I wrote about this earlier and would like to continue my thoughts here. Noted at Brandywine Books and more fully expounded upon at Reformed Pilgrim, there is a list of five “trends” in the church (these are based on a list by D.A. Carson):
1. It is important to observe contradictory trends. For example, “He said we have a lot more good commentaries available to us than we did fifty years ago. Yet, mainline churches have fewer conversions than ever before.” I especially like Reformed Pilgrim’s thoughts when he says, “Our mainline churches are focusing on the minutia difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism, for example, but are ignoring the call to both know God and to follow his sending us to our neighbor’s house. There should be a constant tension between group Bible studies and sharing of one’s faith. Otherwise we end up in a holy huddle somewhere arguing about non-essentials.”
2. Current evangelical fragments are moving into a new phase — into polarized “clumps.” One way to help break these clumps is to stop the divide between youth and adult worship that sometimes occurs in traditional structure. Clumping is not really a new phenomenon. Ever since the reformation we have been seeing clumps forming and breaking off from state religions. As state religions lost more and more power in Europe, individual communities could build localized contexts to meet local needs. This idea of ‘locality’ was carried nowhere more than in America. With the advent of Luther and ‘sola scriptura,’ there have been varying ways in which different scholars have interpreted the Bible. The only ‘new’ thing about this is that, more and more often, more radical or ‘extreme’ views of scripture can gain ground via the internet through blogs and social networking. Recently I was listening to post-election panel discussions on Princeton’s website, and one professor noted that Barack Obama understood something about the world. She said we are not living in a world where America can be at the ‘top’ anymore. America has to, instead, be a central network hub for the world with lots of connections. This shift in policy that will come with Obama’s presidency also says something about the way that church will happen in this new century.
3. The most dangerous trends in any age are the trends that most people do not see. I have quoted one of those trends on my blog earlier from a New Yorker article on sex that needs serious consideration. I would suggest also looking at how the blog halfway to normal dealt with this issue of sexuality. Carson makes the case that evangelical leaders need to stop beating the dead horse of 1920’s liberalism, and according to Reform Pilgrim, “Today’s issues like justification, inerrancy, primacy of family, gender roles, sexuality, pornography, modesty, race relations (very few race-integrated churches), tolerance, consumerism and human flourishing are the current issues at hand.” I like this outlook. On trend that we have to consider is why superheroes have often taken the place of Saints in contemporary times.
4. There is a trend in our churches to be consumed by social concern. David Fitch recently wrote on why full-fledged support of Obama, while not necessarily harmful, sometimes help us miss the centrality of the gospel as small (we so often want it to be something large that we forget it is like a mustard seed…and props to Jason for the link to Fitch’s article). Over at Kingdom Grace, there is also a wake-up call going on asking why we are so involved with social concern (which, seems to be argued there, is only an extension of Christian sub-culture). Social concern is very true of the emergent movement. Jesus himself, however, was quite concerned about social issues. The main question we must consider is how and why Jesus concerned himself with social issues (the answers to this are as many as the books who claim to know the historical Jesus). If you read Crossan, for instance, he says:
…[Jesus sought to] rebuild a society upward from its grass roots but on principles of religious and economic egalitarianism, with free healing brought directly to the peasant homes and free sharing of whatever they had in return. The deliberate conjunction of magic and meal, miracle and table, free compassion and open commensality, was a challenged launched not just at Judaism’s strictest purity regulations, or even at the Mediterrean’s patriarchal combination of honor and shae, patronage and clientage, but at civilization’s eternal inclination to draw lines, invoke boundaries, establish heirarchies, and maintain discriminations.
Is this necessarily the picture of Jesus? Or is it perhaps Crossan’s longing for his own world to see political equality and egalitarianism? The question may not be answered simply. Crossan certainly does make a valuable point about the life and times of Jesus missed by more conservative readers, but he does make a bold statement that the central message of Jesus is about “free healing” that launched a political revolution. Did Jesus really mean to launch a political revolution? How do we put all of this together with his kingdom? These are all central questions that Christian organizations must deal with today.
5. There is a trend in our churches to emphasize discipleship over the gospel. I think that there should be a balance between the two, just as there is with everything else. Gospel should naturally lead towards discipleship.