Friday, January 30, 2009

Answering Unasked Questions

On Wednesday night, I had the privilege of hearing Tim Keller speak on his book The Prodigal God. Fantastic. As Steve put it afterwards, "I felt like a very small sponge in a very big ocean." LOTS to ponder and chew on. We bought the book, and I'm about halfway through it already--really, really great stuff.

One thing that stood out to me was not at all Keller's main theme; it was from the Q&A that followed, when Keller offered this definition of contextualization: "using Jesus to answer the questions these people are asking--not the questions other people are asking."

I know people who think that "contextualization" is a dirty word. They see it as watering down the gospel, focusing on people's "felt needs" instead of their real needs, polluting the purity of the message of the cross with worldliness. And while all of these things would certainly be wrong if that's what you were doing, I think Keller's definition is a fantastic response to this mindset.

The cross is going to be offensive, yes--it is foolishness to the world, and so offense at some points is unavoidable. We must not compromise on the truth of the message; we must not remove what's essential. But why not remove what's unnecessarily offensive? Why not meet people where they are instead of making them start where YOU are?

You've probably heard the slogan "Jesus is the Answer"--maybe you've also heard the snarky response: "But what's the question?" If you haven't taken the time to find out what people are asking, you're trying to slap a one-size-fits-all, bumper-sticker-platitude solution on their problems. And that's insensitive and rude.

I believe Jesus does answer any question people can ask; Life and Truth are found in Him alone. But only by really hearing others' questions and seeing their hurts can we even begin to bring them the Life-Giving Answer, to love and care for them by showing them how He truly is sufficient to meet all their needs.


Anonymous said...

Amen. Jesus started where people were (at the well w/ unsatisfying relationships, at a pool with unhealed bodies, at the synogogue with self-righteous rabbis). I wish I'd been at Keller's seminar. Love stuff like this cuz I really need it.

Anonymous said...

OH, yeh, it can be easy to forget that "felt needs" ARE real needs to the person feeling them. I know it irked me the first time I came upon the people who wouldn't even validate the felt ones and just wanted to "fix me" w/ doctrine. ERgh! I perceived it as uncaring and show-offy.