Category: Gospel and Culture

The Consequences of Dislocation

In our first year of marriage, it was not uncommon to find me steadily peering down toward my lap whenever we had guests at the dinner table. I had to be prepared. If the conversation remained superficial or became dull, I would discreetly turn my eyes from our guests, and to my wife’s horror, begin reading the book of choice, placed carefully in my lap.

I was present but absent.

Everywhere but Nowhere

This is, perhaps, an apropos description of modern life. Head down and heart disengaged, our thoughts are elsewhere. We are “dislocated”, as Jeremy Writebol posits in his new book, everPresent. Teeming with technological distraction, or simply absorbed with Self, we are often missing from the present. We have lost the wisdom of Seneca who warns, “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”

Consequences of Dislocation

The consequences of dislocation often go uncalculated. Jeremy does some of the math for us. Our sense of place is, perhaps, the first to go. Preoccupation blinds us to the sights and sounds of our surroundings and, as a result, we fail to fully enjoy the gift of the moment. Our environments devolve into means. The inherent value of place is lost on us and, as a result, restoring broken places is often far from our minds.

Worse still, people are affected. In my foolish stints at the dinner table, I dishonored my wife and neglected persons, sent to my home to receive hospitality and love. Fifteen years later, I’ve improved my dinner table conduct considerably, but face a similar temptation with the Smartphone. Dislocation is now socially acceptable. Our children may suffer the most from our disengagement with the present. While we may scoff at the hippies who escaped parental duties in pursuit of a high, our substance of choice may actually take us further away from our children. Certainly, the substance varies from person to person. For some, it is accomplishment. Kierkegaard writes, “Let us never deceive youth by foolish talk about the mater of accomplishing. Let us never make them so busy in the service of the moment, that they forget the patience of willing something eternal.”

Of course, the lure of accomplishment can be cloaked in the eternal. “Ministry” is not immune from our disease. What then is the cause of our illness? Dislocation from God. Jeremy cautions that “soul dislocation is terminal.” This is true not only for us but also for those around us. Our diversion not only impedes communion but also disengages us from mission.

 We desperately need relocation.

 The Gospel Relocates us in the Present

The Christian faith possesses rich resources to remedy this crisis. EverPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present transports us to those resources with fresh language and focused practice. It signals profound hope in the incarnate Christ who affirms place, and in the dying-rising Christ, who relocates us back into the all-satisfying presence of God. We do, after all, have a God who is omnipresent, with us and for the world in every moment. Jeremy sensitively and prophetically calls us to join God there, in the present, for our flourishing and the sake of the world.

Why “Unchurched” is Unhelpful

According to statistics, there are a lot of “unchurched” people in the U.S. No county in the US has registered a greater percentage of church persons over the past decade. Church attendance has declined over the past few years by 10%, and the US is the only continent where Christianity is not growing. People aren’t going to church like they used to. So, we refer to them as “unchurched.”

What Does “Unchurched” Really Mean?

Over ten years ago, Robert Fuller made three major distinctions among the so-called unchurched:

  • Secular Humanists
  • Religious but Not Church-oriented
  • Spiritual but not Religious

These distinctions, alone, are helpful in clarifying who our neighbors might be. Yet, I rarely hear church planters and missional organizations explain the unchurched in this way. Instead, “unchurched” remains an amorphous and imprecise term. Why, then, do we continue to use it?

Maybe part of the reason is we call them “unchurched” is based on a hidden, faulty ecclesiology–church equals getting people to attend a Sunday service. In many of the statistics I have examined, this is often the primary criteria for characterizing someone as unchurched. Is the mission of God to get people “into a church service”? The New Testament gives us a much thicker view of God’s mission. It runs deeper and goes further.

Why We Need Deeper Thinking on a Term

We need to go deeper before we go further in reaching the unchurched. We need to ask: “What do they (secular humanists, religious but not church-oriented, or spiritual but not religious people) think of Christianity?” Gabe Lyons & David Kinnaman’s book UnChristian was a popular step forward in taking this humble, missionary posture. To take the conversation a couple steps further, we need to understand what people think Christianity is. Truth be told, they often think of something altogether different than what we think of. As a result, a lot of gospel communication communicates something other than the gospel. For instance:

  • We say “have faith”; they hear “anti-science.”
  • We say “Christ”; they hear “moral example.”
  • We say “cross”; they hear “arcane human sacrifice.”
  • We say “Christianity”; they hear “Republican and anti-gay.”
  • What are people in your part of the country hearing you say?

If we are to love people estranged from Christ and distant from the church, we need to get into their skin, listen to their stories, and begin understanding who they are. To do this, I recommend we view parts of our culture as resistant peoples. 

Resistant Peoples

What are resistant peoples? Missiologist Michael Pocock writes: “The resistant are those who have or are receiving an adequate opportunity to hear the gospel but over some time have not responded positively (Pocock, “Raising Questions about the Resistant”). This means that the resistant are not unreached, though they are often uninterested in church. At least two of Fuller’s unchurched sub-groups could be considered resistant.

To be clear, I am not suggesting you start calling your co-workers “resistant peoples!” Though some would consider it a compliment!

Not unlike the term unchurched, defining the resistant is has its problems; however, Dr. Timothy Tennent helpfully points out that peoples can be resistant in at least four ways: culturally, theologically, ethnically or politically (Tennent, “Equipping Missionaries for the Resistant”). Depending on which area of the U.S you live in, or what sub-cultures you are ministering to, any one or a combination of these four areas may apply. A good missionary will take each one as a lens to discern what obstacles are in front of the gospel.

Conclusion

As I see it, a major challenge to reaching the resistant is to approach our Christianity with redemptive suspicion. We need to question Christianity wherever it places political, moral, and cultural obstacles in front of the gospel. For example, some Christians would insist on that a person change their political views before becoming a Christian. Or that they need to change their sexual orientation before putting faith in Jesus. We need to wisely discern which objections are legitimate among resistant peoples. Then, deconstruct defective cultural views and reconstruct biblical, gospel-centered views in areas such as politics and sexuality.

By rethinking who we are relating to (unchurched or resistant), and how we relate to them (areas of resistance and the gospel), we can remove stumbling blocks to Christ and move the mission forward. To begin, I recommend we take Tennent’s four areas–political, cultural, ethnic, and theological–and begin filling them out with specific reasons, from our contexts, as to why people are not interested in church or the gospel.

Enthralling 7 minute Broken Bells Movie

Fascinating isn’t it? This is Part 1, entitled: “The Angel and the Fool.” How often we are distracted by shiny things, which draw us away from our one, true love! It took so long to find her, but we let her go, far too easily enamored with lesser, and more dangerous objects.

Curious to see where the film series goes. What an example of great culture-making, all to promote a new album! Christians have even better news to promote, but you couldn’t tell it from a lot of our promo.

The Fundamental Mistake of Questioning God

We think that God is an object about which we have questions. We are curious about God. We make inquiries about God. We read books about God. We get into late-night bull sessions about God. We drop into church from time to time to see what is going on with God. We indulge in an occasional sunset of symphony to cultivate a feeling of reverence for God.

But that is not the reality of our lives with God. Long before we ever got around to asking questions about God, God had been questioning us. Long before we got interested in the subject of God, God subjected us to the most intensive and searching knowledge. Before it ever crossed our minds that God might be important, God singled us out as important. Before we were formed in the womb, God knew us. We are known before we know.

This realization has a practical result: no longer do we run here and there panicked and anxious, searching for the answers to life. Our lives are not puzzles to be figured out. Rather we come to God, who knows us and reveals to us the truth of our lives. The fundamental mistake is to begin with ourselves and not God. God is the center from which all life develops…We enter a world we didn’t create. We grow into a life already provided for us…If we are going to live appropriately, we must be aware that we are living in the middle of a story that was begun and will be concluded by another. And this other is God…

My identity does not begin when I begin to understand myself. There is something previous to what I think about myself and it is what God thinks of me. That means that everything I think and feel is by nature a response, and the one to whom I respond is God.

I never speak the first word. I never make the first move.

~ Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses