On the TGC site today, Jonathan Dodson posted, Be Missional, Not Superficially Contextual where he generalized that many church plants today are not planting a church that fits their culture, but planting something that looks a whole lot like the church in the adjacent community, town, city, etc. Dodson wrote about two concerns with U.S. (at least I believe he is speaking about efforts inside the U.S.) church planting to “a superficial approach to culture and, second, gospel contamination that results from this approach.”
In short, I agree with Dodson. Also, I commend him for promoting contextualization as several have criticized it of late. His piece raises a couple points I want to write on quickly.
First, whether what Dodson calls syncretism is actually that or obscurantism as normally evaluated on a contextualization scale is debatable. Though I would contend the latter would be consistent with most evaluations, I see the situation he writes about as a possible combination of woes. On one side of the scale by making the gospel unclear due to forms that are held–he mentions “building, music, service, website design”–which may not fit the culture one is entering being a classic expression of obscurantism. On the other side, the consumeristic vice of “blending Christianity with another religion, in this case consumerism” could be described as syncretism. For this to be syncretism, though, church participants would be worshipping the objects which had been intended to aid in worship in addition to the One who alone is worthy of praise. This would be a very strong statement–a very strong accusation.
Second, and, in my opinion, the most important is that it is normal to be dealing with beginning contextualization issues in U.S. church planting. Issues such as whether or not a denomination needs to be on a sign or what style of music a people should sing, or whether or not to multi-site, or fill in the blank. In a number of contexts overseas, however, the reverse is of great importance. A much more common concern when on mission to other nations is what denotes over-contextualization. Cross-cultural planters must be careful to seek to express the gospel and the church in ways that are able to be understood and fit within the rhythms and moires of life in that context while seeking to keep the gospel of Christ as the point of transformation, the point of tension.
The contextualization issues that planters address today are important, but they are basic compared with some deeper questions that need to be addressed. As planters and church leaders, we would do well to be seeking to contextualize at deeper levels.