Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Open Eyes

I read a very insightful article today by Tim Keller in preparation for The Retreat for young adults on my church at the end of this month about Christ & Culture. In the article Keller quotes Michael Wolfe from New York Magazine who provides what I think is an insightful perspective on Western American culture when he states his belief that America is fundamentally two nations. "There is the quicker-growing, economically vibrant, morally relativist, urban-oriented, culturally adventurous, sexually polymorphist, and ethically diverse nation. Then there is the smaller-town, suburban, nuclear-family, religiously oriented, traditional values, white-centric other America with its diminished political and economic force." Wolfe social commentary is, I believe, correct, though I constantly live in denial of this reality because my abode is firmly established in the diminishing sector of American values and culture. My present perspective nutures an anti-body that makes me too often resistant to the pressing reality that the way the Church reached people with the Gospel of Jesus even 20 years ago is no longer effective in the first nation Wolfe describes.

Keller affirms this reality when he says, "...we are not presently forced to think about the post-everythings (people who comprise the ethically diverse nation Wolfe described) because there are so many traditional people that our churches can still grow, and thus, we feel we are doing a fine job." As I think about what it will take for Concord to really impact a mid-range size city like Chattanooga, I can't help but think that while we might be able to effectively reach the traditionally-minded individual whose heart still resonates with a gospel presentation that tells them that they should be good - and they are not good enough, and thus need Jesus to save them and forgiven them of sin - we will never reach the resident of Chattanooga who, when confronted with a presentation challenging their "goodness" and exposing their need for a Savior, would reply in return, "Who is to say what good is?"

In other words, the person reflected in Wolfe's first description of America - which is the description of the majority in the United States because most of these people live in urban areas and are attracted to big cities, universities and ethnically diverse communities - this person, when confronted with their need for goodness would challenge who defines what "good" is. And no amount of logic or reason or apologetic would penetrate their impervious worldview.

In the South, far too many churches are convinced that what people desperately desire are traditional values and the suburban life. We've adopted these values as if they are Scriptural mandates for the Christian life in themselves. Our traditional, mono-ethnic, culturally-safe, rational view of the world blinds us to the reality that most of the Western world isn't even asking the same questions we are in relation to faith, spirituality, and God. And yet we consistently respond to them as if they are.

And even if the church in the South can thrive in its present cultural environment, it will not survive well into the 21st century because the individuals who are the potential future of the church, the pluralistic, relativistic, ethnically-diverse, sexually polymorphist, culturally adventerous, are the future of Western society. The culture of the bible belt is not reflective of Western culture at-large, and churches full of traditional people must begin asking pertinent questions about how to effectively engage this other "nation" as Wolfe put it, or else the Gospel will continue to lose traction in the West. The reality is that the West is already a post-Christian mission field. The sooner we recognize this in the traditional church the more aware we will become of our need to contextualize the gospel in a way that effectively represents the message of Jesus Christ and winsomely draws all nations to Himself.


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