Let us say that a church alive is marked by Christlikeness among the people, worship of God, love and compassion and mission toward others … and other such marks. Let us also say it is marked by the church’s classic marks: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. And we must root this all in gospel and Trinity. Our culture works against a church alive and if we let culture shape us we can create a lifeless church, though any church that is lifeless is a sick contradiction. The themes of our culture, however, work against the life of God in a church.
What are they? What cultural trends challenge the church/faith? What trends intrude on missional spirituality?
In their new book, Missional Spirituality, Roger Holland and Len Hjalmarson, sketch seven cultural habits that grow in Westerners naturally and which, at the same time, counter what the gospel aims to do in our midst.
1. Disenchantment: borrowing from Charles Taylor and others, the argument is that prior to the Enlightenment (at least) it was difficult not to believe in God, while in the modern world it is difficult to believe in God. The world prior to the Reformation and especially before the Enlightenment was enchanted — alive with the presence of God and signs of his presence. The Enlightenment’s rationality and empiricism and dualism created a world in which it was easy/ier not to believe in God. Christians who buy into the Enlightenment project counter the gospel’s world of enchantment with God.
2. Excarnation. They speak here of disembodiment or the diminishment of embodied spirituality. It’s about ideas, not rituals and acts and form.
3. Abstraction. We separate ideas from objects and subjects and rationalize and theorize. The faith becomes a system of beliefs instead of a Person in whom we trust and in whom we hope.
4. Consumerism. I don’t think they get to the bottom of this one, though they touch on themes and symptoms of consumerism. Ownership is normal; obsession with ownership, status, and the dopamine rush of purchasing … these are at work in consumerism, as is a culture in which everything is comodified. Consumerist Christianity, at the ecclesial level, is about attending a church because of what you can get from it instead of worshiping God and serving our brothers and sisters. With consumerism, I think of Clement, of St Anthony, of Augustine, of St Francis, of some in the monastic tradition… of Ron Sider … of the neo-Monastics, etc..
5. Entitlement. A society marked by consumerism and self-image education feels entitled to a church meeting needs and to what it offers and to participating in decisions and authority etc..
6. Extraction. Their point is a simple one: we too often draw non-Christians out of their culture into a church culture in order to Christianize them. We plug them into a pre-set forms and roles and routines and deprive some of their natural giftedness.
7. Mutant Pietism and Programism. They will look at Pietism later, but pietism has been diminished and it has been connected to easily to church programs. Mutant pietism is inner world individualism and insufficiently missionally-shaped piety. The original pietism, esp that of Francke, was missionally minded.