The Church and Contextualization Frustration

Posted: Dec 24, 2005 9:05 AM

As a minister, the “mission field” with which I’m primarily concerned is that difficult-to-understand and freakishly lost people group commonly referred to as “America’s youth.”  This extraordinarily confused demographic is the tribe that I feel particularly called to reach.

American young adults, though living in a nation inundated with Christianity and founded upon Christian principles, have become (through parental neglect and ecclesiastical nonchalance combined with a heavy dose of liberal acrimony) completely secularized.
This demographic seems more disinterested in Christianity than PDiddy is in driving a Corolla.  Face it, Church, generally speaking, young adults do not attend, en masse, our worship services—unless they’re forced to.  Nor do they listen to or care about Christian radio, and the majority of them think Christian TV is weird (and they’re right).  American youth live in a world that is foreign to the American Christian, and it’s hard for the well meaning saint to understand why they don’t “get it.”  The gospel is completely plain to us, yet confusingly strange to them.

I believe the culpability flow chart regarding this generation’s indifference and ignorance lies partly on the shoulders of the youth and to a degree upon the churches that refuse to contextualize the gospel message.  Certain ill-bred sectors of evangelicalism blame the youth for their obstinacy and the devil for his constancy—but never condemn itself for its belligerency towards contextualization. 

We have failed as American missionaries to appreciate and bridge the Grand Canyon-sized ideological and communication chasms that exist between this secularized age group and their believing, biblical predecessors. And I hate to put responsibility upon the lazy believers, but the initial onus to adjust falls to us and not to them.

In order to reach out to young adults effectively, we’ve got to seek first to understand them instead of attempting to make ourselves understood by them. Therefore, brailing their culture is a must.  And here’s where the Christian’s commitment to duty hits the floor.  Shallow as it might sound, not keeping up with modern society can be a real detriment to communication.  The society that we’re living in here in the U.S. is undergoing more changes than a PMSing Emily Rose, and it’s incumbent upon the Christian to understand each cultural shift and adjust his means accordingly. We can’t afford to be monkish in our avoidance of the multi-faceted influences that affect our culture—the culture in which we have been sovereignly placed to reform. 

This means keeping up with what’s going on in the young people’s world, paying attention to what’s on TV, in the theatres, on their iPOD’s and in their CD players.  I’m not advocating spending endless and mindless amounts of time watching and listening to every hip-hop-Hollywood-come-lately diphthong; rather, listening as an evangelist and an apologist attempting to get the gist of where they’re coming from and where they intend to take your kids.  As cultural analysts, we must dissect the beliefs and values of our youth’s gurus and their temporary icons, paying attention to the particular effects upon them and the Christian worldview. 

Therefore, as we watch an estimated 50 hours a week of TV, between the giggles, our eleventh bag of Lay’s and our fifth Foster’s, we should pause to listen and maybe even scratch down some casual observations made while viewing an episode of SouthPark, a Green Day video or Napoleon Dynamite.

Simply increasing our sensitivity to what we are actually seeing and hearing will serve tremendously in making the gospel come alive to the youth by using current illustrations couched in a gospel context.  The epoxying of the abovementioned will form a lethal bond of understanding with our audience, which when backed up by eternal wisdom from on high, will build a communicative platform that will help God get their attention.
“Our business is to present that which is timeless in the particular language of our own age.  The bad preacher does exactly the opposite: he takes the ideas of our own age and tricks them out in the traditional language of Christianity.  Your teaching must be timeless at its heart and wear a modern dress.”
-C. S. Lewis

Logon to and pick up a copy of Giles' book, Ruling in Babylon.  It‘s a great read for young Christians wanting to impact our wacky culture.  Also, while there, check out Doug's new interview with Patrick Hynes of