Do we contemporize theology, and if so, how and to what extent? In order to explain, some defining must take place:
1. A transplanter does not think that the text of scriptures needs to be contemporized at all. The Bible should be stated as it was written.
2. A transformer believes that the world has changed so much since biblical times and people with it that the message itself must be changed.
3. A translator believes that the authoritative message that the Bible is speaking never changes, but since language, culture and situations have changed from biblical times the authoritative message needs to be contemporized for the modern audience’s ear.
Millard J. Erickson said with regards to transplanters,
Taken to its logical extreme, this would mean that one should make no attempt to present the message at all, instead relying on a direct work of special manifestation by God to another person. Actually, it is unlikely that anyone really follows this approach to its logical conclusion. I have never, for example, heard a sermon that was composed entirely of direct quotations from Scripture. Some form of adaption, explanation, restatement, or application is usually found in any presentation of biblical truth.
When I read what Erickson wrote I had to giggled, because I have actually done that on several occasions. The Lord has given me the ability to memorize large portions of scripture. I can preach a coherent biblical message from creation, to the fall, to Mount Sinai, to the cross and the judgment without ever using my own words.
I did this because I understood that Jesus trained 12 men, apostles, for the purpose of commissioning them to go into the world and make disciples. I also understood from John 15:26-27 that there are only two witnesses for Jesus Christ, the Spirit and the apostles. "When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning." (Jn 15:26-27)
Therefore, I came to the logical extreme that Erickson wrote about. It had not occurred to me until fairly recently that I could contemporize the authoritative message of the Bible for the modern audience without altering the authoritative message.
However, I am guarded when I do this, because it is the inspired word that God has authorized, not my words. There are differences in language, culture, time, place, situation and covenant that separates our audience from the biblical audience. However, do so with wisdom lest you become a transformer who thinks that he is a translator.