Andrew Perriman calls the above image " The multi-coloured big picture ", in which he says it smacks of old-style, abstruse, dispensationalist schematizations of salvation history, he apologizes. The difference is in the fact that it is descriptive rather than prescriptive...that it does not attempt to superimpose an idealized, divinely plotted time chart on history, but simply highlights some basic patterns that emerge from scripture and which may help us to understand the present existence of the present church more clearly.
- The undulating black line roughly indicates the biblical story of the creator God, who creates and re-creates, bringing into existence a people for his own possession which recovers the original blessing of Genesis 1:28 and transmits it to the nations and cultures of the earth.
- The green vertical stripes represent salient moments of creational renewal. The last green stripe represents the ultimate hope expressed in Revelation 21-22, that all creation will be made new, an event anticipated both actually and prophetically in the existence of the people of God as the new creation redeemed from the macrocosm. But the current emphasis in emerging theologies on new creation language may also suggest that the motif is peculiarly applicable to the journey from Christendom to a Post-Christendom paradigm.
- The large yellow patch represents the disintegration of the Christendom paradigm, what is called the emerging church is an expression of a broad quest for a new template or paradigm that will give shape to a people that has become in Christ not merely a people of God's own possession, but a tangible sign of the eventual overthrow of all evil and death, and the remaking of heaven and earth.
- Lastly, the red lines signify periods of difficult transition...if you've read this blog for awhile you're familiar with " liminal space." It's when you come to the end of a paradigm, where we come up against something that has been on the horizon that we don't understand...it's uncomfortable. The tendency is to reach back for the past.
If you've been living in the christian bubble you might be able to convince yourself we are not in this post -christendom paradigm. That it is more akin to weather. We're encountering a low pressure system, a secular weather front pushing up against our christian world view. And, like most weather systems it to will pass, and the christian world view will prevail. Wrong!!! The christendom paradigm is coming to an end.
Stuart Murray muses on the shift from christendom to post-christendom as being interpreted by reference to seven transitions.
- From center to the margins: in christendom the christian story and churches were central, but in post-christendom these are marginal.
- From majority to minority: in christendom christians comprised the ( often overwhelming ) majority, but in post-christendom we are the minority.
- From settlers to sojourners: in christendom christians felt at home in a culture shaped by their story, but in post-christendom we are aliens, exiles, and pilgrims in a culture we no longer feel at home.
- From privilege to plurality: in christendom christians enjoyed many privileges, but in post christendom we are one community among many in plural society.
- From control to witness: in christendom the churches could exert control over society, but in post-christendom we exercise influence only through witnessing to our story and its implications.
- From maintenance to mission: in christendom the emphasis was on maintaining a supposedly christian status quo, but in post-christendom it is on a mission within a contested environment.
- From institution to movement: in christendom the churches operated mainly in institutional mode, but in post-christendom we must become again a movement centered on Jesus and his Kingdom.
We find ourselves in a very liminal space. It is unfamiliar territory, its uncomfortable...and there is " NO " going back. The christian bubble that christendom was is deflating fast, it is collapsing before our eyes. Is the christian faith over, is Jesus going to fade into the sunset like an aging folk hero, whose story will be all but forgotten. Or will something emerge out of the rubble that will capture the imagination of humanity.
More than ever, we need to hear afresh Jesus words when he first pitches his tent in our neighborhood, into the midst of humanity, " the Kingdom is near." This is the reality of the gospel, and the reality that the early church lived in and for. It will not be enough to simply acknowledge christendom is fading and make the necessary adjustments. Moving the chairs in the sanctuary, candles, smoke, ambient music or getting the worship team to strike a new set list, is akin to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is nothing more than a distraction from the reality that the ship is going down.
There is hope. If we are to seize the opportunities of post-christendom, we need to disavow those aspects of christendom that have distorted the gospel, alienated the world and society, and continue to disable us.
From the embryonic beginnings christendom, of Constantine's imperial Roman religion and even into modernity because the church has invested much in the status quo, it has been hard to have a prophetic voice when it is difficult to differentiate between church and the surrounding culture. Finding ourselves on the margin we can rediscover the prophetic voice of the Kingdom. We can become, as my friend Bill Dahl likes to say re-imaginators. Through our words and practice we create a vision of the Kingdom will be like when it is fully present.
A church in exile, will be more nomadic. Things like settlement and security will be held very lightly. In post-christendom our greatest loyalty will be to Jesus and his Kingdom. We will live life on the fault line, in the presistent tremors and tension between the gospel and culture. We need to be subversive alternative communities that are constantly reimagining the Kingdom especially where we have compromised and colluded the gospel.
In post-christendom we must awaken to the reality that we live in a " global village." Our faith is but a tribe, and we occupy a street in a neighborhood filled with different races, languages, colors, cultures...and different faiths. The gospel and the Kingdom is lived within the context of the beautiful divine mess. We must see humanity not as others, but as us. We must begin to see ourselves in the others, to where we emerge and the other sees us in them. We need to share faiths, stories of compassion and hospitality. We all need to see that the Kingdom is not owned by any one religion, but that we are all apart of it. That we will work towards the Kingdom Jesus imagined, lived and spoke about. That we will embrace hope, and build the Kingdom together.
In post-christendom certitude will not come from dogma, theological doctrines...but will be found in the profound mystery of living out the gospel in ways to where the Kingdom of Jesus becomes tangible. There is something wild in that Jesus and the Kingdom are inseparable...the Kingdom is a revelation of Jesus.
If christendom was not about the Kingdom of God come on earth, but an illegitimate collusion with the empire, then maybe we should bid farewell and in this liminal space grasp that mustard seed of faith. We need to listen to Jesus words, " the Kingdom is near." It is as much now as it is future. All the prophets spoke of this time, of God's passion for peace and justice.
Perhaps more than anything we are need of a post-christendom eschatology, a vision uncontaminated by chrsitendom ideology. We need divine redemptive imagination that will sustain all humanity in this liminal space of anxiety and uncertainty. We need a people willing to live in the profound mysterious reality that the kingdom is here among us. That we will have the eyes to see, the ears to here, and be courageous enough to build the Kingdom now. That the Kingdom now, points to the fullness of the coming Kingdom into which humanity will emerge.
This is getting a bit long winded, so I'm going to end it here. Next week I'm going to muse on " post-christendom eschatology." It will be the hope of any Jesus centered faith that will move us into the fullness of the Kingdom Jesus imagined. So, stay tuned and I'd love to here your feedback on re-imagining a post-christendom faith.