Back in October 2oo7, Mark Driscoll started an online game called “Ask Anything” where anyone could ask him a question and people voted on their favorite questions. The top nine questions would turn into a sermon series which later became his book entitled Religion Saves.
On October 12, I blogged about the question I asked Driscoll. The question was:
Do you believe that Scripture regulates not only your theology but also your methodology? In other words, do you believe in the regulative principle? If so, to what degree? If not, why not?
The purpose of me asking this question was related to what I saw happening in evangelical life, namely the popularity of pragmatism over theologically driven and biblically sound methodology. Driscoll used the illustration of the two hands: one being contending for the faith (doctrine) and the other being contextualizing the faith (practice). My question was specifically geared around the ways in which doctrine (theology) shaped or influenced practice (methodology). In other words, do these two hands work independently of one another, or does one hand have a tighter grip on the other? I wanted to know to which degree Scripture determines what you do versus what culture, trends, or “what works” determine what you do. I thought the question was pretty straightforward, simple, and relevant.
Well, a firestorm erupted on the “Ask Anything” website when my question took the top spot after the first week of voting. After a month of dealing with antagonism and anger from folks, I asked people to stop voting on my question, which resulted in it dropping down to #13. After a month of silence, the voting came down to the final days, and friends were eager to have me make a final push to get out the vote because they felt the question could possibly get into the #9 slot and get into the sermon series and book. Little did we know,in a matter of three days the question moved from #13 to #1, taking in 10,000 votes in that short period of time (a total of 25,181 in all). I must admit, it was a rather fun moment in the history of this little blog.
The reason I bring that saga nearly four years ago is because of the recent discussion between James McDonald, Mark Driscoll, and Perry Noble regarding Noble’s church singing the song “Highway to Hell” in their church service. Here’s the video:
Now, take a moment and check out the discussion about this video in light of my old question:[vimeo 21929130]
McDonald begins by saying (about “Highway to Hell”), “I don’t get it at all.” Noble attempts to make a few theological arguments which McDonald refutes. Essentially, Noble is saying that the reason his church played “Highway to Hell” was their expression of contextualization. In Noble’s words, it was their attempt to “get people where they are to bring people where God is.” Regarding his examples, Noble asks, “How can you say these methods are not effective?”
Which gets to my point. Perry Noble’s approach to contextualization is apparently focused on what methods are most effective–that is, the method which “work.” If “Highway to Hell” works, then it is acceptable. He says, “That’s why we do what we do.”
At this point, Driscoll interjects, saying “this comes down to an important issue.” What issue? Driscoll asks, “Can we only do what the Bible commands, or can we do whatever we want, except what the Bible forbids?” In other words, the question they are asking is in what way does the Bible determine or regulate what you do as a church. Driscoll stated, “That’s a big theological question” which of course makes me feel a little vindicated in that it won his “ask anything” contest. 🙂
But on a more serious note, McDonald interjects by saying that what people get wrong in this debate is arguing that guys like Noble don’t have the Bible as his authority. Instead, Noble simply disagrees on what the Bible forbids. I guess the question I have is, “How can one say the Bible is authoritative when a church choosing to sing ‘Highway to Hell’ in their worship service?”
Noble argues that the song is not the end point but a connecting point, taking people to the gospel. I appreciate Noble’s heart to reach the lost, but if songs like “Highway to Hell” are within bounds of the authority of Scripture, what would be considered out of bounds? And on what basis to we determine that? Does it not become rather arbitrary and relativistic?
I think these are the questions that many pastors and church planters in my generation are wrestling with. The fundamentalist camp dismisses contextualization altogether. The seeker churches employ contextualization largely from culture and pragmatism. More theologically-minded and gospel-centered churches believe in contextualization in ways that are consistent with the character of God and His gospel.
So this takes us back to my question. What should we do with “Highway to Hell”? When does contextualization become unhelpful? What theological filters or grid should we have in our mind when wrestling through these issues, or should we do what we do because the methods are effective?