Its being talked about alot these days. In Christian ministry circles there’s no little debate on the issue of contextualization – how much should we try to reflect our specific context it in order to speak into it – as well as original context – what was happening in the setting that the Biblical authors were writing into.
I find it interesting that often times, there are people who can speak intelligently into this conversation who often times have no direct tie in to it. One such person is David Brooks, a New York Times Op-Ed Columnist. Yes, that David Brooks, who as you all know wrote Bobos in Paradise and On Paradise Drive, and who I undoubtedly heard about from, you guessed it, Tim Keller).
Here’s an interesting thought from his recent column regarding the current economic crisis:
Markets tend toward efficiency. People respond in pretty straightforward ways to incentives. The invisible hand forms a spontaneous, dynamic order. Economic behavior can be accurately predicted through elegant models
This view explains a lot, but not the current financial crisis — how so many people could be so stupid, incompetent and self-destructive all at once. The crisis has delivered a blow to classical economics and taken a body of psychological work that was at the edge of public policy thought and brought it front and center.
In this new body of thought, you get a very different picture of human nature. Reason is not like a rider atop a horse. Instead, each person’s mind contains a panoply of instincts, strategies, intuitions, emotions, memories and habits, which vie for supremacy. An irregular, idiosyncratic and largely unconscious process determines which of these internal players gets to control behavior at any instant. Context — which stimulus triggers which response — matters a lot.
You can see this reality in everything – from the debate of Christians regarding the role and place of culture in the context of ministry, to Oprah falling off the wagon of her diet and physical transformation of six years, to the current financial state our country finds itself in.
What amazes me about Brooks’ piece is that he bases his argument in human nature, not financial policy or historical trend. Maybe one way of contextualizing the “cultural mandate” is to say that everyone is responsible for and a responder to their cultural environment. Or, everyone is subject to external and internal triggers that stimulate a response, of which, only reason can be considered one such trigger.
I wonder, if this is universally held to be true, how this would effect our understanding and appropriation of older models of codified knowledge, such as systematic theology, or matters of contemporary contextualization?
I’m asking this as a guy who loves his Christian heritage of the Reformed tradition, even the formulations of Christian doctrine found in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
I do believe, however, that noting is context-less, and these invisible stimuli are more important and impactful then perhaps we have historically assented to, both in discerning the original context within which various issues and doctrines were raised and formulated, as well as their current usage and appropriation.
Context matters, alot.