Creating Conceptual Categories vs Contextualizing

John Piper wrote on his blog this week about the danger of over-zealous contextualizing.  What he means by this is the reaching for points of connection so that the message of the Bible can fit into the thinking of the listener.  We sometimes have to create conceptual categories that may be missing from the mental frameworks of our listeners.

He raises an important point.  I would suggest that we have to think through whether we are preaching concepts that are driven by the Bible text, or preaching Bible texts to support concepts driven by our system of theology.  When we preach a Bible passage, our task is to communicate the concept conveyed by that text.  According to Robinson’s definition, expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept … applied to the listeners.

Certainly, preaching is more than communicating a helpful principle or tip for life.  Preaching involves communicating concepts that may actually reframe the way our listeners perceive reality.  For instance, if you are preaching on the armor of God in Ephesians 6, don’t present it as a helpful tip for times of testing (that may prove helpful if people happen to remember the message).  Rather preach that we live in a constant Ephesians 6 reality and people are either appropriately dressed or vulnerably naked.  People often don’t perceive reality as a constant spiritual battle, so we should help to shift that wrong perception.

One thought on “Creating Conceptual Categories vs Contextualizing

  1. Well said. (By Piper and you.)

    It seems like the key to contextualization is to keep i n mind we must contend for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), the Gospel!

    And contextualize ourselves (not the Gospel message per se; 1 Cor. 9:19-23).

    Preaching culturally-relevant ideas that have no root in the Scriptures (or are not driven by God’s Word) may be clever and temporarily helpful (“How to…”) but cannot be a substitute for mighty and lasting transformation wrought through the Spirit.

    Still learning and growing…

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