Archive for post-Christian
If you are easily offended, skip this post. You can come back soon for the next one.
This week I learned of Tim Minchin, a highly-talented British-Australian who is either a comedian that sings or a singer that does comedy–both descriptions seem accurate. In listening to some of his stuff, I found almost all of his songs and comedy to be laced with profanity, except for one song that consists of profanity sprinkled with conjunctions and a name. One theme that seems to run throughout his stuff is a disdain for all things religious as well as anything God-related.
Minchin could easily be a key narrator for a western, post-Christian world. With a recent trending on Twitter and his concerts taking place in some of the largest venues in the western world, his message clearly resonates with a large percent of audiences in Australia, the UK and the US. Having examined various aspects of religion including a number of key points from the Bible, he rejects it all. But, he is not rejecting all that is good. In what is becoming a Christmas standard, White Wine in the Sun, he sings of the deep trust and safety he has in his family. His holiday celebrations with them represent a place and time that he treasures. Something that he wants to convey and extend to his baby daughter. He values the deep community made up of people that he loves, a people that love him well.
In this song, Minchin celebrates the sentimental aspect of Christmas. His celebration is of a Christ-less Christmas. For him, I pray a wonderful celebration with those he loves and that one day he will experience the transformational love of Jesus. For me and others that read here, I pray that we can learn from Tim about how to better represent Christ to those that have wholly embraced a post-Christian non-belief.
With the political campaign season well under way already and only one very long year of adverts and debates to come, evangelicals are starting to make their voices be heard with recent forays into the national scene by Jeffers’ with his comments on Mormonism and Mohler’s piece about whether or not evangelicals are dangerous on CNN’s site. We can do litmus tests on these comments, wordsmith them for future conversations, or adopt them wholeheartedly. Or maybe we can take another tack.
Some time ago when reading Covey Jr.’s Speed of Trust, I came across what was almost a throw-away sentence in his book: In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing, and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, even precise, and they’ll misinterpret you.
When speaking through national, secular news agencies, evangelical leaders are speaking to a majority of people that do not have a high-trust relationship with the speaker or his worldview. If in fact there is a low-trust relationship with the majority that will listen to or read these comments about what is almost always a controversial issue, then miscommunication or misunderstanding is inevitable.
For controversial issues, perhaps we can save these for situations with a little less fanfare when speaking to those that are like-minded. If drawing any national attention, we would do well to focus on a message that communicates without so much controversy but is even more profound. We follow the One who sought to bring about justice and restore relationships. These are the things that we are to be living out and speak about. This is the message that will help to create high-trust relationships on a small scale. We should be prepared to speak about this often as long as it is in keeping with our actions. Other topics may be better reserved for kitchen table conversations.
Last week a friend of mine met with the president of one of the state SB conventions. According to him, the number of SB churches in the state that are dead or in decline was 85%. This number is troubling for a whole lot of reasons. While I am aware that there are significant changes in the U.S. church scene at present, no growth or realignment comes close to addressing an 85% decrease in the number of existing, functional churches in one denomination.
As this state is in the Bible belt, it doesn’t really matter where this interview happened. It seems that this statistic could very well be true for any of the Bible belt states–take your pick.
To turn it around and look at the positive side of the statistic, 15% of the churches are vibrant. A meager 15% are in a situation where they can be more concerned about loving the lost around them rather than being focused on self-preservation. This positive side for me is a bit depressing. Clearly, things as they have been are not working.
Since my time on the recent JetSet with Upstream, I have been reflecting on a number of things. One of those key things is the reign of God (a key theme of the second half of Isaiah) and the ways in which that is demonstrated. Frost shared three ways according to Wright in which the reign of God is visible here on earth and added a fourth. The four were:
Now what? Because the gospel is Christ-centered, I have been working through the gospels over the last weeks with these four evidences of the reign of God here on earth as a filter. I have been asking the question where did Jesus effect justice; restore relationships; create or call attention to beauty; and/or display the presence of the supernatural?
A reflective exercise, this is something I need to continue. First because it is vital for me. Really! It is the gospel in me. Second, because it is the clearer formulation for me to “be prepared to give the reason for the hope that [I] have” to the world around me. This is the living story that is changing my life. It is the dynamic story I need to tell well to others. It is the story that is written for all time and is unfolding today in my community.
“I hope you can make it.” The youngest son of one of our neighbors had just invited us–excluding kids–to his first play at a local community college. The content would be, he assured me, inappropriate for children. “Yeah!?!? We’ll definitely be there…maybe.”
For us this began a brief discussion of what to do. We arrived at the decision that for a Savior that spent time with sinners and tax collectors with the former category including prostitutes, that our going to the performance was probably the thing to do. Of course it didn’t hurt to know that it was at a community college; how bad could it be? I was reminded of a time when an acquaintance told me of his invitation to an avant garde theater overseas by the lead actress of the production. While she had some clothes on during the performance, the rest of the cast proved to be a lot more free-spirited. Surely that wouldn’t be the case here…at least I hoped not.
Upon arriving at the theater, we encountered bold yellow signage warning that the production was “M for mature” and that the content was not appropriate for children. While this is an interesting commentary on our society, we continued in our theater going. Cautiously.
Yes it was uncomfortable at a few points along the way. But, we made it through and didn’t even have to run to scrub our eyes and ears after it was over. Upon leaving the auditorium, our neighbor was shocked to see us as we chatted for a bit, congratulated him and hugged him on the way out.
Not going to offer a moral to this post. That’s for you to work through if you choose. I will share that the play had a strong point. The main character was pretty pathetic until he learned that a better story existed and he could play a key role. Moving from being the heroine in a worthless story to being the hero in a life-like drama was reason to believe in something better and to live differently. Changed.
Here is an English band that has grown significantly in popularity over the last 2 years. Though not claiming to be followers of Christ, the band’s lyrics often, according to one friend, “drip with the gospel.” This is a great way to see into the thoughts, emotions and philosophy of those that are not followers but are searching for meaning.
Thanks to Shane England, who is starting resonatechurch in Madison just outside Nashville for pointing this out in his developing blog. He is seeing some good stories unfolding already in his journey there.
For the person with a normal diet of steak and potatoes with a chaser of chocolate bon bons, life may be viewed as good. If there is a change in income, then something may need to change. Either cut the bon bons or downgrade the protein selection. It may still be feasible to have chopped liver and not let go of the bon bons for the chocolate afficionado. With still further reductions in monies, a minimal diet may consist of beans and rice–bye bye bon bons. Though nice while they are around, one would be hard-pressed to argue that they are essential. In times of difficulty, people will generally move toward what is most important for survival.
As many expressions of church deal with the reality of declines in giving, they will do well to determine what are the bon bons and what is the protein essential. Already, many are asking “where are we going to save money? How do we align our giving and expenses?”
With abundant, due respect to Rick Warren, I disagree with his egalitarian approach to the 5 purposes of the church. Instead, I would suggest that there is a primary, over-riding purpose for the church. Whether expressed as “making disciples” or participating with the One who came “to seek and to save that which was lost, our calling is to mission. Both locally and globally, we are to prioritize mission. (This can be developed further at another time.) As we do mission, we will worship, teach, and fellowship. For more on this see Michael Frost on the topic.
If mission is the purpose of the church out of or because of which other things flow, any rearrangements in financial allocation should, I believe, be directed away from areas that do not directly influence mission. Further on this, we would do well to redouble our efforts at taking the gospel to our communities and the world. This is the essential, non-negotiable that will determine the future health of every group of believers.
As it relates to staffing, those who lead mission may be more indispensable than those that teach or lead worship. The ones making disciple-making disciples are the ones that are making the church be just that–the church. Putting resources to serving the community and beyond may very possibly be a better investment than improving a worship experience. Drilling wells in impoverished places in Africa or drinking coffee in post-Christian urban centers in Europe both for the purpose of taking the gospel may prove more important than cooling a building to a certain temperature.
A serious re-think of what is important and how dollars are spent will be difficult but worthwhile. In the next post in this series (see stating the obvious for the previous post), I’ll share a practical aspect of this in encouraging churches to consider undertaking a new building program….
While on the recent JetSet, we had a missionary / church-planter–T.J.–share some of his story. He has been in France more years than not. While so much of his talk was fascinating to me, there was one slice that grieved me. This is a paraphrased version of that story told in 3rd person.
As the “French” guy, TJ was invited on multiple occasions to be present at Sunday lunch with U.S. families that had finally convinced their French exchange student to go to church for the first time. The best he could understand is that these families wanted him to do a church debrief as he was uniquely qualified to understand and communicate with them from a French vantage point. This scenario played itself out on five different occasions with five different students. When TJ asked the young person how they liked their church experience, the responses were similar. Each thought the music was good. Each thought the preaching time was interesting–but not in a good way. They were surprised at how passive and compliant the audience seemed to be to whatever the preacher was saying. Each of them shared some variation of the following idea: “I felt like I was in a Nazi war rally.”
This is the unique, growing challenge of working in a post-Christian context.
Reflecting back a bit on the recent JetSet tour, I am posting some of the influences and expressions of the influenced from Paris and France. This post is part of a much larger subset of posts which I will list here soon as well as a smaller follow-on to the London edition of the same.
Paris Picture Collage
- Human beings must be known to be loved; but Divine beings must be loved to be known.
- Imagination decides everything.
- A witty saying proves nothing.
- Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.
- Being is. Being is in-itself. Being is what it is.
- Everything has been figured out except how to live.
- God is absence. God is the solitude of man.