My post on Lovelace’s Dynamics of Spiritual Life concerning Continuous Renewal, there is a chart that includes the secondary elements of renewal: mission, prayer, community, disenculturation, and theological integration. The 5th chapter concerning these elements is quite long (between sermon prep and the Red Sox games, it took awhile), but quite helpful. He mentions how these are interactive elements: mission depends on prayer; prayer and mission take place in community; disenculturation greatly affects our prayers and mission, as does our theological integration or lack thereof.
I found his section on disenculturation quite helpful as he traces this concept biblically and through church history. I am currently reading Leviticus, and his discussion is helpful in placing it in redemptive history. He calls it a protective enculturation.
“Since the full benefits of union with Christ were not available under the Old Covenant, it was necessary for God to build around Israel a wall of protective enculturation formed by welding together the Jewish culture with its religious core. …
“This cultus served as a tutor to bring them into readiness for the coming Messiah (Gal. 3:24). It was protective, but it was also restrictive of the flesh. This restriction aroused sin and made it visible, producing guilt which drove the believer to the sacrificial system which pointed toward the coming Lamb of God.”
Things like the section on clean & unclean food in Leviticus (which I read yesterday) was preparative as well. “The objects among which they discriminated were morally indifferent from a New Testament perspective, but the constant acts of choice they had to make between clean and unclean items was a kind of game preparation for the serious business of discriminating between the holy and unholy which is part of a walk in the Holy Spirit.”
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the full benefits of union with Christ were available. As a result, this protective enculturation tied to infancy was no longer needed or valid. Faith is no longer tied to a particular culture, but transcends culture and is then expressed in many cultures as missionaries bring the message around the world. “Thus the gospel is free to become enculturated- to wear many forms of cultural expression, with perfect freedom to change these expressions like clothing when the need arises- only when it has been disenculturated.” This means, the message of the gospel must always be differentiated from culture so when you bring it from one culture to another you are presenting the gospel, not your culture, to the new people group. So, disenculturate so you can reenculturate. As a result, “… spiritual freedom in the fullness of Christ and protective enculturation are mutually exclusive alternative. … life in Christ can and must deal effectively with the flesh. Paradoxically enough, it appears that when the church begins to draw up codes and taboos which separate it from the world, it is most worldly, most in conformity with the world’s understanding of holiness and spirituality.”
This is the theological thinking behind what Mark Driscoll talks about so well. Lovelace quotes The Epistle to Diognetes: “For Christians cannot be distinquished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own, they do not use a peculiar form of speech, they do not follow an eccentric manner of life.” This is an application of 1 Corinthians 9. Christianity will look different in America, Africa, China etc. but not depart from the core gospel message of justification, sanctification, adoption, indwelling and authority in union with Christ.
Here’s what happens if it doesn’t- “Apparently if the church has not fully appropriated the life and redemptive benefits of Jesus Christ, it will inevitably be subject to two forms of re-enculturation. Either it will suffer destructive enculturation, absorbing elements of its host cultures which it should discern and suppress as unholy (what Driscoll means by Liberalism), or it will try to re-create once again the Old Testament protective enculturation, fusing itself with certain aspects of Christianized culture until the gospel is thought to be indissolubly wedded to those cultural expressions (what Driscoll means by Fundamentalism, the descent into legalism).”
He traces this problem through history in its various expressions. We see destructive enculturation in the mainline churches as they increasingly resemble the far left social agendas, the prosperity gospel which absorbs America’s idol of wealth, and the consumerism which has infected large chunks of the church growth movement. We see protective enculturation in traditionalism in worship style, knee-jerk reactions to cultural art forms, and a form of gnosticism that rejects moderate use of alcohol and represses biblical sexuality.