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THE WRONG BOOGEYMAN!

What scares us is not what threatens us.

Church leaders see dangers, but these dangers are not what actually endanger us. And their believers see perils, but these perils are not what really imperil us. We’re totally sober about "menacing shadows," but we know almost nothing about the source of those shadows. In short, we’re frightened by "terrible" symptoms while totally missing terrible realities.

We’ve got the wrong boogeyman!

No doubt, the symptoms we face reflect life and death issues. Mainline Protestant churches have decreased 47 percent since 1968 (as a percentage of American population). And, we’re not only getting smaller, we’re also getting older. As a result, mainline membership will plunge in about 15 years, "similar to what would happen if you threw a turkey out of a plane."1

During the same time, evangelical churches lost about 6 percent of their members, and Roman Catholics surrendered 3 percent, let alone the loss of influence through scandals.2 Since 1999, three to four thousand churches have closed each year. And, in the remaining gatherings, half have not gained "a single new believer."3

To see the final fruit of these trends, look at Europe’s empty cathedrals.

Some disagree, of course, with such dire predictions: "Don’t forget," they say, "we’re a strong and powerful nation. So with some help, we’ll easily recover." Here are examples, though, of that help: The media often portray churches as "lost in antiquated backwaters." Our colleges and universities frequently describe congregations as "badly out of step with the times" and "culturally embarrassing." And, many of our more popular films pigeonhole clergy as "comical" or "deranged."

That’s incredibly ineffective "help"! And, we can’t refocus it with our "focus groups."

War and Anarchy

These "in your face" facts are real—and truly terrifying! But they’re only symptoms. Our survival depends on seeing and responding to real problems behind illusory symptoms.

To begin, we’re living within an epic upheaval. Our old world is being "deconstructed." Something radically different is blowing away everything we reduced in the past to a set of rules. Even the way we think is changing. And the way we communicate is changing as well. We’re actually seeing a "conversion" of the mainstream mind, a transmutation of accepted reality.

In this bizarre shift, we’re also witnessing the anarchy of truth, the virtual vacuum of truth. Past decadence has morphed into mere matters of choice. So morality is obviously at stake. And doctrine is totally at risk.

What’s left of "spirituality" in mainstream America is being repackaged. Fringe pop styles are spreading alternative spiritual currents through an increasingly fragmented culture. Consequently, distinctions between "cult" and "culture" are rapidly disappearing.

The church has lost its "interface" with time. This disruption is more than a mere "generation gap." We’re no longer replacing aging believers with youth who will someday "carry on." Because today’s youth are not the "next" generation, they are the "now" generation. In ten years, half the world will be teens, and they will share little in common with their elders.

This larger-than-life war between past and future has already been won. It’s too late for church leaders to prepare another assault. If we keep fighting this war, we’ll only increase our losses. It’s time to stop, look around, and see where the Lord of History has—all along—been calling us.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

This pause, however, can only be temporary. For we’ve lost another, even more desperate, "interface."

The church is dangerously separated from reality by recent breakthroughs in technology. A "second scientific revolution" is completely redesigning the world—for better or worse.4 And, we’re being propelled into this new world "with no plan, no control, (and) no brakes."5

Make no mistake! This revolution concerns the church. We face profound ethical, moral, and spiritual decisions. The dilemmas posed will shake the very foundations of Christianity.

What we see now are only the "ghosts of technologies to come."6 The Human Genome Project is a mere warm-up act for a throw-of-the-dice biology. Today’s robots are mere forerunners to machines with "human" consciousness. And nanotechnology is just beginning to create never-seen-before matter.

Earlier clergy would say we’re totally mad to take such risks. And, indeed, today’s scientists "put the odds at 30 to 50 percent that humanity will not survive the century."7

This warning is no mere hyperbole.

Genetic manipulation could accidentally wipe out the human species.8 Super-intelligent, sentient machines will soon outperform human beings. (By 2030, we won’t be able to distinguish between real and simulated people.)9 And nanotechnology could turn all living matter to dust in a matter of days.10

Yet, here is the more sobering part! All three of these technologies—by themselves—are self-accelerating and self-replicating. It’s a real-life, Sorcerer’s Apprentice story!

In other words, we could easily lose control. We could easily lose our ability to "turn the thing off." We could easily cross a threshold that would block any return.

Ever!

So the world needs mature spiritual wisdom—immediately! "We will devise integral solutions to these global nightmares or we will very likely perish."11 The burning issue of the church cannot be reduced to Red States versus Blue States or anything else the clergy usually cry over.

It’s technology, and it’s time!12

Can’t Get There From Here

Yet, the church "fiddles while Rome burns." And, as it "fiddles," it stubbornly sings all of its stale tunes. It babysits dead metaphors and furiously protects old codes. It rations fading powers and squeezes the last drop of blood from already deceased cadavers.

Granted, some church leaders have vowed to do "something," so they bravely take on the immediate symptoms—and with admirable courage. Yet, their tools were designed for older realities. And what worked in the past will not work in the present. We can’t simply "improve" what we’re already doing as our ticket for the future. . . .

. . . because we can’t get there from here! All the old strategies, tactics, time-lines, goals, and benchmarks for "success" have been replaced.

Some leaders have moved their "eggs into another basket." They hope, for example, to attract the youth —"if worship styles can only get ‘far out’ enough." Yet, pushing pop culture into pop religion puts "egg on everyone’s face."

Other leaders have considered the "postmodern" church their Holy Grail. Unfortunately, these "cutting edge" clerics don’t know the difference between "postmodernism" and "post-modern" (simply what comes after this moment in time). Both terms have proven inadequate.

To begin, "postmodernism" is a failed philosophy. It is selfish, arrogant, and destructive. It has proven a great destroyer of truth—especially everyone else’s truth—and even more especially, any truth that places unwelcome demands on us. Granted, postmodernism is soberly anti-modern. But it privileges theory over practice—ideas over reality—and subjectivity over substance.

As for the simple term, "postmodern," it mistakenly implies an unbroken timeline of both "before" and "after." But nothing could be further from the truth. History has broken the line. "Before" and "after" no longer have anything in common.

Once we understand where the Lord of History is taking us, we’ll need neither term. But, for now, no one knows what to call the place where we’re going.

Tiny Interpretations

Regardless of where we’re going—and the extreme difficulties of getting there—Scripture still promises miraculous empowerment to the faithful. This promise, of course, will be fulfilled or unfulfilled by "the faithful."

After all, history cannot hurt Christianity. Only the church can hurt Christianity. Only an illusion of faith—a semblance of faith—a papered-over faith can hurt Christianity.

Tragically and typically, we confuse worldly power with spiritual power. The politically "powerful" and "prestigious," for example, usually win the privilege of "deciding God’s mind." And few can handle such heady stuff. This kind of religion becomes a "king on the mountain" religion that never considers the soiled hands that have touched our tiny interpretations.

These "in-house" revelations determine who God is and who God isn’t—what’s sacred and what’s secular—who’s "in" and who’s "out." They reduce the huge mysteries of God to the respectability of club rules. They imprison God within our own realities. They lock "all truth" in a box within a box within a box. . . .

Of course, narrow doctrines like these always become static religions. Then their coldly closed ideas and uncritical traditions quickly turn antiquated and archaic. Sometimes we even credit the "power" of God to our own stubbornness.

We find harmful examples in the liberal/conservative wars. Though the leaders of each group lay claim to God for themselves, there is no such thing as a "liberal Christian" or a "conservative Christian." Whether liberal or conservative, any static, locked-in position cannot hear as deeply as God speaks—cannot move a quickly as God moves—and cannot repent as rapidly as God requires. A bold faith, after all, is firm yet flexible—a move of the spirit is powerful yet ephemeral—the Mystery of God is known yet unknown. . . .

. . . all at the same time!

Starting Over Again

We must cease being deceived. We must put away the irrelevant past. We must face realities and interface with realities. And, we must turn from the cheap tricks of our manmade solutions.

The Lord of History is reincarnating Himself! And His new embodiment refuses even our "improved," "readjusted," and "readapted" souls. For He demands spirits far different, far more profound, than what we’ve offered so far.

We can’t go back. We can’t live in denial. And we can’t bribe the future with easy consumerism, futuristic fads, and all the other gimmicks that suck the very heart out of the church.

The world needs spiritual direction more than ever. But the church can’t help unless it gets past all the old possessive and obsessive dogmas—all the old partial truths, narrow truths, shallow truths, distorted truths. . . .

We must liberate Christ from our private clubs and remove the mutual exclusivity between world and church. Then we must allow the inspired reincarnations of His glorious fullness, of His Universality—a Christ found no longer in a microcosm, but in a macrocosm—a revelatory lens through which the whole of reality can be interpreted.

This liberation means putting aside everything we "know" and starting all over. We begin by hoping

. . . for what is still unseen by us . . . (since) we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it . . . the Spirit himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.13

Finally, we take unending leaps of faith, knowing that any incarnation takes place anytime, anywhere, and in any style. More important than style, however, is the inspired tension between "here" and "there"—between the "known" and the "unknown," the predictable and the unpredictable. . . .

. . . our plans and His epiphany.

Yet, our "starting all over" doesn’t require "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." It mostly means "growing up," getting past all of our old spiritual immaturity.

Like Israel returning from exile, we, too, are a religious remnant. Unless we call forth a different future, we are condemned to live out today’s tragedies.

© 2005 Thomas Hohstadt

ENDNOTES

1. Bill Easum, "It’s Time for the Cow to Eat the Cabbage: Christianity is in Big Trouble in the U.S." www.EasumBandy.com.

2. Easum.

3. American Society for Church Growth, http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/

4. John Heilemann, "Second Coming," PC Magazine, September 4, 2001, p. 139, 140.

5. Bill Joy, "Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us, Wired Magazine, April, 2000, ttp://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy_pr.html.

6. Steven Johnson, Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate (New York: Basic Books, 1997) p 34.

7. Bill Joy, quoted in Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality (Boston: Shambhala, 2000) p 104.

8. Joy.

9. Ray Kurzweil, "Accelerated Living," PC Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 15, September 4,2001, pp. 151-153.

10. Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality (Boston: Shambhala, 2000) p 104.

11. Wilber.

12. Tom Junod, quoted in Dick Staub, "Understanding the Times," Culture Watch http://dickstaub.com/culturewatch.php?record_id=808.

13. Romans 8:25, 26; AMP.



Future Church Administrator