Why is it that churches with impeccable and tidy doctrine don’t have more influence?
Dissertations or even volumes of ink could be spilled trying to answer this question. I would like to submit a very simple rubric for why Reformed churches are often ineffective at influencing their immediate context.
Formally we understand the word “exegesis” to mean the interpretation of a text, particularly Scripture. For the purpose of this short piece, I am expanding the range of meaning of the word to apply to not just the interpretation of a text but also to a broader comprehension of both people and culture.I submit to you, that there is not one kind of exegesis but three kinds of exegesis: Biblical exegesis, Personal exegesis, and Cultural Exegesis. Most churches do one of the three pretty well and perhaps a second one to a serviceable level. Extremely few hit the sweet spot of all three.
Biblical exegesis is the task of accurately interpreting a text in it’s original context and making the proper adjustments to understand how the meaning to the original context (“there and then”) properly translates to our present context (“here and now”). This involves understanding the writer, the original audience, time and place in redemptive history, purpose, overarching themes, and connectivity to the larger narrative of Scripture. Heady, analytical, or truth-oriented people are drawn to churches whose primary mode of exegesis is Biblical.
Cultural exegesis is the task of accurately translating and adapting the Gospel to a particular culture without sacrificing the essence and details of the Gospel itself. Cultural exegesis entails a comprehension of how to communicate the narrative of Scripture making appropriate adjustments taking into account the complex web of cultural beliefs (notions, worldviews…), cultural artifacts (bald eagles, cowboys, iPhones, Coca-Cola…), language (technical terms, idioms, accents, dialects, pronunciation…), special forces (therapeutic, consumerism, individualism, pluralism, secularism, technology, democritization of knowledge, globalization…), cultural institutions (political, economic, social, educational, spiritual, media, military…), cultural liturgies/rituals (4th of July, sports, Grammy’s…), and cultural elites (celebrity, media, political, athletic, cultural curators…). Cultural influencers, curators, innovators, movers and shakers, and cultural compromisers are drawn to to churches whose primary mode of exegesis is cultural.
Personal exegesis is the task of accurately applying the narrative of Scripture to the whole individual. This kind of exegesis is somewhere in the vein of counseling and discipleship. Someone skilled in personal exegesis has a high degree of self-knowledge and is effective at helping people work through their idols, circumstances, past, and wounds from the lens of larger narrative of Scripture. Contemplative, affective, and therapeutically-inclined people are drawn to churches whose primary mode of exegesis is personal.
Most of you probably are thinking “_______ kind of exegesis is the most important.” Well, guess what, that is your primary. Each mode of exegesis has it’s various strengths and weaknesses. If you want an excellent assessment of those strengths and weaknesses, I commend to you Collin Hansen’s excellent concise book, Blind Spots.
Biblical Exegesis + Cultural Exegesis – Personal Exegesis = Hard-Charging Missional Church
Biblical Exegesis + Personal Exegesis – Cultural Exegesis = Most Healthy Reformed Churches
Cultural Exegesis + Personal Exegesis – Biblical Exegesis = Liberal Protestantism
We all want to think we are omni-competent but we have our biases, wounds, blind spots, and immaturity. We need the benefit of having others around us to help us grow, to help us understand, to help us listen, and to help us change.