Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Next Christendom ch. 6-10 (by Philip Jenkins)

DISCLAIMER: The first three paragraphs are NOT statistically backed. These are simply observations. I could be horribly wrong.

In the American south the churches that seem to be thriving are doing one of three things. Some are holding tight to the traditions, institutionalism, and the history of the past. There are several large traditional churches. My theory is that these churches were already sizable towards the end of the 20th century. As smaller traditional churches died their congregants flocked to these large churches in hopes of finding a worship style that connects them to their childhood experiences.

Some thriving churches are basically repackaging the same theology, doctrine, and ideals in a younger, faster, sexier package. Many of these churches started in the 90’s as “seeker friendly” churches. In my experience, they mainly attracted those who were already Christians and simply bored or discontent with their place of worship. The ethos of these churches seems identical to the traditional churches. Both are conservative theologically (and usually politically). However, the two look VERY different.

Finally, some churches that are thriving are rethinking what it means to be a church. These churches can look both traditional and “emerging.” They are not necessarily busting at the seams numerically. However, if you attend these churches you realize that they are authentic, warm, and deep. Many have put aside the traditional hot topics in pop-Christianity to engage the community in genuine and nonthreatening ways. Though these churches may be smaller than those mentioned above, they seem to be more numerous. I suspect that they are also more sustainable.

According to Jenkins, the growing church of the global South is successful for three reasons: new metaphors, indigenous worship, and social stances that are beyond any one political perspective. In our quest for precise theology and for meaningful acts of worship we have unknowingly confused our system of engaging with God as the only RIGHT way. Thus, our metaphors have become undisputable, timeless truths and our acts of worship have become the only acceptable way to corporately interact with the living God. Unfortunately, they only resonate with our culture.

Jenkins says that the church in the South is rewriting liturgy to better fit the context. In Africa some churches are calling God the “Great Ancestor.” This metaphor resonates with churches in Asia as well (135). Churches are also incorporating indigenous acts of worship such as dance and healings (145). I am sure many in traditional churches in the US would cringe if they ever heard this metaphor spoken in a prayer or song or experienced such a lively worship service.

Unlike pop-Christianity in the US, Churches in the South seem to take social stances that do not fit a particular political perspective. In some areas such as the role of women and homosexuality they are conservative (226). In other areas such as equality of classes and welfare they are liberal (215). Regardless of one’s particular view on these issues the church of the US needs to learn from this approach. We are not called to be Republican or Democratic. We are called to be children of God and followers of Jesus. This is a lifestyle that is bigger than any political party.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Q Speaks

On your mark, get set...

What does the cow say?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Next Christendom ch. 1-5 (by Philip Jenkins)

This week has proved to be the most challenging. THE NEXT CHRISTENDOM focuses on the cultural shift of Christianity as developing countries continue to embrace the Gospel. It is filled with data, historical analysis, and technical jargon. It also has more words per page than any book I have read in a long time. I had about 20 more quotes I wanted to include and three more points I wanted to make and I still went over about 50 words. Oh well. For the sake of ease, the author refers to the westernized version of Christianity as Christianity of the North and the emerging Christianity as Christianity of the South.

The major shift of which Jenkins writes has to do with the change in socioeconomic status and ethnicity of the average Christian in the world. Jenkins points to the end of Western colonialism as the birth of this shift. It was at that point that the numbers of those following Christ began to exponentially grow, particularly in Africa (64). John Mbiti noted that great Northern cities such as Rome and New York are no longer the centers of the universal church. Rather, new church centers are “Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila” (2).

Jenkins points to a few forces that are leading to this shift. One is the urbanization of the world. Currently, approximately 45 percent of the world’s population is in urban areas. By 2050 this number will presumably jump to 66 percent (107). As individuals move to urban areas they will be exposed to a Christian religion already strong in many of the cities of the Third World. A second aspect that is leading to the shift is the unrest of many parts of the world. Kenneth Woodward says that Africans are now embracing Christianity in the midst of political and economic turmoil just as Europe’s tribes relied on the church after the collapse of the Roman Empire (68).

Finally the shift in the types of individuals embracing Christianity can also be pointed to the decline of Northern believers. Statisticians are projecting that the number of Christians in Northern countries will steadily decline with the exception of the United States (104). Interestingly, Jenkins remarks that many of those attending church in the North are actually immigrants from the Southern hemisphere. He says that about half of London’s population is not white. Furthermore, by the end of the 21st century whites may make up the minority of those living in London (111). Passionate worshipers of non-northern origins are flocking to thriving churches in the North. Thus, it is quite possible that the majority of those worshiping in Northern cities will be comprised of Southern immigrants.

As Christianity continues to shift from what was seen as a religion of wealthy whites to a religion of poor non-whites theological foci will shift. There are issues about which American Christians bicker that have no bearing on the Christianity in the Southern hemisphere. Many in the South desire deliverance HERE, reconciliation HERE, and healing HERE not merely in eternity. The ultimately source of authority is also shifting. While traditional orthodoxy certainly flourishes in the Southern churches (65-66), charismatic churches are exploding in growth (72). Pentecostal movement of the Southern countries relies directly on the authority of spiritual revelations as opposed to just the Bible (73).

As I reflect upon the possible shift in theology as Christianity morphs I remember when Copernicus proposed that the earth was not the center of the universe. At first the church could not quite grasp a world in which they were not the center of the universe. They rejected his teaching as heretical. I think many of us can look at the new face of Christianity and feel the same angst as the church during Copernicus’ day. However, where in our theology is the earth the center of our universe?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Truth is a Person: Reflections on Leonard Sweet's SO BEAUTIFUL

“the ultimate reality is not substance but relations” (Sweet)

“the more connected the world gets, the more importance of Christianity getting over its propositional impotence. We must resign from the proposition business and retire into the people business” (Sweet)

These quotes remind me of two lessons I have learned about ministry from my father. My father has been a Southern Baptist pastor for 30+ years. When I was in 9th grade I learned my greatest pastoral lesson. My father and I were attending a conference for Christian men and I began to get bored. By the third day I was falling asleep in the stadium seats. At one point my dad leaned over and whispered, “Let’s get out of here.” We went to the mall next door to the convention center and spent the day together. My dad recognized that I was not at a place where I could fully experience the conference. His patience and his desire to spend time with me was the Gospel that learned during that trip.

The second lesson that I learned from my dad is ultimately a continuation of the first. When I was in 12th grade he took me to an elderly couple’s house to eat fried chicken with them. Mrs. Brinkley’s fried chicken was famous at my church. At the end of the meal Mr. Brinkley took me out back to show me something. I figured he was going to give me a graduation present. However, he handed me a ladder and asked me to clean his gutters. I chuckled and proceeded to work for him. I will never forget what my dad said as we were pulling out of the Brinkley’s drive way to go home. With tears in his eyes he said, “Coby, this is what so many minister’s miss out on. They get so caught up in power, politics, and doctrine that they miss out on people.”

Jesus grasped this concept like no other human. He patiently waited 30 years to “begin” his ministry. And what exactly did he do during that time? Luke 2:52 says, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” He spent his time growing in his relationship with the Father and in his relationships with others. He understood that relationships provided a context for encountering the Living God. Furthermore, before he “performed” a miracle or even preached a sermon Jesus spend the day with the first two disciples (John 1:39). I do not think the inclusion of this fact was a minor detail.

Relationships are not only a vehicle for healthy ministry. They are ministry. Relationships are not merely a catalyst for truth. Truth is a person (not a proposition). His name is Jesus.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Here we blog on Post-Christendom

This week our task was to point to ONE theme that stands out that should be remembered by the Church as Christendom fades.

There are many themes of Murray’s book that should be kept in mind as the Christendom passes. In evangelism the church should learn the value of listening and investing in people (228). The church should learn a new vocabulary to help avoid baggage inherited from unhealthy church experiences and to simply be clearly understood by a completely unchurched audience (306). Furthermore, much of the rigid institutionalism needs to be stripped away to reveal an authentic community where individuals are safe to be themselves and to wrestle with their faith. I love the three aspects that Murray says are integral to the church of the future – recovering friendship, eating together, and laughter (274-276). I have covered aspects of all of these themes in my essays or in my responses to other individual’s essays.

One theme that I have yet to cover has to do with the approach the administrative side of the church. This covers tithing, leadership, and membership. First, the church in post-Christendom needs to rethink tithing. Aside from the lack of New Testament and early church support for a moral tax of ten percent there is the reality that the next generations will not feel obligated to attend or to give. Murray states that tithing was introduced into the economy of the Old Testament as a borrowed practice. The idea was reintroduced by Augustine and eventually moved from a recommendation to a tax (273). Murray’s main frustration with tithing is that it “offers false security to those who assume it subverts consumerism and fails to address injustice and inequality” (274).

A second aspect of administration that will need to change is church leadership. While I would not go as far to say that the titles “clergy” and “laity” need to be abolished (262), I would agree with Murray that congregational leadership is key to a church’s survival (263). Clergy has taken too great of a role in the life of the church. Murray points out that the hierarchical structure creates a false notion that laity are less spiritual and that the clergy is on the “front-lines” (261). Furthermore, tithing will inevitably decrease so there will be less money for clergy forcing laity to take more ownership.

There are a few administrative challenges that were inadvertently created by Christendom. Churches have invested so much time and money into building magnificent buildings for their congregants that they are forced to put an unhealthy emphasis on tithing and on the number attending the church.

Another administrative challenge created by Christendom is church consumerism. It sounds like consumerism began back at the height of Christendom when the sermon became the focus of the church (264). While the sermon is the focal point of many churches still today, there has been a push in the past 15-20 years for a church to have the freshest music and the flashiest production. We need to shift from a model of consumerism to a model of journeying through life and faith together. Such a shift will be more substantive and sustainable.