Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Countercultural Contextualization?

The dialogue over the last couple days has been both helpful and lengthy (we've had a combined 350 unique visitors and 750 page views since Tuesday morning, but I suppose that's to be expected when Darryl Hart and Tim Keller are joining the conversation)....

But one area that needs to be clarified, I think, is the nature of counterculturalism.

When a ministry such as Redeemer in New York makes a claim to both counterculturalism and contextualization, I must admit that, initially, I have trouble wrapping my mind around such strange bedfellows (kind of like the first time I saw a photo of Kevin Federline). How can a church both contextualize the gospel to the tastes of its surroundings and claim to subvert them at the same time? And what was Britney thinking when she hooked up with K-Fed anyway?

But I think I'm beginning to understand the Redeemer Model: Christians are to be markedly different when they interact with unbelievers at work, for instance, but then in public worship they are to make every effort not to stumble those same visiting unbelievers unnecessarily. So to use Keller's example from the comments below, a Christian CEO won't seek to maximize profits if workers' rights are violated (counterculturalism), and his church won't use the Trinity Hymnal if the unbelievers' tastes are violated (contextualization).

But this seems to be doing things in precisely the opposite way than the Scriptures tell us to.

It is not in the cultural kingdom that Christians are to be countercultural, but in the cultic kingdom. When we are engaged in common grace, kingdom-of-man activity we are to go about our business quietly, honestly, and with all diligence. We pay our taxes, we respect our fellow man, and we obey the powers that be (I Pet. 2:12-17; Rom. 13:1-7; I Tim. 2:1-2).

But on the contrary, when we are summoned into the heavenly Jerusalem each Lord's Day we give expression to the subversive, otherworldly, and countercultural characteristics that define us as a community (and if you ask me, eating the flesh and drinking the blood of our murdered Leader is a tad more revolutionary than caring about workers' rights... just ask any member of the Green Party).

So contextualization and counterculturalism can coexist. But believers should practice the former in the secular realm and the latter in the sacred....