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Content & context key to reaching culture, Stetzer tells Messianics

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–Believers must strike a balance between contending for the Gospel and contextualizing it to fit the culture they’re trying to reach, Ed Stetzer, a missiologist for the North American Mission Board, said at the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship meeting June 10 in Greensboro, N.C.

Jude 3 exhorts Christians to contend for the faith, or fight for the Gospel, and 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 says the Apostle Paul had “become all things to all men” so he might save some, Stetzer noted during a talk on “Redeveloping a Missional Mindset.”

“So we have to contend, but Paul also reminds us we have to contextualize,” Stetzer, senior director of NAMB’s Center for Missional Research, said. “The challenge is when we do one without the other. Our call is to both contend and contextualize. The mission that God has laid upon your heart is to contextualize into Jewish culture so that you can contend for the true faith there.”

Stetzer emphasized the importance of inhabiting and understanding the culture when proclaiming the Gospel. Too many churches are afraid of the culture, he said, and focus on contending for the Word of God, while others become so immersed in the culture that little room is left for the substance of the Gospel.

“We live in culture. Culture is the lens through which we see the world, the water in which we swim,” Stetzer said. “… How can we say that culture doesn’t matter when we live in culture? Preaching against culture is like preaching against somebody’s house — it’s just where people live. There are good things in it and there are bad things in it.”

Sometimes Christians trick themselves into believing culture doesn’t matter, and then they settle into a self-affirming subculture and do things unique to that Christian culture.

“[Those things] make us feel good, but when we’re not reaching anybody in culture, all we’re doing is creating monuments to ourselves where we can do the things that we like to do,” he said. “I think one of the greatest sins in the evangelical church today is the sin of preferences.”

So much of the New Testament chronicles the struggle with implementing the Gospel in a Jewish cultural context as it transitions to a Gentile cultural context, Stetzer said.

“Every culture needs the Gospel to be explained fully at a different starting point but the same ending point,” he said.

Rabbi Sam Nadler, president of Word of Messiah Ministries, also spoke to the Messianic fellowship, addressing key concerns in Messianic apologetics.

“Most people tend to identify their faith by their culture,” Nadler, congregation leader at Hope of Israel Congregation in Charlotte, N.C., said. “Change the culture and they think you’re changing the faith.

“The world we live in now is a Gentile-cultured Christianity where a liberty is given to some of us to be Jewish, but not too Jewish,” he said. “There’s a kind of thrill in every church when they see a Jewish person come to faith and live as the Gentiles live. It’s like, ‘They’ve come to our side,’ whereas a Jewish person who has a vibrant and fervent faith can seem somewhat threatening.”

Nadler identified a paradigm of a modern-day Gentile-cultured church, although the culture of the early church was heavily influenced by Judaism: “Many times we’ll think in terms of a Southern Baptist context,” he said, “but actually we’re part of a Messianic movement of winning the Jewish people to faith in Yeshua [Jesus] and establishing a community of believers as an ongoing testimony to the truth of God.”

Romans 1:16 says Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel because “it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

Paul’s confidence was based on the Gospel’s power, not on his pedigree as a Jewish scholar, Nadler said.

“The issue of our confidence in whatever community God has called us to reach out to — in our case it’s the Jewish community — is we want to understand that our confidence comes because of God’s power,” he said. “The Good News is in and of itself the very message we are to be communicating, and somehow whatever we learn about Jewish culture and Jewish life and Jewish worship, etc. is only so we can communicate that more clearly.”

The Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship was founded in 1990 by a group of Southern Baptist leaders seeking to reach out to Jewish people with the Good News of the Messiah from a biblically Judeo-Christian perspective.

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  • Erin Roach