Grace to You's "Giving Up to Gain" - latest on contextualization

I want to simply make note of the fact that Grace to You has posted a new article related to contextualization -- well, a post that is really seeking to be against contextualization.  I responded in detail to their first post and I would encourage you to read my comments on that first. The new article posted by Grace to You is entitled "Giving Up to Gain" and it truly doesn't add anything to their case unless you accept the false assumptions set forth in the first article.  That is, particularly for this second post, one must accept that the pursuers of contextualization are "church marketing specialists" who are willing to sacrifice the message of the gospel to gain hearers, to modify its content to suit the world, to compromise its truth instead of calling people to faith and repentance.

Of course, the fundamental problem with what GTY is doing is that they have begun with a wrong definition of contextualization.  They are attacking something which I would agree is bad but inappropriately naming that thing contextualization.  It is something else.

In terms of what GTY offers as interpretation of 1 Cor. 9:19-23, I essentially agree with what they are saying about Paul desiring to give up his rights in order to win others.  But that's exactly what my point was when I argued in the previous response to GTY that this text is most certainly a pro-contextualization passage. Here's what I wrote then:

I would suggest reading it in the larger context of chapter 9 and then comparing the language to the Carmen Christi of Philippians 2.  Is it not clear, that Paul has in mind the incarnation and crucifixion of Christ as he reflects on his own ministry philosophy?  Paul, though free from all, makes himself a slave to all just as Christ, who was in the form of God, emptied himself and took the form of a servant.  What was this slavery for Paul?  It was becoming a Jew to Jews, a Greek to Greeks – all things to all men.  In this, Paul’s vision was clearly Christ who was found and human likeness and was obedient to the point of death on the cross.  So this was not a matter of experimenting with novel new ministry methods for Paul.  It was slavery.  It was a laying down of his rights and life that he might win more people to Christ.

Writes GTY:

So winning people to Christ was his one objective. In order to do that, Paul was willing to give up all his rights and privileges, his position, his rank, his livelihood, his freedom—ultimately even his life. If it would further the spread of the gospel, Paul would claim no rights, make no demands, insist on no privileges.

What GTY fails to see is that included in this -- perhaps even the most obvious implication -- is that Paul was willing to give up his cultural preferences and identity.  He was willing to become a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks -- all things to all people.  To argue that this is not a text describing Paul's pursuit of contextualization as incarnation seems to be really missing the mark.

I guess at the end of the day, I don't really have a huge disagreement with GTY.  I think that what they are opposing -- if it actually exists out there somewhere -- is something that I would also oppose.  The problem is that whatever and wherever it is, it simply isn't contextualization.  I don't care if the proponents of it drop that term here and there -- they just don't know what they are talking about.  They are playing a game and not pursuing the difficult and cruciform road of incarnation.

The whole contention with the Darrin Patrick crowd comes at the same issue from a different angle.  It would seem to me that GTY would be at odds with Patrick on the issue of contextualization.  Of course, I'm not sure.  But I think the fundamental problem here is a poor understanding of the key term.  For GTY, contextualization means essentially to conform to the culture, blend in, sell out the gospel.  Patrick doesn't really disagree with this.  He seems only to offer the modification that "over-contextualization" means to conform to the culture to the point of selling out the gospel.  For Patrick that is contextualization but it is too much of it.

So long as Patrick and those in his school of thought grant that there is a necessary connection between contextualization and slipping into heretical syncretism, the GTY-types can always respond by saying something like, "Why not just stay far away from anything so inherently dangerous?" And this wouldn't be a bad question.

No! This connection must be denied.  Syncretism, heresy, licentiousness and the like are not the special domain of contextualizers for they flow not from the incarnational life but rather from sin, ignorance of the Scripture and sound doctrine, and a deficient commitment to Christ.   One certainly does not have to be involved in contextualization to fall into these pits.  Contextualization is not to be imagined on a continuum with normal, sound, and good Christianity on the "non-contextualized" left and increasingly dangerous examples of contextualization moving off to the right until they eventually fall off into the fires of friendship with the world and hatred toward God.   Contextualization rather has as its model the incarnation of Jesus and its aim the enfleshening of the Christ-life in every historic human context. 

If Patrick and others like him could grasp this, then they might be much more effective in their advocacy and pursuit of contextualization, being thus able to respond to the GTY-types, "You know that's not what we mean by that term don't you?  Not at all."

To the GTY author, perhaps it was John Macarthur himself, again, I'd encourage you to get to know better the people who are really doing the work of contextualization.  I don't know any "church marketing specialists"; I probably wouldn't get along with them very well if I did.  But I can tell you that we pursue contextualization full on and have called many people to repentance and faith in the process.  In fact, just did so this past Sunday.


  1. Cody -- Enjoying and challenged by your de-coupling of contextualization and syncretism. The correct scale for measuring contextualization being "not at all" to "fully."

    Was reading today an article in Mission Frontiers articulating a similar concept in regard to accommodation/adaptation/redemption of cultural forms (from Johan Bavinck in the '60s). Based on 1 Corinthians 3, he argues that "adaptation" and "accommodation" reflect misunderstandings akin to undercontextualization. The biblical model, he says, is to take full possession of cultural forms, renewing them through the authority of Christ.

    Would love to get your take on this idea and its relationship to 1 Cor 9 and Phil 4.


  2. Thank you, Jim! You are right on, I feel, in pointing out that the concepts of "adaptation" and "accomodation" are distinct from contextualization. There are some important historic missiological developments relevant to this (i.e. accomadatio v. possesio). More later, I'm supposed to be off today.

  3. Okay, Jim, I took time to read through the article that you suggested. I was happy to find that it was one by my friend, H.L. Richard. Terrific article as usual from H.L. I have posted some thoughts in a new post here

    Thanks for reading and commenting!