Dones are those who still believe in Jesus, but are finished with church. Here is one perspective followed by my own reflection on why Dones exist and are growing:
From my forthcoming review of Peter Leithart’s The End of Protestantism
There are many wise insights throughout this book.
Leithart also does a terrific job illuminating little known histories. These out of the way reflections should give pause to all conscientious readers. We are listening to a man who loves the church and knows its history. One example is so illuminating and cogent that I wish all Christians would have it put on their refrigerators. It details the despair many had during and shortly after the catastrophic WWI. Predictions about the world’s end were common. Too many Christians lacking a proper historic sense failed to appreciate that God could still be up to great things with His church which in fact ended up being the case. Here Leithart reminds us of the explosive growth of the gospel that has occurred throughout the world during the twentieth century. For the many Christians who are saying that “Hillary will forever change our country” I would recommend the wise counsel of Leithart.
My interview with author and Aussie pastor, Mark Sayers:
Moore: You’ve been addressing some of these themes in previous books, so what led you to write a full-throated account?
Sayers: I was driven by a conviction that something radical was changing culturally, and that the Church was struggling to not just catch up but articulate this shift. For decades now the Church has relied on the strategy of cultural relevance to engage Western culture. The premise of this strategy was based on two great assumptions. First, that Western culture had entered a kind of post-Christian phase, and second that the best way to engage this post-Christian phase was through employing strategies and tactics learned on the mission field with pre-Christian cultures.
This was the strategy that ultimately created the contemporary church movement. I am not suggesting that the strategy of cultural relevance has not been fruitful nor that we should abandon it. The strategy of cultural relevance works well in pre-Christian or traditional cultures where the gospel can be communicated into and built around local symbols, stories, traditions, conventions and structures. However, the mood behind the post-Christian culture of the West ultimately seeks to deconstruct and contest all symbols, stories, traditions, conventions and structures. How do you apply a strategy of cultural relevance in a Western context which liquifies culture? Missiology emerged as a way of engaging non-Western traditional cultures without colonizing them. In our post-traditional West, the danger is that when the church engages the cultural solely with the strategy of cultural relevance, too often the church is colonized by the post-Christian mood. I am suggesting that alongside the strategy of relevance we need a strategy of resilience. Not retreat, but cultural engagement with robust resilience.
Moore: In an early section titled “The Soft Power of Post-Christianity” my marginal note reads: “Well put and insightful. We get dulled, duped, and diverted by the panoply of options that indirectly say Christianity is irrelevant.” Describe a bit of the allure and toxic nature of our current cultural moment.
Sayers: Post-Christianity is ultimately the project of the West to move beyond Christianity, whilst feasting upon its fruit. Thus it constantly offers us options and off ramps, in which we seemingly have what we enjoy about faith, but without the sacrifices and commitments. It does not demand that we become apostates rather that we reshape our faith to suit the contours of the day, and in the process offers us the promise of tangible freedoms and pleasures for doing so. It does not challenge our faith head on in a kind of apologetics debate; rather it uses soft power, offering a continual background hum of options and incentives which eat away at our commitments. We are offered the mirage that we can have community without commitment, faith without discipleship, the kingdom without the King. To steal and misquote Eliot’s line, our faith doesn’t disappear with a bang but with a whimper.
Moore: Much of modern culture seems rather benign. We all benefit from breakthroughs in technology, medicine and so much more. It seems a bit ungrateful to level harsh criticisms (something you don’t do) against a culture that produced such benefits. How can the church be winsome in its critique without losing fidelity to the biblical story?
Sayers: Its key that we remember that human culture reflects human nature, thus it mirrors the reality that we are both created and loved, yet also fallen. It is also important to remember that culture is not a monolith, but contains all kinds of spheres, such as media, law, art, and politics. In a globalized world, locations also still matters. So we need nuanced, wise and discerning cultural critique. Scripture shows us that such wisdom and discernment flows from a close abiding with Christ.
Moore: The following is a generality, but does, I believe, depict a big problem. In America, older evangelicals can be faulted with tethering the gospel to certain political agendas that have little or nothing to do with the gospel. Younger evangelicals have reacted in the opposite direction with a disinclination to say much about certain issues that the gospel does address. Do you have a similar challenge in Australia?
Sayers: Traditionally evangelicalism is more politically diverse in Australia than in the US. Having said that, with the rise of the Internet, increasingly Australian evangelicals and even some elements of the media, confuse our relatively small local evangelicalism with American political conservatism. So we also have had understandable move away from some of the compromises with right wing politics, but sometimes the reaction slides into an equally concerning compromise with left wing politics.
This is all happening at a time, where across the Western world we are seeing the rise of a harder left and a harder right. This comes as a shock for since the fall of the Berlin Wall, with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair moving politics into the center, it seemed that such ideology had had its day. Yet ideology is back. What I find fascinating though is behind this move to further edges of the right and left is a common thread. Both espouse a kind of anti-institutional impulse which seeks to remove the restraints on the individual will. Both seek to either return to an idealized past or a utopian future through the hand of a kind of a benevolent, paternal entity be it government, tech companies, or the global financial market. Both end up ignoring, or bypassing the mediating institutions such as family, neighborhood, community organizations or church. Thus, creating the contemporary, atomized, and commitment phobic self, dizzy with choice. There is a significant and growing missional opportunity here for the church to inhabit and rehabilitate this ignored space.
Moore: You write about “creative minorities.” In what ways can the church better remember both words of that description?
Sayers: Writers from Arnold Toynbee to Malcolm Gladwell have shown the way that creativity emerges so often from the margins. This is true in politics, culture, art and religion. The marginal position, isolating one from the mainstream, enables one to view the mainstream from the outside. To in a sense be a part, but also to stand apart and see the idols flaws, and myths of the mainstream culture. To be invited to be a healing presence with good news that directly addresses those idols, flaws and myths. However, as the story of both Israel, and Christ shows us, the margins at best are not comfortable and at worse harm and hurt. To be a true creative minority, the church must truly understand that we will always be mocked, persecuted, and marginalized, and yet we must meet such a response with love and faithfulness. Such a posture provides a fruitful creative tension.
Moore: What are a few goals you would like your readers to walk away with from having read Disappearing Church?
Sayers: There is no going back. We will most likely live the entirety of our lives in an increasingly diverse, contested, globalized, and divided world. As William Davidow and Moises Naim have shown, this world will also be a fragile one. Thus such a moment will be served by a church that is relevant by being resilient. With change and chaos as the norm, a nostalgic desire to return to halcyon days is deeply tempting. Instead of wanting to return to the past, we must learn from the past. Two thousand years of Church history have shown us that again and again, even as large portions of the Church compromise with the spirit of the day. Creative minorities, who engaged new landscapes with creativity alongside biblical orthodoxy and faithfulness, flourish, bring good news and live as ambassadors of the kingdom. This can and will again happen in our day. If in some tiny way Disappearing Church can contribute to that renaissance I will be deeply grateful to Him.
HT: Tim Taylor
Here in Texas we enjoy great barbecue. Among the many options, Rudy’s bills itself as the “worst barbecue in Texas.” It actually is very good.
Perhaps local churches could take a cue. When the leadership of the church gives the impression that they are really doing the deed, and yet the reality falls far short, it sets people up for disillusionment. Perhaps more people would be at peace with their local church if the cheer leading and triumphalism were replaced by more humility and true, servant-leaders.
My interview with Scot McKnight on his book, A Fellowship of Differents:
An important article on how the Pope acted around Castro.
HT: Jesus Creed/Patheos
My brief reflection. By the way, if you don’t know the meaning of realpolitik, please look it up. It is a critical word to understand, especially for us Christians:
I will be curious to see whether Scott Hahn, Robert George, Michael Novak, George Weigel, et al. have much to say about this.
The realpolitik of our world seems so wise, but I don’t see the prophets and Jesus imbibing in that approach.
Much food for thought here:
HT: John Fea’s blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home
Let’s get one thing quickly out of the way. I believe homosexuality is contrary to God’s design. I also believe marriage is between one man and one woman.
The legalization of homosexual marriage to some degree makes me feel like Marshall McLuhan who went to movies not to watch the movie, but to observe how other people watch movies.
Some good things have been said by Christian leaders. Unfortunately, there are too many other Christians depressed over what all this portends for America. This declinist narrative focuses like a laser beam on how the sin of homosexuality is to blame for a myriad of societal ills.
My concern may be best stated by using an illustration. Imagine that you want to start a landscape company. You eagerly knock on your neighbors’ doors and announce the new venture. The responses you receive range from amusement (“you can’t be serious”) to outright anger. Why? The answer is simple. Your yard is terribly overgrown and quite the eye sore. You’ve received regular warnings from the Homeowner’s Association.
I’m not a cynic about the church, even here in America. It is God’s primary means of accomplishing His will. Some of the best people I know go to church on a regular basis. And that includes some pastors!
However, I do have grave concerns about our laser-like focus over the horrors of legalizing homosexual marriage. Yes, we need to say something, but I’m afraid our quickly cutting to the chase on this issue leaves many important things unsaid.
My suggestion would go more along these lines:
We believe homosexuality is a sin. We also believe that gluttony, gossip, adultery, sex outside of marriage, racism, unscrupulous business practices, the love of money, divorce, and a whole host of other things are sin. Unfortunately, we have not done a very good job in communicating a comprehensive view of sin. We have been selective. Too many times we have been motivated by fear. We have avoided addressing certain sins for fear our giving at church will plummet. Too many of us have come across as both hating the sin of homosexuality and the homosexual. We could go on with other specifics, but hopefully you get the point. Our selective outrage has made us not act like Jesus. We have been rather poor at modeling the “grace and truth” approach of Jesus.
In our quest to proclaim the righteousness standards of God, I’m afraid our selective outrage presents a gospel which is no longer the gospel. Consider another illustration. Picture that you are driving a car. In the passenger seat is a non-Christian. You tune into your favorite radio station. The problem is that you are not fully tuned in. You are so accustomed to the static that you fail to hear it. You turn to your non-Christian friend and expectantly ask what he thinks about the “amazing” music. Surprisingly to you, he is not impressed. You are baffled by his lackluster response but your habitual listening to music cum static has dulled your ears.
I’m afraid many Christians in America love listening to music cum static and therefore think it worth telling others about. Our penchant for focusing on some sins and not others (especially those which are common in the church) has made us tone deaf to what we believe are courageous and prophetic pronouncements, but could more accurately be labelled Pharisaical.
During my years of doing radio interviews, I had the chance to interview Cal Thomas. Thomas was one of the major leaders in the Moral Majority. I was interviewing Thomas on a book he co-authored with fellow Moral Majority leader, Ed Dobson. The title gives away the thrust of what the authors were trying to address: Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America. It was a courageous and candid confession of zeal gone awry. Among other things, the Moral Majority would purposely give prominence to certain social issues knowing these would increase their financial giving.
I’ve been reading through various statements on the recent ruling about homosexual marriage by the Supreme Court. In the pages of Christianity Today Mark Galli reflects the tone that should be more widespread in the Christian church:
Another temptation now is to point the finger at the forces—political, social, philosophical, spiritual—arrayed against the church and its moral teaching. Without denying the reality of “principalities and powers” (Eph. 6:12), we do well to ponder this: What actions and attitudes have we imbibed that contribute to our culture’s dismissing our ethics? Our homophobia has revealed our fear and prejudice. Biblical inconsistency—our passion to root out sexual sins while relatively indifferent to racism, gluttony, and other sins—opens us to the charge of hypocrisy. Before we spend too much more time trying to straighten out the American neighborhood, we might get our own house in order. Blessed are the poor in spirit who mourn their sins (Matt. 5:3-4). (Emphasis added)
In the same vein, my dear friend, Pastor Jeff Teague, likes to expose how much we Christians tend to be insensitive to our own sin. Utilizing his considerable acting abilities, Jeff asks with faux disdain, “Why is it that Jesus only hung around sinners?” Many bite and respond with something like, “Yeah, that’s right. He did hang around with a lot of unsavory types.” By their response, many reveal that they feel different and therefore distant from the sinners Jesus regularly spent time with. Then Jeff answers his own question, “Because sinners are the only people who exist!”
So yes, be ready to share about God’s design for marriage, but realize your answer may cloud more than clarify if it does not come with some honest comments about the sins which many times find safe harbor in the church.
I spent the summer of 1980 in South Carolina. Lots of wonderful people there, but I saw examples of blatant racism I’d never experienced. In fact, I once had to break up a fight between a white business owner (rumored to be part of the KKK) who pulled a knife on a black employee.
I worked at a gas station and told certain people I would not serve them if they continued to use offensive language directed at black people. I remember some staring at me like I was from Mars. Ironically, I felt like I was visiting Mars at times!
Ps. 116:15; Jn. 11:25
For more on the shootings in Charleston: