Attempting to contextualize the Gospel is a very acute and sensitive endeavor. Push the envelope too far and you will be lost in the ocean of syncretism, or really just pervert the Gospel until it is no longer the good news of Jesus Christ, but the good news of whatever culture or society you are in. On the contrary, if you fail to contextualize at all, or just contextualize too little, evangelism really just becomes assimilation and or socialization unto the church culture – or Christian imperialism. Stanley Hauerwas seems to insinuate in his book Resident Alien that the first apologists in the early church were inadvertently (it should be noted that Constantinian Christendom was also a major contributing factor) laying the groundwork that would perpetuate into modern theologians fruitless attempts to accommodate or make the Gospel – perceived to be ancient and outdated due to its ancient near eastern Hebraic roots – seem relevant and intelligible to the post-modernity, post-enlightenment, and increasingly anti-Christianity intellectual realm of the current times. (There is obviously more to be said and more to explain, but for the sake of the brevity of the blog post, and retaining your interest, I must go on.) This, Hauerwas goes on to argue, “transforms it [the Gospel] into something it never claimed to be – ideas abstracted from Jesus, rather than Jesus with his people.”
Many of us have written about our “exercise” this past Tuesday, having gone into one of Spokane’s many neighborhoods, observing, listening, trying to sow peace, learning, and all the other things we did that day. A few of my classmates might have similar feelings, but one of the strange things for me was the newness of the experience, despite my ties to Spokane. My group visited the South Perry District, a part of Spokane’s south hill. I have grown up in Spokane, and this year has been my first “away from home.” The Perry District is somewhere that I spent an enormous amount of time in for about the last year and a half before I graduated. I had some close friends living in a rather run-down house just a few blocks away from Grant elementary school. The strangest thing for me was feeling as though there were things I ought to have known about a neighborhood I have been so close to. In that sense it did give me a kind of ache; maybe I was internalizing it too much. All the same, there was a slight feeling of irresponsibility on my part. However, much more than that, I received an overwhelming feeling of energy from it. We didn’t walk all of the neighborhood: there was simply too much ground to cover. But we were walking with intentionality. We intended to look, learn, and listen. The whole time all I could think was that I want to walk my whole city with intentionality, and see what I can discover. I was reminded that learning curves exist, and it’s okay that I was experiencing something different. I hadn’t been irresponsible, I just hadn’t been looking in the right way before. And I still won’t always look the “right way,” because it’s difficult to constantly walk with intentionality. But I have made discoveries, and part of the amazing thing about mission is the fact that we get to discover new and exciting things about cities, people, and ourselves, and that, my friends, is what makes it so invigorating.