Saturday, April 21, 2007

Doing Church; Part One

In his new book Revolution Barna is forced to ask: "...if the local church is God's answer to our spiritual needs, then why are most Christians so spiritually immature and desperate?" (Revolution, pg 30). In several posts I have asked such questions. From today I will begin a short series attempting to frame the answer.

What's Happening Today?

David Wells, describes, in God in the Wasteland, a cognitive dissidence, between the theology of the church and its practice. This has come about as a result of the world utterly infiltrating the church. Through a meticulous study he argues that the church, through a mixing with the present society's ambitions has seen an increase, "in religious sensibility" while seeing a decrease, "in divine significance" (92). This bizarre phenomenon of an evangelical church as powerful as any force has ever been, losing ground on the culture and seeing the God it cherishes sunk lower and lower.

The evangelical Church, through neglect of the church and worldly ambition, he argues has so become like this world it is denying itself, while believing it is victorious, it is laying the foundation for its own defeat. The thesis he argues is that while there is a increase in religious sensitivity, there is a decrease in divine significance, "stoked by a rearrangement… of what is immanent and what is transcendent in God's being" (92).

"The fact," he notes, "that [God] is holy" the orthodox profession of the faith, "means there is an otherness to Him". But "In the context of modernity, this moral otherness has been converted in to a relatedness that is wholly compatible with the morality of modernity" (121). The Church which has embraced this societal shift is tearing itself apart. As John MacArthur says, "the Liberal church couldn't sell us their theology, so they sold us their hermeneutics"[1].

One of the most poignant notes in this regard is the modern Christian's dogma "that God is love", which Wells reminds us, "He is". But the problem in modern Christianity is that the church "seems to think that this constitutes an adequate theology in itself" (135). This makes, "talk of divine holiness distracting or intrusive" (ibid). What is shocking, and in line with MacArthur's statement, is that, although "Protestant liberalism pioneered this… in the nineteenth century" is that, "in this century evangelicals have taken up with distressing carelessness the wholesale reordering of the Christian faith" (135-136).

Blindly the church is abandoning, "what has been most characteristic of Protestant thought since the earliest days of the reformation", the holiness of God, of which, "love in not an alternative to…but, rather and expression of it" (136).

There are fundamentally two competing views observable in the evangelical church today. The emergent church, a fluid position:

Emergents communicate and interact through fluid and open networks because the movement is decentralized with little institutional coordination. Participants avoid assumptions about the role and nature of the church, attempting to gather in ways specific to their local context. In this way emergents share with the house church movements a willingness to challenge traditional church structures/organizations though they also respect the different expressions of traditional Christian denominations[5][2].

The Church Growth View, a marketing position:

In spite of misunderstandings regarding the purpose of marketing and marketing techniques, marketing by churches is becoming more prevalent in the U.S. today. ….Findings show the clergy to be somewhat more positive than the general public toward church use of these techniques…… [including] sponsorship of sports teams[3].

Websites such as, have lists of books and conferences to help the church "market itself better". The term "marketing" … as applied to a church setting:

Can be viewed as those activities designed to achieve a mutually satisfying exchange of value between the church and the population it serves. That is, the goal of church marketing activities should be to facilitate and expedite the flow of value to people (in terms of meeting their spiritual, social, and other personal needs), while also facilitating and expediting the flow of value to the church itself (in terms of societal/congregational acceptance of Church teachings, participation in church functions, monetary contributions, etc.]. Both parties should benefit[4].

[1] John MacArthur "A Call for Discernment" Sermon Tape GC 52-33, Grace to You 1997

[2] Wikkipedia, retrieved 9 april 2007

[3] Stephen W. McDaniel The Use of Marketing Techniques by Churches: A National Survey
Review of Religious Research, Vol. 31, No. 2, Special Issue: Methodological Issues in Congregational Studies (Dec., 1989), pp. 175-182

[4] Stephen W. McDaniel The Use of Marketing Techniques by Churches: A National Survey Review of Religious Research, Vol. 31, No. 2, Special Issue: Methodological Issues in Congregational Studies (Dec., 1989), pp. 175-182

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