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.

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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

Already there..

“Derwin Gray doesn’t get it. In this article titled “This Can Happen in America, Part 1” America has been a “postChristian” nation for at least 25 years (if not much longer), following its “postChristian” period. We have truly moved into a generation who have no memory of the memory of a Christian mindset or presuppositions about reality. And it’s not just on the Coasts and metropolitan areas. Kids who go to church in Oklahoma know the Bible verses and attend Church, but there is no evidence that their hearts of brains grasp the basic tenants of our Christian faith. Many have a codependent faith-of-their-grandfathers. Yet the ancient idioms (1949) and expressions of our faith are still predicated on our ancient evangelical and/or fundamentalist anti-intellectualism. Add to that the observable reality that most Bible-believing Christians simply do not want to think about their faith…, or much else, for that matter.

Further evidence that this departure from even the memory of genuine Christian faith has already occurred in America might be found in these challenges–

1. Why are we still relying on a theological base constructed for the rationalistic/scientific era of modernism?

2. Who will construct a new theological basis to address the issues of a postChristian era?

3. Why do we insist that the Gospel can be summed up in four logical sequential statements that have long since ceased to have much effect on peoples’ hearts? One individual challenged me by responding, “It seems to me that if you can sum up the most important thing in your life in four sentences that it can’t be that deep.” He had me.

4. The Gospel is determined by many factors– 1) The Holy Scriptures, 2) The surrounding cultural influences,    3) The relationship between people, 4)  Past experiences of the receiver, 5) Presuppositional knowledge of Christian faith by the receiver, 6) The work of the Holy Spirit of God in all individuals, etc, etc, etc. The Gospel, in our era, is no longer simple. Why? Because western culture is no longer simple.

5. The marginalization of the Church by our society. Of course, the Church first withdrew from the evil world God intended us to have sway over. Brilliant!

Nonetheless, we can reengage our society with the claims of Christ if we, who truly claim to be genuine followers of Jesus, make conscious decisions to reenter our society as vessels of Light, Truth, Heart, & Compassion. Leave the Judgment to our Father. And I don’t mean the Pope.”

Sorry for the rant,

Gary