Thoughts on Being Culturally Relevant


I recently read through Tim Keller's Center Church ($2.99 as a Kindle book) and appreciated many of the things he had to say about cultural relevance. I was reminded of the need for these great quotes as I saw a few people opposed to what Brian Brodersen said in the recent Christianity Today article.

In the United States, Anglo-Americans’ public and private lives are lived in the same culture. As a result, they are often culturally clueless. They relate to their own culture in the same way a fish that, when asked about water, said, “What’s water?” If you have never been out of water, you don’t know you are in it. Anglo Christians sometimes find talk of contextualization troubling. They don’t see any part of how they express or live the gospel to be “Anglo” — it is just the way things are. - pp 96

Keller expounds at length about contextualization. I found this quote to be profound:

I believe that faithful contextualization is a direct implication of the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Paul used the gospel of justification on Peter in Galatians 2: 14 when he criticized Peter’s failure to be culturally open to Gentile believers. As we have seen, the gospel gives two impulses that lead us toward balanced, biblical contextualization. Religion (“ I obey — therefore I am accepted”) leads to pride if we are living up to standards, or to inferiority if we are failing to live up to standards. But the gospel (“ I am accepted through Christ — therefore I obey”) makes us both humble and confident at once. And these two attitudes are critical for doing faithful and sound contextualization. If we need the approval of the receiving culture too much (not enough gospel confidence), we will compromise in order to be liked. If we are too proudly rooted in any one culture (not enough gospel humility), we will be rigid and unable to adapt. Only the gospel gives us the balance we need. - pp 115-116

And finally:

No church can be all things to all people. There is no culturally neutral way of doing ministry. The urban church will have to choose practices that reflect the values of some cultural group, and in so doing it will communicate in ways that different cultural groups will see and hear differently. As soon as it chooses a language to preach in, or the music it will sing, it is making it easier for some people to participate and more difficult for others. - pp. 174

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue of cultural relevance and contextualization. Leave a comment below.