Thursday, September 17, 2009

Reflections on Post-Christendom 1

I am going to start a new theme of posts. I am in a class called, "The Global Mission of the Church." In the class we have to write 500 word essays weekly regarding a certain topic. I'm going to post my essay for all of the world to see. I am inviting you into a private conversation of a seminary class. Thus, there may be some things that sound overly critical. Please read it all with grace. Act like you are hearing a conversation of three siblings talking about their concern for their mom or dad. And know that I only have 500 words so I don't have space to fully explore all of these things.

This week's questions:
1. What is post-Christendom?
2. What are the dangers? What are the potentials?
3. What are the possibilities in my context?


Briefly stated, Post‐Christendom is a cultural shift in which the story of Jesus is not readily known by a particular society.1 Moreover, in this shift the church and the Christian faith lose their influence and importance in society.2

I appreciate Murray’s attempt at clarifying the definition by pointing out what Post‐Christendom is not. I particularly was encouraged that he did not equate Post‐Christendom with a Post‐Christian world. He is correct that such terminology is problematic and judgmental.3 Furthermore, it is helpful to remember that the Post‐Christendom shift is not occurring in all of the countries of the world. Rather, this shift is a western phenomenon first beginning in Europe and now occurring the United States.

Honestly, I struggled with coming up numerous dangers of the Post‐Christendom shift. This is mainly because the context in which I was born, raised, and have spent the majority of my ministry career. I am steeped in the southern church culture. This culture nearly drove me away from the church and away from my faith in Jesus. Regardless, a possible pitfall of this shift is the potential lack of concern for doctrinal integrity due to pluralism and laziness.

The other dangers I will lump into a category called “grieving the death of culture.” If the following things do come into fruition they will cause mourning for to what “used to be.” These aspects include the passing away of several denominations4, the decline of infant baptisms5, and the atrophy of the church subculture (i.e. Christian music, Christian movies, etc.).

There are clearly more positive possibilities with the passing of Christendom. According to Murray the initial launch Christendom was more of a Roman act than a Christian act. Indeed most Roman emperors used religion to gain order. Constantine was no different. 6 Murray also argues that the lines between Roman culture and Christianity were so blurred that it was not clear for that “others could or should be Christians.”7 In a post‐Christendom world Christianity is not equated with one specific culture. God is seen as the God of the entire world and all cultures are celebrated. This concept will transform the role of a missionary.

Another positive aspect about post‐Christendom is the reframing of the role of the congregant in a church. The hierarchy of Christendom led to laity having a“passive role” in the church.8 In a post‐Christendom context congregants move from being consumers of the church to being participants in its mission.

In my particular context the passing of Christendom will cause many to have an identity crisis. However, as Christendom passes individuals will have the opportunity to realize that they have been lost in a cultural phenomenon rather than being in relationship with the living God. Furthermore, individuals who previously recognized the emptiness of the church culture and rejected God will have an opportunity to be re‐introduced to Jesus of Nazareth. I believe there will be fewer traditional “church goers” in the south but more people transformed by the Gospel.

1 Stuart Murray, PostChristendom,
(Milton Keynes: Paternoser Press, 2004), 1.
2 Ibid. 19.
3 Ibid. 4.
4 Ibid. 6.
5 Ibid. 91.
6 Ibid. 103.
7 Ibid. 55.
8 Ibid. 83.


Culpster said...

Hmmmm. Very interesting post. I find myself searching for some sort of conclusion on the subject, yet reaching none.

I feel that truth is always mixed with deception because we can only judge what is true through the lens of our deceived minds. So, while our grandparent's religion was dogmatic, at times intolerant, and mostly ceremonial, it also clung to traditional values.

If post-Christendom meant that we were building with new materials on our grandparents old foundation, I might have thought alot of good could come from it. But really what has happened is that we are attempting to completely erase the tradition from which we came.

Our grandparents never talked about having an authentic relationship with the living God. But we never talk about integrity, commitment, or loyalty. I question which is worse.

Coby said...

Culpster, good words. I agree that both are equally detrimental to our relationship with God and our relationships with others. My essay was only a glimpse of the material that I read from the book. For background, he is defining post-christendom more as a cultural phenomenon than Christianity of the '50's. He starts with Constantine and talks about how Christianity became the center of power and influence in government. It became a political tool and was no longer Christocentric. So he is talking more about the dark days of the church (crusades and such) than modernity.

It's complicated. Let's grab a cup of coffee. You owe me a visit.

Coby said...

p.s. In other words he does not equate post-christendom with post-modernity. I think you are critiquing post-modernity...right?

Culpster said...

Actually, I was critiquing what you said were the benefits of post-Christendom in the church. I will leave the actual critiquing of post-Christendom and post-modernity to more brilliant minds, such as yours my scholarly friend:)Like when you said more people will be transformed by the gospel. That's what I was talking about.

Also, is the post-Christian era of the United States not at all related to what you are writing? If so, yeah I did miss that. Especially since you talk about your own experiences, which I was not aware took place during the reign of Constantine:)

Coby said...

As I said, it's complicated. Coffee, my house, no excuses:)