Following last weeks post on 5 people who’ve made us all suspicious I also came across the following: According to Jeff Fountain of the Schuman Centre for European Studies there are five types of modern Europeans:
- Post-Christian – rejects traditional Christianity as irrelevant and outdated
- Post-Communist – rejects science and state as saviours
- Post-modern – rejects the scientific modern worldview
- Post-Migrant – children of immigrant parents (bringing their own worldviews to the culture)
- Post-Secular – new age, DIY spirituality
This seems/looks/feels roughly right – at least with the sorts of people I meet and talk with. The question is, how do we effective do mission among these groups? Ideas gratefully received.
Wim Rietkerk of L’Abri recently wrote an article entited ‘The Wounded Soul of Europe.’ You can access it online here:
In the article he traces the decline of religion (and increase in suspicion) in Europe to the intellectual movements which unfolded around the time of the Enlightenment. More specifically he argues that five Europeans have contributed to the modern suspicion:
- Darwin – There is no need for God in order to explain origins
- Marx – Authority cannot be trusted
- Freud – Morality and conscience are not from God
- Nietzsche – Piety is always the weapon of the loser
- Kant – We can never really reach/know ultimate realities
The cumulative effect of these influential thinkers has left post-moderns stranded on a desert island with no idea how we got here, no-one to turn to, no standard to live by, and no understanding of what we’re here for. Whatever you think of Rietkerk’s suggestion it certainly makes sense of the post-modern mind. Rietkerk’s suggestion for the church is repentance, prayer, and a deliberate effort to be salt and light in the public square. Post-modern’s are suspicious of answers but they want them none the less. Further they are less concerned about the rationality of argument as they are about whether it ‘works’! Our lives and stories must provide a strong plausibility structure for the truthfulness and efficacy of the good news.
I’ve just given my guided reading group an article by Tim Keller called “Evangelistic Worship.” It’s absolute gold dust! It’s based on his chapter from Worship by the Book which he contributed alongside Carson, Kent Hughes, and Mark Ashton – but this article is revised, abbreviated, and updated. In the article Keller engages with high culture advocates, low culture advocates, seeker sensitive services, and their critics. The genius of Keller is his ability to see clearly the pros and cons with the various approaches and navigate a way through. He advocates what he calls ‘evangelistic worship.’ Here’s a paragraph from near the end of the article:
“Therefore, the one basic message that both Christians and unbelievers need to hear is the gospel of grace. It can then be applied to both groups, right on the spot and directly. Sermons which are basically moralistic will only be applicable to either Christians OR non-Christians. But Christo-centric preaching, preaching the gospel both grows believers and challenges non-believers. If the Sunday service and sermon aim primarily at evangelism, it will bore the saints. If they aim primarily at education, they’ll bore and confuse unbelievers. If they aim at praising the God who saves by grace they’ll both instruct insiders and challenge outsiders.”
If you have service leaders or speakers this article is really worth passing on and is available for free here:
Larry Osborne’s latest book, Mission Creep, deals with the five subtle shifts that he perceives distract the church from its main business. His five are as follows:
- From disciples to decisions – a shift away from the long hard work of making disciples toward simply getting people to make ‘first commitments.’ Perhaps, for my own constituency, this is less of a problem, but I have observed it in other places.
- From obedience to doctrine – a shift away from personal obedience/godliness toward a love for doctrinal correctness. Of course there’s nothing wrong with the latter, but Osborne’s observation is that some of the young angry (sorry, restless) reformed crew spend more time arguing over infralapsarianism, than they do growing in grace, charity, and love.
- From persuasion to warfare – a shift away from trying to win people toward spiritual warfare with everyone and everything in cultural. I think there’s a balance to be had here. We are to be salt and light; we are to persuade letting our gentleness to be evident to all; and yet we are in a spiritual battle. I guess the manner in which we seek to win others is key here.
- From people to numbers – a shift from caring for individuals to an obsession with statistical growth. Interestingly (and I’m not sure this would work in the UK) they ask all the small groups leaders to register home group attendance. If someone doesn’t show at home group for a few consecutive weeks they get a pastoral call.
- From Jesus to Justice – a shift away from calling people to personal repentance and submission to the Lordship of Christ toward a gospel of social justice. He’s clear that he is pro Christians being involved in justice issues, but he’s worried that, in some circles, justice trumps all.
Overall Osborne makes some good points. The book is short and easy to read, however I don’t think it’s a patch on his Sticky Church or Sticky Teams. If you can pick it up cheap give it a skim.
The New Testament provides a number of images to help us understand the Church. They include bride, flock, body, building, family etc etc. A book written by Paul Minear suggests as many as 100 different pictures. All of this makes me nervous about making any one them primary or controlling. Each is a different facet displaying the beauty of the diamond.
Nevertheless I was struck at a recent seminar when the speaker contrasted the image of cruise ship and life boat as pictures of church. The cruise ship serves consumers, the life boat rescues the drowning. The idea stuck with me and I’ve been playing at coming up with my own version – perhaps hotel vs. field hospital does the same job.
In a hotel you pays your money and you expect a certain degree of comfort, provision, feeding, and service. If things aren’t to your liking you complain to the staff and threaten to take your custom elsewhere.
In a field hospital things are altogether different. People are dying, brought in from the battlefield with life threatening injuries. Stuff is just messy. It’s hard work, long hours, requiring self-sacrifice. New people will come bringing their gaping wounds with them. It might get cramped. You might not know them. You might not like them. But they’re dying. All of your felt needs won’t be met. And you won’t have access to the doctors whenever you feel like it. And ultimately the idea is to vacate the beds – to make people well, to clothe them in uniform, to give them their marching orders, and to get them back into the fray – storming the enemy, rescuing the dying.
And your mindset with regard to the church affects the way the church will grow. Hotels grow by transfer growth as people switch loyalty depending on consumer preference/experience. Hospitals fill as sick and dying people get brought in – they grow by evangelism and conversion.
It’s not easy, and it’s not comfortable, but I think it’s the latter to which we are called.
A friend sent me this quote this week. I’ve never come across it before, and I can see why. This is not the sort of stuff to stick in GCSE Biology text books. But it is (probably) the logical outworking of Darwin’s work. Darwin wrote this in 1871. A hundred and forty years of history makes it seem nauseatingly prophetic.
At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes will no doubt be exterminated.
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of everyone to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to smallpox. Thus the weak members of civilized society propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
Dan Strange, of Oak Hill College, London, has written this excellent book, For Their Rock is Not As Our Rock: An Evangelical Theology of Religions. I know Dan and he’s a top bloke, but even if I didn’t know him I would still be saying this book is one of the best I’ve read over the last couple of years.
The book is, in essence, an attempt to make sense of the complexity that is homo adorans – the worshipping man. Why is it that human beings down the ages have been instinctively religious and what do Bible believing Christians make of all that? Dan’s catchy thesis is as follows:
“From the presupposition of an epistemologically authoritative biblical revelation, non-Christian religions are sovereignly directed, variegated and dynamic, collective human idolatrous responses to divine revelation behind which stand deceiving demonic forces. Being antithetically against yet parasitically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview, non-Christian religions are ‘subversively fulfilled’ in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Like I say, catchy! Dan begins by sketching a Reformed anthropology covering such doctrines as the imago Dei, common grace, natural revelation, remnantal revelation, the antithesis, and ‘borrowed capital’. Humans are fundamentally worshiping creatures. Dan argues for original monotheism which, post-Babel, is in a process of idolatrous devolution. He concludes by demonstrating the way in which the religious ‘other’ is subversively fulfilled in the gospel, and then offers thoughts on how we are to make sense of the existence and presence of the religious ‘other’ as Christians.
As you can tell I’m finding it immensely difficult in a few hundred words to do justice to a work that is as scholarly as it is stimulating. All I can say is buy it and invest some time working through it. It will more than repay the investment. Simply outstanding.