[@] Dueling diagrams (1)

Sunday night I posted a couple of diagrams relating to Mark Driscoll’s use of Lesslie Newbigin’s diagram of the relationship between the Gospel, the church, and culture. Because I provided my own additional diagram, you can imagine that I have some problems with the interactive triangle.

The most obvious problem with that diagram, I think, is the direction of all the arrows – arrows which seem to imply influence or effect. Let’s imagine for a moment that the circle begins at the GOSPEL at the top of the triangle, and the arrow to the left means “influences”, so the left side of the triangle says, “the Gospel influences Culture” or “the Gospel produces Culture”.

Fair enough, yes? Well, no: because the purpose of the diagram is not to come up with the obvious assertion that “the Gospel Culture equals the Church”. “CULTURE” here means the existing (or pre-existing) culture which is not Christ-centered; it represents those who are being evangelized.

Remember -- the corollaries of this diagram are:

Gospel + Culture - Church = Parachurch

Culture + Church - Gospel = Liberalism

Church + Gospel - Culture = Fundamentalism

What Driscoll is saying about Newbigin’s diagram is that there is a continuum between the Gospel, the Culture and the Church which produces some kind of interactive state. The final – and I must admit, I am very surprised it is UNLISTED – corollary is:


If the previous three corollaries are valid in any way at all, then this final one is necessary to flesh out the ultimate point. What is it that you get when you get the Gospel plus the Culture plus the Church? Let’s be clear that Driscoll doesn’t say exactly what this is. However, I think that Driscoll tries to imply is that what you get is his idea of “reformission” – which is “the tension of being Christians and churches who are culturally liberal yet theologically conservative”.

Now let’s think about something for a minute. Are there any examples in the history of the church where the church was “culturally liberal” (definition please?) and yet “theologically conservative” (again, definition?)?

I can think of one that someone who’s a fan of Driscoll might use: the gentile culture(s) the Jewish evangelists were trying to reach. For example, the “conservative” culture of that time might be considered the Jewish national culture of theocentric worship and strict (and one might rightly say) holy piety. Keeping the dietary law, keeping the Sabbath, keeping away from strange and exotic pagan women as wives, keeping the law of Moses – that’s a pretty “conservative” culture, right? And to be Paul and Peter and Barnabas and James “out there” among the people who would eat Crab and Lobster, who would visit the temple of Diana for a quick “worship session” with the priestess – they’d be faced with a pretty “liberal” culture to somehow proclaim the Gospel.

Now we might here wander off to discover that what was actually “liberal” (which is to say, “Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas”) in the context of 60 AD was this Christian view, which the “conservative” (that is, “Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change”) view found shocking and, perhaps, repressive or offensive. What we would discover is that the Gospel is itself the “liberal” view to both the Jew and the Greek or Roman – and in that it creates a very large problem not for Driscoll’s statement as such but for his conclusions that follow.

Using the definition that says “liberal” means “seeking answers outside of established views”, the Gospel is certainly the ultimate form of “liberalism” in any culture it encounters. That is not to say it is (or ought to be) the advocate of gay marriage or no-fault divorce or condom distribution in High Schools: it is to say that it is offering solutions to the problems that any culture has which frankly fly in the face of what that culture thinks it has to offer.

That would include, btw, the “Christian nation” of the United States of America.

You faithful readers might find yourselves scratching your head right now – especially after yesterday’s letter to communio sanctorum – and thinking, “Cent agrees with Driscoll – he’s gone to the dark side. Somebody send the Calvinist conspiracy over to his house to protect his wife and kids.” Well, hold off calling Protestant 911 for a minute. In case you missed it – and you might have if you didn’t read Driscoll’s book – Driscoll doesn’t mean “seeking answers outside of established views” when he says “culturally liberal”. He means this: a culturally liberal view is one in which culture is a medium for a message. That is to say, it is important to honor a culture in order to evangelize a culture.

Does that sound familiar to anybody?

When Driscoll fronts up the Gospel-Culture-Church triangle, he’s saying that if you release “the Gospel” in “the Culture” you’re going to get “the Church”. And his view is that we can see that “the Church” can bloom in any kind of “Culture” because it does so under the oppression it faces in China, the murder and persecution it faces in Africa, the poverty and lawlessness it faces in South America, etc. None of these Churches look very much alike, and they don’t all sing from the Baptist hymnal, so the reality must be that Church is as much a result of Culture as it is a result of the Gospel.



… I have to pick my parents up at the airport. More tomorrow or later …
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