Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Context of Urgent Contextualization

Written by: on February 5, 2015

I received a text message two weeks ago from my sister’s sister-in-law, Jane, asking me if I would “do her wedding.” While this sounds like a reasonable request that would be a note that plays rather readily in the song of my mind and life, it actually has become something sounding like a high pitch screech trying to harmonize with the other voices signing in my head (of which there are many I might add).

The problem is, I am at a theological intersection with many signs and signals and I am not sure of how to actually proceed. Technically speaking I am having trouble contextualizing my personal theology into a public theololgy that will interface with a different public theology that involves a praxis model of considering the crazy world we are living in, the pluralism that runs rampant in our culture, the institution of marriage, the bible and all of its parables communicating truth, and the feeling of responsibility to “get this one right.”

So here is what is swirling in my head. First, my theology on marriage (in a nut shell) would be that marriage is the ultimate, God-designed relationship for his earthly creation. Marriage is about two lives becoming one through discovering God’s plan for each of their lives. Ultimately, one should get married because one has a relationship with God. Both parties would be in a relationship with God through Jesus being at the center of their lives and to the best to the hearts, souls, and minds of the couple, there would not be any un-confessed or hidden sin in lives of the couple. In my mind, if I were simply a simple pastor in a simple church with a simple couple wanting a simple marriage in a simple world, this simple theological framework for the simple wedding would simply work!

Unfortunately, it is just not that simple. Here is what I know about Jane. She has a very successful career. She lives with her fiancé. They are in their early 40’s. They are the product of our pluralistic culture. They are very good people but are not Christ-followers. They have been together most of their adult life. I see them two or three times a year at awkward family functions and they are very excited about me doing their wedding . . . but I have no idea why???

I am not sure of Jane’s theology. I am pretty much assuming it is that of the “public theology” of our day on God and marriage, but ultimately I am not sure. My questions are: Where is Jane coming from asking me to do her wedding? Does she want me to just officiate the ceremony? Is this like a “Vegas” deal to her? Is it just about the wedding or is she asking for my involvement with the marriage? Does she want pre-marriage counseling? She knows I am a pastor, does she know that my faith is central to my thinking about everything? Does she know how much I care about marriage and what God has designed it to be?

Jane obviously has a public theology and I am rapidly using a praxis approach to contextualize my theology to a communicable form that is honest and sound and yet interfaces with the public theology of our day as it pertains to marriage in a pluralistic society. As Stephan Bevans states it in his writing, “Models of Contextual Theology,” “The contextualization of theology—the attempt to understand Christian faith in terms of a particular context—is really a theological imperative.”[1] I am truly feeling that imperative in this situation.

I feel similar to Shelia Briggs who stated, “But on the bus I was not only sitting next to people, I was traveling with them through an urban space in which all our lives were emplotted.”[2] While initially being on a bus looked like a common experience, the reality that was taking place and being experienced had many more moving parts and a much higher complexity to be noticed if an accurate picture of how God and culture were colliding and interacting in lives she found herself among. I feel like that in this situation.

It sounds a little bit like I might of just jumped off of the high-dive into the deep end of the pool, but to have eyes to see the opportunity to contextualize my faith to meet Jane and her fiancé in this season seems somehow very possible, although seemingly very complex. This doesn’t just feel like an opportunity to perform a wedding, this is an opportunity, and there is a need, to say something about God, our world, faith, Jesus, marriage, justice, the culture, life, meaning, purpose etc… As Stephen Garner articulates it, “The crucial question for public theology, then is how to communicate in a credible and intelligible manner the riches and insight of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the variety of publics found within the contexts of church, state, civil society, the marketplace and the academy. “[3] Or better yet how do you do that in the context of a modern family where all those domains collide.

I feel like I am searching for my public theology by contextualizing my personal theology through a praxis approach that is considering—“cultural identity, popular religiosity, and social change”[4]—along with “expressions of personal and communal experience, cultural expressions of faith, and expressions of faith from the perspective of social location”[5]

My greatest hope and prayer in this situation is to display a public theology that sounds like the words of Christopher Marshall. “Drawing from ‘it’s treasury of faith’, public theology should strive both to shape a more just and peaceful society for all and to tilt it towards the higher obedience of the Kingdom. It will seek to construct a practically viable social ethic for general society, yet without surrendering the ‘extra mile’ radicalism of Christian discipleship and it s meaning.”[6]

And while this is all on more of a personal than truly public level, I believe our greater society “the public” will be shaped ultimately by how these personal stories play out and actually either engage, interface with, and shape a secular, humanistic pluralism or whether the church never actually finds its voice and continues to be pushed into the vast margins of silence.

[1] Bevans, Stephan B. (2013-11-20). Models of Contextual Theology (Faith and Culture) (Kindle Locations 191-192). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

[2] Tanner, Kathryn. Spirit in the Cities: Searching for Soul in the Urban Landscape. Minneapolis, Minn: Fortress Press, 2004. p.2.


[3] Neville, David J., ed. The Bible, Justice and Public Theology. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014. p.177


[4] Bevans, Stephan B. (2013-11-20). Models of Contextual Theology (Faith and Culture) (Kindle Locations 754-755). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.


[5] Bevans, Stephan B. (2013-11-20). Models of Contextual Theology (Faith and Culture) (Kindle Locations 1863-1865). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.

[6] Neville, David J., ed. The Bible, Justice and Public Theology. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014. p.43

About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer

14 responses to “A Context of Urgent Contextualization”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    So, for you in this situation, would the “radical extra mile” be bending on some of your long-held requirements like “pre-mariage counseling” and the need for them to be Christians before you perform a Christian wedding? hmmmm…. Does this cause you to rethink our definitions of what the ceremony of marriage is or does it recognize, perhaps, a greater outcome – a church hyper norm – that could be accomplished by bending? What would the greater good be?


    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Who asked you in to be my inner conscience??? :). Yep. I think those are the issues I am talking about. What is bendable? What is immovable? What proclaims Christ? What denies him? What builds “marriage” up to what it is intended to be? What desecrates it? Just a few tensions of inside of me that your tapping.

      • Jon Spellman says:

        It’s so much simpler to just live in the world of pat, simple answers… Why can’t we just go back there? The problem is, once you know something, you can’t un-know it. We can never go back…

      • Dawnel Volzke says:


        No simple answers, huh? Thank goodness for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In that tension where we are forced to question if we should or should not, His clarity always comes through.

        As I read your story, I thought about some of the times in my own life that my theological views have been challenged. In those times, there was no black and white answer. Sometimes I think that I live in the “gray”. For me, this seems to be the crossroads between traditional theology and contextual theology.

  2. Great questions Jon 🙂 My wife and I performed a ceremony for a couple in our neighbourhood this last summer that was similar to the example you share Phil. When we first sat down with them they didn’t really have any reason they would ask two pastors to perform a ceremony other than that we were cheaper than the JP!

    But two months later, after one casual evening with them at our place and another short meeting to plan last details, they went from “we don’t want you to pray” to “would it be ok if you asked God to bless our marriage?” They haven’t made any personal commitments, but we are on a journey by virtue of having been invited into a very personal space in their world.

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Len, that is encouraging. Sounds like the same waters. I am sending the couple a questionnaire/short response sheet tonight that we will talk through when we meet next Wednesday. I am trying to just come up with a guide for the most honest and authentic conversation that we could possibly have. Sounds weird that that is taking auch a great effort:)

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Len, I think part of the new normal for us has to be the realization that, for the most part, people aren’t experiencing the in-the-moment type conversions, running down the aisles of the church, throwing themselves on the altars, crying out for forgiveness… People are coming to faith in Christ by way of meaningful conversations taking place in the context of meaningful relationships. I’m not lamenting this! I feel that these kinds of conversions, the ones that happen as a result of true, deep personal reflection are the kind that are authentic and really “stick.” In my experience, many of the “run down the aisle” kind need to happen week after week before they finally become real.


    • Brian Yost says:

      “They haven’t made any personal commitments, but we are on a journey by virtue of having been invited into a very personal space in their world.”
      Len, I think this speaks volumes about who we are called to be as followers of Christ. When we enter on a journey together, who we are in Christ becomes more visible to those with whom we walk.

  3. Nick Martineau says:

    Phil…Thanks for bringing your practical relevant situation to the conversation. It’s funny because just last week I started premartial counseling with a couple where the guy isn’t a believer but the women is. When I asked why they wanted a pastor to do the wedding I got two conflicting answers. My initial thought was discouragement but as I talked with Liz she was helping me to see the opportunity. I’m guessing this will be an situation we will be facing more and more…I better think through how to walk through this….(-:

  4. Brian Yost says:

    As I read your post, I thought about how easy all of these answers were before I entered the ministry. It was easy to give pat answers and act as if these are simple matters. What I discover after becoming a pastor found was that there are issues worth wrestling with. There are things that we cannot compromise as we follow Christ, but even those things need to be approached through a genuine love for others. It is too easy to become legalistic and put policy over people or to swing to the other side and compromise what we know to be biblical truths because we don’t want to offend people (which often simple means that we don’t want them to not like us). Being sensitive to the Spirit, faithful to scripture, and loving others should cause us times of deep soul-searching and wrestling. God bless you Phil. May you be Jesus to your family.

  5. Dave Young says:

    Philip, I’m out of breath just reading your post… I can’t imagine how you feel. It’s way to simplistic but I think it’s still valuable to say ‘pray and listen’. The world is changing around us at speeds we can’t really keep up with and God is still doing his work of redeeming this world. Sometimes we’re going to be uncomfortable with what comes our way but the Spirit lives in you. So pray and listen to what that Spirit tells you to do. My personal theology is telling me that God is at work in these circumstances to give the gospel a public hearing through you.

  6. Mary Pandiani says:

    I don’t have much more to add to the way everyone has responded as I find myself “praying and listening” with you. I do find it fascinating that no one offered a pat answer, rather we all want to sit in this crucible of the new normal with you. May God grant you the wisdom and courage to make decisions, remembering your identity in Christ that rests in the grace and invitation of His love.

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