This is from David Wells' new book, Above all Earthly Pow'rs. I received this excerpt as a weekly email quote and I thought it was so good that I wanted to pass it on. (Especially in light of Alfred's sermon on Sunday about pluralism.)
What, one wonders, would John Wesley have done if on one of his preaching visits he had been preceded by some advance staff who surveyed the potential crowd to find out what they would becomfortable hearing and discovered that their desires were at oddswith the gospel message? Or Martin Luther, George Whitefield, JonathanEdwards, or Charles Spurgeon? What would they have done had they been told that their potential audience was not comfortable with discussions about God's moral grandeur or their sin, that they found justification by faith boring and the substitutionary death of Christ dull and incomprehensible? . . .
Contextualization is not about exploiting a culture for the Church's own gain even as the Christian faith is not about exploiting God for what we want. If there is a place for speaking of contextualization itis principally in the sense of speaking to the issues foremost in a culture and doing so in the language of truth. This means that the Church cannot hide itself within a culture but must also speak to that culture from outside itself. . . . The paradox at work throughout the past is still at work today. Churches which preserve their cognitive identity and distinction from the culture will flourish; those who lose them in the interests of seeking success will disappear.
In our churches we may have made a deal with postmodern consumers but the hard reality is that Christianity cannot be bought. Purchase, inthe world of consumption, leads to ownership but in the Church this cannot happen. It is never God who is owned. It is we who are owned in Christ. Christianity is not up for sale. Its price has already been fixed and that price is the complete and ongoing surrender to Christ of those who embrace him by faith. It can only be had on his own terms. It can be had only as a whole. It refuses to offer only selections of its teachings. Furthermore, the Church is not its retailing outlet. Its preachers are not its peddlers and those who are Christian are not its consumers. It cannot legitimately be had as a bargain though the marketplace is full of bargain hunters.
No. Let us think instead of the Church as its voice of proclamation, not its sales agent, its practitioner, not its marketing firm. And in that proclamation there is inevitable cultural confrontation. More precisely, there is the confrontation between Christ, in and through the biblical Word, and the rebellion of the human heart. This is confrontation of those whose face is that of a particular culture but whose heart is that of the fallen world. We cannot forget that.
David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World(Eerdmans, 2005), p. 303-304.