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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
1. Bill Easum, "It’s Time for the Cow to Eat the
Cabbage: Christianity is in Big Trouble in the U.S."
3. American Society for Church Growth,
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.
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.
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.