Robust Christianity in a Post-Christendom World

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

One of the great challenges facing this generation of Christians is the successful navigation to a more robust Christianity, finally set free from the domesticating influence of Christendom. Under the sway of “cultural Christianity” difficult theological questions rarely arise, and catechesis declines because people, broadly speaking, see themselves as being “good Christian folk.”  To be an American was to be a Christian.  The longer I live the more I have come to see that the biggest challenge of the church is not the initial evangelization of a culture, but rather remaining Christians once a culture has been evangelized.

From the vantage point of the early decades of the 21st century it is quite evident that the marriage of the Christian gospel to North American culture did not come without serious repercussions.  Christendom always finds ways to sand down all the rough edges of the gospel so its prophetic, radical proclamation gets gradually domesticated.  The result is that, over time, Christianity gets quite removed from the proclamation and experience of the New Testament.  Gradually, being a “Christian” gets domesticated to little more than “being nice to people.”  Sin moves from binding ourselves to the human rebellion against God to an “inconvenient slowing down of our moral development.”  The righteous judgment of a holy God is quietly dropped in favor of the proverbial “man upstairs” who is more like Santa Claus than the God of biblical revelation.  Preaching, over time, becomes bland moralizing and child-like admonitions.  Pastors become endlessly manipulated and coerced into the larger cultural project rather than remembering our prior calling to serve Jesus Christ and to help usher in the Kingdom through the witness of the Church.   Now that Christianity and North America are in divorce court, the underlying issues which were simmering for decades are now openly spewing forth.  It’s not a pretty sight. The signs of this are everywhere. (I will devote another blog to specific examples).

The latest surge of atheism and neo-paganism is not because after 2,000 years someone finally sniffed out the Achilles heel of the Christian message and now our “mask is off.”  Rather, atheism, and half of a dozen other competing world-views, are always prowling around ready to jump into any spiritual void which appears.  We have retreated so far from biblical Christianity you can almost hear the Christian oxygen being sucked out of the culture at every turn.  The church has become one of the most vacuous spaces of all.

The great project of our generation is to reclaim biblical Christianity as the Church.  (Please re-read the last sentence about three times before going on).  This will inevitably involve standing up and articulating with far more precision exactly what Christianity actually is.  It has become almost a trite statement in recent years that our culture has abandoned the Christian faith.  This actually is not my greatest concern.  My greatest concern is that those of us who are pastors and leaders have ourselves forgotten the gospel.  The early church didn’t spend a lot of time wringing their hands over the paganism of Rome.  They took it for granted and set about evangelizing it.  This cannot be done if we are angry (this is not the time to start burning Qur’ans).  This also cannot be done if we are too passive (this is not the time for silence and cultural acquiescence).  The greatest need for conversion today is not the unbelieving world, but the church itself.  After all, doesn’t Scripture teach us that judgment begins in the household of God?  (I Peter 4:17).  We cannot even begin to effectively respond to the godless drumbeat of this generation until we ourselves learn to listen to the gospel with better ears, better hearts, better feet, and a lot more good old fashioned courage.  There are few things more troubling than the quiet surrender of the gospel at every turn while, in the same breath, we blather on endlessly about the importance of making the church more “culturally relevant.”

Christianity in North America has taken quite a few wrong turns.  I am more familiar with the “wrong turns” of mainline and evangelical Protestantism, but my Roman Catholic, Anglican and Pentecostal friends assure me that those movements have wandered off the reservation, too.  There is no point in pressing ahead with all of our so called “plans” if we have taken the wrong turn in the road.  We’ve got to go back and get it right.  Progress doesn’t always mean pressing ahead, it means moving closer towards the goal.  In fact, the greatest progress usually starts with repentance.  Repentance means to turn and go a different direction.  I, for one, have quite a bit of repenting to do.  How about you?

Comments

  • Art Ross says:

    I have been actively standing upto the expansion of the gay agenda and anti god mivements in our community and our public schools with little expectation, but the real surprise is the suport these groups are getting from supposed Christians. I am flabbergasted.

  • Judy Ranabottom-Stallons says:

    My message of proclamation a couple Sundays ago began with “Im tired of being nice.” We have lots of “nice” people, but we’re called to radical, self-sacrificial love that isn’t confined to a bricks and mortar location. We’re called to take those gut level stirrings and put compassion into action.

  • […] Robust Christianity in a Post-Christendom World: The great project of our generation is to reclaim biblical Christianity as the Church.  (Please re-read the last sentence about three times before going on).  This will inevitably involve standing up and articulating with far more precision exactly what Christianity actually is. […]

  • Most Christians only know what their leaders teach them. Lay the responsibility for growth upon the sheep, if one will, but leaders are called to make disciples of them. So, when the church is failing, let’s look to who is failing whom. Most believers are unaware that hearing God’s voice is to be expected as the way for God to lead them. Thus they follow whatever leader they do hear. And, where they are, is where they have been led to be.

    • Salmaik says:

      A recurring prleobm I find with Christian arguments is that they often resemble an academic argument, save for one exception: An academic argument must by design rely on multiple sources to provide veracity for an argument, verifiable also by author, publishing date and institution of original publishing. The typical Christian argument refers to the same predictable text which has none of these extra correlates, save for the historical context attached to which version of the Good Book’ they refer to. (How can Absolute Truth’ have versions any way?)In addition to this flaw in their arguments, I am ever perturbed by their arrogance in assuming that I, the heathen, will accept their text as being in any way legitimate. Not only can you not verify scores of the original authors of the text, it often contradicts itself, makes no allowance for context (the majority of us are no longer pig farmers) and has its priorities way out of whack (thou shalt not bear false witness okay fine, but what about thou shalt not commit rape? Thou shalt not cause physical or sexual harm to children?)On top of all this, I don’t see why they bother who has been swayed to sign up to any religion by means of Clayton-academic argument? Just accept that yours is not the realm of logic. Contrarily, your advantage lies in the collective good you affect on the world (which isn’t looking particularly good at the moment).Religion and logic don’t mix. As stated in the opening pages of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a faith-based movement must always by necessity have an incontrovertible gap in logic that’s where the leap is. Were I Christian, and someone posited a paradox along the lines of if God makes an immovable Rock, how can he possibly move it?’ my response would be If an omnipotent God existed in a time before logic, being its creator, why would he necessarily be bound to it?’

  • Honest question… When you say, “The great project of our generation is to reclaim biblical Christianity as the Church.” Do you mean only an interpretation of the Bible that aligns with a view that homosexuality is sin or one that also considers different interpretations of Scripture like Walter Wink: bit.ly/JMAS7m? Simply dismissing Christians who interpret Scripture differently than you do as those who have “forgotten the Gospel” is arrogant and not helpful to theological conversation.

    • Omar says:

      Thanks for the post:)And I’m glad you’ve got something out of my blog.I am a Tolkien fan, touhgh it’s only been since the movies were out. At some point, I plan to pay for a custom illustration for my header

  • David Hull says:

    Amen! Your words resonate deeply with my spirit, and what I have been mulling over in my mind lately.

    But there is a problem.

    You mentioned, “the greatest progress usually starts with repentance. Repentance means to turn and go a different direction.”

    As a man who lived most of his life in the wrong direction, and as you noted is now living in a cultural environment where the church is leading in the wrong direction…. where are the men who ARE leading in the right direction? Where is discipleship happening in the church?

    It is hard for those within the church who haven’t been shown another way to turn in another direction, because they don’t know where that direction is.

    What are your thoughts about how to engage this issue? Because, even the men and women at seminaries right now are predominantly an “un-discipled” generation…

  • deb says:

    Thank you so much. After watching my former denomination for whom I still have great love battle to hold to scripture in the most recent general conference and the ongoing energy it takes to fight the battle, and having recently been the recipient of a ballistic verbal attack in a Bible Study of Acts of what it really would be to ACT as a biblical Christian, it is encouraging to have voices from other corners proclaiming the Good News – which was never designed to be the ‘comfortable news’

    • Karthik says:

      Hi Pastor Dan, I stumbled onto your site linkoog for a reference on pluralistic leadership and was stopped short by your thoughts on inoculation. I agree. I too am a pastor and have felt that all too often being a Christian or not makes very little difference in our society. When you ask, Why does it seem that a being a Christian or not being a Christian makes very little difference in the overall direction of one’s life in American society? The answer is, Because it doesn’t. Because Christ is absent from our Christianity. Why? I believe it is because we as Christians are more enamored with the world than we are our Lord. Or, another way to put it, albeit sounds harsh, is we love our sin more than we love Christ. If we were lovers of Christ and seekers of His Kingdom and it’s principles than we would be a peculiar people, salt and light in this world. But alas we are so much like the world the worldling sees no reason to change. Bill Hull put it this way in His book The Disciple Making Pastor, I maintain that the evangelical church is weak, self-indulgent, and superficial, that has been thoroughly discipled by its culture (pg. 19). In other words as the world goes, so goes the church. How are we ever going to prepare a people to meet the Lord and to herald in His coming if can’t take our eyes off the world long enough to see other people. When Sunday services are over we are off again to our secular pursuits. Worship should be the smallest part of our Christian experience. What I mean is God’s people will be serving Him all week long – seeking the lost, ministering to the needs of the “least of these,” taking every opportunity available to us to further the Kingdom.I think it was John Maxwell who I heard say speaking of leadership, “The fish smells from the head down.” This is why I was linkoog for something on pluralistic leadership. It seems to me that too many of our leaders are taking in all manner of methods for outreach at the price of great compromise with the world, and loss to our people. How are we to be a light on the hill when we are living in the lowlands of compromise, scurrying about in the darkness with the worldling and dubbing it as love. It is not loving to call men and women to nothing higher than they are already experiencing. Hoping that they will catch Christianity. We have denied the power of God and embraced a form Rather we should be calling the lost to repentance in clear tones but that isn’t fashionable these days and it would, we fear, hinder church growth as you discussed earlier. But when Jesus spoke to the Rich Young Ruler was He trying to be fashionable, or was He concerned about church growth? No, He was interested in that man’s soul and knew what he needed to save it. Sadly, he walked away, as many will. The way is a narrow one When Jesus told the multitude of disciples who were more interested in a worldly kingdom than a spiritual one, Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you can have no part in Me. was He interested in winning a crowd or rather in finding out who was really with Him for He could do nothing other than speak the truth about Himself and His mission. However, we have become more concerned about linkoog good in the world’s eyes rather than being good in God’s eyes. All that to say not if, but when the foretold crisis comes to this world preceding our Lord’s return (Daniel 12:1) God’s professed people and the world that they were to warn of His coming I fear will be no more ready than the Hotoos and Tootsies as they, many of them profess Christians, were killing their brothers in Christ. What I mean is Christianity didn’t usurp their tribal ways, their culture. And neither has Christ made the impress yet on His people that He intends to make, that will see them through the Time of Trouble. But can the needed change happen? Yes! Will it happen? Yes! But only for those who will take seriously Christ’s call to forsake this world – not linkoog back as did Lot’s wife, and deny self, bearing their cross and following Him. This is the only way a difference is going to be made in the lives of our people in America, and thus America itself. It is the only way that Christ offers through Him and His example of self-sacrifice.My thoughts. Thanks for the forum.Dave

  • I was surprised, myself, when digging into a word study, to find that the sin of “greed” — which is identified as a form of idol worship and wrapped into a bundle of sins including sexual immorality and slander in several pastoral letters — was defined in Bible times as simply “desiring more.”

    To me, as someone who has worked in marketing for part of my career, this means that since the birth of modern advertising in the late 1920s and early 1930s, our economy has been built, increasingly, on sin. One of the most obvious examples is the ballooning size of the average home, even while household sizes diminish. While a 1950 household of 3.3 people lived, on average, in 1,000 square feet, by 2010 a household of 2.6 people felt themselves barely accommodated in the average new home of 2,392 square feet — nearly three times as much space for each person and their stuff. That “desire for more” demands a lot of time at work and a lot of time caring for stuff. It robs us of time that could go to caring for friends, neighbors, and other Christians in need.

    The “desire for more” corrupts us in the church, too. One way it affects us is as we choose to believe marketing-based principles for church growth instead of Biblical models of growing God’s family. Again, just picking an obvious example: while the church growth movement has encouraged the formation of homogeneous units within a congregation (as, for instance, small Bible study and prayer groups composed of young family members) it has isolated young women from the Titus 2 women in the flock, and keeps the solitary from being set into the families God intends for them.

    A humorous aside: few years ago, my husband and I were driving home from small group saying, “Finally! A small group with Christians we seem likely to learn something from!” Then we looked at each other and realized … we were finally old enough that the peers in our homogeneous small group were old enough to have some life experience and wisdom.

    It shouldn’t be like that. God doesn’t intend it to be that way.

  • Joy says:

    Maybe we should just ditch Christianity and go back. Go back to teaching the basics of God’s Word. Church people have been told that most of scripture doesn’t apply to them and it was done away with or nailed to the cross. We say we believe the 10 commandments, but only endorse 9 of them. We need the firm foundations. You are correct. The current church doesn’t look much different than the world – same divorce rate, drug use, pornography addiction, adultery. Let’s go back to the Ancient Paths and walk in them. Get rid of the 3 points and a poem and teach/preach God’s truth.

    • Aida says:

      that he was unqualified omeinebnvolence. The conditions for you to be accepted by God is to believe and to follow his word. Infact that passage from Psalm alludes to this directly But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee. God’s love is reserved for those who put faith in God. In fact, all those who put faith in God should rejoice!2) So what is the point of the bible? If man knows God, surely he doesn’t need to rely on a text that is incomplete, contains errors, has changed over the centuries, and is incapable of stopping people changing and adding parts (think Mormons). How is any human capable of distinguishing between the real and false Gods? Why do you follow the bible? Does it not help you to get closer to God? If it does, then why doesn’t everyone get a chance to be closer to God?3) God is supposedly a God that loves everyone Matthew 5:44-45 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. What does this mean? Saying that God loves you by sending rain and sun to sustain yourself as a mortal while basically creating people with no choice to avoid hell for eternity is like saying that you love a mouse because you give it food or water, but in a few weeks time you will torture it until it almost dies, then revive it again, and torture it some more! If that is the love of God, I don’t want it. If this is what God’s love is like on Earth, surely heaven will be a torture chamber just as hell is. There’s a reason why my article is titled Proof against (an all loving) god . It’s because any god that exists, as you clearly point out, is hate-filled, vengence-filled and plain unfair.

  • […] one of my favorite Wesleyans, Timothy Tennent – Robust Christianity in a Post-Christendom World: The great project of our generation is to reclaim biblical Christianity as the Church. This will […]

  • I have been exploring concepts like this for a few years now. The ideal is a sort of return to a primitive faith, given the similarities between the Early Church/Roman world and our pluralistic society. For further reference, any reading recommendations or resources would be appreciated.

    • Bernabeht says:

      that the fall not only affected our moral fualcties, but also our ability to reason and observe God in creation (hence Romans 1-2). The true God is revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.Why do you follow the bible?Because it’s the word of God.I want to ask you a question: why do you follow rationalism?I think you’ll find that both our answers are just as circular as one another Does it not help you to get closer to God? If it does, then why doesn’t everyone get a chance to be closer to God?You are assuming a premise that I reject. Humanity doesn’t deserve to get a chance to be closer to God. We’re sinners. God is holy, righteous, and just, and can’t look upon evil. However, in grace, mercy and love, God has sent his Son Jesus to live as we can’t, to die the death we deserve, and be raised again for his people. Those who put their faith in him get to get closer to God , but never deserve it.3) Here is where you’re assuming a) unqualified omnibenevolence and b) that the Bible means the same thing every time when it uses the word love . The love of God that causes him to send rain and sun on the evil and the good is not the same kind of love that redeems from hell and restores relationship. My message to you is this: the fact that God has continued to show patience and love to you in taking care of you and providing for your needs should lead you to repentance. There will come a time when that this grace is no longer given, and God holds you to account for your life. Do you really think that you’ll be able to stand on that day with arguments like this? If what I believe is true, there is no possible way you will. Put your trust in the righteous one, Jesus Christ. There’s a reason why my article is titled “Proof against (an all loving) god”. It’s because any god that exists, as you clearly point out, is hate-filled, vengence-filled and plain unfair.I didn’t clearly point out anything of the sort. Just because God hates doesn’t mean that he doesn’t also love. Your argument is against unqualified omnibenevolence, which I, orthodox Christians, and the Bible, reject.

  • Richard Nash says:

    Good words, but I feel you need to back them up with some practical examples of how we return to a robust Christianity. What does that look like? How is it different than what we’re already doing?

    I’m looking forward to more.

  • Michael Snow says:

    A bigger problem for American churches than that
    ‘being a “Christian” gets domesticated to little more than “being nice to people”‘ is the question of loyalty to the Kingdom of God which has often in churches been been confused with the kingdom of the USA.

  • Two Tasks says:

    […] Tennent of Asbury Theological Seminary notes that we have a huge opportunity afforded by this post-Christendom period. That is the chance to […]

  • […] Robust Christianity in a Post-Christendom World: The great project of our generation is to reclaim biblical Christianity as the Church.  (Please re-read the last sentence about three times before going on).  This will inevitably involve standing up and articulating with far more precision exactly what Christianity actually is. […]

  • Biblical Christianity is not defined by private opinion. Rather, we are recipients of the Apostolic witness – the great semper unique ab omnibus. The Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed are great summaries of this Apostolic witness which unites Christians through time and around the world. We should be suspicious of “new” truths which suddenly overturn 2000 years of Apostolic witness. New insights are, indeed, possible, but when they do come they usually find a deep resonance with the witness as a whole. Today’s “new” insights and creative exegesis which overthrows orthodoxy is largely driven by culture, not by historic Apostolicity.

  • PrSymeon says:

    Dr. Tennent, you may find the writings and lectures of H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. (MD, PhD) interesting. He is professor of philosophy at Rice U and professor emeritus of Baylor College of Medicine. He doesn’t just deal with bioethical issues, but the nature of the secularism pervasive in our society, how it developed, and the radically different approach of traditional Christianity in early times and within the present secular culture. Recently, he wrote “Christian Bioethics in a Post-Christian Word: Facing the Challenges,” pub. in Christian Bioethics (a journal by Oxford U Press, April 2012). A lecture he gave at Houston Baptist University last year at a conference is available on Youtube (http://youtu.be/NfjVZPt27Wg).

  • Pollo says:

    Hey Dave-Have you read Stanley Hauerwas, Rodney Clapp, or David Fitch? They all do a lot of writing on the chcurh as its own polis . In other words, they draw a visible line between the chcurh and the world. It sounds like you would like their work.Thanks for the thoughts!

  • […] May 17, 2012 in Thoughts of the Day with 1 Comment FB.Event.subscribe('edge.create', function(response) { _gaq.push(['_trackEvent','SocialSharing','Facebook – like button',unescape(String(response).replace(/+/g, " "))]); }); (function() { var po = document.createElement("script"); po.type = "text/javascript"; po.async = true; po.src = "https://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js"; var s = document.getElementsByTagName("script")[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(po, s); })(); Robust Christianity in a Post-Christendom World […]

  • […] isn’t altogether bad. Living in a so-called “Christian” culture comes at a cost. In this blog post, Dr. Tennent writes, Christendom always finds ways to sand down all the rough edges of the gospel so its prophetic, […]

  • Music started playing as soon as I opened up this blog, so irritating!