Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Christianity in the Future

I just finished reading Brian McClaren's book The Church on the Other Side. This is a look into some of the possible directions the church will be heading towards in the future. He does a great job explaining and contrasting modern and postmodern thinking. And as I thought a lot about these things over the last week or two, I realized that church may be headed into some difficult waters.

He describes modern thinking as the desire to prove everything as true through science and methods. Modern thinking has been the norm for several hundred years and has led society, including the church to where it is now. This is why the preaching style of so many pastors, and the desire of so many Christians who debate with non-Christians, is to show the other person how you are right and they are wrong, therefore they should join your side. This inherently means that you are claiming to have the truth, as you have just proven, and they don't, hence they should join your side now. But for the most part, society is no longer operating under a modern mindset. Society has moved into postmodernism, which means that the main way of thinking is that there is no one way and it is too hard to know the truth, so if someone claims to have the truth, or the answer, or the right way, then we should be skeptical of them, because how can we trust that they actually know the truth? The postmodern platform is that "all beliefs are equally valid, except those that claim to be True." They doubt the ability of anyone to be able to discern absolute truth from everything else. So, postmodern people will be turned away by people who claim to have it all figured out because postmoderns don't believe that it's possible for anyone to have it all figured out.

This puts Christians in a difficult place. Our main method for teaching, discipling, evangelism, etc. has always been to prove that what we believe is worth believing, thus setting up the scenario that everyone else should recognize it and follow suit. But now when we claim to have the only true way, we can actually turn people away, because they are operating under a different set of thinking now.

I think McClaren gives two really good points to help Christians figure out how to begin to move forward through all of this. First, he points out a key scripture that helps us to start to see how we could possibly move through this into the postmodern mindset. In John 14:6, Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." For many moderns, the main focus of this passage is that Jesus it the truth, and as we focus on only that part, now postmoderns begin to become skeptical of us claiming the truth. But Jesus says He is the way, the truth, AND the life. He is all three - none more highly focused on than another. Maybe this means that there can be an integrated way of coming to the Father - through experiencing certain things, applying things to your life, and coming to know the truth. McClaren points then to John 7:17, "If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God." This sets up that perhaps while following the way and living the life, you come to know the truth - that you don't have to know the truth first.

His second point is something that I believe many moderns overlooked simply due to the nature of their thinking. Modern thinking says that we can know truth, whereas postmodern thinking doubts that we can. Regardless of where we actually fall in between these two ideas, the one thing that we must not forget is faith. No one knows everything about God, and in fact, we know very little about God compared to all that there is to know. Yet we persevere in our Christian walk - by faith. And this is a good point to focus on in an era where truth can't be relied upon by postmoderns to carry their beliefs. We can introduce them to the idea of faith, instead of trying to beat them over the head with truth. We can introduce them to the way and the life, and as they engage in those, their faith will grow and lead them towards the truth.

All of these ideas are very challenging to Christians of today. Many of us don't even realize that we are still very modern in our thinking, and we have no idea how postmodern thinking even works. This is something we need to figure out on a large scale and soon. We don't need to change the gospel, but we do need to begin looking at adapting the ways we introduce people to it. And this idea is not popular among many Christians today. The main line of thinking is that it worked ten, twenty, thirty years ago, so it's a good system. This is not wise or strategic thinking. We as Christians need to open our eyes and see the world around us for what it is, and then figure out how we can connect with the people around us. At times it may not be easy, but it is entirely necessary.

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