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The Missional Church and Culture

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series

"Toward a Biblical Understanding of Culture"

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The missional church movement has significantly influenced the evangelical church in recent years, especially their philosophy of evangelism and worship (see my recent series on this subject here). Missional advocates argue that the church is part of the missio Dei—the mission of God—and thus must see its ministries as fitting within that mission. Essential to the accomplishment of that mission is embedding the church in its target culture, which missional authors call “incarnation.” In order to evangelize the culture, they argue, churches must contextualize the message of the gospel in the culture. According to the grandfather of the missional movement, Lesslie Newbigin, contextualization is “the placing of the gospel in the total context of a culture at a particular moment, a moment that is shaped by the past and looks to the future.”1

This thinking influences the missional philosophy of worship as well. While missional advocates reject the “attractional worship” model of the church growth movement, missional authors nevertheless insist that since believers are part of the culture in which they live, worship also must be contextualized to that culture. For example, Ed Stetzer insists that “worship must take on the expression that reflects the culture of the worshiper if it is to be authentic and make an impact.”2 Contextualization is a significant emphasis of Alan Hirsch as well, who argues that “worship style, social dynamics, [and] liturgical expressions must result from the process of contextualizing the gospel in any given culture.”3 Mark Driscoll based his entire church planting strategy on the principle of contextualization, arguing that churches must be willing to regularly change their worship forms “in an effort to effectively communicate the gospel to as many people as possible in the cultures around them.”4 Likewise, according to Jon Paul Lepinski, “The need for the Church to remain effective in speaking the ‘current language’ and to successfully engage all people and age groups is a practice that can be seen in the life of Jesus. Christ’s earthly life manifests the importance of relevancy.”5

Essential to the missional church movement’s philosophy of evangelism and worship is their understanding of culture. Since they articulate incarnation and contextualization as important postures for accomplishing the missio Dei, missional proponents constantly discuss the importance of understanding culture, reaching culture, engaging culture, and redeeming culture. Therefore, an investigation into what they commonly mean by “culture” is necessary in order to evaluate their incarnational philosophy. This series will synthesize the missional understanding of culture, reveal influences leading to this understanding of culture, and compare this contemporary idea of culture to categories of thought within the New Testament. Synthesis of this research will reveal the appropriate biblical response toward the ideas of both culture and contextualization.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: the Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1986), 2. []
  2. Ed Stetzer and David Putman, Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 100. []
  3. Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2009), 143. []
  4. Mark Driscoll, The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out without Selling Out (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 80. []
  5. Jon Paul Lepinski, “Engaging Postmoderns In Worship: A Study Of Effective Techniques And Methods Utilized By Two Growing Churches In Northern California” (D. Min. Thesis, Liberty Theological Seminary, 2010), 6. []