The Contextualization Scale's Faulty Premise

Can a person be a follower of Jesus and a Muslim at the same time?  That is the question that is right now being discussed by Lausanne Congress participants around the world.  Before I provide my own response to this issue, I'd like to provide you with the background information you will need to join the global conversation.  First, you can find the article by Joseph Cumming that prompted this discussion by clicking here. There is also a very nice video on the subject that you can view below:

Following Jesus from The Global Conversation on Vimeo.

Now, on to my own response to the question.  I'd like to respond by dealing with what I feel is a faulty premise upon which this particular debate is built.

There is a premise to this discussion that I feel must be examined and, perhaps, rejected. That premise is behind the question, "The gospel must be contextualized, but how far can contextualization go without violating the gospel?" This question assumes that contextualization can go "too far." That is, it is assumed there is a kind of contextualization continuum that on one extreme features non-contexualized "normal" Christian expression and on the other full-blown syncretism. The points in the middle consist of increasingly dangerous experiments in contextualization. The debate is couched in language that presumes the legitimacy of non-contextualized Christian expression and presumes that contextual methodology is nice but fundamentally risky. 
Instead, I propose that the only truly Biblical methodology for mission, discipleship, evangelism, and church planting is one that pursues contextualization as an essential spiritual discipline. One that considers the incarnation of Jesus Christ as something of a communicable attribute of deity to be imitated by all those who would be Christ-like. I believe that the comparatively similar language of the Carmen Christi (Phil 2:5-11) and Paul's defense of his own contextualized methods (1 Cor. 9:19-23) suggests that Paul himself considered the incarnation to be an example to strive for. As Christ-followers pursue holiness, power, obedience, peace, faith, love, etc. as essential elements of Christ-likeness never to be perfectly attained in this world but always to be sought so, I believe, we ought to be pursuing the incarnational life - the life that "enfleshens" the Word among all peoples, languages, tribes, and tongues.
It isn't that I oppose debate related to the legitimacy of specific forms and practices in Christian worship, discipleship, evangelism, etc. Such debate is healthy. However, one should not assume that the so-called C1 - C3 communities that are not actively pursuing an imitation of the incarnational life of Christ are automatically legitimate. That, for example, singing "Amazing Grace" in Hindi is automatically more legitimate than chanting a Christocentric version of the "Gaytri Mantra." Why, after all, is there no debate as to the legitimacy of C1 or C2 communities? Such communities essentially deny the reality of the incarnation by their behavior (at least denying that it has any bearing on how a Christ-follower should live), reject the legitimacy of Pauline mission methodology, and often refuse to be identified with C4-C6 believers (at least as much as C4-C6 believers refuse to be identified with them). Let me suggest that believers who uncritically accept non-contextualized forms of Christian expression are not moving closer to Biblical Christianity but rather farther away from the example of Christ's own mission. C1-3 communities that are complacent and content with their status as non-incarnate, non-communicators are not following Christ as fully as they could be. The ongoing pursuit of Christlikeness requires a critical, on-going pursuit of the incarnational life. Certainly there will be disagreement as to what that means and perils (such as syncretism) along the way, but that should not dissuade us from the goal. The C1-6 scale is fatally flawed in this regard as it seems to suggest that more and more contextualization leads inevitably to syncretism and secret believers. A new contextualization scale should be created that recognizes Christlikeness as the ultimate goal of all contextualization. On one extreme are those who simply aren't pursuing Christ in this regard. On the other is full-blown, word-made-flesh incarnational ministry.

More later on this topic. I'm at the beginning of thinking through it.

What if we really did bring in the poor, crippled, blind and lame?

I’ve really been blessed recently by the ministry of Joni Eareckson Tada and her “Joni and Friends” network.  I won’t get into the details about why I contacted them, but basically, I was struggling to know how to minister to someone that was going through a period of immense suffering.  I wrote to Joni and Friends about the situation and received a prompt email reply withsome wonderful words of encouragement and advice.  The next week a package arrived in the mail with a number of resources that I feel are going to be tremendously helpful to me. Included was a message by Joni on the subject of hope that I have already forwarded on to the person I’m seeking to help.  Also included was Joni’s book Heaven Your Real Home, which is in my opinion the best book on Heaven that has been written.  Get it and read it, you’ll be glad.

Now, let me just throw something out there that has been on my mind today.  You know, of course, that I’m a church planter and church planting strategist in the Chicago area.  Part of my job involves identifying unreached or under-engaged ethnographic/demographic groups and to mobilize prayer and raise up missionaries for those pockets of lostness.  Well, I heard something today in a message by Joni that just really got me thinking.  Joni said that in her ministry they take Luke 14 very seriously.  Here’s what I read there:

 He said also to the man who had invited him, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, "Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" But he said to him, "A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.' And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.' And another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.' So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 
(Luk 14:12-23 ESV)

And so I got to thinking, what if we really did go out and do that?  What if we had specific church plants that were focused entirely on bringing in the disabled?  What if some of our dying and gasping churches – with more empty pews than people – shifted their focus on reaching the poor, crippled, blind, and lame?  What if?  Well, actually the Lord Jesus gives us the answer in this chapter.  He says that at least two things will result:

1. You will be blessed . . . for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.
2. My house will be filled.

You know, for people that talk a great talk about believing and living by the Bible, we so often fail to practice some of the most straightforward principles.  For people that often get so infatuated with the notion of church growth and spend millions on conferences and books and seminars to learn the latest cutting-edge strategies, we often ignore the simplicity and certainty of Christ’s own words.  You want to fill the house of God?  Go out and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.  Invite the disabled. 

So I am calling on the New Work Team of Chicago Metro Baptist Association and all my readers out there (or maybe both my readers out there), to start praying.  Let’s pray specifically that God will raise up church planters in several different areas of Chicago to plant churches that are focused on reaching disabled people with the hope and wholeness of Jesus Christ.

I've also noted that Joni has been very involved with Lausanne in the past.  I'm wondering if she'll be among the 400 U.S. Americans at Cape Town next year and, if so, whether or not I'll get a chance to meet her.  I'm always pretty bad about that stuff though.  I feel weird about talking to famous people that I admire and usually chicken out.  We'll see, I guess.