Thursday, April 30, 2009

How to Reach Non-Whites

Michael Horton makes a great point about context-ualization in his recent article "Does Anybody Really know What Time It Is?" He writes:

If we are going to understand our times--and how the gospel addresses us in them--con-textualization itself will have to be "context-ualized." In other words, we have to realize that this concept too belongs a particular pattern of thinking and web of assumptions we have inherited as denizens of a certain time and place.
"The gospel," adds Horton, "has been around a lot longer than has the doctrine of contextualizing."

I can hear the objection as I type: "But doesn't Paul claim to have become 'all things to all men'? Doesn't this prove that contextualizing has been around since the very beginning?" The problem with this line of reasoning is that it assumes, without attempting to prove, that there is a one-to-one correspondence between Paul's "becoming a Gentile" in his own day and a church planter's attempt to pull out all stops to relate to his target audience in our own.

The reason these dots don't connect is simple: The division between Jews and Gentiles was not primarily racial, but theological. In other words, it wasn't merely that Jews hated non-Jews and Paul decided to break those illegitimate barriers down. Rather, the wall of division was erected by God himself under the Mosaic covenant, with a whole bunch of rules and rituals bequeathed from on high to reinforce it. The purpose of this separation was so that God could illustrate what holiness and privilege looked like, and ultimately, to illustrate the weakness and inability of his privileged people to retain their unique, set-apart status.

Turning to today, there simply is no demographic category that even comes close to mirroring Paul's concern in I Corinthians 9. Whether we're talking about race, gender, or socioeconomic status, the fact is that in Christ Jesus there is no longer male or female, Jew or Gentile, bond or free, for we are all one in Christ. To put it simply, the gospel makes these categories irrelevant. The new covenant is catholic in the truest sense of that word, for it opens up God's promises to all tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations.

Furthermore, do we really want to mirror the apostle's supposed demographic sensitivity? What if I taught a seminar at a missions conference titled, "How to Reach Non-Whites"? After all, since Paul lumped all non-Jews into one catch-all category, why can't I do the same? Asian? African? Hispanic? Arab? Oh, I totally understand all those people. They are non-white, after all.

To be honest, if my vast experience at being both an earthling and Adamic cannot qualify me to relate to other Adamic earthlings without also having to learn about monster trucks, fine cigars, or teenage vampires, then I may as well quit now, because I just don't have the time.
For two of those pursuits, anyway....