Thursday, June 22, 2006

unchurching the churched?

One of our staff members was speaking in our Community Worship time and made this statement (and then he helped me track down the actual quotation):

"There are many churches these days that instead of reaching the unchurched are unchurching the churched." [Michael Horton, A Better Way (Baker, 2002) 211]

What dya reckon?

nice chatting


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

anyone for mysticism?

I've just completed an essay for my DMin in which I explored the spirituality that comes to us 'off the screen' - from what we sing in church. I took a pretty representative Baptist church in NZ and worked through its playlist of songs [and threw in the playlist from the Billy Graham Crusades (1959 & 1969) as well - to help provide some contrast.]

My conclusions? The lyrics suggest an alignment to what has been known through history as Christian Mysticism. Here are some of my (highly-generalised, for brevity's sake!) observations:

(a) The baseline in the lyrics lies with the immanence of God (his attributes which are close to us), rather than with the transcendence of God (his attributes which are more distant and mysterious). "The transcendent God has been lost, the immanent God has been abused." (David Wells)

(b) There is a personal striving in the songs (often accompanied by an overstatement of our commitment to God), rather than focusing on the 'striving' done by Christ for us (often accompanied by an understatement of God's commitment to us) and the assurance and tranquility and rest that this breathes into the believer's life. [NB: some of the Billy Graham songs do this so well - 'It is Well with My Soul', for example]

(c) An absence of any sustained reference to the Christian hope. This is a shocker! Our hope has always been great fodder for singing, but not now. Whether it is a case of "If life is pretty good down here in this 'health and wealth' world, why long for heaven?" or "Let's try and draw down more future-Kingdom stuff in order to enrich and empower present-Kingdom life ... thereby emptying the appetite for the second coming", I am not sure. But the New Testament is full of a Christian longing and waiting for heaven, and enduring life until then...

(d) An obsession with the present, with no lyrics written by a songwriter who has already died. Could this be the first ever era of church life where 'sing a new song to the Lord' has come to mean 'never sing an old song'? The clear priority is to sing about a present experience of a personal spirituality - with stuff from the past being seen as a boring and stale. [NB: I wonder if this is an example of babyboomers-in-control because anecdotally, I find young adults tend to have an interest in the past now.]

(e) A discomfort with singing of both the guilt associated with sinfulness and the reality of Christ's substitutionary death FOR me, preferring to focus on the consequences of that sinfulness in relational brokenness etc and what Jesus can add TO my life. [NB: a couple of British songs - In Christ Alone & How Deep the Father's Love partially redeemed the situation on this one!]

(f) A preference for the inner and the personal - adrift from what is received from outside as truth in the Bible. In any debate between having songs with muddled theology and having songs with outdated words - the latter seems to be the more grievous evil every time. WOW?! What on earth are we becoming?

These observations stand in the centuries-long tradition known as mysticism. To see this took me by surprise - but it shouldn't have. The charismatic and contemplative movements have been, or are, so strong in NZ (Baptist) church life. Plus, as I travel around, my observation is that we are not as biblically-based as we think we are (which is the core issue behind these observations). The commitment to the Bible tends to be more theoretical than it is practical in my experience. What can be done about this?

over to you - nice chatting