Friday, November 27, 2009

Everything Must Change -- Transforming Christian Theology, ch. 6


Transforming Theology Project

Philip Clayton, Transforming Christian Theology, Fortress Press, 2010.


Everything Must Change
Chapter 6


Continuing the theme of a movement toward a postmodern world, Philip Clayton draws upon the title of a Brian McLaren book – Everything Must Change. While acknowledging that radical change may be in order, Clayton also recognizes that we don’t like radical change. As a pastor I can attest to the truth of this statement. Even minor changes can be resisted with great energy. We like stability – and doing what we know best. But, while some things don’t change, calling into question the premise of McLaren’s book (I think Brian understands that he has pushed the envelope here for emphasis), the world we live in is changing rapidly. The question is, can we as church adapt quickly enough.

You can sense that the church at large is struggling with what to make of the world as it is right now. Some evangelicals have been more proficient in adapting their methodologies to the current situation (more contemporary music and informal dress), but on many other fronts, especially cultural ones like the role of women, homosexuality, and sexual mores, they are less effective. Indeed, the recent promulgation of the “Manhattan Declaration,” calling for civil disobedience in opposition to abortion and gay marriage is a good example of this.

We live in an age of rapid change, which Clayton suggests is epitomized by the use made of Twitter by Iranian dissidents this past summer. Could such an effort have been mounted just a few years ago? So powerful was this new technology, that the US State Department told Twitter to make sure that the network stayed up, not even taking time for routine maintenance. Clayton asks – is the church as aware as the State Department of the value of these new forms of communication?

Are church leaders utilizing these new technologies to support their outreach and ministries? Do they even know what they are? As one of my young friends, Tripp Fuller, puts it, “Not to know the new media is not to exist in the world more and more people exist in.” I encourage anyone over forty who thinks the world hasn’t changed to spend an hour carefully interviewing a couple of people under eighteen about their technology use (p. 43).


I’m 51, and I try to make good use of social networking technology in ministry, and I do recognize its value, but I also know that things change rapidly, so that what I’m using right now maybe old line before I know it! I mean, in an age of Twitter is a blog even relevant? (I hope the answer is yes, but I’m asking!)

While the core of our message may not change, the context in which it is lived and communicated does. In this, our world may parallel that faced by Augustine at the beginning of the 5th Century as the Visigoths sacked Rome, sending cultural shock waves through the Empire. How could this happen? And yet it did, leading Augustine to ponder the future of church and society in his City of God – seeking to understand in ways we may need to learn how to distinguish between the “City of God” and the “City of Man.”

What we in the mainline churches face is the reality that our church population is aging, and that the younger generations may not return home. Indeed, while evangelical churches have done a better job of keeping young people, the younger generations are increasingly likely not to go anywhere. So, how does a church whose structures date back centuries respond? How do we communicate a message to a people who don’t care about brand? And what about the internal threats to the survival of denominations – such as the fight over gay marriage and ordination? Mainline churches may not disappear from the map anytime soon, but the question is – what will their relevance be?

There are no clear answers, but one thing is for sure, we will need to respond to the new technologies and how we learn to manage the changes coming our way. Clayton asks:

Are our church and denominational leaders ready to take the risks and lead us in new directions? Are all the rest of us willing to step out into new territory and do our parts as well? (p. 48)


I believe, and Clayton does as well, that Mainline Protestant churches can provide a context for faith to develop and thrive, but are we willing to step out in faith? That is the question facing us as we head into the future!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

It seems odd to me. Twitter, Facebook and even this blog (the responses) seem like 1984 in reverse. Spy on me, spy on me! It seems people can't handle privacy anymore. We used to live in our own heads. David Mc

Anonymous said...

Ahh.. change. It is the real word of current Christianity. Some fight it tooth and nail.. of course they fail to realize that today's church service would is an INCREDIBLE change to the first century. On the flip side.. there are those that get addicted to change. Everything must change.. even when it changes, we much change.. change, change, change. We elected a president on change. The question back is.. "change to what?"

There obvious good in both school's of thought. I wish both sides would sit down and discuss what should change, whats a "non negotiable" and likely both parties are closer than they ever realize. Lets get out of the media and into a small room and discuss real change. (isn't that what happened in the upper room?)

Chuck

John said...

I think most will agree that the way the Church communicates its message must be responsive to the culture in which it at work, and that it must adapt its presentation to each such cultural circumstance. I also think the everyone will agree that the integrity, the heart of the Gospel needs to be preserved while at the same time it must be communicated effectively. In other words, the Church must maintain the true core of Jesus' teaching and it cannot ignore the cultural context in which it is being preached. If we lose the core message we will dissipate into meaninglessness. If we wait for the people to find and embrace us, we will never be found and we will embrace fewer converts every year.

The first challenge is to distinguish between the core message of the Gospel and those notions which are not. The second challenge is to distinguish between message and style.

The third challenge we are presente with is the discovery that styles and media which are effective in communicating the message to one group of real or potential believers is often ineffective in communicating the message to a different group - even though the core message is necessarily the same. A single style of worship and preaching will not work for everyone - the explosion of protestant denominations is proof of this. We need to accept that different styles of worship and preaching work with different people and that this is a necessary aspect of living in a pluralistic society.

Of the three challenges I think that locating and maintaining the core of the Gospel message has presented the greatest difficulty in the current age. I don't know how you resolve what for me is the most profound theological conflict: the argument between those who believe in double predestination on the one hand and those who believe in universal salvation on the other. If you believe in the former then you can abandon (or condemn) those whom you perceive as inveterate sinners to their predestined fate. If you believe in the latter, then you MUST reconcile yourself with the perceived sinner on the presumption that he, together with his sins, will be with you in heaven, together with your sins. You cannot get away with condemning anyone or relying on God to do the condemnation, as all are loved equally and each will participate in life everlasting in the presence of God - therefore, no one's sins are any worse than anyone else's.

I can only pray that God will provide the answers.

John

Anonymous said...

John,
I so long to have the discussions on the deep theological issues than the others. Sadly, I see more heated conversations on the color of the carpet or padding in the seat than on what scripture says. Most claim their protestant heritage like a football team, with no real grounding on what their denomination stands for.

I agree that many of our conversations are silly when taken out of the US and placed in a third world country. Does a praise band vs organ really matter? Does the building matter? Paul was very wise to warn of "disputable matters" and I wish we could real agreement to address those items in our own culture.

Chuck

Anonymous said...

Really, could it be as simple as to show ourselves to be at peace, and for those around us to be curious enough to explore the source? I'm being too simple-minded I suppose. David Mc

John said...

I think you are right David. The most effective method of sharing the word (news of the Kingdom) is to share the peace that comes from living in the word (Kingdom living). People will want to know where that peace comes from.

John