THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH AND THE POST-MODERN TRANSITION
In the preceding chapters, we have woven together several strands of exploration that are crucial to the theme under consideration here. The central problem being addressed in this thesis is the following:
As American society journeys through the post-modern transition, many established churches struggle to respond faithfully to cultural change within a fragmented generational context. The resulting ineffectiveness of these churches in transmitting the Christian tradition to Generation X, the first post-modern generation, threatens their ability to sustain their witness through this transitional period.
In chapters three and four, we examined American society‟s journey from the age of Enlightenment to that of an emerging post-modern culture. Along the way, it has been demonstrated that the cultural changes accompanying the shift from modernity to post-modernity have been manifested intergenerationally. Furthermore, we have noted the way in which all contemporary generations have been shaped by the assumptions of the age-segmented culture that evolved under the influence of modernity. Amid the significant cultural changes that have occurred in recent decades, this age-segmented social framework has fostered an astounding complexity within the American generational landscape and, thus, has served as an incubator for fragmentation and conflict among the generations. As we saw in chapter four, Generation X is a cohort that most directly bears the influence of both the post-modern transition and the complex patterns of relationship existing among the generations.
Throughout these chapters, we have been concerned with exploring the praxis of the church as it has lived and ministered in the midst of this complex, changing cultural context. In chapter three, we gained some sense of the struggle that the church has faced and the ways in which its praxis, so greatly influenced by the assumptions of Christendom, has developed in response to the modern era. In this chapter, we will examine more closely the life of the contemporary church. How is it dealing with the cultural changes associated with the post-modern transition? Recognizing that the perpetuation of the church‟s witness through this period of transition is an inherently intergenerational task, how is the church doing at transmitting its faith tradition to the members of Generation X, the first post-modern generation, within a complex intergenerational context? Has the church chosen a course different from that of society at large, or has it merely chosen to mimic and reinforce the marginalization that Xers have experienced in so many other contexts?
In this thesis, we are arguing that the church has established something of a poor record in responding to these realities, one that now places many churches in a state of a crisis. More specifically, we are arguing that the inadequacy of the church‟s response has contributed to its ineffectiveness in transmitting the Christian faith to Generation X and, as a result, that the continued existence of many churches is in jeopardy. In this chapter, we will explore these claims further and will contemplate the implications of these realities for the future of the church‟s life and mission.
The Church Amid Change
Throughout chapters three and four, considerable attention was given to the unfolding story of the dramatic changes that have taken place within our society. These changes, and their generational manifestation, have been explored under the broad heading of the post-modern shift. As we now turn our attention to the life of the church, it will become readily apparent that these changes have had a profound impact upon its life. While this cultural shift has posed significant challenges for the broader society, we will see that it also poses tremendous challenges for the church as it seeks to perpetuate its faith tradition faithfully through this transitional period.
Amid the profound changes that have occurred within society, the world to which the church long has been accustomed, by which its life and message have been shaped, and to which it has striven to respond throughout many generations, to a large extent no longer exists. Miller (2004:1) speaks in bold terms in reflecting upon this reality: “The future is now. Our world has changed. Even the dynamics of change have changed—and like it or not, we are all along for the ride.” This experience of change poses significant challenges for how the church understands its life and witness. Butler Bass (2004:33) suggests that a sense of transition “is part and parcel of being alive at this moment in human history. It is just the way it is….a natural and normal response to living in a time of rapid social transformation.” The changes impacting the lives of local churches, asserts Mead (1991:85), are “connected to equally radical changes of paradigms going on throughout the world. Our evolution is part of a cosmic evolution of nations and of consciousness, one that is reshaping evolution of East and West, of humanity and environment.”
So, how has the church chosen to respond to these profound changes? Two realities introduced in chapter three have proven to serve as significant hindrances to the church‟s capacity to respond to these changes in a way that promotes its continued effectiveness. The first is the Christendom paradigm, which has had significant bearing on the way in which the church contextualized the gospel within the world of modernity. The second is the decision of the church to adopt an approach to its intergenerational life that largely mirrors the praxis of the broader society in an uncritical and uncreative fashion, which has fostered distance and division among the generations of which these local churches are composed. We will consider each of these in turn in the pages that follow.
The Marriage of Christendom and Modernity
In this thesis, we are asserting that many established churches are struggling to respond faithfully to the cultural changes associated with the post-modern transition. We can recognize that this is the case in part because, in their efforts to adjust to a new world, established churches are starting from something of a “deficit” position. This is so because of the influence of the Christendom paradigm upon the life of the church. As we explored in section 3.2.1, for many centuries the Christendom paradigm has guided the church‟s understanding of its place in relation to society. Truly, as a result of its extended, stable relationship with the world of Christendom, the church came to be shaped by the core stories, values, and habits that were native to it (Roxburgh 2005:92).
As we noted in section 3.2.1, one particularly unfortunate facet of Christendom‟s legacy has been the divorce of church and mission (Murray 2004:130). The church‟s institutional character was emphasized rather than its relation to the missio Dei (Shenk 2001:8). These “deep roots” from several centuries in the past gave rise to a “flawed vision” of the church‟s mission within modern society (Mead 1991:84). Shenk (2001:41) asserts that, “Had the church understood itself as having a mission to culture, it would perforce have engaged modern culture in light of the reign of God.” However, the absence of such an understanding, suggests Drane (2000:95), led the church toward an all too uncritical embrace of the culture of modernity. As Shenk (1996:72) explains, Christendom inhibited the church from interacting critically or constructively with the changes that took place within modern society. As a result, the church became “absorbed and domesticated” into the prevailing culture of modernity (Goheen 1999; www.newbigin.net).
As we saw in chapter three, this melding of the influences of Christendom and modernity within American culture seems to have reached the pinnacle of its expression during the 1950s, a period in which established churches across America flourished (Schaller 1999:140). Butler Bass (2004:78) describes the churches of this era as having been concerned with “the comfort of the familiar, not the challenge of the foreign.” This model “assumes that the surrounding culture is friendly and supportive of the congregation—which tends to be a homogeneous, closed system. Chapel-style churches are routinized organizations, where members receive customs, traditions, and beliefs rather than create new ones.” Butler Bass describes this as an “accidental church,” one that did not perceive itself as needing to relate to its context with missional intentionality. These congregations were not bad places, she insists, but rather “vibrant, successful, growing congregations that met the needs of people at a particular moment in American history” (:95). However, it was precisely because of the success of these congregations that they lost “the capacity to imagine church being different than how they experienced it and, essentially, froze tradition in its tracks.” As the culture began to change around the church, this lack of imagination contributed greatly to its own ineffectiveness.
Many commentators suggest that, as the church became “domesticated” within the world of modernity, the result was devastating to the church‟s true vocation. Riddell (1998:59) describes modernity as a “Trojan Horse” that caused the church to adopt a syncretistic expression of the faith. As we saw in chapter three, with time, the church‟s understanding of the gospel became reduced to the product of this syncretistic interface of gospel and culture (Shenk 1995:55-56). As Gibbs and Bolger (2005:170) note, “Whereas Christendom provided institutional confidence, modernity provided an epistemological certainty based on foundationalism.” As a result of this relationship, asserts Shenk (2001:6-7), “a lack of integrity has undermined the credibility of the church in modern Western culture.” He adds, “The message, which had almost become a taunt, was clear: any peace settlement between church/religion and culture would be on the terms set by secular culture” (:39). This leads Riddell (1998:97) to offer the stinging assessment that the church of this era came to exist and function “in concert with the prevailing lie-tellers.”
Regardless of the factors that may have led the church to compromise its witness within the modern era, this “flirtation with modernity and the ideas of the Enlightenment” has contributed significantly to a loss of influence exercised by the church within society (Frost & Hirsch 2003:14). In fact, the acquiescence of the church to the culture of modernity, and the resultant trivializing of the gospel message, has led to the marginalization of the Christian faith (Miller 2004:178). Shenk (2001:2) points to the growth of the Christian movement in the non-Western world during this same period, largely the result of the modern missionary movement, to underscore precisely how costly the loss of a proper missional identity and vitality has been for the church in the West. The church has suffered declining influence during this period, not because its faith was unacceptable to the modern world, but because of its failure to bear witness faithfully (Bosch 1995:45). Notes Shenk (2005:73), “By isolating the question of mission, the church was effectively insulated from the adjustments that missionary engagement inevitably brings.”
In section 126.96.36.199, we examined the way in which this declining influence of the church became particularly notable during the 1960s and 1970s. Many commentators have suggested that this period constituted the dawning of an era of post-Christendom. This term, post-Christendom, captures something of the significant “relocation,” or loss of position, that has been experienced by the American church in relation to society in recent decades (Van Gelder 1998:54). The church in the United States began to experience disestablishment with the legal separation of church and state described in section 188.8.131.52. This disestablishment was further fuelled by the religious diversity brought about through immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (:50-52). However, the hermeneutics of decision (e.g. “oneself” and “one‟s situation”), which we introduced in chapter three as having emerged with such great force in the 1960s, contributed powerfully to a third wave of disestablishment of functional Christendom within American society (Carroll & Roof 2002:41).
Hauerwas and Willimon (1989:15-17) explain the impact that this has had upon the role of the church within society:
Sometime between 1960 and 1980, an old, inadequately conceived world ended, and a fresh new one began. We do not mean to be overly dramatic. Although there are many who have not yet heard the news, it is nevertheless true: a tired old world has ended…[In the past] Church, home and state formed a national consortium that worked together to instill “Christian values”…A few years ago, the two of us awoke and realized that, whether our parents were justified in believing this about the world and the Christian faith, NOBODY believed it today….[I]t is no longer “our world.”
1. INTRODUCING THE RESEARCH PROJECT
1.1 The Research Problem
1.2 Surveying Prior Research
1.3 The Research Gap
1.4 The Epistemological Base
1.5 Practical-Theological Methodology
1.5.1 Practical Theology: A Theological Discipline
184.108.40.206 A Hermeneutical Approach
1.5.2 Practical Theology as a Theory of Action
220.127.116.11 Action as the Object of Practical Theology
18.104.22.168 The Communicative Action Theory of Jürgen Habermas
22.214.171.124 The Interpretive Theory of Paul Ricoeur
1.5.3 A Practical-Theological Theory of Action
126.96.36.199 The Relation between Theory and Praxis
188.8.131.52 A Paradigm for a Practical-Theological Theory of Action
184.108.40.206 The Methodology of a Theological Theory of Action
a. The Perspective of Understanding: The Hermeneutical Cycle
b. The Perspective of Explanation: The Empirical Cycle
c. The Perspective of Change: The Regulative Cycle
d. The Relationship between the Three Perspectives
220.127.116.11 The Relation between Praxis 1 and Praxis 2
1.5.4 The Present Study as Practical-Theological Endeavour
2. THEORETICAL FOUNDATIONS
2.2 Introducing the Intergenerational Dynamic
2.3 The Generation within the Praxis of Society
2.4 The Intergenerational Praxis of Society
2.5 Intergenerational Praxis in Small World Contexts
2.6 The Church and the Generations
3. PRELUDE TO THE PROBLEM
3.2 A Paradigmatic Preface
3.3 Early American Antecedents of the Contemporary Situation
3.4 Industrial Revolution Precursors to the Contemporary Situation
3.5 The Twentieth Century Path to the Contemporary Situation
4. POST-MODERNISM AND GENERATION X
4.2 A Context of Change
4.3 The Emergence of Post-modernism
4.4 Gen X and A Context of Chaos
4.5 Drifting toward Adulthood
4.6 A Complex Intergenerational Context
5. THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH AND THE POST-MODERN TRANSITION
5.2 The Church Amid Change
5.3 The Experience of Generation Xers with the Church
5.4 Established Church Ineffectiveness in the Post-Modern Transition
6. MISSIONAL RENEWAL AND THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH
6.2 A Crucial Juncture
6.3 The Need for Missional Renewal
6.4 The Need for Generation X
6.5 The Importance of Process
7. INTERGENERATIONAL RECONCILIATION AND JUSTICE 340
7.2 Intergenerational Reconciliation
7.3 Intergenerational Justice
8. EMPIRICAL EVALUATION OF INTERGENERATIONAL EXPERIENCE
8.1 Introducing the Empirical Process
8.2 Survey Methodology
8.3 Summarizing the Data
8.4 Some Secondary Factors
9. STRATEGIES FOR THE MISSIONAL RENEWAL PROCESS
9.2 The Missional Change Model
9.3 The Intergenerational Component
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