Trinity Evangelical Divinity School invited me to come and be part of a five member panel discussion entitled “Culture Transit: Laying Down a Track for the Church.” Each of the five panel members was to write a statement on the subject “Where is the church now and where should it go?” Each of us was to read our statement and then be addressed by another member of the panel. The dean of the seminary, Dean Tite Tienou, moderated. The interaction both from the panel and the audience was good. Dr. Tienou was masterful. The piece delivered by Glen Kehrien from Circle Urban Ministries caused a stir over the continued segregation of the evangelical church. Although this seems to be a subject well worn and in need of new tactics that subvert the individualist and capitalistic evangelical theologies that have so far accomplished little in this regard. Other presenters were provocative and engaging as well. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is to be commended for putting on such an event during their new student orientation. And I was honored to be invited and to participate.
My piece caused some stir as well. As I read it up there (in front of the gathering), I must admit it did sound somewhat over-done (I repent – I wrote it late one night before leaving for vacation). I can see how people might misinterpret my words here: people from both fundamentalist points of view and emerging church points of view. What was most curious was a critique I received from one of the faculty that suggested that the issue for the church is propositional truth? This confused me and I still do not know if I understood what concerns he was addressing towards me. So for my own clarification, I offer this piece for your reading. Any comments as to where I have gone wrong would be much appreciated! Many will recognize themes from my book the Great Giveaway.
WHERE IS THE CHURCH NOW AND WHERE SHOULD IT GO?
When I say church here, I speak about the evangelical church, the church where I have been born, become a pastor and an ordained servant of Christ. I believe we as a church in America are in trouble. I believe we?ve lost our way. I believe we have a.) accommodated ourselves to American culture in such a way that we have become another example of the mistake of protestant liberalism. And in the process, I believe we have b.) lost our calling that is given to all ?the saved,? that is the calling to be the embodiment of Jesus Christ amidst society and the nations.
In regard to a.) I believe that evangelical church in its attempt to reach those without the gospel has accommodated itself to the languages of individualism, the habits of consumer capitalism, and the organizational forces of American business. We could do this because we have viewed salvation as largely an individualist transaction instead of the participation of God?s people in the cosmological salvation of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We could do this because we placed such faith in secular discourses like modern science and business technique (apologetics, business principles of leadership). In the process we have organized church life around the busy lives of Americans living the dreams of capitalism and democracy that leave little time for mission, community and worship. I fear the ?church? for evangelicals has in George Hunsberger?s words, become ?the distributor of religious goods and services.? As a result, I fear we evangelicals are becoming less and less noticeable and barely distinguishable as a people from the rest of our society who live as if God does not exist.
In regard to b.) I believe that evangelical church has lost the calling of God upon us to be the church of Jesus Christ in society. We evangelicals don’t need the church to live salvation because we have personal salvation augmented by reason, science and immediate experience it seems. In some ways frankly, we can do without the Church. And so, the church in essence is left to be a sideshow to what God is doing for, in and through individuals. We no longer have a need for the church to be the social manifestation of His Lordship where He reigns over the powers of sin, evil and death, the very inbreaking of the kingdom of God, where His mighty works are made manifest and put on display before the world (1 Pet 2:9), where hospitality is such an overpowering ethos that the lost in this world are compelled by this invitation. As it is right now, we lack a way of life that people look at and see and say, ?Look what manner of life has been made possible in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.? Our witness has been lost because we don’t see ?the church? as God?s strategy for the salvation of the world.
Where we must go? Let us reclaim the practices of being His Body. I count these as community, hospitality, embodied witness, truthful formative worship, preaching of the Word, justice both internal and then external to His body, spiritual formation as a Body, and the catechesis of our children as a community. The church becomes a culture in order to engage a culture. The church is the social strategy. We cannot know what parts of culture, justice or works of righteousness are faithful in the world, until we have discerned them as His Body from which we engage the world and perhaps make partnerships in the world, all under the Lordship of Christ. In short, let us embody the mission of Christ, in not just what we do or say, but also in who we are.
That was it. Any comments?