Saturday, February 18, 2012

Calling into Question Our Teen Bibles

J. Todd Billings explains why modern efforts at contextualization end up conforming the church to the world.

The notion of contextualization is one that rightly recognizes there is no culture-free version of the Christian faith. All biblical interpretation and all theology emerge from a particular historical-cultural context. What is commonly inferred from this observation, however, is that theological method should be a matter of synthesizing two different spheres: biblical revelation, or "the gospel," should be combined with "culture." Thus the "gospel" is made "relevant" to the intended audience, whether that audience is the emerging generation of Western youth or a non-Western Christian who needs to encounter Christianity in something other than Western guise. Trends in evangelical publishing reflect this tendency: bright pink Bibles for preteen girls, with notes about beauty and relationships, and macho-looking Bibles for boys, with notes on sports, achievement, and health. The Bible is assumed to be something other than relevant until it speaks o the felt needs of the audience - needs that the audience has because of their sociocultural identity, rather than their identity in Christ per se.

These trends reflect a theology of accommodation that focuses heavily on making the gospel "relevant" to today's culture. But they often miss the point that accommodation is not so much a human act as a divine act...the Spirit making God's word understandable in various cultural contexts. First and foremost, according to Calvin and Bavinck, the agent of accommodation is the Spirit, not us....Rather than analyze the needs of teenage boys and make their needs the central focus of a study Bible, an attempt should be made to be humbly responsive to God's own condescension in scripture, an accommodation for which Jesus Christ (rather than our own needs) forms the substance and starting point. How do the analogies given by God in scripture disrupt and call into question our own cultural portrait of God? How should the fact that God has accommodated himself to us in Jesus Christ reorient our self-perceived needs and desires? These are the sorts of questions that should preoccupy those proclaiming the gospel today. For if we are to have genuine communion with God, we must meet God in the way that God accommodates himself to us in scripture and most fully in Jesus Christ rather than seeking to climb the ladder of self-devised analogies toward the mysterious God....

Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church, 91-3 (emphasis added)

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