My friend and colleague, David Fitch, is the co-author of a book with his co-pastor and our fellow colleague at Northern Seminary, Geoff Holsclaw, called Prodigal Christianity that I really like. David and Geoff are missional theologians, they are also pastors and professors. I have concerns about what might be called “armchair ecclesiologians,” that is, academics telling pastors how to pastor on the basis of theory alone. Bible people and theologians have things to say, but when it is not mixed with solid pastoral experience, it falls flat for me. So when it comes to “pastoral theology” my ear is open to the pastor first.
How does their experience of the postmodern context for the missional church movement, or the postmodern context for all church ministry, strike you? Where have you experienced any of their “posts”?
Which is my way of saying I’m interested in whatever Fitch and Holsclaw have to say about ministry and church in our world because they are pastoring. Furthermore this book sketches how to engage our culture in a missional framework.
I begin with a specialty for both of them: postmodernity. They are not writing a how-to book nor is this a book about “do it our way” but instead they offer signposts in the missional frontier, and their big point is this: each location, each local church will have to find its way among these signposts. And each church will show striking differences but they will have to deal with these ten signposts.
Signpost #1: We live in Post-Christendom.
Increasingly, and perhaps more in the northern than southern States, the church is becoming increasingly de-centralized and marginalized. How to respond?
Fitch and Holsclaw suggest there are two major strategies at work today, and in this a major theme of this book is laid bare: they are seeking a third way between the NeoReformed (David knows I prefer “NeoPuritan” and he tips his hat in a footnote but prefers NeoReformed) and the Emergent movement. We are in a “sign-stripped, mapless, and road-blocked world” (4).
Retreat: some think we need to ramp up our efforts to reclaim what we’ve lost. That is, “engaging in mission requires showing that relativism is wrong, pluralism is mistaken, and objective truth is out there” (4). So, if it worked for Edwards it will work today.
Revise: since we are all postmoderns, we need to revise, and here they are looking at the strategy of the emergent crowd. “Christianity has believed in the wrong way ” (5). It lost its relational dynamic and became too propositional. “Instead of mounting arguments for absolute truth, caring for all is the absolute commandment” (5).
Fitch and Holsclaw propose that instead of these we need learn that we are in Post-Christendom. Christendom had church at the center of a community and our culture; those days are gone. What are the marks of post-Christendom?
1. Postattractional. The church is no longer attractive; using attractional strategies will not work well.
2. Postpositional. Churches and pastors have lost their position of influence in the community. They have to earn their position.
3. Postuniversal. “Language and worldview are not longer universal” (8). We are in a world of various cultures. What one person sees or hears is not what others are seeing or hearing.
In our next posts we will see how Father, Son, and Spirit deal with each of these three “posts.”