Monday 21 July 2008

Evangelism in the real world

A Tour de force Monday evening from Brian MacLaren. He showed us a Bridge in Honduras — a marvel of Japanese engineering that survived Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Trouble was, the river didn’t, and it became a bridge to nowhere. The contemporary world is being hit by a cultural and philosophical hurricane comparable in scope to the birth of the modern world. In Cultures making the shift from premodern to modern, the Church is all geared up and converts flow in; but for how long once development kicks in? Experience of displaced communities in Western countries suggests not very long. In Cultures transitioning from modern to Post modern Postcolonial, Churches are stable or declining, winning converts mostly from other churches. The river has moved; and in the majority world development will bring on a shift out of Modern in a few years, not 400, as in the West. Nobody is immune. Any idea, however attractive to some, that the clock is about to start running backwards is nostalgic moonshine.

Most postmodern people don’t relish being far from God, bereft of hope and roots, isolated from loving community, part of the problem rather than the solution. But neither do they want to be religious fanatics, cultists, Us and Them dualists, Church hobbyists, Judgmental fantasists. They need authentic, sane, vibrant faith. Angicanism at its best is well placed to provide safe space to grow this:
  1. A gospel which prioritizes Jesus and the kingdom more than institutional religion, with a servant concept of ministry
  2. A safe platform from which to develop creative fresh expressions of Church
  3. A multicultural family, with global flexibility
  4. A liturgy that at its best exibits mystery, beauty, rootedness, intelligence and clarity, biblical coherence, as opposed either to absolutism or bigoted, mean spirited zealotry.
Something needs to be done — we need to get this right. This is not a job for commissions and programmes, but for example and engagement. This generation feels increasingly orphaned by the manifest failures of conventional religion, science, government, technology, consumerism. We can reorientate our actvities towards our neighbours — bring good news, hope, gentleness, creativity and respect.

I am impressed by the logic of Brian’s argument. It sheds light on why the fastest growing Church of England congregations, by and large, are Cathedrals. Following it up would involve reimaging our context in a more realistic, low-key, creative and rooted direction. I think I'm up for it.


Erika Baker said...

I'll join you. How do we start?

Unknown said...

I agree. As a Gen Xer and member of the first entirely postmodern generation, this all seems to relate directly to where things are truly at.

The comment about cathedrals is fascinating--and I can believe it. They are actually a place where something 'bigger' is happening, while also being a source of decline. Moderns see them as ostentatious, while postmoderns (like premoderns) see it as a place of connection, exploration, and new life! What an awesome experience!

Anonymous said...

I'll join both of you! : )

Don said...

I have to say that I see McLaren's bridge analogy from an entirely different perspective, as I discuss here. That in turn makes the conclusions different.

Anonymous said...

Don, you seem to be reading too much in to the bridge analogy. See my comment on your blog post.

Don said...

Jonathan, I did response to your comment here.

After I wrote that, I thought of one more thing. It seems that I look at things differently from most Evangelicals.

McLaren looks at the bridge and concentrates on the part that's gone, and says "Look at what failed, we need to start over and do something different."

I look at what's left and say, "Look at what remained, let's learn from how it stayed there and, with what we learn from the failure, build a better bridge."

Jon said...

What's gone? I thought the bridge came through the huricane intact, while the river switched to a different bed. The message drawn from this doesn't seem to be that the old verities are false. The message seems to be that the old verities don't address current problems. If the message I'm getting out of it is what's intended then I think he's right.

Maybe I'm misreading what I see in the world, but it seems to me that the top priority question has shifted from something like "What should we believe?" to something more like "how should we live?". The change also seems to me to be more apparent in the sorts of answers folks find compelling. For example, more and more evangelicals in the US are focusing more on social action than on a more direct declaration of the importance of faith in Christ.


Anonymous said...

Don: Oh, babies and bathwater!

Your clarification makes much more sense to me than the original critique.

I read McLaren as saying we have to adapt to a changed environment. That doesn't have to mean selling out, but rather that the normative C20th model of doing church isn't fulfilling the Great Commission in the C21st - so we have to find authentic ways that will.

Anonymous said...

I read Don apt comment on Mclaren's, firstly is it an analogy or a metaphor? Secondly, I was very impressed with something Don said, "the approaches were gone during the hurricane", the bridge stood the storm because of foundation or design, but became an isolated beautiful piece to be contemplated but unapproachable and useless. The metaphor (i believe it is a metaphor) stands)the approaches are as important as the bridge itself -the medium is the message-

Don said...

My response to the two Jons is here.

Anonymous said...

Alan, I am fascinated that you link Brian's points to the ministry of cathedrals.

I think they certainly have the potential to be multi-faceted diverse platforms that serve the city, my experience of their worship the few times I have been is that it is far from that. I am not being critical, just surprised. Can you unpack why you make those connections please?


Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, guys for a really significant conversation, that I'm honoured to be able to listen in on. I want to think it through again/ follow it up when we go with an Indian bishop friend to Willow Creek in August.

yeah, Cathedrals. well they are very quirky and individual institutions, but they do exhibit congregational growth. people seem to like the hi-quality assurance and (I find this disturbing, but I understand why) low personal engagement they combine. Plus if you're someone who's sent by architecture, they punch that button hard. Do they appeal to more X's and Y's than they used to (with equivalent ages 20 years ago) because they are hi-concept and rich, but unthreatening. The other thing is you can go and they have international congregations, and lots of room for different level of response in the low range, without the threat of being zapped up to do things the first time you go. You tend to get good short sermons. the timings are often shorter than local churches. Of course some cathedral services are really snooty and threatening, I'm sure. But they can't all be all the time, or I don't believe this growth would be happening. I'm just thinking out loud, really.

Anonymous said...

appreciate the thoughts Alan. i do quite a bit of work with anglicans here in NZ, so this is really helpful.

i wonder if there is stuff going on sociologically with cathedrals - more consumeristic in our shopping culture; less demanding than your local. it would be a fascinating research project, to sift to see whether it is sociological or spiritual.


Johnny said...

...hugely encouraged to see he was there(at Lambeth)

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