Though calm in his defense [of using trash talk], [Mark] Driscoll insisted that Seattle's missionary need demands new, creative ways to engage the city with the gospel [sic].
"I'm not a fundamentalist. I don't think they're any fun at all," he said. "I'm a missionary. Fundamentalists avoid culture. Missionaries study it in an effort to reach people. If I were going into China to be a missionary, no one would complain. They wouldn't say, look at that, Mark's wearing Chinese clothes. He's speaking Chinese words. He's listening to Chinese music. Gosh, what is this guy? A liberal? No, he's in China.
The truth is that Seattle is as lost and pagan as China. And if we're not going to send missionaries to China, we have to send missionaries to Seattle. We need to give them the same freedom that we do missionaries in China."
[Collin Hansen, Young, Restless and Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists (Wheaton, IL, USA: Crossway, 2008), p. 146]
So states Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wisconsin, in defense of using rather inappropriate language, especially when it comes to sexual issues. Since he decided, as a Caucasian American, to use the Chinese as an example of contextualization, I as a Chinese Singaporean would respond to his assertions with regards to my culture.
Driscoll in his defence attempts to defuse criticism of his usage of coarse language by stating that he is contextualizing his message, thus communicating God's truth to the people in Seattle who evidently speak in that same frequency. With this in mind, he tries to build an analogy between what he is doing and what missionaries to China do. Just as missionaries to China are to speak Chinese, dress Chinese (not much valid today) and do listen to Chinese music, so Driscoll speaks the type of trashy lingo of the audience he is ministering to, dress like them and listen to their type of "music".
As a Chinese, this attempted analogy does not convince me one bit as being valid. Regardless of the variation in Chinese culture and the different dialect groups among the ethnic Chinese, each with their own distinct culture (There is no such thing as a single Chinese culture per se), there is still what is termed culture and what is termed gangsta "culture" (for lack of a better term for it). All dialects and Mandarin (what is termed "pu tong hua" - 普通话) has its own cultured words and swear words; words used for civilized discourse and words used by uncivilized people which often do not see the light of day. Chinese culture is traditinally ordered as per Confucian principles, and with it come ethical codes of conduct to govern everyone and everything in society. Most notable of course is the rejection of all forms of vulgar discourse as being barbaric.
Driscoll's analogy therefore breaks down at this juncture. The missionary to China most definitely will spek Chinese (or one of its dialects), probably does not need to dress traditional Chinese dress nowadays, and will listen to a mix of traditional Chinese, Chinese pop and English pop music, with probably some J-pop and K-pop mixed in as well. Nevertheless, they will not converse in vulgar Chinese. The early Protestant missionaries to China like Robert Morrison and Hudson Taylor certainly did not do so, and neither did any of the missionaries to China. While they most certainly adapt to the culture, they did not adapt to the lowest degradation of Chinese culture to reach any of the Chinese, not even triad members.
It is in this regard therefore that Driscoll has no idea of what he is talking about on the idea of culture and missions. In fact, it seems rather condescending to be thought of as reachable only if a degenerate manner of speech is adopted. Worse still in my opinion is for such a method to be likened to the adoption of the mother language(s) of other ethnic group(s) like Chinese. In fact, it is downright insulting for non-Westerners like me, as if our language is analogous to the language used by Mark Driscoll with his coarse and scatological speech.
On a more fundamental level, the whole idea of contextualization as practiced by Driscoll and others seem to lack a true measuring rod for culture. Culture, as embodying manners and forms of values and living, is to be judged by the Word of God as all conduct is (Ps. 119; 2 Tim. 316-17). Just because a particular sub-culture exists does not mean that the elements of any (sub-)culture must by definition be neutral or even good. Since such is the case, uncritical wholesale acceptance of any culture or sub-culture is not biblical.
In conclusion, it is hoped that Driscoll should evaluate what he is doing according to the Scriptures. There is simply no warrant for deliberately sinning, even for the sake of evangelism. The famous text of 1 Cor. 9:22 cannot apply to the issue of sin, for the context focuses on following or not following various human traditions, having nothing to do with violation of the commands of God. The question he should ask himself is not, "Is what I am doing missional?", but rather "Is what I am doing sin?". If using coarse and scatological language is sin, no amount of protest of being relevant and missional can excuse it, and neither should we condone it.
*Update*: Here is a good sentence I have stumbled upon in the meta of this post that sums up the concern over contextualizaton for the case of Mark Driscoll
A language can be vulgar (common) without being vulgar (degrading).