Advocates of contextualization often cite the illustration of holding one’s doctrine and theology in a closed hand (symbolizing non-negotiability), and one’s methodology in an open hand (symbolizing fluidity). As an example, one proponent said,
What I am arguing for is a two-handed approach to Christian ministry. In our firmly closed hand we must hold the timeless truths of Christianity, such as the solas of the Reformation. In our graciously open hand we must hold timely ministry methods and styles that adapt as the cultures and subcultures we are ministering to change.
It would be foolish to suggest that every method for our ministry must never change. However, our methodology should not be as unmoored from our theology as the above illustration suggests. Our presentation of the message does indeed matter if it communicates or implies something about the message that is untrue. As Will Metzger says, “Our message will mold our evangelistic methods and regulate our spiritual experience. We must not use an incongruous medium to present the God of Truth.”
The methods commonly prescribed under the rubric of cultural contextualization do imply something untrue about our message. When we believe that we should change our presentation of the message based on the characteristics of our audience, we are demonstrating that we believe something about the message itself—and something about the work of the Triune God in salvation—that is out of accord with biblical principles. To be specific, it betrays a lack of faith in the sufficiency of the gospel alone to save sinners (cf. Rom 1:16–17).
If the gospel message is truly and faithfully proclaimed, we need not be concerned about adapting the packaging in which we present it to our various listeners. That is because the message faithfully proclaimed is sufficient in and of itself to accomplish what God desires. As God says in Isaiah 55:10–11, the word which goes forth from His mouth “will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” Men and women are born again not through clever gimmickry or cultural savvy, but solely “through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet 1:23).