How Should Churches and Leaders Be Preparing to Address These Big Issues Facing the Church?

Part 1: The Big Issues facing the Western Church 

1. Local The church has to support culture-making.  Most of the young evangelicals interested in Integrating Their faith with film-making, journalism, corporate finance, etc, are getting Their support and mentoring from the Informal networks or para-church groups. Michael Lindsay's bookFaith in the Halls of Power  shows That many Christians in places of influence in the culture are alienated from the church, Because They get, at best, no church support for living Their faith out in the public spheres, and, at worst , opposition.

At the theological level, the church needs to gain more consensus on how the church and Christian faith relate to culture. There is still a lot of conflict Between Those Who want to disciple Christians for public life, and Those who think all "culture of engagement" Ultimately leads to compromise and distraction from the preaching of the gospel. What makes this Debate Both Sides Is that difficult make good points and have good arguments. 

At the practical level, That even the churches give lip-service to the Importance of Integrating faith and work do very little to actually equip people to do so. Seminary Ministers only trained us to disciple more people by pulling them out of the world and inside the walls of the church and ministries. So how does a church actually help its members In this area? Leaders who want to get started Should look at Redeemer's Center for Faith and Work.

2. We need a renewal of apologetics.  There is a lot of resistance right now Among younger evangelical leaders Toward apologetics. We are Told we do not need any more arguments aren't Because rational people. We need loving community instead. But I think this is short-sighted for two reasons.

First, Christians in the West will finally be facing what missionaries around the World Have faced for years - how to comunicate the gospel to Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and adherents of various folk religions. All young church leaders Should Take courses in and read the texts of the other major world religions. They Should Also study the gospel presentations written by missionaries Engaging Those religions. Loving community will be extremely important, as it always is, to reach out to neighbors of other faiths, but if They are going to come into the church, They will have many questions That church leaders today need to be able to answer.

Second, there real vacuum in western secular thought. When Derrida died I was surprised how many of his former students ADMITTED That High Theory (what evangelicals call 'post-modernism') is seen as a dead end, mainly porqueis so relativistic That It provides no basis for political action. And a leading British intellectual like Terry Eagleton in recent lectures at Yale (published asReligion, Faith, and Revolution by Yale Press) savaged the older scientific atheism of Dawkins and Hitchens Equally as bankrupt. That Eagleton points out the Enlightenment's optimism acerca science and human progress is dead. Serious western thought is not going back To That, no matter how popular Dawkins' books get. But postmodernism can not produce a basis for human rights or justice either.

This is a real opening, apologetically, in reaching out to non-Christians thoughtful, Especially the younger, socially conscious ones. We need to think of new ways to engage, asking people how They Can Justify Their Concerns for human rights and social justice. (For a great recent form of this approach, see Chris Smith's "Does Naturalism Warrant a Moral Belief in Universal Benevolence and Human Rights?" InThe Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion (Oxford, 2009. )

Over the last twenty years my preaching and teaching has profited a great deal from doing the hard work of reading philosophy, Especially the older work of Christian scholars and philosophers (Plantinga, Wolterstorff, Mavrodes, Alston) and the younger ones. Ministers need to be able to glean Their arguments and put into easy to understand form, Both in speaking and in evangelism.

I agree with the critics say That the old, rationalistic, 'That Demands a verdict evidence' makes people's eyes glaze over today. But that Does not mean That people do still use reason and still make arguments. There is a big chink in the armor of western thought right now. People do not want to go back to religion, que still scares them, but They are not so sanguine about the Implications and effects of non-belief.

3. We need a great variety of church-models.  Avery Dulles' bookModels of the Church does a good job of outlining the very different models of churches in the west over the centuries. After qualifying his analysis by saying These are seldom puree forms, I lays out five models. Each one stresses or emphasizes:  a)  Doctrine, teaching, and authority, orb)  deep community and life together, orc)  worship, sacraments, music and the arts, ord)  evangelism, proclamation, and dynamic preaching, ore)  social justice, service, and compassion.

Many evangelicals today have bought in to one or two models of These asthe way to minister now in the post-Christendom west. So for example, Those who believe in the 'incarnational' (vs. 'attractional' approach) and serving Emphasize being out in the neighborhood, smaller house churches and intimate community (a combination of Dulles' models b and e.) Meanwhile, many evangelicals who are afraid of the 'liberal creep' of the emerging church, stress the traditional combination of a and d emphases. Each side is fairly moralistic about the rightness of its model and seeks to use it everywhere.

I not feel that our culture is too complex situation For such a sweeping way to look at things. There are too many kinds of 'never-churched, non-Christians'. There are Arabs in Detroit, in Chicago Hmong, Chinese and Jews in New York City, Anglos in the Northwest and Northeast That Were raised by secular parents - some are artists and creative types, some work in business. All of These are growing groups of never-churched, but They are very different from one another. No model can connect to them all - every model can connect to some.

4. We must Develop a far better theology of suffering.  Members of churches in the west are caught absolutely flat-footed by suffering and difficulty. This is a major problem, Especially if we are facing Greater 'liminality' - social marginalization - and maybe more economic and social instability. There are a great number of books on 'why does God allow evil?' They are mainly but Aimed at getting God off the hook with people who believe western impatient God's job is to give them a safe life. The church in the west must mount a great new project - of producing a people who are prepared to endure in the face of suffering and persecution.

Here, too, is one of the ways we in the west can connect to the new, growing world Christianity. We outstretch to think about 'what we can do for them.' But here's how we let them do something for us. Many or Most of the church in the rest of the world is used to suffering and persecution. They have a kind of faith That does not wilt, but rather grows stronger under threat. We need to Become students of theirs In this area.

5. We need a critical mass of churches in the biggest cities of the world.

I know I'm always expected to say this! But this is not a mere tack-on to the other Measures for Addressing the Big Issues. In some ways, this is the 'Big Idea' That will help us move forward on all fronts.

If There Were vital, fast-growing movements of churches - orthodox in theology, wholistic in ministry, and Committed to culture-making - in the great Global cities, So THAT 5-10% of the residents of the 50 Most Influential cities Were gospel-believers, a) it would have a great impact on culture-making, b) it would help the church learn new ways of reaching the never-churched (since They concentrate in cities), c) it would connect western churches more Readily to the new churches in the non-western world, d) it would join churches across traditions and models.