It’s not easy being green

kermit     If you’ve been challenged by this call to develop a postChristian Gospel, please know that it has been something I’ve been struggling with for quite some time. Remaining true to the Biblical/historical constructs of our faith, and to the Church, while trying to acclimate our message into yet another cultural context is no easy matter. Wycliffe Bible Translators face this challenge with every new language group they encounter; as did early Western Christian missionaries trying to introduce Western Christian constructs to Eastern and African cultures). Our difficulty is in recognizing that our postChristian era has developed its own culture and language group, based on its basic premise that there are no absolute truths; there is no meta-narrative to explain all of reality; there is no one singular system of belief that can encompass the grand diversity of human experience. At this point, of course, genuine Christians must disagree and still engage with the prevailing points of view.
     It is thus, at this point of division, that we must still follow our Lord into this world’s various cultures, adapting His time-tested message to be understood within the grand diversity of human experiences. This is not a task to be taken on lightly, let alone naively. Our message can neither be too complex to be grasped by the simple, nor can it be so simple that its matrix, woven throughout human history and into both ends of eternity, be lost in “the simple gospel,” with no context outside of the Creation/Fall/Redemption/Fulfillment rubric. That is why we must end our consideration of a postChristian Gospel with a reference to BEING GREEN.
     Being green, surprisingly, refers to more than environmental/ecological responsibility. The framework to which I refer comes from a 1969 musical piece sung by Kermit the Frog, Ring-master of Jim Henderson’s MUPPETS. I encourage you to watch it; go to-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpiIWMWWVco&feature=related to view our hero sing it in his own croaks.] “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green.” (lyrics by Joe Rapposo)
     In the song, Kermit’s point is this- that he may not like the way he is, blending in, often passed over, ordinary; but this is the way he is and that’s that. He is the color of Spring; he is cool & friendly-like. And though as a frog he is small, he can be big, like an ocean, or important, like a mountain. He is green, and that’s just fine. Engaging the postChristian heart is a lot like being green. We may not be too good at it, we certainly don’t fit into our culture’s predominant mindset, but we have to remain true to who we are, to what we believe, and to be what Christ has designed us to be in the grand scheme of things. We are each called upon and designed to play our part in the daily activities of the Lilly Pond. Some days we just sit around and zap flies with our tongues; other days we may run into those postmodern Bull Frogs that beat up on us and take away our pad, trying to push us out of the operations of the Pond entirely. Nonetheless, God has plopped many of us in the middle of the postChristian Pond and expects us to live up to our responsibilities as a vital part of this society’s nurturing and development. We are here to bring Christ’s peace, forgiveness, and new life to the rest of the Pond. We may not like the taste of fresh fly on our tongue…, but we’d better get used to it if we’re going to make a difference.
     There remains yet one more thing to consider- merely practical suggestions on how to be who you are, within your own personality, family, church, and society, as you endeavor to translate the Christian message into postChristian-speak.
_____________________________________________
Play Time
1.      How do you befriend a person who is in pain and/or angry?

2.      To the best of your recollection, what is the Christian Gospel?
a.       Now find someone who is NOT a Christian and ask them what it is.
b.      Tell them your understanding of the Gospel. Ask for their feedback.
3.      Interview people, Christian and otherwise, about the statement- The only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths. What did you learn?
4.      Ask people if they have overriding principles that govern their actions. Learn.
5.      How are your overriding principles apparent in your actions?
6.      Given that throughout history the Christian faith has adapted to fit into every people group, culture and era around the world, what do you think of the idea of a postChristian Gospel? Is it opening Pandora’s Box?
7.      To what extent is our message a mind-to-mind transfer of information leading to a decision to follow Christ? To what extent is it a heart-to-heart thing leading to an encounter with Christ that can be explained later?
8.      In what circumstances is a problem-solving model of the gospel more appropriate? In what circumstances is a fulfillment model more appropriate?
9.      How do you discover the presuppositions and assumptions a person holds about life and the Christian interpretation of life?
10.  How simple is the Gospel? How expansive could it be?
11.  How are you doing at being in the world, but not of it?
12.  Where do you have a tough time bein’ green?

NEXT TIME~ AFTERTHOUGHTS: my best ideas come to me in the shower
…mostly green,
Gary
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Offering Christ in a postChristian culture-My best ideas come to me when I’m driving

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You know how it goes. You finish something, then you finish it again— similar to the “here’s my first final draft” submission scenario of so many doctoral theses. This first last entry will set forth practical ideas so you won’t simply put it aside and do nothing. First, to deal with the realities of this major cultural shift to a postmodern/postChristian society, I’ll suggest some personal characteristics which you will need to integrate, with some degree of wholeness, into your life and livelihood.  Then I’ll lay out more general observations to keep in the back of your head as you move about, surrounded by a postChristian/post-moral population. Please, as you read this blog, know that these recommendations are only applicable if you are serious about relating to the emerging set of people we presently refer to as postmoderns.  I prefer to describe them aspostChristian, or even as post-morals.

     First, you will need a little patience. It takes time to understand paradigm shifts and how they affect everything. It takes time to gain an eagle’s eye perspective on your own culture, community, and personal heritage. You almost need to have an out of body experience, to be able to fly over your world like an eagle to truly see yourself, in this place & time. When you step back a bit and observe, even your own self seems different; and in many ways, people today are different. Flash observations just do not work.

     We have to learn to live alongside people who are increasingly different from ourselves. Don’t jump to conclusions after one encounter with people outside your own social group; people have arrived where they are in life over long, hard roads; some roads, quite far from your own path. Take time to win the right to allow people to trust you with their road’s story, on their terms, on their turf. Some time ago, I met with an ALPHA group. We had met together before, but never quite like this— one Australian, two Iranian Muslims, and four Chinese students from Beijing (all in their late 20s–early 30s). Our small group fell into a discussion of the differences between being raised in a Christianized society (America), a Muslim society (Iran), and an atheistic society (China). The Muslims were convinced that Islam was the one true religion because it was the most recent, which meant that it was the most complete, incorporating all previous religions into it. The Chinese, not-quite-atheists were brand new to the idea of a God even existing. How could God be Jesus if Jesus came to earth? It was an exciting evening of interchange, disagreement, and friendship as each person was able to speak without fear of recrimination or evangelistic attack. No one had to win. As the only Christian in the group, I was honored to watch our Lord begin to work His miracles in these people. I just needed to be there, modeling honest, transparent Christian faith, speaking the Truth in love. It was not a time to whip out a Gospel outline and proceed to read through it; it was not a time to maneuver the conversation around to Christian things. It was rather a time for me to be still and to listen for the voice of God’s Holy Spirit coming out of these curious individuals. I was amazed at the genuinely Biblical images and ideology they espoused without even knowing it. Then I just had to wait. As said earlier, God is in control; we don’t have to be. New expressions of faith evolve naturally with time and generational transitions[i]; so learn patience.

     On the other hand, as Christians in a rapidly evolving society, we do not have a lot of time to adapt to our changing world. It used to be that paradigm shifts occurred about every 200-500 years. When the printing press enabled merchants to carry information (as well as their wares) across Eurasia those shifts accelerated paradigm change to about every 40-50 years.  With the dissemination of communication technology that figure is accelerating even more today. What communicates our faith today will have to change or update not every 20 – 30 years, but every 5 years.  George Barna, in BOILING POINT: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century,[ii] says that, at best, we have no more than 3-5 years to catch up before things shift again. Then, we need to surpass the culture in breaking ground for the next shift to follow.[iii] “If you can see the future coming,” says Barna, “it’s too late.”

     NEXT time, in the first-last-entry, I’ll leave you with some observations about how to immerse yourself in our new postChristian world, and how to fall in love with her people. Seriously.

Writing one final EMPulse in this series…, maybe,

Gary

[i] “Generational Dominance” refers to the overall influence any particular generation, or subculture within that generation, exerts over a regional or national culture in general.

[ii] George Barna. BOILING POINT: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century. (Regal Books, Ventura, CA) 2001.

[iii] George Barna. BOILING POINT: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century. (Regal Books, Ventura, CA) 2001. p.20.

Framing a postChristian Gospel: a heart to heart thing part 5

heart-257157_1920“God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.”

~Jean Jacques Rousseau (June 1712 – July 1778)

6 February 2019

The QuestionSo then, what should the Christian message (heart & mind) in a postChristian society look like?

     First, it must be exhibited in the lives of those who call themselves Christians. Genuine Christians will act differently within a postChristian society. For one, we will not withdraw from the society and seal ourselves within our Christian peer groups, small groups, or large churches. We will be immersed in the matrix of our culture, from politics to pubs, from businesses to the broken hearted, from philosophical forums to the Supreme Court. In short, true postChristian-Christians will be active members in our communities. And we will be involved, openly & matter-of-factly as Christians, with little apology for our faith. For our faith will in no way resemble the narrow-minded, withdrawn hibernation of the last era of western Christendom; that era is dead and gone; and needs to be gone.

Instead, a postChristian faith will speak of the greatness of our God and how important it is to live by the principles He has set down for His creation. It will exhibit a kind of Christianity that encourages people to flourish and grow. Christians in this new era will be a positive contributing force for Christ, working alongside those of other faiths, even postmodern atheists, for the glory of God and the enrichment of the peoples of this earth.[i] True evangelism takes place when it becomes the unconscious expression of a new life in Christ.  It makes a difference in peoples’ lives through the kind of life lived out, publicly, by Jesus’ followers. The gospel will be communicated heart to heart through service, commitment, caring, and a cohesive Christ-honoring presence in peoples’ lives.

     Second, the WORDS of the gospel will become complimentary to the LIFE of the gospel exhibited in the lives of Christ’s followers. Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words was how Saint Francis put it. Remember, the WORDS of the gospel merely explain what the God of glory has done to bring the human race back into a relationship with Him through Christ’s work on the cross…, and subsequently, through His Holy Spirit living within us. As necessary as they are, the WORDS of our message are empty without a practical demonstration of their Truth through the way we live. [Do not misconstrue this to mean simply— live morally. It is more than that. It is a summons to live Godly, based on the precepts set down in the New Testament by Jesus Christ.] The WORDS of the gospel will take the postChristian perspective back to the raison d’etre for the Christian message— namely, that this human race, and each of us individually, should live in harmony with the God who created us. This is the nature of our Salvation, to be rooted in the fulfillment of Christ’s work at Creation through His sacrifice on the Cross. Repentance and forgiveness have no context outside the restoration and fulfillment in Jesus’ work at Calvary.

     Thirdly, the core of the Christian message must abound with LOVE. Simple enough!? Not really. This is a problem. Why? Because we often say we love people (normal people), but in reality we hardly know them at all. We have little social contact with people who never go to church but rarely are we involved in their lives enough. We simply do not know them. Love grows in relationships when people become open and honest with one another about their inner lives; when agreements are adhered to; when trust is constant and never betrayed. It might be helpful if we morph the idea of loving another into the romantic mode— falling in love with them. The language of romance holds far more concrete images than does the idea of loving another person in a platonic, spiritual, evangelistic kind of way. It engages our emotions as well as our verbal communication and spiritual concern. It ignites our passion and deep desire to be with the other person. It encourages our heart desire to give everything to the other person for the sake of Jesus Christ. You know what being in love does to you. It makes you alive again!

Maybe our problem is that we don’t allow Jesus to love us passionately; therefore, we cannot love another passionately. It is questionable whether a genuine follower of Jesus Christ who will not allow God to love him/her fully would ever be able to love anyone else, Christian or otherwise. This is an issue which our postChristian church in the West must yet grapple. We still speak of love more than we exercise it. Talk’s cheap— action’s everything. Let’s get it on!

NEXT TIME~ Framing a postChristian Gospel:  talk’s cheap—action’s everythingpart 6.

Embedded,

Gary

[i] In my own interactions with “normal” people I have been constantly surprised by their preconditioned response to the word “Christian” and their surprise when they discover that a genuine Christian has been in their midst all along, talking from his own Biblical presuppositional base.

Clueless Christianity: Framing a postChristian Gospel: a heart to heart thing. part 4

Hands Puzzle Love Separation HeartGrappling with our culture’s swing to a postChristian mind-set has not been easy for me. In my conversations with normal people the idea of accountability to anyone outside my immediate self sounds nonsensical. It’s tantamount to explaining thermonuclear dynamics to a classical ballet dancer; there is no overlap in perspective or interest.

So, thank you, for bearing with me in my attempts to explain God and His Son, Jesus Christ, to a vast majority of people who have no notion of “god,” let alone of their need for salvation.

Let’s be honest as we continue opening Pandora ’s Box. We want a god, if, indeed, we want a god at all, with whom we are comfortable; a god who resembles us, who has human qualities, but not divine ones. We want a god of our own design, not one who tells us who He is and who we are; we want a god who plays by our rules.  We do not want a God like the Christian God who sets up the parameters of how we are to relate to Him and His world.

Even so, this is the God that postModern people need to see for who He truly is; not a watered-down version of Him, nor a Christianized-sweet-Jesus version of Him. They need to see the God of Glory, the Creator-Sustainer God who desires to love us and enable us to fulfill what He intended for us from the foundation of the universe. And we can only see that happen in reestablishing a connection with Him in Jesus Christ. Confessing sin, seeking His forgiveness for rebellion, and finding fulfillment, need to be blended together for this postChristian era. Any partial “formula” for a relationship with Christ will lead to death, literally.

I do not want to be seen as heretical in my view of God, of Holy Scripture, and especially of the Gospel of our Lord. But it is past time when the Problem Solving/Sales Model gospel presentation needs to be laid to rest. Even those who live in enclaves of evangelical America are so familiar with the content of these formulations that the words have lost their definition and Biblical context.  Summary outlines, though helpful to remember the “main points” of the message, can lack an authentic depth and life-context. It is time for followers of Christ to build rich relationships with those who don’t have the slightest clue as to what our faith is about. The Gospel is much more than a simple 4-5 point summary. It is time we put flesh on the Words of Scripture; it is time we started reading our Bibles and not simply quoting from them. It rests upon us to learn the heartbeat of the Scriptures and the language of our surrounding society…, & to bring them together.  We need to frame our faith and message in ways that can be understood, felt, seen, and lived out in our individual and corporate lives, as one.

Besides being able to couch our message in the mindset of our host culture, we also rests upon us not only to learn their language (Missionology 101), but one thing more— we need to learn to earnestly learn to love them. Love them?!? Love people who are so different from us!?! That’s easier said than done. Quite true. We can hardly love the differences among ourselves. Jesus understood how diverse a people His Church would become; that is why He said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) We MUST learn to genuinely love one another (also read- forgive) if we are ever to love “the world!?!”

Yes, precisely.

Any communication to people who have no Christian understanding whatsoever, true postChristians, must be couched in their language, their experience-set, and their precepts. To do so involves expanding our own understanding of the extent and very substance of the Christian message. The gospel is not simply about solving the sin problem. It is so much more. It is about pulling the entirety of human history back in line with the principles that God our Creator set down for us to live by. The greatness of Christ’s message reaches far beyond simple conversion; it calls for relief for those who are poor, justice in our courts, freedom for the oppressed, and healing for those in need. Jesus knew this when he read—

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has anointed me to tell the good news to the poor. He has sent me to announce release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set oppressed people free.” (Luke 4:18 ISV)

The gospel in a postChristian era has more far reaching effects and implications than individual justification: it involves challenges for the whole person, the whole culture, and the whole world.

NEXT TIME~ Framing a postChristian Gospel: a heart to heart thing part 5.

Heart2Heart,

Gary

Clueless Christianity: EMPulse #13 

heart-in-hands “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

~Matthew 11:28. (NIV)

Clueless Christianity: EMPulse #13. A Christian Message to a postChristian Heart:

it’s not that easy bein’ green”. [Part 2…, of many]

We’ve taken quite a long hiatus to seek God in our Advent series. It is now time we return to our primary thrust of offering Christ to the postChristian Heart.

Let’s start by examining some of the shifts from our present assumptions to the mindset of our postmodern/postChristian world.

Summarizing the Gospel:

~the gospel-made-simple, since 1949.

Historically, the Christian message has always contained at least four ingredients—

  1. There is a God in the heavens who has created us and loves us; He wants us to worship Him.
  2. We have rejected God’s love for us as well as His call for us to worship Him; this rejection we know as sin.
  3. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was sent to earth, voluntarily, to pay the penalty for our sin and rebellion against our Creator.
  4. Belief in Jesus Christ, coupled with repentance, will result in our forgiveness and salvation from certain punishment for our sin and rebellion. And we get to go to heaven.

Or, more popularly—

  1. You have a problem—you are a sinner.
  2. We have a solution to your problem—Jesus Christ
  3. Agree with our solution to your problem—Believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior (as opposed to being just a church member).
  4. Your problem will be solved— Then you will be saved from eternal damnation in hell and go to heaven.

The difficulty postChristian people have with either of these formulations is that they no longer hold a presuppositional platform in their thinking process. These historical Christian Truths rest on certain assumptions once widely understood in both Modern and preModern times. They are now lost to thepostModern/postChristian mind.

It might surprise you that this gospel was designed in 1949 in post WWII and based on a sales model of the Fuller Brush Company and the Hoover Vacuum Company.

These were the assumptions and presuppositions of the vast majority of Christians worldwide, but especially of those in the Second and Third Worlds—  Europe, colonized Africa/India, and the West, North America. These assumptions, the core values of the Christian faith, are now obliterated amidst the milieu of skeptical pluralism in postModern/postChristian societies.

ØThe Gospel in Limbo: the loss of a Christian conscience

The assumptions of postModern/postChristian philosophy are no simple matter to collect due to their very nature. For if you start with the assumption The only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth (Paul Feyerabend, 1924-1994), which postmodern philosophers posit, it becomes somewhat impossible to state what is and what is not in describing it. Nonetheless, with special thanks to Mathematical Physicist Dr. Milo Wolff, the assumptions of postmodernism might be as follows—

     The current Postmodern belief is that a correct description of Reality is impossible. This extreme skepticism assumes that;

a) All truth is limited, approximate, and is constantly evolving (Nietzsche, Kuhn, Popper).

b) No theory can ever be proved true – we can only show that a theory is false (Popper).

c) No theory can ever explain all things consistently (Godel’s incompleteness theorem).

d) There is always a separation between our mind & ideas of things and the thing in itself (Kant).

e) Physical reality is not deterministic (Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics, Bohr).

f) Scientific concepts are mental constructs (logical positivism, Mach, Carnap).

g) Metaphysics is empty of content.

h) Thus absolute and certain truth that explains all things is[i]

To put it another way, the assumptions of postmodernism in regards to Christianity might be—

  1. There is no single theory, be it scientific, philosophic, or religious, that can explain everything. (Read- Christianity does not have the corner on Truth.)
  2. All accepted assumptions about our values, philosophies, religious beliefs, or scientific discoveries must be reexamined and challenged.
  3. Religion, though once important to explain mystery, is of no further use.
  4. Karma— payback is sweet. What you give out is what you will receive.
  5. Individual, pragmatic values are more important than group systems.
  6. The tenets of the Christian faith are, at best, mythical, relying on unreliable and unverifiable historic documents.
  7. Personal Christian experience is most likely a projection of wishful thinking, culturally delimited by experience and religious exposure.
  8. Individual beliefs are not binding on anyone else.

No matter how you slice it, the assumptions of postModern thought cut across and thoroughly reject the historical formulations of the Christian faith.  They leave, literally, no room for any reformulation of Christian Truth in their “mindset.” Truly, we are two ships passing in the night.

NEXT TIME~ A Christian Message for a postChristian Heart part 3.
Framing a postChristian Gospel: opening Pandora’s box

Offering a postChristian mind its Heart,

Gary

Empulse #12 A Christian Message for a postChristian Heart

kermit_the_frogSarah had come to faith in Christ during  college. After two years in the campus group she showed up in our home out of frustration. She was visibly distraught. Her Christian staff worker had told her she “just needed to trust Jesus.” “That,” she said, “just was too simplistic.” She was aggravated, angry, and very near the detonation point. As we sat that evening in front of our wood stove she collected herself to tell my wife and me a story we could hardly believe.

            Sarah[i] had grown up in a proper family in a rural area in New York; mother, father, two sisters and one brother, older. On the surface everything appeared to be status quo. But just below the surface lay insidious evil. Sarah’s older brother had been raping her every day of her life since she was eleven years old. One of her sisters found her in tears one day after one of her brother’s assaults. In the process of trying to shield her brother, Sarah’s sister Jennifer[ii] guessed what had been going on and told Sarah that she, too, was also being raped by their brother every day. When they confronted their brother he threatened to commit suicide. Sarah and Jennifer told Bob[iii] that he had to tell their parents within the week or they were going to the police.

            The two sisters were resolute in their determination and insisted that Bob follow through and tell their parents what he had done to them. Instead, to their shock, Bob committed suicide. He left a suicide note for his parents blaming Sarah for everything (leaving out any mention of Jennifer).  Sarah began to sob, scream, curse, and go completely out of control as she told us that her parents believed what her brother had written in his farewell letter. They told her that she would just have to admit her complicity in the ongoing, five year “affair” she had had with her older brother. After Bob’s funeral, Sarah’s and Jennifer’s older sister told them that she too had been raped by him, repeatedly; but they did not want to speak about it, ever again.

            It was now close to midnight. Starr and I were having trouble staying awake. As I put another log in the wood stove, Sarah cried, “How can I ever ‘just trust in Jesus!?!’ He suffered and died for my sins once and for all…, and it was done with. I died every day of my life for seven years. He has no idea what I went through.”

            Sarah’s story is not the only one of its kind. In my role as a counselor I have heard similar stories more times than I would have imagined.  There is truly a lot of pain out there. Not that the pain in our era is any greater or more severe than at any time. Each epoch inflicts its own form of tribulation and torture on its populace. Wars, genocides, rapes, wholesale slaughter of entire peoples and other gruesome agonies have found their way into our history books.  They remain glibly reported events of a distant past. But for those who lived through them, who suffered through assault, or war, or witnessed genocide, the actuality was excruciatingly devastating and left lifelong scars. Life was lost to an evil enemy from whom there was no escape; there seemed no end to suffering. But people always held out hope— hope of rescue, hope of survival, hope in their God. Hope that, in the end, things could be worked out.

Until now.

As we have shifted into this postChristian era any spiritual basis for hope has been totally obliterated.  It has been supplanted by forms of pragmatism, hedonism, self-absorbed isolationism, or a simple denial of the harshness of personal and global tragedy.  People are also disappointed in a god who is not there. Hope has become a contrived notion of a cynical society, held out like a carrot on a stick. Hope in a god, any god, is perceived as a naïve pretense couched in the spiritual jargon of religion.  Empty words.

So how can the message of hope that is offered by Jesus Christ be heard, understood, and believed in such a truth-weary & broken culture?

This is the question that we will now seek to answer. And the answer will cross many lines of safety, many given definers of the gospel and how to present the truth claims of the faith.

            On a personal note, this part of the series is not easy for me to write. I know Sarah, and others like her, who have sought hope in the Christian gospel and Christian community, and found only glib patronages.

Offering hope, in a deforested war zone.

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

www.CluelessChristianity.com  

NEXT TIME~ A Christian Message for a postChristian Heart: part 2

[i] Not her real name.

[ii] Not her real name either.

[iii] Not his real name.

Getting from Here to There Part 2

church

Now about the corporate expression of our faith— within the church: it is not enough to live your Christian life in isolation— the Lone Ranger Christian, going it alone in the evil world. Christ called us to be a body of believers…, His Body. We stand or fall together. But if individual Christians re-gear their faith and the church does not, then we will have what sociologists call a paradigm conundrum. Individual Christians will be expressing their faith in one mode while the church still expresses its beliefs in another, older format— one that was appropriate when developed (1654 or 1945, take your pick) but has since lost its significance to the postChristian heart.

What follows are suggestions that the church-at-large needs to consider if it is to make sense—  both to twenty-first century Christians and to the rising tide of millennials/mosaics.

  1. The church will have to Rethink the Nature of Theology itself. Please do not take this as a rejection of any or all theological constructions of the past 500 – 1,600 years. It is not. But the last major rubric of theology was constructed during the Protestant Reformation in 1517, when priest Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses, a critique of many of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church, on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. In similar ways we will need to construct a theology based on a new examination of Scripture, in the context of specific cultures, rather than simply another polishing of a theology based on a previous structure. Polishing American Colonial furniture doesn’t make it Danish modern.

The life of Christ and His redemptive work on the cross are our model for living the Christian life, today, throughout history, and across cultural variances. My guess is that this new Biblical Theology will arise in a people-group-specific, image-based format, and somewhat generationally-considerate. What will that look like in reality? Who knows?!? I’ll leave that to my successors.

  1. Redesigned corporate spirituality— The church will need to try on a new suit of clothes, spiritually speaking. It will need to try to express the Christian faith in multiple formats. What has been accepted as traditional will have to make room for newer forms of expression, previously foreign to our Christian traditions. And it will have to embrace these new expressions even if it feels terribly risky to do so. Remember, though, that we are in transition (versus a phase), in a time of paradigm shift; things are in flux. The Truth will remain constant while its expressions can vary with generation, region of the world, and culture.

            But please take note— we will have to allow for multiple forms of expression within the same local church as well, even within the same congregation. Decide to learn from those who express their faith in manners different from your own. Extend your comfort level to embrace expressions that call you to God in new ways. Our society isn’t what it used to be. Church shouldn’t be what it used to be either. New wine; new wine-skins… .

  1. Immersion vs. isolation…, not an option— One aspect of being a church is that we will no longer have a choice of opting out of our culture or its societal issues. The church of Jesus Christ must take a lead in healing our society’s sicknesses, from media to medical treatments, to definitions of life, death, and what it means to be a healthy human being. We have too long held back for fear of rejection or recrimination; it is time we took a stand. One thing we must not do is supplant our Savior’s role as Judge. That is not our place. Our place is to come along side of our fellow sinners and serve as their guide to freedom and life! The church in the first century understood this; so also must we. Jesus immersed himself in the lives of those around him, making little distinction between his followers and those who needed him. He served both: He loved both: He saved both.

Will the church be accepted readily upon first re-entry back into the society?  Not likely. Trust in any relationship is something that must be first gained, then if lost, regained with great commitment and agony. The church has a lot of negative history to overcome that our world remembers with a vengeance. But we can no longer afford the luxury of isolation, of feeling good about ourselves as long as we don’t have anything to do with the world outside. That, if anything, is true blasphemy. Jesus did not go to the cross so we could go to church.

  1. Cooperative— Remember that classic movie, Miracle on 34th Street? Kris Kringle was encouraging people at Macy’s to look for what they needed that Christmas at Gimbals’, across the street. Management, as first, was enraged; then they saw the light: customers were surprised and delighted to see this new cooperation-over-competition between the two stores. Since the Reformation the church in the West has been more about separation than about cooperation. The modern era saw western denominations first forming and then defining themselves injuxtaposition to one another. But we must learn to cooperate across denominational lines, despite different worship styles and theological preferences. Labels need to go away.  They must move aside for a new nomenclature— genuinely Biblical, Christ centered, locally missional, accepting, and alive to life.
  2. Sacrificial Servants— For the church in North America to truly have an impact on its culture it must shift its mentality and present itself as a sacrificial servant of the society, not as a judge of its illnesses. When people are sick, they need a doctor, not a critic. We must learn to give graciously to our world— much more graciously than we give to build our modern cathedrals of comfort. We must learn to give up rather than to calculate next year’s pledge units. We must also provide places where the normal people of our society can find solace and safety, and see Jesus Christ embodied in those who go by His name.  Another Gordian knot to be cut.
  3. One Lord, one Faith, one Language…— In the same way that individual Christians need to learn to express their faith in common everyday language, so also does the church need to learn to use the metaphors, idioms, and common expressions of the day to express Biblical Truths. Oddly, the stories of the Bible can stand on their own with little amplification about their context. We must learn to be culture sensitive. The only place most of us use Christianeze is in church or when trying to explain our faith to someone else (a.k.a. evangelism).

            Many years ago comedians Lou Abbot and Budd Costello performed a baseball Vaudeville dialog titled Who’s on First?[i] It was a classic example of miscommunication due to a misunderstanding of the use and definition of words. “Who’s on First? What’s on Second. I-don’t-know’s on Third.” Their dialogue was funny: the Christian miscommunication block to a confused world is not funny. We dare not have an in-house language which only Christians can understand, vs. a normal language that we use to talk with the world around us. How much easier would it be if we had one language pattern that everybody could understand? Think of it, you could talk about your faith in church the way you would naturally talk about it in the rest of your life; no stomach knots, no translating, no shifting language/emotional gears. Just breathe.

  1.  We need Leaders who will go out on a limb. One of my favorite quotes comes from Mark Twain— “Why not go out on a limb!? That’s where the fruit is.” The last shift that the church in postChristian society will have to make is one of leadership. Our leaders will actually need toLEAD! Too many Christian leaders have become conciliatory politicians, mediating their way to church peace or to a better position with more prestige and/or money. Others have become theological authoritarians, sweeping their will and interpretation of Scripture over their congregations. Why? Because theology is safe…, you can nail-down just about everything.

Genuine leadership, not merely positional leadership, is a risk. It goes with the territory. Just get used to it. There was an ad from a brokerage firm in NYC that used to read—  The only real risk in life is not taking one. May Christian leaders in North America become a risky bunch!

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            So, where do we go from here? To the trenches of life, to the committee meetings and shopping malls, to the days and family gatherings with ol’ lip-sticked Aunt Maude who always kisses her grandchildren on the cheek? We go back to living. I cannot convince you of the exuberance that comes when you start to morph your life, your church, or your family to a postChristian faith. It’s quite a ride! Risky…, with the outcome yet to be written. Honor God, honor people…, make a difference.

Hopefully, making a difference.

Gary