Final Analysis Final Paper

Scott Bouldrey CL590

There is an undeniable cultural shift going on in Western epistemology and ontology. Though arguments continue over when the shift began, who started it, and whether or not it is “safe” or “valid,” its effects on the Church are evident. People of the Millennial and X generations are not regular attendees of weekly worship services (38.8% of those above age 65 attend weekly, or more often, as compared to 17.8% of those aged 18 – 30 years old). And yet, the majority of the American population (80 – 85% depending on the poll) still considers itself Christian (data from the Association of Religion Data Archives). There are three main reasons for this response to “religion” (which I define as the way in which a group of people understand, envision, communicate, and embody their faith). First is the general tendency of younger generations to distrust institutions (and their use of power) of any kind. Second is the philosophy that arose in response to and fed that distrust. The most common term for this shift is “postmodernism.” And third is the broad range of effect that multinational capitalism and the consumerism it encourages on the younger generations. The Church’s response to this cultural shift has been slow. Much of postmodern philosophy and institutional apathy developed in the late-1960s to mid-1970s. As weekly worship attendance began to plummet, the Church took to a marketing model of evangelism and many local congregations developed both contemporary and “seekersensitive” worship services that attracted many people of the Baby Boomer generation. The resulting increase in attendance, and the concurrent rise of the Mega-Church, was enough to placate the Church’s fear. However, Generation X and the Millennials were leaving church, and staying away. As a result of the disillusionment of these generations, in the late-1990s (ca. 1998) America, what has been named the emerging church started as a conversation between concerned and disillusioned evangelical pastors and youth ministers. Over the last decade, their voice has grown through publications, web logs (a.k.a. “blogs”), television and radio appearances, and occasional gatherings. As a result, the emerging church has grown significant enough to merit “a seat at the table” of numerous ecumenical bodies, including the World Council of Churches. The emerging church has caught the attention of many people in the younger generations (and those in other generations that consider themselves “postmodern”). But it too has both its pluses and minuses. As most of the mainline denominations struggle with declining attendance, the emerging church, in an attempt to reverse the cycle and relying heavily on the language, philosophy, and “edginess” of postmodernism and the classic forms and methods of the early and medieval Church is looking very closely at ecclesiology and growth (even though church attendance nationwide still dwindles). For all their strengths, neither the modern nor the emerging churches are addressing the spiritual issues of the people in their communities. The future form of the church may indeed arise out of the emergent church, but not without first taking a closer look at traditional theology, church organization, and the needs of the people. If the Church is to survive the transition from modernity through postmodernity, it needs to divest itself from the negative modern influences of organizational structure, educational philosophy, and ideological violence that comes from utopian models driven by systems while overcoming its fear of death so that it may meet the spiritual needs of the people. The Ontological/Epistemological Shift Before beginning the argument of this section, I find it necessary to present a caveat or two. First, some statements are likely to come across as broad generalizations,

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Final Analysis Final Paper

Scott Bouldrey CL590

especially when referring to generations and generational cohorts. My use of these terms in broad strokes is solely for the purpose of conserving language. Thus, if I were to say, “the members of Generation X reacted thusly,” it should be translated as “there were significant enough numbers of individuals within Generation X who reacted in such a way that it became culturally consequential.” Second, the history presented below is filled with holes and, with due respects to Jean-François Lyotard, comes from my own culturally constrained view. However, space is limited, so what I offer is restricted and intended to be only the beginning of a deeper dialogue around the subject. The most common complaint against postmodernism and its philosophy regards its tendency to be indefinable. Most critics choose either to take stands against particular philosophers (like Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, or Michel Foucault) or against particular points of their philosophy (like deconstruction, relativism, or historicism). However, the most valid and thought provoking criticism of postmodernism comes from its various assertions against modernity and its refusal to offer anything to replace modernism. Postmodernism may look forward to freedom from the constraints of modernism, but it won’t create a single vision of what that would be or how to get to it. As right as postmodernism may be about the effects of our contexts and power structures, it stops short of giving its proponents anything to hold on to. Perhaps the answer to that criticism could be found not in the critiques of the authors or their texts, but rather (to put their own philosophy into use) in the context in which these writers found themselves and from which they felt compelled to create these same theories. Before delving into history myself, there are a couple of insights offered by Walter Brueggemann and Brian McLaren that bear closer examination and will also come into play at the end of this argument. First, Brueggemann does not take the time to search for postmodernity’s origins. He is more interested in the results: “…the practice of modernity, of which we are all children, since the seventeenth century has given us a world imagined through the privilege of white, male, Western, colonial hegemony, with all its pluses and minuses…The simple truth is that this construed world can no longer be sustained, is no longer persuasive or viable, and we are able to discern no large image in its place” (Brueggemann pg. 18). Brueggemann offers no reason for modernity’s demise only recognition of the fact (or, in his words, “substantive claim”) that its primary form is the end or deep suspicion of the colonial power structure of the late 20th century. He argues that the imagination of modernity has failed “in both its moral-theological and economic-political aspects.” The chaos that has arisen, then, comes from the deep affection for both the old world and old way of knowing that comes against the shock and fear of the realization we now have no clear way on how to order ourselves differently or better (pg. 19). Though Brueggemann does not admit to knowing a time or place, Brian McLaren argues that postmodernism started with an intellectual reflection on the Holocaust and colonialism. “I see the postmodern conversation as a profoundly moral project in intention at least, a kind of corporate repentance among European intellectuals in the decades after the Holocaust. Coincidentally (or maybe not), at that very postwar moment, one colonized nation after another sought an end to colonial

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Final Analysis Final Paper

Scott Bouldrey CL590

occupation and exploitation. Each colonial nation had to decide how brutal it would become in seeking to maintain its control…” (Paggitt and Jones pg. 144). In effect, McLaren argues that the desire to be free of colonizing nations combined with the colonial nations’ one-two punch of excessive confidence in their civilization and the certainty of the superiority of their culture, caused violence that had either been overlooked by the colonial nations or dismissed as historical oddities that had nothing to do with anything “inherent in their own cultures, corporate character, or beliefs” (pg. 145). The “moral project” mentioned above was thus the European intellectuals and their attempt to abate this Western overconfidence and violence first with pluralism and later with relativism. My interest in each of these points stems from the recognition of colonialism and the violence and hegemony that came from it. These play important roles in current attitudes of the emerging churches that will be discussed later. But I think that McLaren is too generous to the “European intellectuals.” After all, the names associated with postmodernism, though French for the most part, also didn’t formulate their most influential thoughts until the 1970s. Also, McLaren failed to consider the minimal effect of those philosophers on Western culture, especially on an American academy that had seen the decline of philosophy departments dating back to Nietzsche’s declaration of God’s demise. A closer look at American post-WWII culture proves to be more revealing. Prior to the war, in the depths of the Great Depression, “unity” and its close cousin “conformity” were still well esteemed qualities in American culture. However, in the depths of WWII, a great number of American GIs saw in Nazi Germany and its death camps the dark side of conformity and nationalism. Many returned home with the strict intention of raising their children to be immune to this blind conformity.1 In other words, they would raise non-conformists, and they did so in the largest generation of children the U.S. had known for some time. The Baby Boom Generation and their non-conformity would manifest itself first in icons like James Dean and sub-cultures of Beatniks, but most memorably in the hippies of Haight-Ashbury, Kent State, and Woodstock. It is important to the discussion that follows to remember the dominance of this atmosphere of non-conformity as we deal with the moral fall of every institution. Prior to the birth of the Baby Boomers, the culture was one of unity and conformity that may have yielded different results. But, around 1961, the generally agreed on year that started Generation X, unity and conformity had been flipped and institutions (and those who were considered blind supporters of institutions), often referred to as “the man,” were the targets of rebellion. Nonconformity, even outright rebellion against authority, made an individual “one gone cat.” Can you dig it? Returning now to post-WWII America, the return of civic and economic prosperity coupled with the rise of the Cold War would have blinded the nation to the irate grumblings of a few European intellectuals. The U.S. found itself tied up in a kind of nationalistic fervor with the McCarthy trials and the Cuban Missile Crisis. But, on November 22, 1963 John F. Kennedy was assassinated. His death started a string of conspiracy theories that continue to this day. The seeds of distrust in the government were
1

This very interesting point was given to me by Wendy Lybarger, who, during a conversation revealed that this idea was expressed by a WWII veteran during a meeting, and supported by others around the conversation table. Recognizing that one voice and one group does not speak for a whole generation; I still found it to be an intriguing piece of the puzzle. 3

Final Analysis Final Paper

Scott Bouldrey CL590

sown in what many people refer to as the event that resulted in the death of America’s innocence. Kennedy’s death seemed to lead to a snowball effect of negative events in the political and military life of the nation. Less than a year later, the United States found itself in the prelude to, and not long after that, deeply engaged in the Vietnam War for highly suspicious reasons. The hippie culture of protest against a list of things, not just Vietnam, coupled with the sometimes-violent governmental responses to it, fed the fire of distrust in government. Watergate and the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974 brought governmental corruption to full light. As the first cohort of Generation X reached its teenage years, the government, as the institution of power in the United States, had been caught in its corruption. The governmental ills of the day were only the beginning. In 1973, the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. Prior to its passing, the abortion rate for the population averaged 196 abortions per 1,000 live births. The total number of recorded abortions in 1973 was 744,600. Flash forward six years to 1979 when the abortion rate reached 358 abortions per 1,000 live births. In six years, the total number of abortions reached 1,497,700 (a 266% increase) (National Right to Life Committee pg. 1).2 In the eight years between Roe v. Wade and the birth of the last cohort, Generation X became the most aborted generation in the history of the world (7,933,400 abortions). For those of Generation X that survived, they found themselves, primarily, in one of two situations. Either they were a “latchkey child” or from a “broken home.” Both terms identifying with the increased number of dual income households and a divorce rate that reached its historical peak in 1980 (National Institute of Child Health & Human Development pg. 2). By the time the last members of Generation X were hitting preschool, the institution of care, the family, had lost its Leave It to Beaver luster and left a great number of Gen-Xers to learn about the world on their own and at a very early age. In April 1983 the report A Nation at Risk was released by the the National Commission on Excellence in Education, a group organized by the Reagan administration. Under the auspices of maintaining the American advantage in world markets, A Nation at Risk sought to address “rising mediocrity” in American students and workers. The report and its findings led to widespread media coverage. It was from this source that the students and parents alike were told, “For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach those of their parents” (NCEE pg. 6). The report, the government, the parents, and the media made two things very clear over the following months and years: 1) The schools were to blame because teachers themselves were poorly educated, not qualified to teach the subject they were in fact teaching, and poor managers of classroom time and discipline, and 2) As a result the students were lazy, ignorant, and unable to perform even the most remedial tasks, thus effectively disenfranchising themselves “from the chance to participate fully in our national life” (NCEE pg. 3). The accusations, urgent tone, and ubiquitous political support of the article revealed to Generation X the failure of the schools, the institutions of knowledge and vocational training.
These statistics were taken from the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), an affiliate of Planned Parenthood and reported on the NRLC web page. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) records lower numbers for both years (615,831 for 1973 and 1,251,921 for 1979). The AGI position on these different numbers is explained as a difference in data gathering. According to AGI, the CDC data are collected from voluntary reports from state health departments. AGI collects its data from direct surveys of abortionists (Alan Guttmacher Association pg. 1). 4
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Final Analysis Final Paper

Scott Bouldrey CL590

Quietly, in 1981, a string of extremely rare, and virulent, forms of cancer and pneumonia among American populations of gay males started to draw the attention of the scientific community and the media. By August of 1982, the disease had expressed itself outside the homosexual population through recent blood transfusions and through transmission from a mother to her infant child (a child in the earliest cohort of the Millennial Generation). A disease with no known cause and certainly no cure had made its way onto the world stage and had been given an acronym: AIDS, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Less than three years later AIDS was officially qualified as a pandemic (National Institute of Health pg. 1-2). At this point, Generation X was still spanning their school years, the oldest of the cohort just reaching its twenty-fourth year. Health professionals everywhere were telling them, “If you get AIDS, you die.” The seemingly inexhaustible resources of medical science had no answers and certainly no cure. Within months of the declaration of the AIDS pandemic, January 1986 to be exact, the NASA space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds into take-off and three months later the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl melted down, reminding everyone of the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island. Science, the institution that was supposed to be the engine of the Modern utopia, had fallen to its overconfidence and oversight. Next, in 1986, Oral Roberts claimed that God told him to raise $8 million dollars for scholarships and funding to the City of Faith Medical and Research Center, the medical school at Oral Roberts University, by March, or God would “take him home.” In April of 1987, he had raised $9.1 million. In November 1987, he announced that the City of Faith was closing down. By March of 1988, less than a year after raising the funds, the scholarships were bankrupt and students were told to repay them with an 18% interest rate (Dager pg. 2). In 1987, Jim Bakker, conservative televangelist, was recorded in the act of and admitted to having an affair with a prostitute. In 1988, Jimmy Swaggart, another conservative televangelist, did the same. The Church, the institution that was reportedly established by God to work God’s Divine Will in the world, had revealed itself to be a selfserving, judgmental body out for money and sex while it simultaneously scolded and condemned sinners to hell for seeking the same. In a word, the Church, and everyone in it, was identified with the word “hypocrite.” And finally, the economic boom of the 1950s, driven by war era production, brought a new view of business structures. Suddenly, bigger was better. As mentioned above, regarding the educational system, the new drive for companies was competitiveness in the world market. The goal chosen to demonstrate the success of a company was determined to be profitability (Washington Post pg. 4). Unfortunately, a combination of the Savings & Loan scandals, the onset of a recession in 1983, and the now well established unemployment insurance laws changed the way corporations chose to deal with maintaining profits. Suddenly, large corporations were forced to take what were, up to that time, relatively unusual steps in order to survive. To cut costs, businesses began to downsize. As the first cohort of Generation X finally left college, they found themselves to be the target of this downsizing due primarily to the concept of seniority. This new tool of profit-making, combined with the Savings & Loan scandal and later corporate scandals of the early 1990s until today, displayed for Generation X and the Millennials that the company had no concern for its employee, only its bottom line, and that it was deeply tied to the government, an institution already revealed as corrupt.

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Final Analysis Final Paper

Scott Bouldrey CL590

Within twenty years, during the early years of two generations (X and Millennials), every type of public institution had revealed itself as self-serving, greedy, hypocritical, self-important, or just plain unreliable. Add to that mix a new openness to other cultures and lifestyles through the rise of political correctness, the multicultural emphases of children’s programming like Sesame Street and The Electric Company, and an emphasis on the equality and value of all people (remember, by the time the first cohort of Generation X was old enough to pay attention, the Civil Rights Movement had peaked and the third wave of the Feminist voice was now being heard). These two generations were being taught that all people had equal value, and they believe it. In the 1990s, as the Millennial Generation started its high school years and the postmodern discussion gained more and more ground in the universities, America saw one of the largest influxes of immigrants in its recorded history (Camarota pg. 5). People of different nationalities, belief structures, and cultural understanding became neighbors, classmates, and friends. In the midst of this, the Church began to take advantage of media outlets like television and radio. The broadcast language of condemnation for those who have not “taken Jesus as their personal savior” and the modern tendency to associate salvation with good morals caused further problems with these young people who lived next to and saw human value in Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews. Those in Generation X and the Millennials noticed that these very “heathens” were not only friends but also moral people (especially in comparison to people like Jim Bakker and, later, the priests of the Catholic Church). The divide between Generation X and the Church that had begun in the 80s was widening. With the advent of the Internet, this new communication and information tool made the texts and thoughts of different understandings (particularly, in our interest, religious beliefs and practices) quickly and easily accessible. The resulting ontology and epistemology may indeed have started as McLaren suggested in the intellectual reflection on the Holocaust, and I will concede that some of this recognition of and retaliation against colonialism may have been the impetus for many white people who were quick to side with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. But most likely it started in the mix of nonconformity, the government scandals of the 60s and 70s, and the increased awareness and appreciation for people of all races, genders, and nationalities. The end product is two generations of people who are 1) anti-institutional, 2) culturally open-minded, and 3) openly incredulous to authority. The postmodern philosophers found themselves writing their criticisms in the cacophony of hippie protests and the decades of the aforementioned events. Their words gave language to what the youth were living and what the hippies were protesting. Foucault exposed the power structures and their drive for self-preservation through information and language control. Derrida revealed the inconsistencies of language and the tendency for words to accrue meanings outside of the phenomenological event they started as, and Lyotard revealed the hegemonic, ideological drive of various structures through the imposition of metanarratives (often systematic, utopian ideologies). As the number of people in Generation X and the Millennials moving into adulthood increased and their relationship with people of various cultural backgrounds deepened, the influence of postmodern ideas like relativism and pluralism grew with them. This is where Brueggemann had it right. There has indeed been a fearful response my the modern structures. The younger generations have no respect for, and in fact harbor a deep distrust of, institutions and ideologies. Any group or representative of that group

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Final Analysis Final Paper

Scott Bouldrey CL590

who would dare come along and propose to know The Truth, is instantly suspected of wanting to exert power over the individual approached, usually for some profit in the guise of benefiting the greater good. As a result, one very major aspect of American culture that has existed from its earliest days gained the driver’s seat in the lives of post-Boomer generations in ways not manifested in previous generations: individualism. Individualism drove the robber baron mindset of the late 19th century, showed up as the lone hero in the “cowboy” mentality of the WWII generations, and the reversal of power in the individualover-the-institution attitude of the Boomers. But, with the younger generations, their deep suspicion of institutions led them to step away from the social order and structure to avoid further let-down. In essence, the younger generations are saying, “I cannot trust the existing structures to be on my side, I am in this alone. In fact, I have been alone since dad left (or mom went to work). And if I want to make sure that these people really can’t control me, then I need more power.” It is at this point that consumerism comes into play. Consumerism is a symptom of and feeds into individualism. At consumerism’s root is the will-to-power, the need to either acquire in order to gain esteem in the eyes of those around me or to show that I can meet my own emotional and physical needs without the aid of institutions or other human beings. An increase in esteem is an increase in power, especially power over other people. But, consumerism is not seen in this negative light because individualism is one of the most—if not indeed the most—valued ideals of the broader American culture. Thus, the more I accrue, the more self-sufficient I am. The more self-sufficient I am, the more culture rewards, respects, and empowers me and I am happier in this result. In fact, individualism is so highly esteemed that we reward its expressions in our children at the earliest stages of life, “You tied your shoe all by yourself! Yea!” or “You went potty like a big girl!” Additionally, the residual effect of individualism is a form of honoring our parents (a usurped Christian ideal). The most successful parent in the eyes of American culture is the parent whose child is most selfsufficient. It is important to note that self-sufficiency is not in itself a negative concept. Few would argue that we all need skills of self-sustenance. The argument here is that selfsufficiency has fallen under the control of individualism and is “perfected” when an individual is self-sufficient to the point of needing no one else at any time. The dominant force behind consumerism is multinational capitalism. This business structure has a strong grip on the younger generations and its affects are far-reaching. In cinematic representations, the multinational corporation is often depicted as the towering steel and glass building that reaches into the daily lives of the populace. All one has to do is recall any scene of the CEO looking out over the city from his/her top floor office, larger than most houses. Like Jeremy Bentham’s “panopticon,” (Bentham pg. 29) the CEO can see out of his two-way mirrored window while no one can see in. There, the CEO can rely on the fear and suspicion of those who wonder if this is the moment they are being watched, and thus control their behavior and, by association, the world. It is the image of the super-powerful organization that controls the dreams and memories of the people (Felluga, pg. 3) by controlling the images that are released into the world. The younger generations are visually driven and therefore deeply engaged with visual media. Advertising has become an art form that draws a significant portion of the viewers of the Super Bowl each year. The result has been subtle but deep.

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Final Analysis Final Paper

Scott Bouldrey CL590

First, in advertising, symbols lose their meaning. Symbols, in religious culture, have been used throughout time to draw the viewer through the symbol and into the sacred/divine/other world. In advertising, the symbols become logos. They cease directing the viewer to another realm and instead remind him/her of a very real, very tangible object or place. All one has to do is say “golden arches” or “Nike swoosh” to realize this state of affairs. To a certain extent, this has been done with religious symbols like the cross and the fish as well. Second, since individuality is empowered by consumerism, capital becomes the means to gain more self-sufficiency and provide a primary means of identity formation. As this has progressed, and to aid in the sensed self-sufficiency of the shopper, the laborer has become more and more invisible. Jobs are out-sourced to other countries and places. Computer voices answer telephone calls. And the prime example of the invisibility of the laborer is internet sales. In this, individuals may purchase a vast array of products and never see another human being. Even the Fed-Ex delivery person will leave it on the doorstep. Finally, multinational capitalism has had two very deep effects on culturally open mind of the younger generations. Because multinational capitalism engages and uses the resources and people of all nationalities, it has increased the exposure of individuals to an increasing number of cultures, thoughts, beliefs, and understandings. As a result, the old nationalist and racist boundaries have lost their meaning (Felluga, pg. 5). In addition, this universalization of capitalism has caused most people to be unable to distinguish between culture and economics. The value of everything and everybody is determined by what they do or produce, even if that production is limited to a new “ethnic” restaurant to attend. For example, last year I took a two-week cross-cultural immersion trip to the Hopi and Navajo reservations in Arizona. After a particularly interesting day on the Hopi second mesa, we were having a discussion about Hopi culture with one of our guides, Ray Coin, a Hopi priest. The questions from my companions kept focusing on the obvious poverty around us. Finally, Ray stopped the conversation to ask, “Why is it that when the whites speak of culture they speak of money?” The short answer is obvious: because in the white, male, hegemonic American culture, driven by individualism, multinational capitalism, and consumption, economics is culture and vice versa. It was necessary to address multinational capitalism and consumerism before engaging in a discussion to explain an oft quoted and sometimes troubling statement associated with Generation X and the Millennials: “spiritual but not religious.” It is also necessary to step away from this topic for a moment to give a little background on the new topic. First, we must remember that these generational groups, as mentioned earlier, still consider themselves “Christian.” There is a metaphysical drive for the spiritual that struggles with the institutional distrust and rugged individualism of these generations. Thomas de Zongotita offered that this “spiritual but not religious” stance is a manifestation of a fear of being betrayed. Basically, he asserts that the concept of “spiritual but not religious” demonstrates a desire to believe wholeheartedly while preserving a healthy skepticism and hardened memory about the foibles of human understanding. It is an ironic defense against being duped, used, and hurt. It is the sense that a deep belief in anything sets one up for trouble. “I believe this, but what do I know?” (de Zengotita 2003). And

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Final Analysis Final Paper

Scott Bouldrey CL590

while I would agree that this is an important aspect of the behavior patterns of Generation X and the Millennials, it leaves out a key ingredient. In his opening chapter of his book The Postindustrial Promise, Anthony Healy cites several sociological studies that made an interesting point. In the studies, the sociologists compared the success of various religious structures using the supply-side model of businesses. The most successful churches had the best product (more on this below). In an interesting twist, researchers also found that when there were times of religious monopoly in the past, religion did not flourish. It was only when there was, to use a postmodern term, a pluralism of religious choices that religion prospered and membership in churches spread (Healy pg. 6-7). This brings a whole new light onto the idea of “church shopping” that provides insight into the behavior of individuals who are “spiritual but not religious.” I contend that, with the rise of multinational capitalism and consumerism in a cultural atmosphere driven by individualism, the idea of shopping for churches is too broad of a statement. Because the essence of the “spiritual but not religious” way of life is that of placing the emphasis on the personal spirituality of the individual, that person will shop for the spiritual trappings that most attract or fulfill the person’s need at the time. In contemporary America, the “buffet” of spirituality is enormous. I prefer to think of these people in terms of cars with their many fluids (gas, oil, washer and transmission fluid, etc.) than the usual cafeteria model that is so familiar. As individuals find one of their fluids running low, they will seek out the closest service station that sells the product they need. In some cases, they may find a place that fills the majority of their fluids all at once (like an instant oil change company). Or, they may go to a different place for each fluid (Christian Church for one need, transcendental meditation for another, yoga for a third, etc.). The duration of time spent at the filling station depends on how low the tank is. Thus, some may attend a local congregation regularly for an extended period of time or for only one week. When the fluid level on that person’s particular spiritual need is full, they move on until the next time it’s empty. This could explain why twice as many 18- 30 yearolds attend church anywhere from one- to two-times per year up to once a month than those age 65+ (44.1% for 18 – 30 year-olds and 22.6% of those age 65+) and those age 65+ have twice as many (39% compared to 17.8% of 18 – 30 year-olds) responders worshipping weekly or more often while the rate of responders who never attend a worship service is statistically identical for all age ranges (16.4% - 17.1%) (Association of Religion Data Archives).3 This model is deeply driven by an understanding of the “spiritual but not religious” person as a shopper, trying to fill his/her needs in the fewest number of stops necessary. To feed the analogy a little further, the more “services” offered by a spiritual tradition, the more likely that shopper will be to return with some regularity. The shift, then, in epistemology has moved away from an objective, rational, deductive pursuit of unifying Truth through reason and experience because of this approach’s tendency to lead to divisive ideologies that directly conflict with the open cultural attitudes of the younger generations. People are looking to a more localized, contextual “filling station” for their spiritual needs that avoids condemnation and
3

I am indebted to Anthony Healy for his list of changes in religion and religious beliefs on pg. 10 of his book. It was this rendering of the information that inspired the fluid level model presented. However, I disagree with him on most everything else. 9

Final Analysis Final Paper

Scott Bouldrey CL590

discrimination. In many cases, it becomes localized to the point of being centered only on the self and what the self experiences or what the felt needs of the individual are at the moment. In movies this conflict of self focus and divisive ideology expresses itself most often in the contentious, and likely shouted, line, “You don’t know me!” To which the one being accused has the tendency to agree. In its most generous form, it is an honest humility and understanding that my experiences are not the experiences of the other and thus drives the accused to seek a closer relationship with the accuser. Its negative form manifests itself as a deep self-absorption. “You don’t know me” is as much a testimony to my own self-induced isolation from the world as an accusation of your ignorance regarding my life. To put a scripture to it, the postmodern individual will see his/her life somewhere in the spectrum between a humble “…now we see in a mirror, dimly,” (1 Cor 13:12) and the self-centered “Am I my brothers keeper?” (Gen. 4:9b). A Critique of the Modern Church In light of the information presented above, the first critique of the Church is that it is an institution. In fact, in many ways it has become a meta-institution. It sets itself apart as a large, corporate body of religious Truth that has governmental structures, business models of organization and success, institutional education, and a consistent theme of defining and informing family structures. Each of these separate aspects of this one institution has also modeled itself after modern forms. The Church professes a utopian ideology of society (no matter how far into the future that may be) while also determining, based on its own self-definition, who is “in” and who is “out.” Its ruling structure is based on democratic governmental forms that have their own law books and checks and balances. Its hierarchy is set up so that, as in the business world, the local congregations act as employees to the various denominational corporate headquarters that house the CEO, presidents, and vice-presidents whose job it is to keep an eye on profitability (defined as membership). The educational forms express themselves as “givers of information.” Like the standardized tests that have arisen since A Nation at Risk, the Church assumes that there are certain “factual” bits of knowledge and their corresponding performative actions (believe this, say this, do this) that determine if, and how strongly, one is Christian. And finally, the Church plays a role in the family structure by professing which relationships are valid, which are invalid, and what structural form defines family. In sum, the Church’s current structure praises and exerts itself in every institution that Generation X and the Millennials distrust so deeply. One of the results of the corporate model of structure has been the tendency for churches to ignore the local congregations until times of crisis. The overabundance of literature about the “global Church” has disaffected the local congregations and fed into the hierarchical power structures by creating a need for a centralized body that will oversee “global operations.” This sounds distinctly like multinational capitalism. And this state of affairs has led to the focus of denominational missions to those places in the world where hierarchy is still welcomed and recognized, shifting the global center of Christianity into the Southern Hemisphere. Like the multinational corporations the Church has modeled itself after, Church mission and growth is now being out-sourced beyond American borders. Corporate, hierarchical thinking has found its way into the local congregations as well, where many do not concern themselves with those people outside the church walls who are desperately seeking spiritual answers yet do not come to the church. That is, until

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crisis hits. If the income or attendance drops too low (if productivity standards are not met), there is the sudden desire to “reach out.” And so, this congregation or denomination that has been more than happy to keep to itself, with perhaps the occasional public exhortation to some ethical standard, finds itself in a position that requires fast action, and it usually resorts to some form of marketing or product that needs to be sold to the public. It wonders why it finds resistance in these situations and doesn’t consider that it has shown no interest in these people up to that point. This disinterest even affects the members of the church. We baptize an infant and then satisfy ourselves with that until the time for confirmation comes, either not concerning ourselves with those children due to our own self-focus or feeling that any attempt to actively engage in our responsibility toward the child would be an act of intrusion into that family’s personal life. Keeping briefly with the corporate theme, the church has also given in to individualism. While the Church tried to hold onto the communal structure by emphasizing words like “body of Christ” and “worshipping community,” it sold its wares to individuals. Entertainment ministries like sporting events and movie nights abound. Books came out, and still come out in vast amounts, that once were individual disciplines practiced within an entire community but now marketed for personal spiritual growth, dealing with topics like solitude, personal spiritual disciplines, and personal power and gain (ref: The Prayer of Jabez, Your Best Life Now, etc.). “Discover your personal…” has become a dominant subtitle to many books. The prime example, however, is the evangelist’s question, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” In order to attract more customers (parishioners), denominations and local congregations engage in deep discussions and strategy sessions to determine what, if any, new products and services will be offered to attract new customers, which services will be new and improved, how those products will be advertised, and how to keep the customer coming back for more. We have even stolen language of the corporate world by formulating “mission statements.” The results have been displayed in worship services that come across more as concerts and conventions with motivational speakers, all built to satisfy an emotional need for entertainment. This model has led to an oversimplified version of a gospel that focuses on an individual’s status with God and the self-fulfilling goal of finally attaining everything good in a heaven that comes either at death or the Second Coming. Either way, all one has to do is wait. It is difficult to give in to individualism without also giving into consumerism. The Church marketed itself, its symbols, and its beliefs as something to be bought and sold. We now have terms like the aforementioned “church shopping,” “praise and worship services,” and the Mega-Church. We also have marketing phrases like “What Would Jesus Do?” and “Open Hearts. Open Doors. Open Minds.” There are television commercials and newspaper advertisements, fliers, banners and door hangers. Even the yellow pages are littered with the slogans and logos, not symbols, of various churches. Evangelism became door-to-door salesmanship. The product we sell is eternal bliss. There is little talk of what the idea “Jesus is Lord” might mean until after we have convinced them that, by not buying this product, they will miss out on streets of gold, a heavenly banquet, and an eternity spent with their loved-ones. The imperative to purchase, then, is not love for God, but fear of hell. There are two consequences of this. First, as a result of the marketing endeavor, we have sold our symbols (like the cross, the dove, and the fish) and ripped the deeper

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meaning from them. In the drive to increase product awareness, the cross has become no more than jewelry and the fish is a sticker on a car. Second, in the midst of this marketing trend, it became clear to those in Generation X and the Millennials that the Church was trying to sell something. In their mind, if something is being sold, then something must also be purchased, and that means the Church was not nearly as interested in the individual as it was in what was in that individual’s wallet (the additional head count didn’t hurt either). This is one of the main reasons why modern evangelical techniques that focus mainly on the destination of the soul fail to work. Those in Generation X and the Millennials want to develop relationships with other human beings. Once someone starts evangelizing, they have ceased seeing the young person as a human being and started seeing him/her as a consumer. The response of the young person is no less hostile. The evangelizer has ceased being human and is now seen as a salesperson/marketer. The language of the church identifies itself as the “Body of Christ.” This is scriptural, but what seems to have been lost is the sacrificial behavior of Christ. What has been elevated is the concept of Christ as final judge. Therefore, the language of the Church tends to speak on religious topics to those outside of it in judgmental and angry tones as if, being Christ’s latest manifestation, the Church, not God, stands in judgment over each individual and his/her value, ultimate destination, and state of being. I find myself agreeing with Miroslav Volf, this judgmental approach to evangelization also applies to the social justice aspect of the Church that may rightly stand up for the marginalized, but forgets the universal claim God has on every life, even that of the one persecuting the marginalized (Volf pg. 9). The second aspect of concern deals with the implication that, no matter how Catholic or Protestant the church, there is no salvation outside the church and the sacramental acts within its walls. Pastors withhold baptisms for infants born out of wedlock, refuse membership based on sexual orientation under the auspices of “readiness,” and require copies of members’ IRS 1040 forms to ensure proper tithing. In many ways, we have turned our sacraments into magic spells that activate the Holy Spirit. The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and invisible graces that have already occurred. The water in baptism does not magically imbue a person with the Spirit, nor do the bread and wine. They are physical items, symbols to draw our minds and hearts to an awareness of the Spirit and its movement. The Spirit is not summoned, it is. We betray our disbelief in this when we pray, “Come Holy Spirit” to a Presence that is already and always there. And that same Spirit may move in someone who is unbaptized, uncircumcised, or unaffiliated with a congregation. But we do not hold to this, and so we walk by Melchizedek and Jethro every day. The wind blows, and we do not know where it comes from or where it is going; we can only follow it. Over the last two decades, various federal, state, and local governmental bodies have engaged in the act of information control and closely kept secrets for the purpose of controlling public opinion and action. Regardless of where one stands politically, it is arguable that both sides of the aisle are equally guilty. At any rate, none of it comes as a surprise to post-Boomer generations. (For these generations, dialogue is of supreme importance. This is why web sites such as MySpace and Xanga are so popular. Secrets do not aid in conversation.) In a similar way, the modern Church has shut down conversation and the younger generations have interpreted this as keeping secrets. Thus, when books and movies like The DaVinci Code and The Gospel of Judas are released to the Church’s

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vociferous dismay, the younger generations get the sense that the Church, like the government, has been holding back vital information in an effort to control public opinion and action and to maintain its existing power structures. The louder the Church cries foul, the more suspicious Generation X becomes. This is not a prohibition against the church “crying foul,” it is a comment on the way it cries foul. For example, calling Dan Brown evil and The DaVinci Code the work of the devil passes judgment. Even the Church’s response of refuting the history portrayed by Dan Brown is not enough, it’s just another opinion. A better response would be to ask the questions. Why would the church keep a married Jesus under wraps? What do these Gnostic gospels say? What is the cost of these statements? Leading a thoughtful discussion goes much further than a shouting match and finger pointing. During the course of modernity, and arguably finding its start in Calvinist Puritan theology, the Church began to equate the state of salvation with moral behavior and an individual salvation-with-benefits. This is not to say that moral behavior is unimportant. It is to say that it does not address the spiritual needs of the younger generations (which will be addressed below). The result is the prolific amount of literature based on moral behavior. And so, the Church finds itself arguing loudest over topics like evolution, a Christian Nation, abortion, pluralism, relativism, character, “sanctity” of marriage, politics, sex, and money (Hudson, table of contents, et. al.). The truth, as Hudson’s book would imply, is not associated with God or Jesus in the modern Church. Truth instead deals with moral issues alone, and moral issues extend into the political realm. In an ironic twist, this focus on morality has actually resulted in damage being done to the church. Post-Boomer generations interact not only with atheists, but also people of various religious backgrounds. They see the moral behavior that the Church identifies as “Christianity” being lived out in their non-Christian neighbors. Because the Church has no answer to that, they fall back on “the necessity of accepting Christ in order to be saved.” This polemical response cycles back into memories of violent ideologies of the Church’s past. In fact, its most recent expressions have taken the form of new witch hunts, socially burning scientists and Muslims at the stake lest they recant their heresy. I would like to argue for a subtler, but farther-reaching and more deeply imbedded, effect of the Church’s moral-political emphasis over and above the spiritual needs of the people. I have been trying to reconcile the following statistical data, trying to make sense of a population that considers itself, pre-dominantly, Christian yet does not engage in the Christian practices of worship and sacrament. • 95.4% of people believe in some form of higher being/God. • 89.1% hold themselves to be a part of some religious tradition. • 77.0% say that religion is an important part of their lives. • More than 63% find strength and comfort in religion, and on most days feel it is connected to all of life, desire to be closer to God, pray, and feel God’s presence. But: • 38.8% say they have strong affiliations with their faith choice • 51.7% say they are not very strongly affiliated or not affiliated at all with their faith choice.

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34.4% say they read the sacred book of their faith 2 – 3 times per month or more outside of worship (The Association of Religion Data Archives). The former scientist in me cannot make sense of these numbers. Where are the majority of people getting this sense of strength, comfort, and closeness to God? I understand that there are numerous outlets that fall outside the organized structure of the Church. But I also find it interesting that a statistically identical number of people (62.5%) to the categories in item four above feel that religion’s activities in politics is either sufficient or not influential enough. In Romans 13:1 Paul writes, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” This has often been used as an argument for subjugation to even corrupt governments, missing Paul’s argument that the laws and punishments of that government were the point, set up to punish evil acts and the rulers were maintaining that law. But, the focus on a God ordained single ruler and/or whole government at the expense of Paul’s focus on law and punishment may have some unexpected consequences. I offer then the idea, rather than an outright fact, that the Church’s moral-political focus has either fed into or created of its own accord a Civil Religion closely tied to governmental structures and people to which a person can feel associated with a faith tradition and yet not be an active part of that tradition. This association is strengthened through the Church’s open endorsement of human political and economic structures. Faithfulness becomes moral behavior and active engagement in local and national politics with the express intent of legislating moral behavior that is identical to our own. Hence, a person can feel that it is very important to keep the phrase “under God” in the pledge of allegiance and “In God We Trust” on the money and aver that it is because of the nation’s perceived religious foundations that must be sustained. Here also, people are free to endorse wars, drape American flags over the altars in their churches, and deeply associate patriotism with faith in God. Recently (24 May 2007), on the Catholic radio program The Catholic Guy with Lino Rulli, Lino was bemoaning the government’s intrusion into one of the Catholic Church’s sacraments: marriage. His argument was that the church did not allow the government into sacraments like ordination, reconciliation, and Eucharist, so why was it allowed into marriage? While I am on the edge regarding his statement, it did bring up an interesting set of parallels. There are, I contend, “sacraments” in Civil religion. We ordain the leaders through elections (or by those elected leaders’ elections). We seek reconciliation not in liturgy but in litigation. Last rights are overseen by heavily monitored and regulated funeral systems (funeral homes, burial plots, etc.). Non-American born citizens are “baptized” into citizenship through elaborate ceremonies that utilize vows. And the Civil Eucharist comes during the major holidays of Memorial Day (for veterans), Independence Day (for the nation), and Labor Day (for the worker) during which people eat, at the risk of being cliché, hot dogs, hamburgers, and apple pie. In fact, Civil holidays far outstrip religious holidays in both number and observers. Finally, and the criticism offered at the greatest risk on my part, is the Church’s tendency to hold onto very old theology that arose in very different circumstances and addressed very different spiritual needs than what we experience now. Since the creation of the earliest doctrines of the church developed under Platonic (for Paul), Neo-Platonist

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(for Augustine), and Aristotelian (for Aquinas) philosophy, there needs to be a time of reexamination in the light of 1700 more years of tradition, reason, philosophy, and experience. The Platonist theology of corrupt flesh and divine form needs to give way to a theology that addresses more current spiritual needs. Unfortunately, the Church has angrily stood against such ideas, and this appears to people in Generation X and the Millenials to be more than ideology; it comes across as idolatry. To maintain the old doctrine, denominational curricula give contrived lessons that present the acceptable (usually denominational) theology first, proof-text scripture references to support that theology, and ask the student to regurgitate answers. Closely associated with this model of instruction is the lectionary. There are enormous amounts of Biblical text that are never offered while several are repeated. Walter Brueggemann argues that the lectionary has taken this form because the excluded texts do not support the systematic theology that most denominations have determined to be the Truth. Hence, he encourages the intentional study of those text not included in the lectionary (Brueggemann pg. 61). Adding further complications, theology itself has given way to modernity by creating a complex, specialized language (that stretches to 607 pages in The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology) through the creation of an academy that inadvertently keeps theology out of the hands of the local community. This separation has arisen not just out of the academy’s language structure, but also from modernity’s requirement that each individual become specialized in some area of expertise and the people’s willingness to rely on said specialists. Therefore, in the minds of people in the congregations, theology is reserved only for specialists who have received the proper training (a.k.a. theologians). Again, as has happened in the school system, pastors and theologians are seen as the ones who impart knowledge (teachers) and the congregation (student) is expected to accept that knowledge as Truth because the specialist “said so,” and are thus required to act accordingly with verbal reiteration and performative acts. And so, just as with students in our schools, most of the laity have gotten out of the practice of theological thinking and now ask the pastor to “just tell us the answer.” The Emergent Church: Pluses and Minuses Likely the most well known alternative church movement (or, as many of its proponents prefer, conversation) in the world today, the emergent church has set itself alongside, and in criticism of, the modern church. It is clear from the majority of the writers, most of whom come from the evangelical traditions, that its origins came from three primary concerns with the modern church. First, many involved feel that the Church “sold out” to modernity, particularly in the area of consumerism. This criticism centers on the idea that the church became a dispensary of religious goods and services to meet the needs of the people who attend. And, as a result, the worship form and church structure became one of entertainment driven by communicating faith through various media. Second, in the more recent texts, emergent church writers are expressing either their disappointment with or their own experiences of rejection and emotional violence of the modern church model (usually experienced before the end of their teens) or their boredom with its worship model. Of particular importance in this area is what has been referred to as “ideological violence.” This violence usually stems from the modern church’s knowledge based understanding of scripture, evangelism, and discipleship. The natural consequence of these knowledge based structures yields systematic approaches to theology and discipleship. The violence that comes from this usually occurs when an

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individual moves outside the system. For many people coming from deeply dialogical situations (such as Generation X and the Millennials), this tendency to shut down dialogue presents itself as hypocrisy and dismisses the value of the individual. The modern church’s demand for uniformity creates a system in which people are talked “to” rather than “with.” Lastly, many in the emerging dialogue find that the modern church has either set itself against culture (particularly media such as music and films) or failed to civilly address culture in its struggle for self-preservation. This state of the Church’s withdrawal from and anger toward culture creates a wall that separates the church from the person in need of God by devaluing the means through which many seek information, entertainment, and cultural dialogue. In response, the emerging church frequently uses film, television, music and various other art forms to engage the culture and the individual who is both within and informed by that culture. It is from this mix of disappointment with the modern church’s structure, ideological idolatry, and anti-media position that the ecclesial theology of the emerging church took its form. Where the ecclesiology of the modern church focuses on a doctrinal system based on systematic theology and focused on the survival of the church, the emerging church denies that any doctrine can be complete, works from a missional and mystical theology, and is focused on the proliferation of the kingdom of God. This missional and mystical ecclesiology presents some valuable opportunities and models for the more mainline denominations to review and discuss. But, as many of the postmodern philosophers will quickly remind us, we are all, to some degree or another, products of our cultures. So, while the emerging church has done the valiant and stepped out in faith, it has also retained much of its evangelical past that present some weaknesses. The primary strength of the emerging church is its existence as a “safe zone” for theological discussion. In a recent trip to the Emergent Village’s National Theological Conversation, it was clear that the group was open to new ways of looking at and interpreting scripture using postmodern philosophical techniques such as deconstruction (the theme of the gathering). The atmosphere was one of idea exchange and judgment free, though not unchallenged, discussion. There is a common refrain in every discussion in which a person might assert something with some confidence: “What do you mean?” For example, if someone were to take a positional stand on sin, the common refrain would be “What do you mean by sin?” In many ways, it is similar to the professorial requirement, “Unpack that for me.” The theology of the emerging church is also developing its sense of both the immanence (in its push for personal relationship with an almost panentheist God) and transcendence (in its hesitance to capitalize the “t” in truth) of God. It reveals a sense of humility to say that the understanding I have of God is somehow incomplete. This position has created the modified term “a/theology.” It is the position that “we ought to affirm our view of God while at the same time realizing that that view is inadequate” (Rollins pg. 25). Ironically, this area that I have deemed a strength is one that the modern church sees as the emerging church’s most glaring weakness. The modern church has misinterpreted the idea of a recognized incomplete understanding, and its resulting humility, for relativism. The second area of strength comes from the leadership and hierarchical structure of the emerging church. It is a structure that should speak volumes to the mainline

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denominations. In contrast to the centralized, hierarchical, goals driven power structures of the modern church that deeply values uniformity, role recognition, and trickle-down theology (theology that makes its way from academy to institutional hierarchy and down to the local congregation), the emerging church takes a more communal form. Each community (or cohort) forms as people within a certain geographical area “meet of their own accord, at their own time and place, and discuss what they choose. What binds the cohorts together is a common desire to be in robust and respectful conversation about things that matter” (Emergent Village pg. 1). Each of these cohorts oversees itself and the development of its missional ecclesiology and theology. To be linked with the Emergent Village it simply registers itself as a group. The role the Village plays is to maintain web logs of articles, news events, theological discussions, book releases, etc. and to create opportunities for members of the cohorts to gather with members from other cohorts through the organization of various conventions. So, the “organizing body” of the Emergent Village simply serves as a kind of resource clearinghouse for the local cohorts and as facilitators of dialogue in a wider context than the local cohort usually deals with. In other words, the larger structure serves and resources the local structures, a reverse of the modern church model. The last strength to discuss is the missional focus not only of the overall emerging church, but also of the local bodies themselves. The movement itself has become highly focused on social justice issues and being active participants in the world. This aspect itself arises from the relational attitude of the movement. It could easily be argued that the revival—not the expression, but at least the proliferation—of the term “orthopraxy” could be attributed to this group. The general sense is that the church as dispenser of truth and decider of who is saved must be replaced by meeting the people in the streets of our cities and towns in missional outreach. Through these missions, the intent is to build relationships with those being served and, through dialogue, bring them into the same mission. The driving force of this missional outlook is the deep desire to work toward and in the name of the Kingdom of God, the gospel proclaimed by Jesus. The Emergent Church still has several weaknesses that should be addressed. First, like its mother the modern church, the majority of the voices in the emerging church still consider the church as sole repository of God’s will and action. Some will be generous enough to make the claim that the story of Jesus and the stories in the Bible are neither the property of the church nor stories about the church, but they will still contend that the church is the only place that keeps it. I need to make an important distinction here. There is a difference between being a body of people who have committed themselves to the purpose of remembering the story and seeking to understand it and those who feel that they are keepers of the story. Keepers, like gatekeepers of old, determine who is friend and who is foe, select who may enter and who may not, and behave in a manner of one chosen specifically for that task. Gatekeepers determine who is an insider and who is an outsider, and the job of the people who keep the story is to judge between the two. Thus, “Church Members must bring ‘outsiders’ into the community or they will not learn the skills of reconciliation” (Pagitt & Jones pg. 136). The terms may be couched as gently and lovingly as possible, but in the end they betray a limited number of loci through which God may address and act in the world. “I hope many of us will stretch and listen and learn. That will bring blessing to the church, and through the church, to the world.” (Pagitt & Jones pg. 151, emphasis mine).

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Next, the emerging church has formed as a reactionary response to the modern Church and has chosen to focus on pre-modern forms at the expense of any good produced in modernity. In essence, it has become its own Jesus Seminar focused not on the person of Christ, but on the right form of the body of Christ. The problem is exacerbated when they choose to use the trappings of modernity (music, visual imagery, and technology to name a few) under the auspices of ancient practices. The very catchy phrase “ancientfuture” is being tagged to most any concept discussed by the emerging churches: ancientfuture church, ancient-future time, and ancient-future faith are only a few of the concepts linked to the term. The noble attempt indicated by the phrase ancient-future is focused on the idea that during the time Christianity became Christendom (closely linked to the Nicene council) the true form and function of the church became, for lack of a better term, corrupted and now needs to be rediscovered. In a slightly ironic twist, however, the Nicene Creed is not considered debatable. In many ways, this “ancient-future” quest is throwing the baby out with the bath water. The dismissal of all things Western and modern does nothing to deal with the fact that many people are still modern Western thinkers and formed within modern Western cultures. I have no complaints about the resurgence of the spiritual disciplines of the mystics of the past—the modern Protestant church was far too eager to let them go—or of the quest to understand the movement and activities of the early church. But the unfortunate side effect of the mystic quest has been to feed into the individualism so prized by Western culture and, though a missional form may indeed attract like-minded people for its social justice focus, being engaged in social justice, even though it may be done with other people, does not address one of the basic spiritual needs of the individual: to know and to be known. Another important flaw is the rise of prepackaged church forms. I am familiar enough with the movement to recognize that this turn of events was neither intended nor foreseen, but the fact remains that many people joining the emerging church movement are just aping what the most charismatic people within the movement are doing. And so Brian McLaren and Tony Jones, who almost a decade ago put couches in their churches instead of pews and sat on stools guiding dialogical “sermons,” now find their very structures being copied in much the same way the contemporary services of the 80s and 90s were. The emerging church is turning into a marketing process (being devoured in particular by publishing companies) and a new model for success in manner of the very modern business model. Like the contemporary worship services that preceded them, the emerging church’s worship form is still very self-centered. People come to “experience God” in a meaningful and spiritual way. Discussing the mindset of many who find their way into emerging churches, Steve Chalke writes of their complaints regarding the modern church, “For many people, Church has become a barren and unfulfilling experience, which fails to address, let alone answer, life’s deepest questions and concerns” (Chalke & Mann pg. 13, emphasis mine). The problem is that the emerging church tries to address the emotional words “barren and unfulfilling” while neglecting “life’s deepest questions and concerns.” This could easily be a criticism of the modern church as well. While the emerging church deals in semantics pitting the modern church’s “worship service” against its own “worship gathering,” worship (something given to God) takes a back seat to a meaningful experience (something received from God). The best example of this semantic battle was given by

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Karen Ward, “abbess” of Church of the Apostles in Seattle, Washington. “So we come to Mass gathering not so much with heads that are empty and needing to be opened and filled with scriptural information [the modern church model]; but more with stomachs that grumble and seek to be fed, with hearts that are broken and in need of healing, with lives that are confused and complicated and in need of guidance [the emerging church model]” (Webber pg. 167, bracketed comments mine). Again, no quantity of flowery language can hide the true motivation. Not one word is offered of God’s action of mourning turned to dancing or sackcloth turned to joy “so that my soul may praise you and not be silent” (Psalm 30:12a, emphasis mine). Worship is still about “me.” As mentioned above, the emerging church is doing a commendable job addressing the immanence and transcendence God, but God’s holiness has gone missing. Holiness is more than the omnipresent God of immanence or the omniscient, omnipotent God who transcends mortality; it is an Other so different, so set apart from the common and ordinary that to look upon God’s face means death. In a January 18, 2007 broadcast of the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s show Ideas, Rabbi Dow Marmur of the Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto was discussing the issue of God’s holiness. I found myself resonating with his concerns. The emerging church’s drive for each individual to have a “personal relationship with God” has robbed God of God’s terrible holiness (mind you, Rabbi Marmur was directing his comments toward similar trends in Judaism). In the Exodus accounts at Mt. Sinai, there is a recurrent theme of the people desiring to approach the mountain to see God while simultaneously being terrified to do so. In the search for deeper relationship, the emerging church seems to be sacrificing God’s holiness. Next, the missional church model as given through the examples of activities in the emerging churches, is expressing itself as little more than a social service agency. While the experiential worship and the pilgrimage model of spiritual growth is still very “me and Jesus” oriented, the congregation itself ends up being a people gathered together to do the work/planning of mission. And while these groups toss around more paradoxical terms like being local/global, they seem to choose missions focused not on the needs of the neighborhood directly around the church, but on global social justice issues or missional acts that may or may not affect the immediate neighborhood. The missional drive coupled with personal “experience” of God yields local mission actions that are often referred to as “culture-changing events” when they are just, really, garbage clean-up and again do nothing to address the basic spiritual needs of the people around them. An additional negative aspect of the emergent church’s urban-centric concerns and missions is its frequent downplay or ridicule non-city localities. “I spend a fair amount of time reconciling myself to the fact that I live in a suburb. And I don’t take my suburban existence as an excuse for seclusion or retreat. I think I’m about as involved in the life of my suburb as I have time to be. But it’s still a suburb, and thus it still is affordable to only a certain type of person. And it seems to breed a certain outlook on the world that makes me more than a bit uncomfortable” (Pagitt & Jones pg. 245). That quote is from a chapter introduction given by Tony Jones, National Coordinator of the Emergent Village. As nice as he is, his words betray a disdain for the suburbs and for its worldview. And while it is true that the suburbs are affordable to “a certain type of person” and that suburbs do “breed a certain outlook on the world,” it is not true that the people in that community have no spiritual needs to be met. It would not be difficult to

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argue that these suburbanites, along with the rich, find the most difficulty entering into the kingdom of heaven (as easily as a camel through the eye of a needle). Just because an individual is not socially marginalized doesn’t mean s/he does not feel spiritually marginalized. There is another reform movement gaining some attention in the U.S. right now as well. This group is unaffiliated with the emerging church, but I address it here because of the topic of the preceding paragraph. The movement is called “New Monasticism.” There are many topics that New Monasticism addresses that speak sharply to the modern Church, and much of what they present as an understanding of what it means to be Christian and the church aligns with my own sense of direction for the church. It is also good to see younger people taking the age-old vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. But my concern deals with their first mark: relocation to the abandoned places of empire. It is not that I do not understand and support New Monasticism’s desire to live and work among the poor as people of poverty. It is their position that they will remain in these abandoned places “unless [they become] completely gentrified” (Byassee pg. 3). In other words, they intend to serve these places until the “gentry,” the middle class, takes over. This, like Tony Jones’ position, betrays a disdain for any but the poor. When I read the story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man, I hear sadness in Jesus’ words that recognize the powerful grip that money and the drive to acquire has on us. Abandoning the area simply because the middle class moves in is nothing but the same treatment they criticize these same people for regarding the poor. If anything, it is this very demographic that would be best served through the example of a way of life that is both meaningful and counter to their own. And the cynic in me recognizes that any and all of these people (the majority of which have Bachelor’s degrees) can pack up and walk away from poverty any time they like. I would also be willing to bet that the poor amongst whom they live know this as well. Finally, I come to what I consider the greatest weakness of the emerging church. While many writers have gained the trust of the community as a whole, and while they seek to explain postmodern thinking, trends, and new forms of ecclesiology, there is no strong voice that takes a firm theological stand on much of anything (outside of Mark Driscoll’s position on Biblicist Theology found in Webber, pg. 21 – 35). The writings tend to include the overuse of broad terms with neither attached definitions nor clarifying context. Discussions and dialogue may include argument but no one is really called to the carpet for anything. The reason for this has become clear to me only recently. In An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Brian McLaren advocates, as a result of colonial violence and the impetus to wallow in postcolonial guilt, the position of humility in which we assert nothing and listen more often—especially to the former colonies (Pagitt & Jones pg. 150). This humility has led to the emerging church’s tendency to stand firmly on nothing. During the Emergent Theological Convention in April, I sat at the lunch table with a few people clarifying my ideas of the seminar I was to lead after the meal. I had called to mind the very old saying, “In the essentials: unity; in the nonessentials: liberty; and in all things: charity.” The question to be discussed in the seminar was, “In light of postmodern deconstruction, what are the essentials?” The conversation was going well when Kent, a younger youth pastor, finally shook his head and said, “I’m hesitant to try to come up with a list of essentials.” When I asked why, he responded that the ideological violence of the

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past was too near us historically, and to assert something as essential at this time would risk coming across as re-establishing an ideology around which more violence would occur. This lack of desire to “fish or cut bait” theologically creates a couple of problems for the emerging church. First, it only feeds the fire of the modern church’s claim that postmodern philosophy and theology are relativistic and pluralistic. What set itself up to be humility from fear of ideological violence and a genuine sense that no one person or group can possibly describe the fullness of God, has turned into a uncertain dialogue that too often ends up with “then we must agree to disagree.” Second, in another bit of irony, a movement begun by people from the evangelical traditions has created an evangelical issue: what is the impetus presented to the non-Christian if we cannot appeal to the individual’s sense of self-preservation and desire for salvation (or, more appropriately, his/her heavenly reward)? The characteristic response would be, “We aren’t the ones who will judge them; we are only to serve them.” But part of me wonders if their evangelical past and training isn’t a bit uncomfortable with the diminished emphasis on conversion. As with many situations of transition there can be polemical transitive stages. That is what I think the emerging church’s function is turning out to be. Many of the strengths and weaknesses of the emerging church mirror those of the modern church. But, because the emerging church is not only an open “safe zone” of theological discussion, but also sets up frequent national gatherings dealing with theology, I would contest that whatever may supplant the modern church will have at least found its way through the emerging church. The question is, will it be a new/re-framed theology that stays true to the Christian tradition and still resonates deeply with postmodern people, or will it be a cult of personality? Recommendations for the Way Forward The focus of this section may jump around a bit. I will try to work each point from its general/catholic applications to the local level. Not all will be applicable to every level. Also, as I approach the denominational level, I will deal solely with the United Methodist Church, the denomination from which I came and in which I intend to serve. I need to express an awareness of my own incomplete exposure to all thoughts Christian. So when I mention phrases like “new thoughts,” I am well aware that it is very unlikely that they are indeed “new” thoughts. However, as I am unable to read every text and thought that has ever been offered, I will say that the thoughts presented below came through my own study and reflection. Any similarity between these and earlier thoughts, either living or dead, is purely coincidental and has not been plagiarized. It is important to begin with the major framework from which I am operating: my own interpretation of the spiritual needs of American individuals. In his book Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green asserts that the gospel as presented by the early evangelists met the perceived spiritual needs of first century people (needs also met, incidentally, by other mystery cults of the time). The first of these needs was the sense that guilt must be expiated. Second was protection from the forces of evil. And third was promised immortality (Green pg. 38 – 42). In light of this idea, we are working from a gospel message presented by the apostles that addresses, and emphasizes in its writings, how Jesus Christ met the spiritual needs of first century people. I am proposing that these needs, as a result of modernity, are no longer considered spiritual needs. Our sense of expiation of guilt has been turned over to the legal system (the worst cases utilizing the

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death penalty) and psychology for lesser guilt. With the political trend to name foreign enemies as “evil” and “terrorists” it becomes clear that protection from the forces of evil has been turned over to the government and military. Finally, the hope for immortality has lost its focus on life after death and turned to science and medicine to aid in the immortality of the present body. In fact, a recent Gallup-Christian Broadcasting Network poll reported on the CBN News broadcast on April 2, 2007 revealed that fewer than 30% of the American population has any concern about life after death at all. In many ways the fact that people have turned these concerns over to socio-political structures, coupled with the Church’s desire to hold onto them, feeds into the Civil Religion mentioned above. The Church is free to choose the words, but it is the socio-political culture that meets the needs. I am not arguing that the concern for immortality, expiation of guilt, and protection from evil are not important to contemporary individuals. I am only saying that these are no longer spiritual concerns. I propose in their stead the following three spiritual needs, each of which has sub-components. First, there is the spiritual need for meaning. This need encompasses questions regarding the meaning of life. It is the question at the heart of the evolution/creation debate. There is a longing to know and understand that I am more than an animal driven by instinctual desires. But it also reveals the sense that I am an image bearer of God, and therefore not corrupt in my very nature, condemned from my first breath simply because I was born. Also within meaning is the desire for purpose. The sales success of books like The Purpose Driven Life and The Secret demonstrate the high priority of this question. Their limited realized success reveals their insufficient responses. Finally, meaning addresses the need for community. The postmodern philosophers were quick to point out that our constructions of meaning are determined by the culture in which we live and move and have our being to a far greater extent than we had admitted to in the past. I find it interesting to re-examine the developmental stages of cognitive theorists like Piaget, Erikson, and, more recently, Kegan. Though each has put some form of individual selfsufficiency at the highest level of development, we have failed to notice the very human tendency for these individualistic outlooks to rise out of prior stages of an intense sense of self as part of a very important community. The modern world, and Church, has reversed this order. In education and business, people are required to demonstrate individual proficiency before they are put on a “team.” In the Church, individual salvation is a prerequisite to joining the community through baptism or confirmation. The second spiritual need is to know and be known. The most prominent aspect of this category is love. This love is both individual and communal in nature. It is a desire for deep relationships with other human beings, with one who might be called “soul mate” and with God. The desire for love reveals the loneliness of rugged individualism. Love is not, should not be, a selfish endeavor. Here, the words “spiritual but not religious” betray the desire for God. Modernity has placed a value on people based on productivity, usefulness, and self-sufficiency. Thus, when greeting another person for the first time we usually ask our new friend, “What do you do?” The postmodern condition has called into question this system of value. It would aver that the individual is to be valued for more than what s/he is “worth” to society through performative tasks and purchasing power. The need for love recognizes that there are more things out there than objective truth and that emotions such as love and ideas like hope are as valid as rational argument. At the

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heart of religious experientialism is the call of love to be close to an “other/Other” which, with the self, creates a “we” that is more than the sum of its parts. Secondarily, this desire to know and be known is also a desire for a place to tell “my story.” Each individual would like to know that s/he has affected someone’s life in a meaningful way. And though many young people have become habitually isolated from others, this need to tell our story has manifested itself in web sites like MySpace. The final spiritual need I propose is peace. Within this need is the desire for life to slow down, a desire for Sabbath. It has become a badge of honor to respond to the question, “How are you?” with “Very busy.” Driving the hurried lifestyle is consumerism. Acquisition requires currency. So people work overtime or multiple jobs to gather more money. There is even a sense of urgency to get to those things that are meant to be entertaining and restful. Also within this category is freedom from fear. It is almost too obvious to say that modern America is driven by fear. Evening news stories describe horrible events every day and present commercial “teasers” about the latest thing that will either kill us or those we love. Government officials proclaim the “terror color” of the day. Even our presentation of the gospel, in its current form, feeds on fear. “If you die tomorrow, where will you go?” Finally, the concept of peace holds within it a sense of destiny. Here, I translate the term in its sense of destination (not to be confused with an actual destination) as opposed to inevitability. It is the longing to know that I am actually going in a forward direction, even if the destination is unknown. It is a look toward the future (of our own lives, of the lives of our loved ones, or of humanity in general) that, in order for peace to be a part of it, must contain hope. A hopeful destiny also reveals a faithful outlook and trusts that what is ahead, what is unseen, is good. And so these three abide: meaning, peace, and love. And the modern Church has maintained a theology that addresses none of them in a way that is not also met by modernity’s focus on the individual and material acquisition, the extreme postmodern pluralism and relativism of “to each his/her own,” or another religion. My recognition of the failure of the Church is no different than John Wesley’s. In his sermon “Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity,” Wesley begins with a similar complaint. “Why has Christianity done so little good in the world?” he asks. Wasn’t it supposed to address our evil nature? Wasn’t it supposed to be a universal remedy for a universal evil? But it has not answered its intention. It never did. It does not answer it at this day. The disease still remains in its full strength…” (Outler & Heitzenrater pg. 550). I would not be as generous as his conclusion that Christianity is failing because people “grow more self-indulgent, because they grow rich” (pg. 556). Our wealth plays a large part, to be sure, especially in this nation of abundance. God warned against its potential to cause spiritual amnesia (Deut. 8:11 – 18). But the abundance we compete against is the cause of modernity, not Christianity. I would contest that Christianity’s inability to bring about the reign of God lies in its inflexibility within a theological system that served well enough under mandatory or obligatory membership and found a little help with modernity’s requirement of absolutes but fails in the postmodern mind and heart that yearns for meaning beyond “whoever dies with the most toys, wins.” At the risk of oversimplifying, something must be amiss. Either God’s action and incarnation is not sufficient to “draw all [people] to myself,” (Jn. 12:32) or our interpretation of the event of Jesus is where insufficiency lies. The issue is not zeal, there

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are many voices proclaiming the modern gospel. And I prefer to think that it is not God who lacks. The Church must be willing to admit that if “the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32), and if the majority of people both inside and outside the Church are enslaved by individualism and consumerism and the systems and structures that perpetuate them, then the truth must not be what we are expressing to the world. And though many will be offended by my attempts to reformulate traditional theology, I can only call upon the right to question our systems and structures just as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and many others have done in the past. Therefore, it is time for the Church to re-examine “Truth.” The systematic theology of atonement most often relied upon (the Fall, sin, and expiation) needs to be reviewed and explained in post-Platonic forms and its weak points must be dealt with. Where atonement theology depends upon Original Sin as the corruption of the human form and flesh, it should now address Adam and Eve’s selfish act of self-elevation (all we like sheep have gone astray, each one to his own way). Original Sin, also, should be considered as either an Original Sin or the Original Sin in order to address the systemic nature of sin that acts as a ubiquitous carcinogen. Jesus death should be viewed as only part of his acts on Earth. Even Francis of Assisi recognized that the most likely atoning aspect of Christ’s life was his birth. By taking human form, the flesh is no longer corrupt. By looking at the bookends of the beginning and end of Jesus’ public ministry, we will be able to address the fact that Jesus, the sinless one, still stepped into John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins as an act of solidarity with the Jewish nation. His death serves as the model for how one is to live in that community; our lives are given to God (for the life is in the blood) and our bodies are given to the community. The selfsacrificial act recognizes and brings to memory the recurring theme in the Hebrew Bible that the righteous few (or the righteous one) is able to stand before God on behalf of the whole in order that the many may find propitiation, expiation, and atonement. The resurrection serves as the driving hope that the one who loses his/her life for God’s sake will indeed find eternal life and bear good fruit in perpetuity because of his/her willingness to give it over to God for the sake of and out of devotion to the community. Applying this to one of our own sacraments, we can understand that the sacrifice given at the Temple is a representation of the self. The sacrifice and I are one (I am in you just as you are in me, Jn. 14:20). Thus, if Jesus stands as sacrifice, we must identify ourselves with him. And so the bread that is broken is not only Jesus’ body, but our own; broken and given in sustenance to others. The blood that is poured out is not only Jesus’ life, but our own as well; poured out so that our acts of righteousness and sacrifice may redeem many. God desires mercy, and not sacrifice. What then is mercy? Mercy breaks the bread/body and feeds others, mercy pours out it own blood/life so that others may find redemption, mercy call people to remember. In the United Methodist Church, we say at each celebration of Eucharist, “Pour out your Holy Spirit on those who gather here and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ that we may be for the world the body of Christ redeemed by his blood.” This is not a call to church structure; this is a call to identify with the sacrifice. “May we be for the whole world the body of Christ that was broken to sustain and the life of Christ that restores.” The outcome of this new formulation addresses a couple of major topics. First, regarding the spiritual needs of the people, the question of what it means to be human is changed from the corrupt form that defines the self as evil from birth and thus deserving

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God’s wrath to a human being that is created for love (love God) and community (love neighbor). The Church will no longer be required to call upon the opposing/dualistic forces of a person who is born in the image of God (who knit us together in our mothers’ womb) and devaluation of that statement with the systematic component of Original Sin. Peace is not sought after in things and activities because the drive to have power over people is replaced by self-sacrifice on behalf of others. Purpose is found in a love for others that so seeks their welfare that each person sees the value of both the self and the whole community maintaining both wholeness and holiness that can be applied to others as well. Second, we are freed to see the soma ethic of Paul not as a hierarchical structure that places people in positions like “head” and “brain” to rule over the rest. When Paul says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it,” he is reminding us that we are to be bound to each other. This is important especially in relation to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and the death on the cross. When one body sins, all sin with it. When one body is renewed, all are renewed with it. In the revival of the importance of the community, Christ/God is returned to the position of head and King. We divest ourselves of the perceived responsibility of judgment and are free to look around and see that God has expressed God’s self in many forms/bodies in many places. Difference is no longer that which separates us; rather it is what makes each person essential to the corporate whole. Humility (self-abrogation) is placed before the drive for wisdom (self-elevation). My recommendations for the future of the church come from the standpoint of how to address the spiritual needs of meaning, love, and peace. But, I am forced in this context to paint even these in broad strokes. We must come to understand that meaning, love, and peace are all affected by the local culture. This is not a call for a change in the way we do church; it is a call to change the way we are the church. And so the following are offered as an address to general characteristics like individualism, isolation, destiny, simplicity, and Sabbath. The ecclesiological form I call for is priestly, rather than missional, mystical, or incarnational. This form is inspired by God’s call to the redeemed nation of Hebrews (from habiru, those who dwell on the margins). “Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6a). It is a call for the people to shema (hear, obey) and shamar (keep), and in so doing they will be holy priests. In many ways, though not entirely, it is truly a call to the priesthood of all believers. In addressing meaning, the Church must make it clear that meaning is no longer found in career, quantity of items owned, or self-sufficiency. Nor is it explained away as corruption and evil that controls our every move. Instead, meaning is to be found in identifying with a holy, priestly people whose purpose is not some vague task that must be completed (and to which we seem to have lost the directions). As priestly people, it falls upon us to make the world constantly aware of God, praise God, and act as mediators of God’s blessings. Like the Aaronite priests, we find blessing in being the ones who will frequently go before God to offer the praises of the people and make sacrifices on their behalf. In this understanding, we can be about discovering the identity of the people of God before we worry about finding our own. We do not have to discover our individual “spiritual gifts” in order to be the blessing by which all the world will be blessed.

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Love is the heart of the relationship with God. In Ex. 6:6 God uses the language of marriage when God says, “I will take you to be my people and I will be your God.” How many verses are there in the scriptures that speak of love and its value? Love for God and love of neighbor are the top two commandments. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law. Whoever abides in love abides in God. Our first question to people can change from “What do you do?” to a sincere “How is it with your soul?” And by its nature, this question begs for the person to tell us his/her story, a story that we can then show is part of a larger story of God. The God who is King demands Sabbath, rest for all of creation. And so peace can begin to assert itself over hurry. As trust in God grows, our fear of what might happen recedes, for we find in God our rock, shield, strength, portion, and hope. We do not need to worry about our eternal fate, because this moment, in the presence of God our King is enough of a blessing for us. We do not need to worry about what our individual legacy will be, what our destiny is, because it is no longer the “I” who matters (not even my soul), only God and then “we.” And we can also know if we are faithful and teach others to be faithful as well, that the future is left in the very capable hands of God. I recognize the very difficult task this represents. As Americans, we have 231 years of deeply imbedded cultural values like individualism and capitalism. But the righteousness and purity of a faithful remnant—just a few, even one—can stand for a whole nation. What I consider to be the greatest evidence of the church and its interaction with the world lies in the statistical evidence that shows no difference in any category of society (fidelity in marriage, personal goals, worldview, etc.) between those who attend worship services regularly and the rest of the population. This is in stark contrast to the early church who were so obviously different that it was well known that “they live better, love better, and die better than anyone.” Addressing this requires more than a change in Sunday activity. The Church must live differently first and foremost by being different than all other modern institutions by abandoning the very structural forms and ideological positions that enslave rather than serve humanity. It is called to be a people that are in the world, not of it. It exists to bless lives, not ordain institutions. The priestly life calls us to a life of simplicity (as opposed to consumerism) and Sabbath (as opposed to busy-ness). I also am aware that we can’t all take vows of poverty. However, we can all take vows of simplicity. If we could see the Levitical sacrificial laws as sacraments rather than a required shedding of blood to appease an angry God, we can apply the lesson of frequent offerings and sacramental acts to the contemporary Church. As I mentioned earlier, we tend to baptize infants and then shoo them off until they are twelve years old, then again until they either graduate or get married. The rituals of Leviticus are frequent (two times a day, minimum, by the priests), and they are done as necessary or as desired by the people. Sacraments and rituals should be focused on the deep bonds between community and the individual within it, not simply the salvific act done for the individual. The Hopi who hold dances for the people of the mesa every two months do so to remind them that they are a community, to focus their hearts around the ceremony and its emphasis on the needs of the people, and to remind them that it is this faith that holds them together as a people. The Navajo hold Blessing Way ceremonies every four years of a child’s life not only to bless them, but also to gather the community around them so that they may see that the community is part of them and they are part of the people. Likewise, we need to

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develop more rituals; more sacraments through which we may remind people who they are and whose they are. Remembrance is a common theme in the Bible. Some form of “remember” and “forget” appears 368 times, and that does not count the times the prophets called for people to “return to the Lord your God.” And these rituals need to involve more than just the congregation; they need to involve the surrounding community. The people around our building need to see and know that God is at work in this place and in their lives. It is our duty as a priestly people. Our fear of offending them ignores the fact that most of these people still call themselves Christian. Let the rituals serve to remind them of God and be a blessing. So if one lives in a farming community, s/he should go and bless the land, the animals, the tractors, and the seeds. Hold festivals for the time of planting and the time of harvest. In the city, bless parks and playgrounds, buses and cars. And all of us should be marking rights of passage like first steps, first words, first and last days of school, drivers licenses and proms, graduations, weddings, births, all of life and all of death. A priestly ecclesiology is not a call to make all churches and denominations like the Roman Catholic Church. Priests are called and set apart from the common and the usual for the sole purpose of mediating between the ordinary and the sacred. It is a call for the local congregations to display a way of life that shows there are other possibilities and answers to the spiritual needs of the people than what the (post)modern world currently offers. It is a call to a way of life in which the people of the church seek holiness (defined as being sacrosanct and pure) and act as mediators between God and the world. Within this ecclesiology is the recognition that serving as mediators of God’s blessings for the world holds many aspects of mission and social justice. The Bible is consistent in this theme. The Levitical sacrifices, laws, and holiness code address the social justice that has always been important in the Law. All people are to be treated with equal dignity and justice. Wealth and rank play no part in a nation of priests (yet another complaint of Jesus’ directed at the Sanhedrin). But, the phrase “the kingdom of God is at hand” does not necessarily mean that heaven on earth is the endeavor for which I should strive because it is so close as to be grasped. Bringing about the healing and wholeness of the kingdom is the purview of God, the King, who said to Isaiah, “I will pour out my spirit on all people…” The action is God’s to make. Instead, “the kingdom of God is at hand” should be re-translated (more accurately) as “the reign of God is at hand.” In this, the implication is for God to reign, every knee must bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord, and that includes my knees and my tongue. Contrary to our reading of Paul’s exhortation about the ordinance of ruling authorities, the reign of God recognizes one authority, and it is not the executive, legislative, or judicial branches of either states or federal government. By all means we are still called to be in the world, so we should give to Caesar that which bears the image of Caesar, but we should give to God that which bears the image of God. I recognize that this ecclesiology stands in stark contrast to many denominational structures. Particularly when I consider that the two largest denominational texts of the United Methodist Church are The Book of Discipline and The Book of Resolutions. Each has more pages than The Book of Worship. The clear priority for this denomination is legislation and political authority. Even when it decides to get involved with the sacraments, as they do in their texts By Water & By Spirit regarding baptism and This Holy Mystery about the Eucharist, the writers present limitations on their form and expression and enforce it with legislated rules. “As stewards of the gifts given by God to the church,

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ministers have a responsibility to uphold and use the texts for Word and Table of The United Methodist Church found in…liturgical material approved by central conferences in accordance with the Book of Discipline, ¶543.13” (Felton pg. 38). Denominations need to free the local communities to faithfully serve God (not the denomination) in their own culture, creating their own liturgies, designing rituals and festivals that are relevant to life of the community in which they live. I am also no fool. I realize that this world requires both time and money for local congregations to be this deeply engaged in the community. In order for local communities to better determine and design rituals, their denominations must give them the theological freedom to analyze and address the needs of the community. It would be an interesting denominational charge to require the congregations to study the Bible, train the ministers to facilitate discussion rather than hand out information, and let doubt do its work. The freedom to do this also requires that the local communities be released from the hierarchical structure and “profitability” measurements that drain enormous amounts of time, funds, and energy from the local church. With approximately 50% of all U.S. congregations holding worship services with 100 or fewer people, the burden of sustaining the larger corporate structure is too much. For example, in my own context, the average Sunday attendance is 47. More than 2/3 of these worshippers are on fixed incomes. As their incomes stay the same, the cost of heating, electricity, and insurance continues to rise. Added to that is a denominational structure that requires apportionments that account for nearly 20% of its budget. Additionally, because ministers in the United Methodist Church are considered employees of the congregations they serve (rather than the denomination or conference), group health insurance rates do not exist. If I were to take the conference insurance, it alone would account for more than 30% of the budget. But the issue runs deeper than that as well. The current structure of the United Methodist Church does not address the nature of a minister’s call. In order for a minister to “move up the pay scale,” so to speak, s/he must also be moved to larger congregations. As a result, the smaller, rural churches usually end up with ministers who are just passing through on their way to bigger and better churches. To address this, the United Methodist Church would do well to restructure in a way that decentralizes power. The districts, conferences, jurisdictions, and General Conference should act not as legislative bodies, but as clearinghouses of ideas and resources. “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you… shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (1 Pt. 5:1-3). Like the Emergent Village, the organizational bodies would do well to use the times of gathering as true conferences where ideas are exchanged and open, safe theological debate encouraged. If the denomination is daring enough, I would recommend that the initial conference gatherings be used to re-examine traditionally held doctrines and welcome into the discussion the scriptures (including the Apocrypha and Deuterocanonical texts), the apologists of every age, church tradition, the cultural climate, and writings of the early church that were discarded during the canonization process. The latter writings should include the Gnostic gospels in order that the Church may once again openly discuss and reveal the danger that is inherent to Gnosticism. In doing so, the denominational goal should be that of defining what the essentials are when we say, “In the essentials, unity. In

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the non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.” In the process, the non-essentials should be left to the local communities to discuss and decide upon. An easy example comes in the debate regarding ordination of gays and lesbians. The denominational structure has been forcing the whole body to comply with the vote of a slim majority. In the last General Conference, the issue inspired the discussion of a division of The United Methodist Church. In this debate, the denomination could leave the decision up to the local congregations. Those congregations that do not oppose gays and lesbians as ordained elders could then be identified by their Conferences. During the time of appointments, if it is time for a gay or lesbian minister to be reappointed, only those congregations who have identified themselves as open to gays and lesbians will be considered for that minister’s appointment. The denominational structures, as clearinghouses of resources, could also fulfill that role for its clergy. In the United Methodist Church that would mean making the ministers (elders, licensed, and student), deacons, and ministry specialists the employees of the conference to which they belong. Two benefits would arise from this. First, the conference could negotiate group insurance rates, reducing the burden placed on the local congregations and displaying the preference of faithful stewardship of financial resources over long-standing institutional norms. Second, the conference could then set up its own pay structure for ministers allowing ministers to serve in the type of churches to which they have been called. This way, a minister with 25 years of experience who feels called to rural ministry can still serve in the rural church without feeling that s/he has been demoted while the first year elder called to serve large churches can answer his/her call without feeling that s/he is receiving an unfair wage compared to the time, experience, and faithfulness of those who have served much longer. It should be no problem given the current apportionment model to simply have congregation send, along with their apportionments, what they would usually give directly to the minister in compensation. I understand that this is problematic. There is a great deal of tradition and an even larger amount of legislation that resists this change. That is not my concern. Our call is to be faithful to God, not human institutions, structures, and traditions. Jesus spent a lot of time explaining that to the Pharisees. Relevant to the topic, though I question his statistics on the growth of the early church, Alan Hirsch presents an interesting insight into the strange benefits of the decentralized, polycentric church. Hirsch noted that both the early church and the church in China during the rule of Mao Tse-tung (a time in which all religion was banned, all missionaries banished, and the death or imprisonment of the church’s leaders) saw enormous growth. For China, pre-Mao Christianity had an estimated 2 million adherents. When Mao died and missionaries and church officials were allowed to return, they estimated the number of Christians to have grown to 60 million adherents (Hirsch pg. 18-19). He comes to “the unnerving conclusion that God’s people are more potent by far when they have little of what we would recognize as church institution in their life together (pg. 23). It is a thought that the institutional church should consider. In this priestly ecclesiology, ministers should take on the role of high priest. I realize that this sounds like a demand for high liturgy in all churches, and it is. But not in the way it sounds. I contend that high liturgy is any liturgy that focuses the congregation on the worship of God. The form, prayers, music style, sermon style, and everything else associated with the liturgy should be based on what draws the community into the worship

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of God. Please note; the worship of God is to be the focus of the worship service. When leaving the building, the congregation should not be measuring the quality of what they received from the service; rather, they should be measuring the quality of what they gave to God. If I could speak to those congregations and Mega-Churches that rely so heavily on praise bands, theater lighting, extensive audio/visual equipment and other forms of “worship” that focus on the emotional high or entertainment of the individual over the worship of God, I would challenge them to stop the use of all the gimmicks immediately and without warning for one year. If the people who attend are there only for the emotional high and the entertainment value of the service, they will disappear. If, however, they have been truly moved to faithful lives and worship of God, they won’t. A second challenge would be to change all of the “I” and “my” words of our hymns to “we” and “our” words. In order to be able to create a meaningful, God-centered liturgy, the minster as high priest should recognize that, just as the entire congregation mediates God’s blessings to the world, the minister mediates Gods blessings to the congregation. This requires a deep understanding of both God and the people, challenging the minister to be engaged between the sacred and the common, theology and sociology, redeemed and enslaved in much the same way the human form is of the earthly flesh and the divine soul (thus becoming the nefesh hayyim, the living being). Early in this process, the minister will need to re-engage the local congregation in the task of theology. We are told to be ready “to make an account for the hope that is within” us, but the modern world of specialization and institutional hierarchy has made sure that each person has been carefully assigned his/her place. It will take time and training, much like it did for the ministers themselves, to learn this task. If, however, the Church is sincere in its desire that the people in its pews actually believe what they profess and profess what they know, then it needs to stop producing educational material that tells the people everything they are required to believe and start providing resources that equip and empower them for the task. And it is an important task. A recent study done at Baylor University revealed that people’s understanding of the nature of God directly affects their worldview (Froese and Bader pg. 4). It bears repeating that the minister should act, primarily, as facilitator of the congregation’s theology, not as the provider of it. This does not mean the minister cannot raise questions and issues during the process, only that the end goal need not necessarily be a theology that is identical to that of the minister. With some structural forms already extant in the denomination, it would not take much to reconfigure the council of Bishops and convene a council on theology to handle those rare cases where local theology becomes dangerous by marginalizing, demonizing, or causing harm to any specific group or individual. Once the theological understanding of the community (and it should be a consensus theology in much the same way as there is an “angel of the Church at Ephesus”) has been formed, the priestly task of the people and the minister can mold itself around the theology. Rituals that are relevant, contextualized, and spoken in the language of the community can incorporate this theology in the life and liturgy of the congregation and the community. Inspired by the concept of the wilderness experience of the Jews and Victor Turner’s ideas on the rituals of transition, if the minister is fortunate enough to have the whole congregation (or a large majority) engage in a retreat to perform this task while building community, all the better. In the end, though, the minister as high priest should always keep in mind that the priest is called into a special role not for his/her own sake, but for the

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sake of the people. The high priest was never called to rule over people, but to mediate as a source of blessing. Just as anything touching holy items in the Tabernacle and Temple became holy themselves, holiness would be a good thing for ministers to seek as well, if only that one person might be made holy because s/he came into contact with God through us. The United Methodist Church is in a unique position to take advantage of these recommendations. The United Methodist Church has always been ready to engage in theological debate, open to a broad range of theological positions, and willing to deal with and dwell in the gray spaces. Wesley’s classes and societies could be reintroduced in ways similar to the cell groups of other churches focused on the spiritual needs of the people rather than on the special interest topics of cell models. With the growth of house churches, these classes could serve in that capacity while uniting them in societal worship. Even Wesley’s format for class meetings could be used almost whole cloth. The UMC has a deeply liturgical past and a deep respect of the sacraments. Here, local congregations are encouraged to develop means of grace that speak to the heart of the community in which they live. Sanctifying grace calls us still to a path toward holiness and purity whose end goal is perfection/righteousness. And the history of the denomination is one of open and willing struggle with change and culture. Though it may not have always come out of that struggle with flying colors, it has always attempted to engage in conversation and dialogue with both grace and a passion for God who calls all people to God’s self. Problems and Conclusion I realize that this model has problems associated with it. First, like the emerging churches, there is very little evangelistic drive behind it. I find myself divided in how I respond to this issue. One part of me desires to bring about the reign of God not only in my life, but also in as many lives as possible. The other part of me appreciates the end of the bully pulpit and the call to Christians to become a “covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, and those who dwell in darkness from the prison” (Isaiah 42:6b-7). And, at the risk of digging a deeper hole, the concept of predestination could hold within it the notion that some people were indeed predestined to Christianity not because of a select few who would be saved through grace, but because they were called and set apart for the priesthood of all believers whose purity, holiness, and righteousness could stand before God as the ten righteous people for whom God would spare Sodom and Gomorrah. Perhaps it is the call to become the next habirim, the dwellers on the edge of the city who are also God’s treasured people among the nations. The second problem is one I spoke of only briefly. Because the modern Protestant church so engaged itself in marketing faith to the world, it sold its symbols along with it. As a result, I contend that new symbols need to be developed. At some point in time the symbol of the fish gave way to the cross and crucifix. Perhaps it is time for these to give way to something else as well. I do not desire this just to be contrary. If we have lost a sense of the holy, then I believe that new symbols can revive it. The problem is that symbols do not arise from thin air. Even if the Church were to recycle older, yet unfamiliar, symbols, it will take time for meaning to accrue. Next, this will take time and patience and the Church may be lacking both. To add fuel to the fire of urgency, we live in an age of divided loyalties. Though postmodernism grows in influence, there are still a large number of adherents to the modernist mindset.

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Unfortunately, they do not separate themselves into neatly arranged neighborhoods and towns, everyone in it of one mind or the other. And so the challenge here lies in deciding which form to use in the communities we serve (or how much of each we blend together). It is not an easy decision, and making it might cause a cultural divide that mirrors what the larger society is already experiencing. Much of modern theology has become imbedded in the schema of the people. And, unfortunately, like the Israelites wandering in the Sinai wilderness, it may take the passing of a generation for the mental freedom from slavery to our Egypt of individualism and consumerism to catch up to our physical freedom. Bill Wylie Kellerman was a guest speaker in Church Leadership class my first year in seminary. His lecture was based on Col. 1:15-23 and focused on the difference between fallen and redeemed thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities. To paraphrase one of his comments, he said, “Redeemed bodies love God, serve neighbor, and do not fear their own death. Fallen bodies believe they are God, enslave the people, and fear death.” It is time for the Church to analyze itself to determine whether or not it is fallen or redeemed. Currently, the data point to fallen, if only for the reason that the Church obviously fears its own death. But Jesus reminds us frequently that if we truly want to live, we first have to die. This holds true for structures as much as individuals. In the cultural situation we find ourselves in now, the Church would best serve God by being faithful to the God who says, “Behold! I am doing a new thing.” I do not fear the end of the Church, for I know that God still acts in the world and will continue to do so long after I have gone. The Church holds more than the traditions of the past; it stands in the world as a people who remember the story. But the Church needs to see itself not as (gate) keeper of the faith, it must be more like the Jews in the wilderness who camped when the cloud of God’s Presence stopped and moved when it moved. If it can do this and remain faithful to God even above its own institutional survival, there is hope for it.

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Final Analysis Final Paper References

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