Judging from what I’ve read about the Shepherd’s Conference this year the theme seems to be “Contextualization is evil, and if you do it Satan has probably set up an outlying fortress in your heart, mind and kidneys”. Michael Spencer provides an extremely balanced response to this attitude, and does it rather gently, especially considering the vitriol with which he’s been treater by McArthur’s acolytes.
Its well worth reading the whole thing, but here’s some highlights:
Dr. Macarthur is, just like me, part of a culture and he can’t deny it. His suit, and the meaning of his suit, is a perfect example. His statement that the suit shows he’s serious is a cultural value of middle to upper class white Americans. It’s not a value of Jesus and Jesus didn’t teach or endorse it. The meaning of that suit demonstrates that Dr. Macarthur is comfortable with an aspect of culture that he’s grown up with and into. He relates it to his faith, but it’s a decision he’s making about context. It doesn’t mean I’m not serious or that Mark Driscoll or his congregation aren’t serious.
Here in Eastern Kentucky, that suits communicates a lot more than seriousness. It communicates “he has money.” That suit keeps all kinds of men from ever entering a church. Probably less than 3% of the men in my county have ever had on a tie, much less a suit. Where do I stop them and say it’s Biblical and “serious” to wear a suit? It would be completely OUTSIDE of the Gospel for me to do so.
That’s not a condemnation of Dr. Macarthur’s suit. It’s simply what I’ve learned from my own awareness of cultural context, and it’s why I can say “Jesus doesn’t need you to wear a suit to be a serious Christian.”
At the end of the day, these comments seem to reflect the turn of the century, fundamentalist, separationist Baptist roots so many of us grew up in; a tradition that was highly reluctant to see and admit its own distinct culture; a culture that could have dress codes, rules, traditions and meanings, yet simply said they were being “Biblical.” A tradition that condemned many good things and still does in maintenance of its loyalty to itself. A culture that resents the fact that a newer generation of serious, Biblical evangelicals aren’t making the same choices about church and culture.
It is the recovery of a more consistent concern for being thoroughly Biblical that is causing the Kellers and the Driscolls to depart from the approach that tells itself it has leapfrogged culture. No one has, but without the admission of our own cultural settings and an awareness of the hazards and opportunities of working in a multi-cultural Kingdom for a King who is determined to get glory from all cultures, some will continue to promote a completely unneeded hostile pose toward people doing good missional thinking, church planting and evangelism.