Monday, November 19, 2007

Responding to Our Post-Christendom Reality

Sometimes looking at our culture and our church with open eyes can be discouraging. At times as I was writing my paper I wondered where we go from here. Was I the only one thinking about the consequences of a culture that had for all intents and purposes moved beyond (or at least away from) its Christian heritage. It was encouraging to find other pastors and authors and bloggers who were asking some of the same questions and struggling with how to make their faith in Jesus vital and live their lives in such a way as to have a message to our culture. The DMin paper continues ...

Responding in a Post-Christendom Era
The responses to the demise of Christendom are varied. Rodney Clapp lists three main categories of response. The first is Relinquishment (or sentimental capitulation) where the church capitulates to the culture and has nothing significant to offer it but sentimentally hangs on to Christian practice and language anyways. This response is more common in mainline denominations. Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong typifies this response by saying: “The only churches that grow today are those that do not, in fact, understand the issues and can therefore traffic in certainty … The churches that do attempt to interact with the emerging world are … almost by definition, fuzzy, imprecise and relatively unappealing. They might claim to be honest but for the most part they have no real message.” The honesty of his response is mildly refreshing but the depth of hopelessness reflected in his comments reveals the pervasiveness of the despondency experienced by many Christians in the face of the relentless advance of postmodernism.

The second response is Retrenchment (or getting back to Constantinianism). Trying to turn the nation back into a Christian nation and trying to regain the power and influence it once had as the sponsor of Western civilization, characterizes this response. Postmodernity is then seen as an attack against the Church and must be confronted at every level.

This seems to be how much of the Evangelical world is responding – particularly those commanding a strong media influence (Pat Robertson, James Dobson, John MacArthur, etc.). In many circles, this “religious right” has become the face of Evangelicalism and the position is politicized (Republican versus Democrat), and narrowly focused on only a few key issues (abortion, sexual morality, and family values).

The other expression of retrenchment is the tendency of some to try and escape the evils of society by creating a “safe” Christian environment isolated from the world (complete with Christian schools, clubs, books, movies, restaurants and amusement parks). Christians have their own celebrities, media networks and “yellow pages” and God is the means to become happy, “healthy, wealthy and wise.” They do not question the dominant culture: they embody it and baptize it. This “consumerism” is a serious challenge to discipleship.

A further expression of retrenchment is one of blissful ignorance where people really are unaware of the shifts within our culture and the challenges it presents to Christianity. They are unwilling or unable to engage their culture actively and just want to be a good Christian living a holy lifestyle. They don’t know what Postmodernity is and wonder what all the fuss is about. All that is needed is more prayer, deeper study of Scripture and a greater reliance on the Holy Spirit. This may be the most positive expression of retrenchment because there is an innocence (or is it ignorance?) and simplicity to this way of life and some may be called to this. They may be the Mennonites of the twenty-first century.

However, other Christians are sensing the deep change in culture. Many feel a vague dissatisfaction (for some a deep and profound dis-ease) with their Christian experience and the way church is done. Some are leaving the church because they are unable to see the connection between institutionalized faith and reality. Clapp puts it this way: “Christians feel useless because the church feels useless. And the church feels useless because it keeps on trying to perform Constantinian duties in a world that is no longer Constantinian. So the grace is this: Christians feel useless because they are no longer useful for the wrong thing, namely, serving as chaplains in a sponsorial religion.”

Others are leaving the church because they see life outside the church as the way forward and that they feel being part of a typical Evangelical congregation is actually harmful to their spiritual growth. These are those who (in George Barna's words) “wish to be faithful followers of the radical Jesus but no longer find themselves able to fit into the bland, limp, unsavory straitjacket of a church that seems to be yearning to return to the days when “everyone” used to attend church and “Christian family values” reigned.”

George Barna calls them revolutionary Christians. Revolutionaries are typical of a “new breed of disciples of Jesus Christ. They are not willing to play religious games and aren't interested in being part of a religious community that is not intentionally and aggressively advancing God's Kingdom. They are people who want more of God in their lives and they are doing whatever it takes to get it.” Clapp calls this third response Radicalization (to be radical followers of the Way – of Jesus).

No comments: