Friday, January 20, 2006

Being Revolutionary

Kevin Miller at Christianity Today has a reaction to George Barna's upcoming book REVOLUTION: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary and it's not a positive one:

Do you want to become a Revolutionary? First, trade your copy of Revolution for Life Together, the manifesto written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the dark days of Nazi Germany. Then, if you want to do heroic and revolutionary exploits, go back to your local church. That's something so spiritually challenging that several million people no longer want to do it.
Nope, I don't think he likes it at all. And I find myself agreeing with him.

One of my central interests these days is the interaction of the postmodern situation and Christian life and ministry. Some of the best ideas about this are coming from what has become known as the emerging church movement, and I find these ideas challenging in the best way. But this movement has roots mainly in the Evangelical churches, and that my main difference with this movement is ecclesiological -- for I am a Roman Catholic. I have a rather different relationship to the Church, and a different idea of what it is, than most Evangelicals. One of my favorite writers in this movement is Brian McLaren, who, in his excellent book The Church on the Other Side says: "If you have a new world, you need a new church. You have a new world." If you see the institutional church from the Evangelical perspective, the church we see is a provisional human organization with the true Church being that invisible body of all true Christians, known fully only to God. When things change, we should restructure our organizations as radically as required. But to a Catholic, the organization we see on Earth really is the Body of Christ in a mysterious way that we cannot always understand, and whose boundaries are sometimes difficult to determine. You may have a new world, but you don't start from scratch with a new Church.

Barna is describing a movement that goes farther. According to him millions of American Christians have dropped out of the recognizable local church organization in favor of smaller and more informal structures be they home churches, or just not going to any kind of formal church at all. I feel that there are just bunches of problems with this, and Miller points out a number of real issues, including methodological issues -- he thinks that Barna's numbers don't add up, which is a real problem coming from a professional market researcher and pollster.

The question of just what effect postmodernity will or will not have on the RC Church is a central issue for me these days, especially the effects on such foundational units such as the parish. The article is a good one, but there is more to work out in this area, and I am just getting started.

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