Friday, March 7, 2008

2008 Shepherd's Conference - Session #7, Phil Johnson

Dr Johnson is an Associate Pastor at John MacArthur’s church and Executive Director of Grace to you Ministries. He edits most of MacArthur’s books and has been with him for over 25 years. His talk addressed the issue of Contextualization, the new “hallmark of 21st Century Evangelism.” To describe this concept simply, it means that the church should try to be what people are looking for, it should strive to be relevant to the culture and environment it exists in. “In order to reach post moderns’, supporters of this issue would contend, “you have to avoid looking like traditional church and be more casual, less formal. Burn candles, light some incense sit on sofas and chat with each other. Preach without conviction, ” Johnson maintains that we should steer clear of any church methodology that stresses style instead of Scripture. Brian McLaren says “Everything must change.” God says He is always the same.

Many would justify altering their style by citing Paul’s sermon to the Athenians at Mars Hill (Acts 17) regarding the ‘unknown God’. They see Paul as changing his style to accommodate the Athenians. They use this as an example of contextualization. They use the following words in describing their approach; culture, contextualization, charity and conversation. In all actuality, Paul was bold, confident and confrontational. He offended the Athenians and departed from Athens a failure by any worldly measure.

The primary question in ministry is not whether you are received warmly – but whether they receive with conviction. A hostile reaction rather than a comfortable popularity is a better indication that the truth has been preached. Our focus should be on clarity and accuracy. Scripture tells us that the Gospel will be a stumbling block. We cannot reshape it to make it more palatable or friendly or easier to digest. In John 6, the crowd loved it when Jesus performed miracles. By the end of the chapter, after He has spoken the truth to them, most of them are gone, having left Him. What is His reaction? It certainly wasn’t to change the message and repackage things to get them back! As a matter of fact, He turned to the remaining disciples and said, “Will you leave as well?”

Look at Acts 7.

Here is how Paul reacts to the culture. He starts in Berea and preaches in public. Then he goes into hiding because he is not received very well. He is not becoming popular. His followers take him to Athens for his own protection, then they go back. Paul is alone in Athens. He examines the culture for about two weeks and begins to preach in public, sending for his team. Paul does not embrace the culture. He is not assimilated into it. He is ‘provoked’, exasperated by it. Paul’s message was totally counter-cultural and disturbing to everyone. He never became part of their groups or movements. They saw him as a novelty so they indulged him for a while. Then Paul preached the sermon on Mars Hill. He called them ‘religious’ but without religion. Philosophy was their god and Paul attacked that concept. Paul uses ‘sanctified sarcasm’ – they had all these gods no one believed in and they even had an ‘unknown god’ in case they missed any! He tells them he wants to proclaim the God they know nothing about.

As far as a ‘conversation‘ is concerned, Paul does not initiate one. There is no give and take here. There is no, “Let me hear your perspective so we can all learn something from each other.” Paul preaches – he does not offer to exchange ideas with them. He declares that God is Creator. He begins to preach theology. Paul affirms God’s authority, spirituality, sufficiency, sovereignty, transcendence, and Him as the giver of life. All of this was a complete contradiction to what the Greeks believed and an offense to them as well. Paul delivers the truth with authority and conviction. He wasn’t floating his opinion out there to be discussed. This was not a conversation…it was a sermon.

Regarding contextualization, Paul did not adapt his message to the values and beliefs of the culture the Athenians lived in. H e quotes two ancient, not contemporary, Greek poets, using their own literature to express the truth Paul wants to preach. These ancient poets made statements that were contradictory to contemporary thinking in Athens at that time. Paul was speaking to the elite, fatalistic, secular, materialistic atheistic Greeks. He tells them to, “Repent!” He talks about the crucifixion. He makes 6 points; Greek religious belief is wrong, God is elite, God is imminent (near), God is not shape or defined by artist and they must repent! The concept of charity is similar to inclusive-ism. The idea that we should be tolerant of other beliefs, looking for common ground, expressing good will and avoiding being dogmatic, believing that our opinion is nothing more than that – our opinion. Paul proclaimed the Gospel…utter foolishness to the Greeks. The Greeks reacted in three ways; some mocked him, some wanted to ‘hear more’ and a very small number were converted. Paul’s ministry was faithful, not shaken by rejection, not shifting in emphasis and having only one strategy – proclaim Christ and confront: every world view, every superstition, every philosophy and every objection.

Paul made no compromises and he was not out to make friends. His goal was to preach the gospel.


  1. "Paul made no compromises and he was not out to make friends. His goal was to preach the gospel."

    And, he did not take an hour to do it!

  2. I appreciate the input but I'm not sure I get your point.

    Are we talking about this Paul?

    Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. 9 And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, “Do not be troubled, for his life is in him.” 11 When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left