Monday, December 7, 2009

Krispy Kontextualization

"The church must adapt or die," said the Lutheran. I met him at a wedding I played preacher at over the weekend. During the meal that followed, I served as resident preacher, answering demographic questions (How big is your church?) and denominational inquiries (What exactly is Grace Brethren?)

People don't know how to talk to preachers. Then again, preachers don't know how to talk to people. I made the mistake of thinking people might be interested in spiritual topics. For example, when the Lutheran told me the church must adapt or die, I figured this was an open door to wax theologically.

I was compelled to talk about Christianity, because I was not sure that the Lutheran followed the same Christ, given his definition of adapt was "tolerate and welcome any difference" and die meant "lose its sex appeal for the sake of orthodoxy."

Adapt or die: He spoke a half truth, and I, the resident preacher, wanted to correct it.

I approached the conversation third party, asking them if they had heard of a book called The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. They had not. "It's a New York Times Bestseller," I clarified. No response.

"The author is a pastor in Manhattan who has interviewed people throughout the city, compiling questions and objections to Christianity."

"That sounds interesting," one lady interjected.

"I would recommend it to anyone." Then, looking at the Lutheran, I continued. "One of the objections to Christianity is that it functions as a cultural straitjacket. Christians are dated, sheltered, out of touch with reality, so the argument goes."

I watched for nods of approval.

"Keller argues the opposite. In fact, if you look at other religions, especially Islam, you see that most adherents have remained in the same region. Numeric growth is the result of reproduction. Whereas Christianity has spread from the Middle East to Europe to North America to South America. Now Christianity is surging in Africa and Asia."

At this point I cannot tell if people are memorized or suffering from a food coma. Because of the empty plates and champagne glasses atop the table, I fear the latter.

I press on. "In this book--that I recommend to anyone--Keller applauds Christianity for its ability to adapt to new cultural contexts while remaining true to its core message..." (See 1st Comment for quote from The Reason for God.)

Church planters and missiologists, of course, call this contextualization. It is an essential practice in sharing the gospel. Suddenly, I realized the opportunity to contextualize was before me. My table was comprised of accountants and business people. To them the language of gospel was foreign. So I employed market terms. And here is where the conversation got sticky.

"Any business understands that functioning outside your core mission eventually reaps disaster. For example, several years ago Krispy Kreme donuts overextended itself, went outside its mission, and the company has become virtually non-existent..."

I was getting ready to make a parallel between donuts and the candy-coated gospel in America's churches, but seeing a small hole in the conversation, one of the ladies blurted, "Krispy Kreme donuts are delicious."

"Do you know how many calories are in those?" added another.

"Have you ever gotten them hot and fresh?" intoned a third.

I tried to adapt and the conversation died. My wife squeezed my leg under the table. So much for contextualization!


Sprained Ankle said...

"The pattern of Christian expansion differs from that of every other world religion. The center and majority of Islam's population is still in the place of its origin--the Middle East. The original lands that have been the demographic centers of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism have remained so. By contrast, Christianity was first dominated by Jews and centered in Jerusalem. Later it was dominated by Hellenists and centered in the Mediterranean. Later the faith was received by the barbarians of Northern Europe and Christianity came to be dominated by Western Europeans and then North Americans. Today most Christians in the world live in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Christianity soon will be centered in the southern and eastern hemispheres." (Keller, The Reason for God, 41) Keller's argument extends through page 46 (NY: Riverhead Books, 2008).

Timothy and Jessica said...

This was a great post, Tim. We laughed and cried. Ok, actually we laughed and smiled a bit cynically at your audience's attention span; but seriously good post.

-Tim and Jess

Nick Deck said...

but seriously, have you had one hot and fresh....

I fear that I have the same type of attention span of your doughnut audience, but then again...there are many times where I get frustrated with the lack of focus from students i work with...maybe there's is just simply less than mine.

Thoughts From Jeff said...

hit your blog by hitting next, enjoyed reading the top 3

Nabas said...

Tim, I think your blog is broken. :( Every time I go to your site it shows your latest post as being "Krispy Kontextualization". Sorry it's not showing your newer posts.

Sprained Ankle said...

Actually, I just got sidelined by the holidays. Thanks for your readership and look forward to season premier later today!

Herbie said...

This was an awesome post. I can only say, I kinda want to get this book now. Since you, ya know, recommend it for everyone. Haha! It does sound quite interesting. Hopefully they have it at TOL, as I have plenty of Flex!