If you've been around Christian education (even inside the church) for any length of time in the past 50 years or so, you've probably heard a lot about "contextualization" - the idea that the Bible was written for a specific people in a specific time in a specific place and that it's absolutely best for us to start deciphering that people, time, and place so that we can understand what the Bible is really trying to say, since our people, time, and place are so different from ancient Israel or 1st-Century Palestine. (See how I included both there, given what's going on in the world? We really should talk about "Israel" sometime. But not today.)
This has been going on in academia, in the universities and seminaries, for much longer than it's been going on in the church. But, to be fair, the church has always been trying to find God's word for her and there's been no shortage of theories and ideas over the past several thousand years.
Most of them have eventually been discarded and destroyed as heresy, but we really seem to have embraced this particular teaching of contextualization, at least for this season.
And...it's killing us.
This is why the church is struggling.
For thousands of years, the church has had this one thing above all others - a beautiful truth. In the face of whatever the world has wanted to throw on it, the church has had this understanding about God, His heart, His character, His love, His vision, His promise, His hope, His grace, His truth that has withstood the test of time. To be fair, it still withstands the test of time, though many in our day and age refuse to hear it or believe it. (That doesn't make it untrue or unvaluable, though.)
But it is our very insistence on contextualization, which admittedly started inside theology, that is the source of so many of the problems that we are facing today. We created for ourselves a slippery slope, and as the world takes us sliding high-speed down it and throwing our own arguments back against us, we can't stop it. We can't backtrack unless we go all the way back to the very beginning of this quest that we were on and put up a roadblock right there.
Or so it seems. (It's actually really complicated, which is why I thought it would be fun to write about. Buckle up.)
Okay, so where even is the starting point, though? What is the first thing that we decided about contextualization, in our current culture, that set us down this path?
Simply put, it's when we decided that when the Bible says, "he," it doesn't mean just men. When it says, "brother," it often means "brother and sister." It was when we decided that the language in the Bible wasn't inclusive enough for our postmodern, feminist era and decided to go writing women into every story where they weren't specifically mentioned. Because, hey, pronouns. Right? That's just a cultural thing. It's just the way they wrote back then because they valued women so little.
But...watch this snowball....