AUTHENTIC CHRISTIANITY IN OUR POSTMODERN GLOBAL VILLAGE

 

(The Greek word “authenticas” means authentic, originating; if there were no original one hundred dollar bills there could be no counterfeit ones)

 

Theme:  Authentic ministry for the Authentic Church:

 

                  1.  What is The Church?  Whose is it?

                  2.  Was/Is there an Authentic Church?

                  3.  Is there a Biblical Model of Ministry?

                  4.  Is there an Authentic Church for our multicultural, post modern world?

 

Three Disclaimers:  Evangelicalism is not a recent phenomena.  From Britain to North America there have been distressing market habits used to target people to get them emotionally involved.  The evangelical faith is not a recent innovation.  (How do you define religious divergent groups?) Professor James D. Hunter of the University of Virginia states:

 

                  “Leading academics apparently describe evangelicals as “right-wing zealots,” “religious nuts,” “a misanthropic cult,” “fanatics,” “demagogues,” “anti-intellectual and simplistic,” while our message is considered “vicious,” “cynical,” “narrow,” “divisive” and “irrational.”  (James D. Hunter, Culture Wars (NY: Basic Books, 1991), p. 144)

 

                  (1)  This exposes both popular and unpopular accounts.  Yet this movement is the most rapidly growing group in the world.  Evangelicalism is grounded in the New Testament.  The Reformers were innovators by the Roman Catholic Church, but they refused the accusation.  The Reformers claimed that their message was back to basics, accusing Medieval Catholics of radical deviation from the authentic first century gospel.  The classical reformers insisted that they were recovering the biblical faith, not the innovators of it.  John Wesley claimed--“It is the plain old Christianity I teach.”  (John Wesley, The Character of A Methodist (1742), p. 12)

 

                  In our Post Modern malaise, Billy Graham was accused not of novelty, but of being hopelessly out of date, set back the cause of Christianity one hundred years.  He replied that he did not want to set Christianity back only one hundred years, “but 1900 years to The Book of Acts, where first century disciples were accused of turning the Roman Empire upside down.”

 

                  (2)  The Evangelical faith is not a deviation from Christian orthodoxy.  From The Bible to The Apostles Creed and The Nicene Creed is part of our long and honorable pedigree.  From the 17th to 18th centuries “Evangelical” came into widespread usage from the Puritans in England to the Pietists in Germany.  This turn was associated from Martin Luther (die Evanglishen, short for evangelici viri-evangelical men).  From the Evangelical Revival associated with John Wesley and George Whitefield the term gained powerful significance.

 

                  From Charles Simeon (vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge 1782-1833) to William Wilberforce, champion against African slavery to J.C. Ryle, there were numerous outspoken champions for the Evangelical truth against the tendencies against “Romanism” and “Scepticism” (developments in science and Biblical criticism and the influence of Hume and Kant).  A prominent 19th century evangelical leader in North America was Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) who was committed equally to evangelism and to social reform; also Dwight L. Moody’s influence (1837-1899) extended beyond the United States to Britain.  He was a strong adherent for education (the Moody Bible College and the entire Moody influence is global).

 

                  (3)  Evangelicalism is not a synonym for Fundamentalism.  The two forces have a different history and a different connotation. Fundamentalism, which is frequently used as a theological smear word, had very respectable origins. It came from a series of twelve paperbacks entitled The Fundamentals distributed between 1909 and 1915 by Lyman and Milton Stewart, brothers from southern California.  They circulated millions of copies free of charge.  The word “fundamentalist” was coined to denote anybody who believed the central affirmation of the Christian faith. 

 

                  The Fundamentals are still important.  (Compare them with the book, This We Believe (Zondervan, 2000); comparison with the authors of the original articles and the new articles in the above mentioned work would be constructive; see esp. Carl Henry’s work, Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentals (1947).  An ensuing debate began between Dr. James Barr (Fundamentalism (London ECM Press, 1966) and Bishop Jack Spong (Rescuing The Bible From Fundamentalism (London, 1966).  Bishop Spong strongly suggested that the only clone was between enlightenment liberalism or obscurantist (ignorant) fundamentalism.  This debate continues in our post modern theological arena, where biblically grounded Christians are still accused of having a rationalistic, fundamentalist mind set (Harris A. Harries, Fundamentalism and Evangelism (OUP, 1998), p. 313; compare with John Stott’s, Evangelical Truth (InterVarsity Press, 1999).

 

                  This ensuing debate entails at least ten tendencies:  (1) Human Thought (Faith/Reason); (2) Nature of The Bible; (3) Biblical Inspiration (compare with the dictation of Allah in Arabic and the Muslim view of the Koran; (4) Biblical Interpretation (eg. my papers “Post Modern Hermeneutics” and “Gadamer’s Deconstructionism”; “Conservative Level Bible--Premillennialism/ Dispensationalism”; “How are the Old Testament and the New Testament related?”  “Theology of Promise: Christ the Center”; “True Truth”; “Hermeneutics--Relevance to Reader and Audience”  (5)  Ecumenical Movement (WCC and ACCC failure replaced by multicultural pluralism (Diversity/Tolerance--“All” beliefs are leveled in post modern analysis).  (6) The Church: “In but not of the world”--How in the World?  The balance between discipline and tolerance is not easy to find and/or to keep.  (7)  The World: How is the Church to relate to the World (eg. Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture).  The Church is continually challenged by mere assimilation and syncretism (eg. Seeker Friendly audience becomes the authority)

 

                  Nineteenth Century development of Comparative Religions, History of Religion, Sociology of Religion, Philosophy of Religion (from Kant forward), Phenomenology of Religion (see my paper “From Syncretism to Relativism to Pluralism” (Epistemological Relativism, “Sociology of Knowledge Thesis”. (8)  Race:  the myth of white supremacy, racial segregation “In Christ there are Jews and Gentiles, rich, poor, etc.,” U.S. Seventies, South African Apartheid, missions and American colonialism (the Ugly Americans).

 

(9) Christian Mission: Missions and Evangelism are not synonyms (problem of post modern charge of Eurocentricism) Fusion of Good News and “Good Works” supplement and reinforce one another.  Their separation, wrote Carl Henry, is Protestantism’s embarrassing divorce.”  (Uneasy Conscience, p. 36-37).  (10)  Christian Hope:  Christian hope is not totally future oriented!  Fundamentalism tends to be dogmatic about the Future, while our Lord prefers to remain silent (see my papers, “Jesus’ Last Words on The Future”; all millennial theories are transcended by “Theology of Promise (Prophecy and Promise)”.

 

                  Our first concern is as Diagnosis (critique); our second concern is Prognosis (positive presentation of response).  It is not enough for Christians to be against something, someone or some program or agenda.  We must clearly present the Christian alternative.

 

                  How can the biblical mandate for “the people of God to be One, because He is One!” be realized in our pluralistic diversified post modern world?  There are almost as many evangelical tribes as varieties of Heinz soup.  Peter Beyerhaus distinguished six different evangelical groups present at the 1975 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, “Let the Earth Hear His Voice” (ed. J.D. Douglas, World Wide Publishers, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 

                  Nearly twenty years later Gabrie Faekre, Ecumenical Faith in Evangelical Perspective (Eerdmans 1993) present six categories of  evangelicals: (1) Fundamentalist, (2) Old Evangelicals, (3) New Evangelicals (acknowledge social responsibility, justice, peace, etc.), (4) Charismatic Evangelicals (Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, miracles, etc.), (5) Ecumenical Evangelicals (unity, tolerance, cooperation) (compare this list with D.W. Bebbington’s comprehensive survey, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain (1989).

 

                  J. I. Packer lists six evangelical fundamentals: (compare with Alister McGrath’s Evangelicalism and The Future of Christianity (IVP, 1995, pp. 53-88)  (1) Supremacy of Scriptures; (2) Majesty of Jesus Christ (His Birth, The Cross, Resurrection and Atonement); (3) Lordship of the Holy Spirit; (4) Necessity of Conversion (no Christians anonymous or universalism); (5) Priority of Evangelism /Missions; (6) Importance of Fellowship.

 

                  (Read especially George Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicals (Eerdmans, 1991); and the papers “World Congress on Evangelicalism” (Volumes I and II), One Race, One Gospel, One Task, 1967, Volumes I and II.

 

                  The crisis is exposed in “denominational decline” in membership.  The renewed emphasis on “evangelism” attempts to stem the ebbing tide.  A fundamental drive of this movement is too often a  “membership recruitment.”  Often growth is solely a “membership relocation.”  The spate of “growth-ism” is crumbling and begging for a much deeper diagnosis and prescription than “doing things more and better.”  Mainline churches are losing their members to conservative evangelicalism.  Does this suggest that an aggressive program of evangelization will be the solution?  Yet, our “real” program is surely articulated by Wade C. Roof and William McKenney.  Their brilliant research has shown mainline churches are losing their members not so much to conservative churches as to Secular Lifestyle (American Religion: Mainline Religion (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987), p. 242; Stephen L. Carter, The Culture of Disbelief (How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion) (Basic Books Harper/Collins, 1993).

 

                  Too often The Church Growth Movement has failed to perceive the gap between “inner life” of the Churches and their appeal to “companions in the culture can be bridged by better techniques” and more effective technicians.  This phenomena is exposed by the emphasis on marketing the Church (eg. Barna) and appeal to “Consumerism” of Post Modern religious shoppers in our theological cafeterias.

 

                  The crisis is not first of all about decline and growth.  These are merely symptons.  The crisis is how The Church sees itself and forms its life--personal and social dimensions.  There are at least two corollary dynamics in the Church’s current position in relation to its cultural environment.  (1) We must face the truth that we have co-opted into the perspective of Wesleyan culture, commonly labeled The Enlightenment (see esp. Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to The Greeks (Eerdmans, 1986) and his The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Eerdman, 1989; here he proposes “missionary eyes” as the approach for the Western Churches.

 

                  From Leibnizian and scientific world view influence, Western cultural tendency has been to express a dichotomy between “Facts” (science) and “Values” which are private opinions or beliefs of individuals.  Scientific facts are in the “public dominion;” values are only available in the “private realm” (eg. The Death of God, Situational Ethics, Cultural, Epistemological and Ethical Relativism; see my bibliographies on The Death of God; Relativism; Contextualization; The Development of Science; and Atheism on reserve in the LCC Library).  The Church has accepted this dichotomy and has capitulated, becoming voluntarily enslaved to the cultivation of private morals and values.  We must avoid intimidation of the dominate plausibility structure of the language of personal preference. 

 

                  Our resident culture is described as Post Critical, Post Enlightenment, Post Modern, Post Secular.  In virtually every field of inquiry there are signs of collapse, transition and emergence.  Post Modernism is a seismic shift for which only partial clues are available.  The paradigmatic revolutions of Copernican/Newtonian proportions continues almost unabated.  Into the seismic field of scientific and cultural changes enters Polanyi, Popper and Kuhn (Thomas Kuhn is the most referenced author in the past forty years).

 

                  Into this milieu of radical change how are we to maintain Christian conviction and provide Christian leaders to create and sustain Christian disciples of Jesus and produce change agents “for such a time as this?”  We must understand the times!  God’s new leaders must stand within a Christian World View, as well as understand alternative world views.

 

                  The seismic changes of the 21st century necessitates that we give attention to:  (1) Forming a communal world view; (2) Casting a wider vision than local or provincial; (3) Healing our fragmented worlds; and (4) Igniting a subversive witness.  These factors are not a “job description” or strategic plan; they are pervasive tasks which inform all of the daily and weekly practicalities of the job of being servant leaders.  They must prioritize concerns essential if we are to recover the missionary character of the Christian Community.

 

                  In our Post Modern Global Village, The Church must become genuinely missionary.  (1) A Church (The Church) must indwell the “plausibility structure of The Scriptures.  Here is the dynamic for cross-cultural encounter--a dialogue of witness to others in the culture will emerge.  This encounter requires that the Community of The Exodus and the Community of Aliens must have a clear “self Identity.”  Christians are participants (missionaries).  (2)  In our Post Modern (Enlightenment) culture, The Church has been discharged from its chaplaincy and must accept the obligation consciously to remove itself from its accommodating co-option into the assumption of the culture it has so long supported.  Yet the same Western culture is moving through a sea change of its own. 

 

                  The signs of raped social change are everywhere evident. Peter Drucker’s voice can be ignored at our own peril.  He declares that “we are already in the 21st century, where we do not know the answers, but we know the issues.  Sometime between 1965 and 1973 we crossed over a divide and entered the 21st century.  We passed out of the creeds, commitments and alignments that shaped politics for a century or two.  We are on terra incognita with few familiar landmarks to guide us.”  (Peter Drucker, The New Realities (NY: Harper, 1989).

 

                  A strategic vision is a clear image of what you want to achieve, which then organizes and instructs every step toward that goal.  The extraordinarily successful strategic vision for NASA was “Put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.”  That strategic vision gave magnetic direction to the entire organization.  Nobody had to be told or reminded of where the organization was going.  Contrast the organizing focus of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade with, “We are going to be the world leader in space exploration,” which doesn’t organize anything.

 

                  In a constantly changing world, strategic planning is not enough; it becomes planning for its own sake.  Strategic planning must be completely geared to a strategic vision and know exactly where it is going, with a clarity that remains in spite of the confusion natural to the first stages of change.

 

                  Too often a shared vision or purpose is absent.  Drawing from the public sector, let me suggest how important it is to have a shared sense of a common purpose:  What business are we really in?

 

(John Naisbitt, Megatrends (NY: Warner Books), 1982, p. 95)

 

MISSIONS AND MEGATRENDS

 

1.  Industrial -- to Informational Society

2.  Forced to High Technology--A.T.& T. (Reach out & touch someone)

3.  National -- to World Economy

4.  Short -- to Long Term

5.  Centralization -- to Decentralization

6.  Institutional -- to Self-Help

7.  Representative -- to Participatory Democracy

8.  Hierarchies -- to Networking (Systems)

9.  North -- to the South (Florida, California, Texas)

10. Either/Or -- to Multiple Option

 

(Sam Paradine (Jack Kerouk’s) self-centered self in a world of megatrends)

James Strauss