Thursday, April 27, 2006

Paul the Demographer

When discussions arise about evangelism and, more specifically, "contextualization," usually about 17 seconds elapse before I Corinthians 9:19-22 is brought up.

In this passage Paul claims to become "all things to all people, that by all means I might save some."

"Notice Paul's missional sensitivity," we are told. "He was willing to adapt to any culture in order to make the gospel intelligible."

Not to rain on anyone's parade or anything, but I don't see Paul's attention to demographics as being particularly accute or especially sensitive. If you take the time to read the context of the passage, you'll note that the apostle explains exactly what he means by his supposed adaptability:

"To the Jews I became as a Jew... to those outside the law I became as one outside the law."

Far from being the cultural chameleon that many claim him to be, Paul basically lumps all people into one of two broad categories: Jews under the law, and Gentiles without the law (and this is no isolated incident -- he talks like this all the time, cf. Acts 20:21; Rom. 1:16; 2:9, 10; 3:9; 10:12; I Cor. 1:22, 24; 10:32).

Now let's be honest: Most missions agencies would fail a person for that sweeping a generalization. What about income level? Age? Musical tastes? Demographic classification (Boomer, Buster, Gen-Xer)?

Though Paul certainly did take advantage of his being a Hebrew of Hebrews raised in Hellenistic Tarsus (Acts 17:28; Tit. 1:12), it is a huge leap to say that, since he desired to be all things to all men, he therefore catered his evangelistic efforts to the supposedly unique situations of each and every village he ministered in.

Which brings us to the real question (which I'll address in my next post): Are the rich, the white, the young, the old, the poor, and the black really that different anyway?