextualization in mission (following Hiebert’s “critical contextualization”) are more likely to participate in and develop/encourage syncretistic practices that those who do not seek to contextualize? And, we need to be as careful to define syncretism (if we are desirous to warn people against it) as we are to define contextualization.

“Thus, contextualization is a tool. Clear gospel proclamation is the goal. We must not confuse the two.”

But so much more than a mere tool. I am convinced that the pursuit of contextualization should be understood as a spiritual discipline that is based upon a desire to imitate the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the Spirit sends us to the ends of the earth. I’d say that the “confusion” that you are warning against is actually to be desired. For there is no full proclamation of the Gospel without an experience of the “Word made flesh” in the particular context of our mission field. Without an true imitation of the incarnation by God’s ambassadors, can we say that the good news has been fully proclaimed and fully understood? Contextualization/incarnation is truly a goal – because it must be seen as an essential component of “clear gospel proclamation”. Dare I say, an essential component of the gospel itself – the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Hmm . . . but you may not be tracking with me on this last paragraph. It is something I’m still processing.

BTW, since I’m on payroll, let me add:

“I affirm the current version of the Baptist Faith and Message.”

Ed Stetzer - Calling for Contextualization: Part 1

Ed Stetzer - Calling for Contextualization: Part 1

This is Ed Stetzer's first offering in his contextualization series. A good, solid article that talks about the meaning of culture and begins to discuss why it is important to be a student of it in missions.

What is Missing from a Key New Testament Introduction Text? | Bible.org Blogs

Here's a quick and helpful observation from Darrell Bock on Ehrman's The New Testament: An Historical Introduction

What is Missing from a Key New Testament Introduction Text? | Bible.org Blogs

Cody Lorance | Lausanne Global Conversation

Here is my Lausanne Global Conversation profile:

Cody Lorance | Lausanne Global Conversation

Do you have your profile yet?

Friday, June 25, 2010

"Kingdom Stewardship": Response to the CT2010 Advance Paper

I just recently read through the CT2010 advance paper entitled “Kingdom Stewardship” which was written and submitted by Ram Gidoomal on behalf of the Resource Mobilization Working Group.  This paper will form a basis for a related presentation at the upcoming 3rd Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization to be held in Cape Town, South Africa this October.  On the whole, it is an excellent piece that provides a compelling and holistic portrait of what Biblical stewardship really is and a timely call for the Church to seriously contemplate and embrace the technological realities of our generation and their implications for stewardship.  Today, I want to offer a few comments on Gidoomal’s paper for your consideration.


1.   On the Distinction between Clergy and Laity

In the opening section of his paper, Gidoomal states that one of the primary reasons why a Biblical vision of stewardship has suffered a “setback” in our era is due to the “problematic distinction” and “age-old wall” between what he classifies as sacred and secular vocations. The paper doesn’t greatly elaborate on what exactly is found to be problematic about the distinction.  Moreover, the concept doesn’t obviously carry through the length of the paper nor do much to influence its conclusions.  However, since it is mentioned as a major reason for why Christians aren’t embracing a Biblical view of stewardship, it must be considered important to the author.


It seems that Gidoomal is suggesting that distinguishing qualitatively between those vocations traditionally associated with the term “clergy” and those of the “laity” is Biblically illegitimate.  Actually, he uses the labels “sacred” and “secular” – terms somewhat loaded to begin with.[i]  Of course, Gidoomal may not have meant this, but since it is certainly possible to arrive at this conclusion from his paper, I want to respond.


I believe that the Bible is quite consistent throughout the Canon in both describing and prescribing this distinction – that there is and should be a qualitatively significant distinction made between clerical and lay vocations.  Even pre-Moses, the office of priest (Gen. 14:8) and prophet (Gen. 20:7) are recognized as having legitimacy.  There is a formalization of Levites as a clerical tribe focused on the tabernacle/temple cultus that begins shortly after the exodus of God’s people from Egypt (Ex. 32:28-29). Of course, it is the office of prophet that receives the most attention throughout the Old Testament – a less formal, but nevertheless a very distinctly clerical vocation.


In the New Testament, the office of priest is assumed by Jesus Christ as the “Great High Priest” (Heb. 4:14) and all those who follow him as members of a “royal priesthood” (1 Pt. 2:5).  However, the role of prophet continues (Mt. 11:9, Luke 1:67, Acts 11:27, Acts 13:1, Acts 15:32, Acts 21:10, Acts 21:9, Rom. 12:6, 1 Cor. 12:28, Eph. 4:11, 1 Tim. 1:18, Rev. 1:3, Rev. 11:10), and is joined by several new clerical roles including apostle, evangelist, and pastor/teacher (Eph. 4:11).  Paul states clearly in Ephesians that God has especially gifted individuals to serve in several clerical positions.  Now, we must be sure to point out that performing a clerical vocation in Scripture didn’t always mean not also serving in a lay capacity – Jesus the carpenter and Paul the tent-maker are joined by Amos the farmer and Daniel the government official. This kind of bi-vocationalism isn’t found in all Biblical clerics, but at least we see it precedented.


To be sure, the notion that the clergy should do all the “spiritual work” must be rejected.    This unfortunate misapplication, which is all too often derived from the recognition of a clergy/laity distinction, does not illegitimatize the foundational fact that God has indeed established that distinction.  Quite the opposite is true, as Paul states that the reason for God appointing clergy is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:11-12).  Facilitating the resourcing and mobilizing of every Christian to accomplish God’s purpose in creation and redemption is exactly what God has in mind in the calling forth of pastors, evangelists, and other clergy.  In my view, it would be very appropriate for the upcoming congress to affirm the Biblical legitimacy of the clerical vocations (particularly those mentioned in Eph. 4), and to call on the clergy to renew their commitment to (1) fulfill their responsibility to equip all the saints of the work of ministry and (2) resist the temptation and pressure to “do it all themselves.”


2.   On the Omission of any mention of the Lausanne Global Conversation
     
Gidoomal provides some very helpful comments on the topic of technology and the Internet.  These must be read and seriously reflected on by Christ-followers who intend to be engaged in Kingdom work during this next generation.  The list of websites provided is very valuable and the “essential ingredients” section is a must read for Christian web developers.  However, I find that this section makes a surprising and glaring omission.  That is, there is no mention whatsoever of the Lausanne Global Conversation (LGC).  I find it difficult to believe that the Lausanne leadership is fully behind the LGC when it is not being written about in this advance paper.

When I attended the pre-congress gathering for the U.S. delegation in Dallas earlier this year, the LGC was presented in a thoroughly exciting way.  The concept of having a central place on the web where the global Church could engage, converse, and share resources with each other was compelling.  I have personally bought into the vision and have sought to encourage as many people as I can to do the same.  In several cases, I have actually created accounts for people and then showed them how to use them just to encourage their participation (I actually did this for my entire staff and have since called two meetings in which I give them a designated amount of time focus on a specific topic and engage on the LGC, then we gather together to discuss).  Now however, I feel I need to be convinced that Lausanne believes that the LGC can become all that we have envisioned it to be.  I long to see all of those key Lausanne leaders (and especially the members of the working group that produced this paper) actively participating in the site, posting resources, engaging meaningfully in conversations, forming their own groups, and otherwise modeling the kind of participation that we all hope to see from the global Church.



So, at Cape Town, we simply must engage in dialogue about the LGC.  Several questions must be asked and answered by the congress:



What must we do to make the LGC the absolute best resource that it can be and needs to be to become the primary web-based facilitator of Biblical stewardship for the whole Church?

What must be done so that the LGC can be universally appreciated as an essential tool for the local church?

How can the LGC effectively partner and integrate with other good stewardship and networking sites so as to avoid needless duplication and the necessity of an individual Christian having to manage a large number of different web profiles?  In particular, how do we identify sites that are comparable to the LGC and effectively integrate and partner with them?  (e.g. My Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are all integrated so that I don’t need to update all, but they update each other.  In particular, the existence of World Wide Open as a site distinct from LGC is an example of needless duplication.  These should be fully integrated.)

How does the LGC become the central and best place to go for the hypothetical Cameroon-focused workers mentioned in the Gidoomal article?

What must be done before and during the congress to ensure that, at the very least, every individual, local church, and organization represented in Cape Town has an active profile on the LGC before the congress comes to a close?

How do we resource the LGC so that it can be all the God wants it to be for the global Church today?


Finally, at Cape Town, there must be a great and impassioned call for each delegate to utilize the LGC as a primary channel for engaging in global partnership, conversation and stewardship so that we can, as never before, truly become the whole Church taking the whole Gospel to the whole world!


[i] Choosing the right terminology is really pretty impossible.  There is a sense in which Gidoomal’s sacred/secular is appropriate, but it also carries a sense that one vocational category is concerned with the things of God and one is not.  I have chosen to mostly use the terminology of clergy/laity that doesn’t escape the problem entirely itself and brings its own baggage along as well.  In the end, what I mean by “clergy” are those in vocations which are inherently concerned with the Kingdom of God and may only be legitimately performed by individuals who are concerned with the Kingdom of God.  What I mean by “laity” are those in vocations which are not inherently concerned with the Kingdom of God and may be legitimately performed by either those concerned with God’s Kingdom or those who are not.  That is, a non-Christian may perform the role of a firefighter, chef, or governor skillfully, honorably, and in a way that is basically pleasing to God (radical depravity not withstanding).  Whereas that same non-Christian could not be an evangelist, pastor, or prophet legitimately. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why Contextualize? (Part 3) Pleasing God

As we continue to consider theological foundations for contextualization (there will be four in total before I’m finished), let me provide a third consideration today.  You’ll recall that already we’ve established that the imitation of Christ requires the imitation of Christ’s incarnation through the pursuit of contextualization.  Also, we’ve seen (last week) that the Bible believes that contextualization is necessary for reaching the lost.  A third Biblical motivation to pursue contextualization is found in our commitment to please God.

3. The Commitment to Please God
As followers of Jesus, we want to please God (Eph. 5:10). Now, this third theological impetus for contextualization is very closely related to the first two in that it is certainly pleasing to God when His people imitate Christ and it is pleasing that the lost be reached.  However, I wanted to list this as a separate reason for the pursuit of contextualization because I believe that the case can be sure that God is pleased with the preservation of cultural distinctiveness among the various people groups of the world.

My reasoning here is based primarily on John’s revelation of heaven/eternity.  Now, interpreting Revelation is not always considered a very straightforward thing to do.  But I’m not interested in pinning the tail on the antichrist or predicting when the Cubs might finally win the series.  I just want to consider a couple of ideas from Revelation very briefly and highlight in them some thoughts about the preservation of culture.  

“Every nation, tribe, people and language” 
Here is a recurring phraseology in the book of Revelation (e.g. 5:9-10, 7:9-10, 10:11, 13:7, 14:6, 17:15) that sometimes has positive and sometimes negative connotations.  Depending on the context, it either refers to the comprehensiveness of God’s salvation or else His judgment.  In either case, we are to note that there is not a people group, language, geographic location, village tribe, or political entity to which the reach of God’s unfolding redemptive plan does not extend.  Of particular interest to us are those positive references (especially 5:9-10 and 7:9-10) which highlight the extent of God’s salvation to all peoples.  These references have been famously (e.g. here) used by many as Scriptural foundations for developing mission strategies that focus on reaching all “people groups” (Piper, 1993).

The argument, which I too find compelling, is based on the fact that God has already revealed to John that a countless multitude consisting of those from every tribe, people, language and nation will be ultimately saved.  Thus we may with confidence state that it is God’s clearly revealed will to save some from every people group, and may have faith that our work among unreached people groups will not be in vain since the ultimate success of such endeavors is an already established fact.  That is, an assumption is made that John literally observed distinct ethno-linguistic groups in his revelation of heaven—that he didn’t just mean “a whole bunch of people.”

If we accept this assumption to be true, and I think we should, I believe it proper to consider another application.  For John to have observed distinct ethno-linguistic groups, he must have observed something that distinguished them from each other.  What was it? Of that we can’t be certain.  However, it seems to be the case that, on some level, God chooses to preserve cultural elements – at least to the point that John was able to marvel not at a homogenous, numberless mass, but at a gloriously diverse gathering of every nation, tribe, language and people.

"The Glory and Splendor of the Nations”
A second scene to consider is near the end of John’s revelation.  Here we have the dust of numerous plagues and judgments settling and the emergence of God’s final, glorified Church – His bride.  There is the New Jerusalem, a kind of eternal dwelling place for the redeemed of the Lord, described in breathtaking beauty.  And, at the end of chapter 21, we see a procession of the redeemed going into that city (21:24-27).  Light is emanating from the Lamb and the nations (read: “people groups”, Gk. “ἔθνη”) are walking by that light.  The mental image is something like a parade as each people group marches in.  They are accompanied by their leaders, the magnificent “kings of the earth” and each nation brings their own distinct glory and honor into the city of the King of Kings.  

I see in this image a pretty clear indication that the redeemed from every people group will bring elements of their distinct cultural heritage into God’s eternal Kingdom.  To be sure, these will be those elements, perfected by the Spirit’s sanctifying work, that reflect the manifold glories of God (cf. Eph. 3:10).  There is little Biblical evidence to suggest that after this procession, God will assimilate all this cultural distinctiveness into one culture par excellence.  However, even if this were the case, it remains that in what may be considered to be chronologically “preliminary” scenes of heaven, there is some preservation of cultural distinctiveness.  Does this mean that in heaven we can expect to taste Ethiopian injera, view Balinese painting, or dance to Nepali lok songs? I don’t know.  But I do enjoy the speculation.

“Because God Likes it”
My point in bringing out these Revelation texts is to seek to make the case that in God’s sovereign plan of redemption, He fully intends to preserve cultural distinctiveness on some identifiable level into at least the initial stages of eternity.  What Ralph Winters declared to the first Lausanne Congress proves true.  God has not intended:

"to merge the whole family into a single culture . . . . I see the world church as the gathering together of a great symphony orchestra where we don’t make every new person coming in play a violin in order to fit in with the rest.  We invite people to come in to play the same score – the Word of God – but to play their own instruments, and in this way there will issue forth a heavenly sound that will grow in splendor and glory to God as each new instrument is added.” (Winter, 1974)

And if we ask the reason why God is not trying to merge all cultures into one, we are compelled to believe that there is something about the distinct people groups of the world – each one of them – that He simply likes.  He likes the Beja, the Amdo, the Rajbansi, and the Karenni.  I don’t know what He likes about them.  If it is Beja coffee or Karenni clothes – I can see why.  But I’m eager to watch the parade on that great day when the Amdo of China and everyone else bring their sanctified, perfected and unique splendor before our common King.

From this perspective, we may find a great impetus for the pursuit of contextualization in mission rather than that more historically prevalent missionary impulse to reject and discard cultural forms deemed “pagan” by those who often don’t fully understand them.   If we go into a context with the assumption that there are things here that God likes – that there is a glory and splendor of this people that He wants to preserve—won’t we be more cautious about what we reject and more passionate in our pursuit of Christ’s incarnation?  
Okay, more next week when I explore a fourth and final (probably) theological impetus for pursuing contextualization in mission – our need for the whole Church.

Works Cited
Piper, J. (1993). Let the Nations be Glad: The Supremecy of God in Missions. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Winter, R. D. (1974). The Highest Priority: Cross-Cultural Evangelism. The Lausanne Movement.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why Contextualize? (Parts 1 & 2) Incarnation & Evangelism

Last week, I stressed the Biblical emphasis of obedience over against pragmatism in our mission methods.  That is, we should prefer to conform to God’s will rather than pursue numerical “success” in missions.  Today, I’d like to very briefly outline several reasons why such a preference should compel us to pursue contextualization in mission.  Now, while my particular area of interest is in contextualization among Hindus, these principles are universal in application.  The question is, “Why should we pursue contextualization in mission?”  Let me provide four Biblical reasons, though only the first two today.


1.       The Imitation of Christ
As followers of Jesus, we want to be like him (Rom. 8:29, 1 John 3:2), and the simple fact is that Christ practiced contextualization in his own earthly ministry.  The prologue of John tells us that Jesus, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us.  The incarnation of Christ consisted of God taking on human flesh, human limitations, human culture, human ethnicity, human context.  And the Lord didn’t go to every culture and every nation at every time in history.  He went to one place, one culture, at one time.  In particular, he went to the Jewish people of Galilee about 2,000 years ago.  Furthermore, he didn’t go as a foreigner.  Rather, he spoke the language, ate the food, wore the clothes, practiced the traditions and customs, knew the songs and dances, celebrated the festivals and in every way lived as a full member of that context.  To be sure, there were elements of the culture and society that Jesus challenged, but always emically – as an insider.


Mark records a revealing incident (chapter 6) in which Jesus spoke in the Nazareth synagogue.  The critical crowd that listened to him responded to Christ’s convicting speech not as though rejecting an outsider, but, on the contrary, as neighbors shocked at the seemingly audacious remarks of one of their own.  “Is not this the carpenter,” they marveled, “the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:1-3).  Clearly, the Scripture teaches us that Jesus went “all the way” in contextualizing his self, his method, and his message to his mission field.  Those of us who desire to imitate Christ in our mission praxis must take very seriously the importance of imitating His incarnation.  From this perspective then, the pursuit of contextualization becomes spiritual discipline for the missionary.


2.       The Desire to Reach the Nations

With Paul, so many of us can say that the love of Christ constrains us to engage in this ministry of reconciliation that we call world evangelism and missions.  Our hearts are broken for a lost and dying world whose only hope is the risen Christ.  Since this is the case, we must carefully listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through the Scripture on the topic of contextualization.  For it seems clear that the Bible believes that pursuing contextualization is necessary for reaching the lost.  Where do we see this?


Brian K. Petersen has detailed a number of helpful examples in his article on the subject including God’s covenant with Abraham, the use of circumcision, names of God, and references to Daniel’s cross-cultural ministry (Petersen, 2010).  Any of these, along with a number of New Testament examples could be explored in great detail for their many significant implications for this topic.  However, I want to just focus on Paul’s own explanation for why he engaged in the pursuit of contextualization in mission.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes:


For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became a Jew in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law . . . that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law . . . that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.  (1 Cor. 9:19-23)


Why did Paul engage in contextualization?  Very clearly, it was his inspired opinion that doing so would result in winning more people to Christ.  Now, let me say here that it isn’t my intention to contradict last week’s warning against preferring numbers to obedience.  Note here that Paul’s ultimate motivation is to share in the blessings of the Gospel, not simply to achieve numerical success.  Having said that, there is little doubt that Paul believed that contextualization would result in a greater sharing of those blessings as more people would be won to Christ.  In actual fact, there may be something deeper going on here than the accumulation of more converts.  What is clear is that the opinion of the Bible, and thus of the Holy Spirit, is that more people will be won to Christ as His ambassadors imitate His incarnation – the self-emptying, culture-adopting, flesh-crucifying incarnation—as they engage in mission.


I’ll save the next two reasons for contextualization for next week.

Works Cited

Petersen, B. K. (2010). A Brief Investigation of Old Testament Precursors to the Pauline Missiological Model of Cultural Adaptation. Rethinking Hindu Ministry II: Papers from the Rethinking Forum , 14-27.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Why Contextualize (Intro): Obedience v. Pragmatism

Today, the United States has more Hindus than any other non-Asian nation in the world with estimates ranging from just under 1 million to nearly 1.5 million (Wikipedia, 2010) (Adherants, 2005). Canada, similarly, is home to an additional 330+ thousand Hindus (Wikipedia, 2010).  As it has often been noted, the Hindus of North America live, work, study, and worship in every major and midsized city—as well as many of the smaller ones—on the continent; tend to be employed in highly skilled and well-paying professions; and represent many of the least-reached people groups in the world. Surely no missiological consideration of people groups in North America is complete without paying careful attention to such a large, influential, and unreached demographic block.  However, we must note that while, as missiologist H.L. Richard has noted, it has become “geographically easy” for North American followers of Christ to reach out to many Hindus, the particular challenges presented by the Hindu-Christian encounter have rendered us largely ineffective in this endeavor (Richard, 2010).


In this series of articles (not complete yet, sorry), I would like to present a summary of what I have found to be some of the most essential points related to the topic of contextualization of Christian discipleship among Hindus. This is not intended at all to be an exhaustive treatment of all points relevant to this topic nor of the particular points that I will raise here.  Rather, as I have worked as a follower of Christ seeking to make disciples among Hindus in North America for several years, I have become convinced that the proper pursuit of contextualization is indispensible for faithful disciple-making among them.  Let me be very clear, I believe that the pursuit of contextualization is a MUST for Christ-followers who seek to faithfully proclaim His salvation to their Hindu friends and neighbors.  Let me briefly expound on that point.


There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence provided by Christian opponents of contextualization who may point to story after story of Hindus who decided to follow Christ  even though the gospel was presented in what might be described as very “non-contextual” ways.  I myself have heard such stories – including first-hand testimonies – dozens of times.  And I have often been tempted to respond by seeking to provide counter-testimonies that seem to demonstrate the superior power of contextual methods to create converts.  However, the underlying assumption of this kind of contest – that God prefers those mission methods, whatever they may be, that produce the most results— is false.  While statistical efficiency is a nice thing to see in our mission endeavors, obedience to the Spirit’s leading and conformity to His will are always to be preferred.  Let me devote the remainder of today’s post to a brief defense of this statement.


Obedience v. Pragmatism in Scripture

A number of Old Testament stories that illustrate this truth come to mind.  One of the first is the account of Abraham and Sarah seeking to fulfill God’s promise of a son (Gen. 15:4-6) by their own devices.  It made practical sense for Sarah to give her servant girl to Abraham as a wife, so that’s exactly what they conspired to do (Gen. 16:1-4).  After all, if Abraham was going to fulfill God’s purpose of becoming the father of a countless people, he would need to start somewhere—and marrying the young and healthy Hagar seemed to be their best bet.  In retrospect, however, we know that God’s desire was produce an heir through Sarah.  And so, Isaac was to be preferred over Ishmael, the child of promise over the child of pragmatism. 


Later when Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac, it made no practical sense whatsoever.  By that time, however, Abraham had learned his lesson and raised a sharpened knife over his bound son.  Ready to plunge the blade into Isaac’s flesh, Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead and preferred the obedience of faith over pragmatism.


Other examples from the Old Testament abound.  If we had time we could consider the story of Gideon or the negative example of Jonah.  A particularly poignant illustration of this truth is found in the rejection of King Saul.  We see King Saul rejected because he preferred the pragmatic over the obedient.  Upon his defeat of the Amalekite army, he was to devote to destruction everything that breathed (1 Sam. 15:3).  But Saul reasoned that sparing the Amalekite king and the best of the livestock as a sacrifice to God made much more sense.  Samuel’s pained cry rings through the pages of Scripture, “What is this bleating of sheep in my ears and the lowing of oxen that I hear?” (1 Sam. 15:14) The prophet is clear, God prefers obedience – “to obey is better than sacrifice and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22b).  Saul’s pragmatic choice to set aside the best of the livestock for some kind of grand worship service is called “rebellion” and is likened to “divination.”  His presumption is considered as wicked as idolatry (1 Sam. 15:23).


In the New Testament, there is Jesus who surprisingly and consistently downplays the significance of the masses of people who swarm about him (e.g. Mark 1:38, John 6:26), and instead rejoices in small, seemingly insignificant acts of faithful obedience (e.g. John 6:70, Mark 12:42-43).  This develops into a full-blown pattern in Acts as we seen only passing references to large numbers of people believing (2:41, 2:27, 4:4, 5:14, 6:1, 8:6, 19:10, etc.) which are strategically used by Luke to emphasize the importance of following the Holy Spirit’s leading, direction and timing in mission (Acts 1:4 [thru ch. 8:1], 1:8,  6:1-6, 8:1-4,  8:26-29, 8:39-40, 9:6 & 19-22, 9:10-19,  10:19, 13:1-4, 16:6-10, 18:9-11, 18:21, 19:21-22, 20:22, 27:21-26). 


Overall, I believe that the emphasis of Scripture is very clear.  God wants His people to obey his voice – to prioritize obedience over against pragmatism.  There will be numbers – seasons of exponential increase that sometimes serve as signs of God’s favor and blessing (this is often the way large numbers are used in Acts).  However, the obedient and faithful path isn’t always the most expedient or statistically impressive.  If we compare Amos’ statistical failure to Jonah’s impressive city-wide revival, we may be surprised to find God preferring the prophet that no one wanted to listen to (Amos 7:12-13).  We must not confuse the greater numbers who followed after Jeroboam as a sign of God’s favor on the northern king’s novel worship system (1 Kings 12:20, 25-33).


As we begin this series of weekly articles on contextualization, we must from the outset commit ourselves to the obedient path.  What does Scripture compel us to do?  How can we conform our mission to the will of God?  This must be our preference over any question of pragmatism, efficiency, or statistics.


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Adherants. (2005, April 8). The Largest Hindu Communities. Retrieved May 13, 2010, from Adherants: http://www.adherants.com/largecom/com_hindu.html
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