Down through the centuries, Christianity has been very good at adapting to various changes and shifts in worldview and culture. At the hinge-era of what we usually call the modern/post-modern area, we are in the sometimes volatile thinking-phase of this adaption.
Eddie Bibbs and Ryan Bolger, in their extensive examination of emerging churches have written:
“Because of this essential dismantling work, some outside the (emergent/emerging) movement have said that those in emerging churches do not love the church or that they are full of negativity because of their propensity for dismantling church structures. This is to misread the movement entirely. What to some may appear to be pointless complaining is a part of a larger process of dismantling ideas of church that simply are not viable in postmodern culture. Neither the gospel nor the culture demands these expressions of the faith. Emerging churches remove modern practices of Christianity, not the faith itself. Western Christianity has wed itself to a culture, the modern culture, which is now in decline. Many of us do not know what a postmodern or post-Christendom expression of faith looks like. Perhaps nobody does. But we need to give these leaders space to have this conversation, for this dismantling needs to occur if we are to see the gospel translated for and embodied in twenty-first-century Western culture…” (Gibbs and Bolger, Emerging Churches, 28-29)
George Hunter III has said, more than once, that many churches are poised to be effective if 1952 ever rolls around again. Surely we don’t want North American Christianity in the 21st Century to end up having been “islands filled with modernist Christians while surrounded by a sea of postmodern people”, do we? I am indebted to Dustin Metcalf (Akkerman, Oord & Peterson, Postmodern and Wesleyan? 63) for this picturesque image.
When I read 50 of the primary works by emergent authors a few years ago I noticed a growing sense of responding to the call of Jesus to follow Him because of what that following means for life here and now on earth for myself and the world around me, not simply because by doing so I can make it to heaven when I die. Emphasizing the need for salvation around the afterlife has created, in the modern church, far too many people taking on Christian faith as just another expression of selfish, me-oriented, consumeristic society – what THEY’LL get out of it. (And we wonder why there are so many immature Christians in our churches?)
A common trend running through emerging/Emergent/postmodern Christianity is the conviction that the Gospel is not merely a set of beliefs to get you to heaven when you die. Rather, it is an invitation to a new way of life right now, a call to participate in God’s new community here on earth, and a conviction that salvation, in the Biblical sense, is about a lot more than what happens after your funeral. This isn’t to suggest that the modern church was only ever concerned about getting to heaven, but most postmoderns feel that much of the modern church focused so much on after-death soteriology, that it drowned out most of the rest of the message of Jesus, and fostered a Left Behind view of abandonment of the world.
Nazarene pastor Dana Hicks has written: “Focusing evangelism on what happens to us after we die tends to create disciples who are not concerned with either whom they are becoming or the kind of world they will leave behind. Of course, we may die tonight. But it is much more likely that we will live a while longer – a decade or two or three or more. What happens in the meantime? Will we live an abundant life? What kind of legacy will we leave behind?”(Dana Hicks, Postmodern and Wesleyan, 77). Instead of the question regarding God letting you into heaven if you died tonight, Dana finds the following two questions to be more helpful in speaking to people about Christ,
1”If you knew you were going to live another forty years, what kind of person would you want to become?”
2. “If you could know what God is doing in the world, would you want to be part of it?”