Can hipster Christianity save churches from decline?

“Christianity’s true relevance lies not in the gospel’s comfortable trendiness but in its uncomfortable transcendence, as a truth with the power to rebuff, renew and restore wayward humanity at every epoch in history.

“Research also indicates that millennials do prefer ‘real’ churches over ‘cool’ ones. Contrary to the belief that churches must downplay their churchiness and meet in breweries or warehouses in order to appeal to millennials, a 2014 Barna study showed that millennials actually prefer church spaces that are straightforward and overtly Christian. The same study reported that when millennials described their ‘ideal church,’ they preferred ‘classic’ (67 percent) over ‘trendy’ (33 percent).”

Read the entire article: Can hipster Christianity save churches from decline? (source: Washington Post)

Can hipster Christianity save the church?

Can hipster Christianity save the church?

5 reasons why young people are seeking old ways of doing church

This migration began in earnest back in the 1990’s and is not coming into its own. I look at my own experience and understand that those of us, back then, were on the forefront of this migration among X-er’s, and now even more so among Millennial’s.

These are the general 5 reasons:

  1. Authenticity
  2. Rootedness
  3. Mystery
  4. Icons & Symbolism
  5. Participation

From the article:

“The departure of young people from “new” churches to “old” ones can be deeply confusing to many who grew up with strict denominational boundaries. However, it has the potential to lead to healthy, restorative spaces for many of God’s people. After all, we are all one church. As Brian Zhand expresses it; ‘we need the whole body of Christ to properly form the body of Christ. This much I’m sure of: Orthodox mystery, Catholic beauty, Anglican liturgy, Protestant audacity, Evangelical energy, Charismatic reality — I need it all!’

Read the post, here

http://www.churchinacircle.com/2015/03/31/why-young-people-are-seeking-old-ways-of-doing-church/

How are we influenced?

American exceptionalism today – the same as or similar to American “messianism” of the mid-nineteenth century… right before the Civil War? Yes, I think – and what it does, negatively, to the religion, the common perception of it all, and the spiritual welfare of Americans.

Professor Mark Noll in his book, “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis,” writes about the debates going on between pro- and anti-slavery theologians and biblical scholars leading up to the Civil War. The following quote comes from his analysis of Moses Stuart, considered one of America’s most competent biblical scholars of the time, a Reformed theologian, and how Stuart allowed his American citizenship (American messianism/exceptionalism) to overwhelm his scholarship and common application of scripture.

According to Noll, Stuart was compromised and thus blantantly inconsistent – his advocacy for slavery within his sense of “America” clouded his exegesis to the point of believing in the scriptural allowance of it. Are we are doing the same, today, in allowing notions of “America” to infringe upon and cloud what we are supposed to be and do as citizens of a different kingdom? We (many of us who claim Christ) make an idol of this nation-state and this notion of American exceptionalism. (This need not infringe upon the imagination of the American Ideal grasped by so many around the world and often forgotten by us, the supposed holders of it.)

From Noll, dealing with the specific debate over returning escaped slaves to their owners:

“Stuart, however, did not seem to feel that escaped slaves – considered as either Christians or potential Christians – had a higher claim on fellow believers than did Southern slaveholders considered as fellow American citizens. Rather, by overriding his commitment to standard Reformed theology, Stuart’s strong sense of American national messianism constrained his interpretation of Scripture. Even for this rightly honored defender of strict biblical exegesis, race exerted a powerful sway. White fellow Americans counted far more than black fellow Christians. Analogical Israel meant more than Spiritual Israel. A dubious theological warrant (treating America as the chosen people) exerted more force than a strong theological warrant (including blacks in the fellowship of the Church.” (Noll, p. 61)

More Silence

“Underneath the worship of God lies silence, a wordless praise, an eyeless vision. When a mind gets faith, it does not get it as it gets a knowledge of England’s history, or as it gets a knowledge of sparking plugs. For ‘gets’ is the wrong word. The word which rings true is not ‘gets’ but ‘receives.’ If you get faith at all, you feel as though you receive it. You hardly asked for it. You may not have wanted it. It came. ‘Nulla fides divina nisi infusionem’ – no true faith without a descent upon you; as it were, poured out, from on high.”

[Owen Chadwick, “The Spirit of the Oxford Movement”, p. 307]

The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church

My seminary – for which I have great love, within which I made fast friends and found colleagues, from which I was formed in worship in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd (what incredible symbolism in that name, alone) and in scholarship found in classroom and conversation – this seminary of long tradition (honored by many, ridiculed by others) is in a very difficult place, a different kind of trouble in these days.

I don’t know the details. I don’t, so I can’t bring myself to throw down the club of blame and accusation on either side. I have to wait.  I know the Dean as a fellow seminarian. I know some of the faculty as teachers and mentors. I know them all, and respect them all. We not only studied together, but we lived together in the tight confines of the Close.

This is, I’m afraid, what tends to happen within institutions as they go through profound change. Frankly, this is what happens within communities and nations, too. We see it in our own politics, in the events in the Middle East, and in other graduate institutions, too. These types of things happen as a result of our very human nature – sources of great good and great evil, incredible creativity and deadening banality. This is way we need, frankly, the One who redeems and restores and saves us from the worst of our human nature, from ourselves – individually and collectively.

What we see happening at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church we will continue to see with increasing frequency and ferociousness until the turn comes. This is a microcosm of what is stating within the entire Church. How will we respond?  The question asked within the title of a book by Francis Schaeffer comes to mind – “How should we then live?”  This is the crux, isn’t it? How are we each to live out the commands of Jesus in this very difficult, but practical, situation? How will each of us love God with all of our being and then, and here is where the significance really finds it’s ground, how will we love our neighbors – deans and faculties and pundits all around?

Will GTS and will the entire Church make the decision to do the profoundly difficult thing, the profoundly counter-cultural thing, and be reconciled, be redeemed, be reformed, and be transformed in the glory of the grace and mercy and love and faithfulness shown to us by the One to whom we owe everything? We have a choice, don’t we? Frankly, we have to “man-up”, we have to “woman-up”, we have to “Christ-up” and do the right thing, else we are just another example of hypocrisy – a failed thought-system, a worthless religion. We know what we need to do, and with God’s help we can do it, if we are willing. Are we willing? If so, just watch what God will do! Amazing!

Deep Trends & Christian Institutions

For those who have ears to hear… What do you think?  It is my experience, and from what I witness and read concerning leadership in many denominational and even “emergent” structures, that we honestly only want to gather around us those who scratch our itching ears… we don’t want to step back and carefully consider what is going on around us and what then is necessary to do.  If it fits our preconception and personal want, fine, but it if doesn’t, we ignore or reject it – to our own peril.  Click on the link, below, for the article.

Deep trends affecting Christian institutions

What do you think?

Assult / Beauty

From “Yearning: Authentic Transformation, Young Adults, and the Church”, by The Rev. Robert Hendrickson, pp 67-68:

“In the day-to-day lives of many young adults, they will be assaulted by images of at best banality and at worst outright cruelty. Advertising works on the premise that they are never enough, television creates a spectacle of emotional manipulation and invites them to cascade between feeling less than or superior to – megastores and strip malls take nature and bend it to serve only a bland commerce bent toward creating competitive identity that obscures our actual identity and blurs the particularities of the neighborhoods we live in and serve.

Somewhere along that walk from the font to the alter, in the life of virtue, the encroaching of cultural norms, values, and expectations derail us.  The journey that we begin by being baptized into the life of Christ quickly gets sidetracked as we take paths that seem to shine a little more brightly.  Then we find ourselves lost and without bearings – unable to see our true selves or true home through the ceaseless press and clamor.

The hollowness of the world cannot be filled with more of the world, but with more of that grace which flows of the sacraments and makes men and women more holy and more devout.  Those struggling to find God amidst and despite the banality of much of contemporary culture will not find an answer in a Church that simply seeks to replicate that banality in our buildings, liturgies, prayers, or work in the world.

This is where beauty comes in.  Beauty has the power to pull us up short – to force us to behold again. To behold all that God is doing around, in, and in spit of us. It demands of us a renewed seriousness as we stand in the middle of that which makes us know that there is more.”

Affordable Care Act, Individual Liberty, and Socialized Medicine

So, my 2-cents on the ACA (Obamacare), the Federal Gov’t, and individual liberty.  A couple disclaimers: 1. Occupationally, I work for a company that provides health insurance – a VEBA; 2. Politically, I tend to be drawn to Libertarianism (which is not Neo-Conservatism or plain old Conservatism); 3. Socially, I’m a person who has set my life within the Way of Christ, no matter how imperfectly I succeed.

Now onward… Since the early debates of whether our form of government should be central or local – Federal-centric or State-centric – the battle has raged.  More State-centric seems to have won out in our Constitutional form.  So, I think the Federal government should not take up stuff not specifically provided for it in the Constitution – like medicine.  No socialized medicine!  Therefore, like the ACA (which really is of a different kind, but anyway…) Congress should immediately end the Federal government’s socialized medicine programs – Medicare and Medicaid – which are government controlled and dictated systems.

Secondly, people have the right to not have insurance if they don’t want it! Since we know that lots of uninsured people show up at Emergency Rooms seeking care for everything from what would otherwise be a primary-care check-up to a hang-nail, these uninsured visits drive up the cost of healthcare and drive hospitals into financial insolvency since these people can’t pay their bills, then this needs to stop!  Why should regular-people’s insurance premiums, co-pays, and co-insurance charges continually rise because we have to make up for other people’s decisions? It is our individual American right to not have health insurance, but if you don’t have insurance or don’t have the cash – no care!  Why should I have to subsidize other people’s Constitutionally granted decisions or their inefficiency, irresponsibility, or bad luck?

So, if you don’t plan well during your life and you’re old and have no healthcare coverage, tough luck.  If you are young and invincible and get into a drunken care crash without insurance, tough luck.  If your baby is in trouble and you chose to exercise your Constitutional right to not have health insurance, tough luck. Individual liberty, individual responsibility! After all, that’s the American Way of allowing us all to make our own, private, individualized decisions, right?  Now, if a privately funded charity wants to pay for those people’s healthycare bills, great, they can be enablers if they want to, just don’t make me pay for it.  (The “American Way” is looking more and more like “Social Darwinism.”)

But, the American Way is not the Christ-like Way.  And, for all those people who claim to be Christians – whether conservative or liberal, Evangelical, Mainline, or Catholic (Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, or some Lutherans) – hyper-individualism is counter to God’s call to us to be about caring for the lest-of-these, to considering others needs before our own, and to love not just our neighbors but our enemies as well.

That doesn’t mean we have to give everything over to the Federal or State governments to control or administer (I am enamored with Libertarianism, after all), but it does mean we cannot dump our responsibility to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien!  We can democratically decide whether to take up that responsibility through our government, private associations, or individually.  We can collectively decide the means within our representative democracy, but we can never decide to ignore those least able to make it.

The Church

“The Church, in common with the whole redemptive process, does not exist as the fruit of human endeavour, which has shown time and again by the bloody collapse of ‘civilized’ rationality to be incapable of attaining anything that is lastingly healing. Thus the Church cannot be reformed by human effort and ingenuity, any more than sin can be reformed by good will. We must hear the gospel of the incarnation as a summons to self-abandonment before all else, not as a reassuring endorsement of the best we can humanity do.”

– Rowan Williams in his book, “Anglican Identities”, p. 89-90, writing on on Michael Ramsey’s theology of the Church.

This is the problem we have today – those who still rely on Modernist notions for their base foundation of what can be known for sure are still trying to reform the Church by human endeavor and some kind of human ingenuity – and it isn’t working. There is too often a reliance on late 20th-Century American socio-political ideology (of the Left or Right) rather than what the enduring Tradition reveals to be the ways-and-means of the Kingdom of God. For example, demanding “rights” is not at all the same as living into “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

With respect to the “reform” of our Church (in this case, the Episcopal Church), what is needed is self-abandonment to the gospel-of-the-incarnation (understood in a Postmodern way), which is completely tied to the deep and flowing stream of the enduring Tradition (for us in its Anglican form) taken up  by us from generations past, experienced anew in our own day, and if we are faithful we will strive to understand how to pass it on to the next generations.

What will we do in this Anglican form of the Tradition of ours when we think about issues of a numerically and financially declining Church – a Church that has nearly lost what once was significant influence for the good within society – within a culture that no longer thinks and acts within a Christian worldview?

Labour

“The Bible does not supersede labour, but by its very form proclaims labour to be fruitful… There is, no doubt, a restless desire in man for some help which may save him from the painful necessity of reflection, comparison, judgement. But the Bible offers no such help. It offers no wisdom to the careless, and no security to the indolent. It awakens, nerves, invigorates, but it makes no promise of ease.” – B.F. Westcott, “Lessons from Work” (London, 1901) p. 148 as found in “Anglican Identities” by Rowan Williams (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2003) p.76.