Saturday, February 02, 2008

Conclusion (DMin)

Here's the conclusion to my first DMin paper that I entitled "The End of the World As We Know It". It has certainly a long drawn out process - both the writing of it and the subsequent posting of it here. If you want to find all the posts go to the category labels at the left hand side and click on the label "DMin" and all the post should be listed in reverse chronological order. There may be a couple of other DMin labeled posts in there as well - but I'm sure you will figure out which one is which. If you really want a hard copy of the paper you will have to come to Thornhill and buy me lunch - or at least a coffee - and we can talk about it.


There are at least two fundamental understandings required when attempting to renew the church. The first is a clear understanding of the ability and purposes of God – or in the words of Alan Hirsch, a “primitive, unencumbered Christology.” Jesus said He will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. We must have full confidence in the ability of Jesus to build his church. He will lead and guide and inspire and empower his people for the task at hand. He has already given much direction through the principles and clear commands of Scripture. Do we have the courage to follow them? Or will we, as Kierkegaard said, be “a bunch of scheming swindlers?”

The second fundamental understanding required when attempting to renew the church is a clear understanding of culture. If we don’t have the first understanding we may fear the second. If we lack the spiritual fortitude we will, as Bishop Spong did, recapitulate to the pressure of the culture and be “fuzzy, imprecise and relatively unappealing … and have no real message!” Culture has been divinely moved to this post-Christendom state for the very purpose of loosing the Gospel from the chains of tradition. The Kingdom of God has an enduring story that is not quenched with the ambiguities of Postmodernity. But the church needs to rediscover and relive the powerful, wonderful, subversive Story. The demise of Christendom may be the opportunity for the rebirth of vital, relevant Christianity.

Reclaiming “apostolic genius” will require some structural changes in the church (and then result in even more). Moving away from a dependence on the use of church buildings, eliminating ponderous, hierarchical, business-like systems requiring CEO type leadership, and scrapping fossilized programs would certainly help. Recovering incarnational thinking would encourage meeting in neighborhood hangouts, in small groups, in homes, or other “non-sacral” space. We also require a radical rethinking of the church’s financial structure. Many churches, as they exist today, are unwilling to try radical experiments, even though most are looking for ways of having an impact on their community. Too much focus is placed on understanding or tweaking the system when the system really needs to be fundamentally altered or even abandoned.

However, some individuals and groups are attempting to recreate the simplicity of first century Christianity. Some of the manifestations of this recreation include a revival of house churches; an experimentation with new monasticism where people are covenanting to live together as community (the return of communes?); a renewal of our understanding of vocation so that those working in the marketplace are seen as advancing the Kingdom of God; and experiments in new church models that are more effective in reaching marginalized, primarily urban, subcultures. The varieties of renewal movements of the last 50 years provide some indication that the Christendom model has been faltering and that a fresh wind is blowing. The inability of these movements to sustain change and transform our society may be one indication that Constantinianism has not completely lost its grip. . House church movements have come and gone. Charismatic style renewal (like Toronto and Pensacola) has made an impact but has not really had any long-lasting influence. The Emerging Movement is one more wave of renewal that is affecting many areas of the Western church. Yet it too may go the route of the Jesus People Movement of the Sixties and Seventies. However, each one has chipped a bit more off the monolithic, imposing presence of Christendom.

There are many other questions raised by much of the literature reviewed here - more questions than answers. How long will this transition take? How long will the change from Christendom, to whatever comes next, take? It may still be a hundred years before the full effect is manifested. Or we may see change more quickly, as China did. A radical shift in governments or a natural disaster could change the world as we know it in a matter of weeks or months. Questions still need to be asked about how the Third World church differs from the West in its perception of Postmodernity and Post-Christendom.

There is another series of questions to ask. Does the general Christian population understand Postmodernity and the demise of Christendom? Does the general non-Christian population understand it? What is their awareness of postmodernism and its nuances? Is there really a consensus in the world? What can be done? How? Is it even on the typical pastor’s radar screen? Is it an urban or suburban phenomenon? Do we see it in rural areas as well? How do we effectively disciple people in the midst of the rampant consumerism in our culture? Although hospitality is being renewed, how do we influence change in the monolithic, hospitality-resistant, suburbs? How do we transition good-hearted, well-intentioned, but Christendom-bound, tied-to-their-buildings congregations into missional, incarnational, “artistic, politically subversive, activist communities of mystical faith?”

Finally, where is all this leading? What if the church, with the grace of God, actually manages to recreate the dynamic of the early church and sees phenomenal growth and “success?” What if it is able to influence many of the world’s top leaders (which in some places is already happening). How will these leaders react? Will the tendency be to embrace a new form of Constantinianism all over again? Hopefully, not. Perhaps we might admit there is an eschatological purpose in all this. The Kingdom of God is among us. Perhaps we will be the generation to see the new heaven and new earth where "the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!"” Maybe we really are coming to the end of the world as we know it.

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