Contextualization and Consumerism

So I’ve been reading a book called “The Shaping of Things to Come” by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsh. It’s about being missional churches in the midst of the secularized society we’re increasingly finding ourselves in, and has some great points about the contrast between the way today’s Church does things and the way the early Christians of the first three centuries did things. I understand their view of the Church, and of missions, except I ran into something today that seems hard to apply in our setting. After describing how some foreign missionaries in a Muslim country “contextualized” the Gospel (i.e. made it possible to understand in terms of that country’s culture), they say this on page 93: “Their approach is to fully embrace the host culture in every way, but without sinning.” Excellent point. But if we turn it around and apply it to how we reach out to American culture today, can we fully embrace our culture without sinning?

Overall, it seems American culture is based solely upon consumerism, which can quickly become sin. Add to that the fact that most of what’s marketed in our society is sinful in some way: explicit sex in pop-music and movies; sweatshop labor in the clothes we wear; unabashed gluttony in fast-food chains; etc. If we were to strip away consumerism and all its companion sins, what virtue is there left in contemporary American culture which Christians can “fully embrace . . . but without sinning”? I do not intend to seem anti-American in this – I’m just having a very hard time understanding what there is in our culture that is not sinful, and would welcome any suggestions. What is there about American culture that Christians can honestly endorse and embrace? How do we contextualize the Gospel to communicate it to this culture without compromising our integrity and getting caught up in a host of other sins? Any ideas?

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1 comment
  1. Brian said:

    Excellent thoughts Chris. However, knowing that you’re reading Frost and Hirsch can only lead me to believe that you’re falling under the influence of none other than BJ Woodworth.

    Two examples for you. One of the things that I believe is central to the church’s proclamation of the gospel is to use the various forms of media available today. Websites, projectors, sound, video, etc. The problem is, that’s expensive. Projectors aren’t cheap, video editing systems aren’t cheap, etc. How does the church embrace technologies such as this yet not fall into the trap you rightly point out.

    Another place where I ran into this was in our recent home purchase. Shortly after I accepted the call to Hampton, my wife and I began looking at houses in the area where I’ll be serving. The house we purchased is in my view, not extravagant by any means. But none the less, it’s nice – very nice as far as I’m concerned. Did we fall into the trap of consumerism?

    What I think might be helpful for your discussion is to define exactly what you mean by “consumerism”. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot and I’ve never actually understood what it is.

    As far as contextualization goes, David Bosch deals with this in his excellent book, “Transforming Mission” which you’ll read while you’re in seminary.

    Keep up the good reading.

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