Preaching as Concept Creation, Not Just Contextualization

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As we think seriously about contextualizing the message of the Bible, let’s remember that we must also labor to bring about, in the minds of our listeners, conceptual categories that may be missing from their mental framework. If we only use the thought structures they already have, some crucial biblical truths will remain unintelligible, no matter how much contextualizing we do. This work of concept creation is harder than contextualization, but just as important.

We must pray and preach so that a new mental framework is created for seeing the world. Ultimately, this is not our doing. God must do it. The categories that make the biblical message look foolish are deeply rooted in sinful human nature. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1Corinthians 2:14).

Part of what the Spirit does in overcoming human resistance is to humble us to the point where we can let go of ingrained patterns of thought. But the Spirit does this through preaching and teaching. “Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom [that is, through its cherished ways of thinking], it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21).

God brings about this new seeing and understanding and believing. But he uses us to do it. So we should give as much effort in helping people have new, biblical categories of thought as we do in contextualizing the gospel to the categories they already have.

Here are a few examples of biblical truths that most fallen minds have no conceptual categories for conceiving. May the Lord raise up witnesses to his truth who don’t distort it by over-zealous contextualizing, but awaken a place for it in converted minds which have new Spirit-created categories.

1. All persons are accountable for their choices, and all their choices are infallibly and decisively ordained by God.

  • [He] works all things according to the counsel of his will. (Ephesians 1:11)
  • On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. (Matthew 12:36)

2. It is not sin in God to will that there be sin

  • “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it [the evil acts of Joseph’s brothers] for good. (Genesis 50:20)

3. What God decrees will come to pass is not always the same as what he commands that we do, and may indeed be the opposite.

  • For example, he may command, “Thou shalt not kill,” and decree that his Son be killed: “It was the will of the Lord to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10).

4. God’s ultimate goal is the exaltation and display of his own glory, and this is at the heart of what it means for him to love us.

  • And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:5)
  • Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.” (John 17:24)

5. Sin is not primarily what hurts man but what belittles God by expressing unbelief or indifference to his superior worth.

  • My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

6. God is perfectly just and orders the complete destruction of the inhabitants of Canaan.

  • Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? (Genesis 18:25)
  • But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes. (Deuteronomy 20:16)

7. The key to the Christian life is learning the secret of acting in such a way that our acts are done as the acts of Another.

  • Walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:25)
  • Put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit. (Romans 8:13)

8. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh.

  • And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)

9. “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” (Matthew 1:23)

10. “Before Abraham was I am.” (John 8:58)