Saturday, November 10, 2007

The End of the World As We Know It

As many of you know I am in the process of studying for a DMin. The title to this post is the title of my first paper. I thought I would include a bit of the paper in a few posts. I actually posted the introduction here a few months ago. A lot of the paper is a collection of ideas and quotes from other sources. I will try to cite the major contributors as I go along. Anything in [square brackets] is stuff that would normally go into footnotes. Sorry if that makes it too confusing but I tend to like to include more information rather than less.

The world is changing. It really is the end of the world as we know it (and we don’t feel fine – most of the churched world has serious misgivings). [With apologies to band REM, who wrote the apocalyptic song with the title: “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine).”] The consistent message of many current authors on the state of the church today is that Christendom is over and has been for quite some time. The church must either adapt to the changing culture or die. Parts of the traditional church may already be dead.

It is quite possible that in the early part of the third millennium only the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, on the one hand, and evangelical Protestantism, on the other, will survive as ecclesial communities. What used to be called the Protestant mainline churches are in acute danger of disappearing. I expect they will disappear if they continue neither to resist the spirit of a progressively secularist culture, nor to try to transform it.” [Wolfhart Pannenberg. “Christianity and the West: Ambiguous Past, Uncertain Future.” First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, 48, no. 4 (1994): 22. These comments were made more than a decade ago and in many ways still ring true. However, there are many indicators of new life within some streams of the traditional mainline churches. There is also a renewed interest, especially among the emerging generation, in the historic liturgy typically found in more “high church” traditions.]

The “culture Protestantism” of the Western world that existed in one way or another since the Reformation, has been rejected, or perhaps ignored, arguably ever since the first World War.

Robert Jenson [“The Hidden and Triune God.” International Journal of Systematic Theology. (2000) 2, no. 1: 5] suggests that the church “is in the midst of divorce proceedings from the culture.” This divorce between the church and culture is not a new phenomenon. Many are drawing historical parallels between the pre-Constantinian and postmodern ages, where religious options abound, and there is a distinct separation of church and culture (state). As Rodney Clapp has stated: “Western Civilization is no longer content with a single religious sponsor.”

The core of this Christendom thinking is that much of Christianity still expects to be the chief sponsor of Western culture. Just as Nike sponsors Tiger Woods to piggyback on his success in order to dominate the golf equipment business, Christianity has sponsored Western culture to piggyback on its power and influence so as to dominate the religious worldview and win more converts. However, today’s church must recognize that it is confronting a culture that has lost its predominant guiding theme or authority, and a culture that has lost sympathy for the church’s cause. The Western church must reevaluate its accumulated Christian tradition and balance that tradition against Postmodernity’s insistence upon a multitude of equally acceptable and often conflicting views.

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