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How christianity is changing and why

How Christianity is Changing and Why

How christianity is changing and why

It's no secret that change is in the air. The evidence is found throughout our culture, felt in our economy and experienced in technology. Some of us are struggling to keep up with these changes, as they come so fast and from so many directions. Nowhere is that more apparent than within the church.

How christianity is changing and why

Some thinkers have speculated that there is a recurrent pattern in which every 500 years Christianity sheds the rigidity of an overly established institution and reinvents itself.

How christianity is changing and why

2500 B.C.

1000 B.C.

500 B.C.

A.D. 0

A.D. 500


A.D. 1500

A.D. 2000

How christianity is changing and why

2500 B.C.

1000 B.C.

500 B.C.

A.D. 0

A.D. 500


A.D. 1500

A.D. 2000

Ancient World

Iron Age

Post-Modern World

Medieval World

Modern World

How christianity is changing and why

2500 B.C.

1000 B.C.

500 B.C.

A.D. 0

A.D. 500


A.D. 1500

A.D. 2000

Israel Monarchy


Great Schism


Protestant Reformation

Monastic Movement

How christianity is changing and why

Give some examples from your own experience on how “church” is different from what it was in your childhood.

Sketching the church

Sketching the Church

Social Justice Christians


aka Mainline

aka Charismatic & Pentecostal

Aka Fundamental



1960’s observers noted changes in a diagram – a quadrilateral

Changing shapes

Changing Shapes

Social Justice Christians




No longer fit neatly into boxes

Now more of a cruciform shape

Changing shapes cont d

Changing Shapes (cont’d)

Social Justice Christians




Intersections loose and flexible

Locate self or community based on importance in Christian practice

Changing shapes cont d1

Changing Shapes (cont’d)

Social Justice Christians




Places on a spectrum rather than boundaries

Top: Intersection between faith & works

Where will you be at 10 AM on Sunday?

Changing shapes cont d2

Changing Shapes (cont’d)

Top: Action more important than belief - orthopraxy

Social Justice Christians




Bottom: Belief more important than what one does - orthodoxy

The gathering center

The Gathering Center

Social Justice Christians




The gathering center cont d

The Gathering Center (cont’d)

There is a gathering center as an increasing number of Christians are mingling and learning from and embracing one another's traditions.

How christianity is changing and why

  • The changes afoot appear to be global. And the United States appears to be lagging a few years behind. The British (including Australia, S. Africa, New Zealand, Canada) experience has seen several instances of change in the last decade: namely “fresh expressions churches.”

How christianity is changing and why

  • The Conversation…

  • There is a clear uptick in Christians who want to connect with and exchange ideas across denominational and traditional boundaries. This conversation is facilitated by the internet and a great deal of publishing.

How christianity is changing and why

  • The Conversation…

  • Technology is a great part of this phenomenon. Not only can Christians around the world communicate, we can also access information about the past, including the writings of our Christian forebears. What’s happening is “open source.”

How christianity is changing and why

  • Recent developments bearing on faith…

  • Computer technology

  • WWII and Holocaust

  • Archeology

  • Deconstruction in Philosophy

  • Exposure to Jewish people (narrative)

  • Changes in Medical Science

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (generic god)

  • Automobile (death of Sunday)

  • And many other factors bearing on Christianity

How christianity is changing and why

  • Essentially a shift in authority from Church structure to biblical authority

  • Much of the Middle Age’s cohesion relied upon the concept of corpus Christianum, an ideal, unified society derived from biblical images of the body of Christ.

  • The corpus Christianum relied upon the classification of people into three roles: workers, fighters, and pray-ers.

  • Social shifts such as the rise of universities, a merchant class, and more local loyalties could not be accommodated within the existing ideas of Christianity.

  • Abuses and scandals in the Papacy were another factor leading to a seismic shift known as the Reformation.

The Protestant Reformation

How christianity is changing and why

  • As Christianity splintered into multiple denominations, authorities wrote statements of orthodox doctrinal belief as a means of clarifying their positions, educating their members, and distinguishing themselves from other denominations.

  • Many princes, dukes and city councilmen signed confessions to define their political allegiances.

  • Such statements coincided with the development of the modern state in its earliest form.

  • Scholarship provided a means of defending and justifying one’s particular viewpoint. (What is the Methodist view of the Sacraments?)

The Protestant Reformation cont.

How christianity is changing and why

  • The scientific discoveries of Darwin, Faraday and others showed a growing fissure between religion and science, and, in even broader terms, between realms of sacred and secular.

  • Basically, what got set up in the Reformation was the modern, denominational, secular vision of Christianity.

  • It is now entirely possible that this pattern of authority is giving way to something new following a path quite a bit like the Protestant Reformation.

The Protestant Reformation cont.

Watercooler theology

Watercooler Theology

  • Conversation about God in public

  • Diversity in conversationalists about God

    • No longer just reserved for clergy

    • Open opinions on interpretations of current events

  • Old divisions begin to melt, especially in “four corners” area

    • Finding “empty spot” or hunger or question or experience to talk about



  • Major changes between inherited and whatever is emerging result in backlash

  • Dramatic change perceived as threat to status quo

    • Fundamentalism (early 20th C.) one example

    • Reaction is not necessarily a bad thing

  • Scholars predicted @ 10% of born Christians would push back violently against center, new diagram

The questions

The Questions

  • 1. What is the overarching story line of the Bible? 2. How should the Bible be understood? 3. Is God violent? 4. Who is Jesus and why is He important? 5. What is the Gospel? 6. What do we do about the Church? 7. Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it? 8. Can we find a better way of viewing the future? 9. How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions? 10. What do we do now? (How do we translate our quest into action?)

Ubiquitous theology

Ubiquitous theology

  • Public, shared, and vital

  • Media age expedited communication and diversity

  • New center not quite Protestant or any other

    • Melange picked from each quadrant

    • Established churches could not accommodate

  • New faithful began meeting among themselves

    • House churches sprang up along with unlikely meeting places

    • All share incarnational characteristic: Jesus is incarnate as is worship – of the whole body

Centripetal force

Centripetal Force

  • Gathers energy by bringing in more of its own

    • Swirling, mixing from quadrant to quadrant

    • Sweeping toward center

    • Expands in waves of influence

  • Results in new way of being Christian & church

    • Predicted by scholars

    • Dismissed as generational by established churches

Error in assessment

Error in Assessment

  • Denominations failed to account for “rummage sale” factor – massive cultural shift

  • Culture had become post-everything

    • Modern

    • Denominational

    • Rational

    • Enlightenment

    • Literate

    • ???

  • No means of returning/no desire to do so

The rose

The Rose

Social Justice Christians




The Rose was the symbol of the Great Reformation

Backlash examples

Backlash Examples

  • Congregations, ecclesial units, individuals would aggressively dedicate resources to reversing all changes

    • Fallout from consecration of Bp. Robinson in Episcopal Church

    • Election of conservative Roman pontiff, local bishop

    • Splintering of Presbyterian Church

  • Choosing sides unavoidable

    • Each quadrant develops reactionists, purists

      • “Ballast” against too-hasty changes in stormy sea

Surrounding currents

Surrounding Currents

  • Other sections of quadrants can be assigned by rough percentages

    • Exception: Unknown % emergent

    • Spectrum or sliding scale in widening ring

  • Ultimately 60% may be Emergent by the time the movement is mature

    • 30-35% neither Emergent or reactors

The surrounding currents

The Surrounding Currents

SocialJustice Christians








Surrounding currents1

Surrounding Currents

  • Flexible, open boundary lines

  • Outer corners peopled by persuaded quadrant dwellers

    • Inherited church of parents, grandparents

    • Lend stability to faith in transition

    • Will accommodate to and assist gradual change

    • Will participate in realignments across sectarian lines

Re traditioning christians

Re-Traditioning Christians

  • 1 ring closer to center

  • Choose to stay with inherited church but wish to make it more fully what it was

    • “Fond refurbishers” want to fix & live in it for all time

    • Increase comfort, beauty, welcome to all

    • Their task is the most remarkable, arduous, and richest of all

Progressive christians

Progressive Christians

  • 1 track closer to center

  • Want to maintain position in institutional Christianity yet give up controlling doctrine, practices

    • Remain within Protestant communions

    • Seek to adapt to realities of postmodernity

    • Remodelers, not refurbishers; “open place up”

  • Def: Believes in loving God, neighbor, self; thinks that 2 out of 3 ain’t bad” – Eric Elnes



  • Nearest to center

  • Names bear literal or implied hyphens:

    Presby-mergents, Anglo-emergents

    Meth-emergents, Luth-emergents, etc.

    • Now losing the “-”

  • Most schizophrenic of circles; most vibrant, colorful,vital

    • Tear down the house on Grandpa’s land; build anew

  • Most difficult to predict future

  • 7 the way ahead mapping fault lines and fusions

    7. The Way AheadMapping Fault Lines and Fusions

    • Different Bases of Authority

      • Left of vertical axis has different base of authority than the right

        Left: (all in tension)Right:

        Scripture +sola scriptura

        Spirit +scriptura sola

        Liturgy +

        Apostolic tradition +

    The bases of authority a

    The Bases of Authority (a)

    Social Justice Christians

    Orthodoxy Orthopraxy




    Orthonomy and theonomy

    Orthonomy and Theonomy

    • Numbers diminishing for traditionalists

      • Orthopraxy (right practice) remains in upper quadrants

      • Orthodoxy (right doctrine) in place for lower quadrants

    • Emergence grows & occupies no quadrant; comes from all of them

    • Open space on both sides of vertical axis

    The bases of authority b

    The Bases of Authority (b)

    Social Justice Christians

    Orthodoxy Orthopraxy








    • New word coined from ancient Greek

      Ortho = correct + nomy = naming harmony, divine beauty

      “correct harmoniousness”

      Employment of purity to discern truth

    • Many emergents confused about arguments over exact historicity, doctrine

      • “Must be true since it is so beautiful”

    Orthonomy keatsian heresy

    Orthonomy – Keatsian Heresy?

    • “Beauty is truth and truth beauty” =/=

      Beauty in the eye of the beholder

      • Action or object not divine or authoritative just because of its beauty or harmoniousness

    • Emergents on right side of axis use a word of their own: theonomy

    • Greek “theos” = God + “nomy”

      “Only God can be the source of perfection”

    • How best to understand God’s meaning?

    Networked authority

    Networked Authority

    • New Christianity/emergent church must discover

      • Authority base

      • Delivery system

      • Governing agency

    • Must find something other than Luther’s sola scriptura

      • Seen as insufficient, outmoded

    Historical authority

    Historical Authority

    • Church has always utilized ideological currents of culture in general

      • Early church copied Rome’s governance

      • Under Gregory church’s authority was administered through monasteries and convents in similar hierarchical order

      • Roman church defined authority in single position: system of kings, lords of pre-Reformation culture

      • Reformation created democratic theology of priesthood of all believers; elected leaders

    Emergent authority

    Emergent Authority?

    • Scripture-and-community combined: network theory (math, physics, Web)

    • Church more of a network than an entity

      • Self-organized system of relations between parts

        • Each part of smaller networks in complex levels

      • Each is a working piece as long as connection remains intact

      • No one part or network has entire truth

        • Crowd sourcing = total egalitarianism

    New concept of church

    New Concept of Church

    • Egalitarianism = respect for worth of each

      • Indifference to capitalism, individualism

    • Becoming the church = discovering what it means that the kingdom of God is within

      • Each person a bit of a much grander network

    • Established leaders, scholars, priests have only human understanding

      • Message will flash to, from remote parts of network and be tempered by community

    What is emergent emerging church

    “What Is Emergent/Emerging Church?”

    A conversation: bottom-up vs. top-down

    Global: no barriers as to nationality, race, class, economic status

    Radical: relational, non-hierarchical, post-democratized form of Christianity for the future

    Impetus in the secular emergence

    Theory and tools found in theology, experience of quadrants plus one group

    A gift from the quakers

    A Gift from the Quakers

    • Early support in conservative quadrant Evangelicalism

      • Lacked flexibility to shift to new model

    • Quakers belong in no quadrant

      • “Proto-network theory” in interplay of revelation, discernment, Scripture, governance

      • Recent writers described different approach to spirituality and orderly being

        (Richard Foster, Parker Palmer, J. Brent Bill), John Wimber of Assn. of Vineyard churches)

    A gift from the quakers cont d

    A Gift from the Quakers (cont’d)

    • I believe…we are witnessing a new reformation …challenging not doctrine the the medium. These new paradigm churches have discarded many of the attributes of established religion…creating a new genre of worship music, restructuring the organization, and radicalizing the principle of the priesthood of all believers.-- Donald E. Miller, Firestone Professor of Religion, USC, 1997.

    Center set and bounded set

    Center Set and Bounded Set

    • Don’t always fit into established churches or quadrants

      • Often don’t fit the community from which they came

    • Center-set: let people sort out by how close they want to get to the center

      • Assumes something other than rules holding things together

    • Presence of rules assumes some authority, consequence

      • Bounded-set = defining who’s in, out

    Center set and bounded set cont d

    Center Set and Bounded Set (cont’d)

    • “Believe-behave-belong” fits bounded-set Roman Catholicism, historic Protestantism

      • Requires adherence to beliefs, conduct

    • “Belong-behave-believe” reverses process

      • Occurs in center-set approach

      • One can belong and can seek more

      • Will begin to behave in a different manner not imposed by rules

      • Behavior shapes belief until both are one



    • Emergence thinking often critiqued as anti-intellectualism

    • Postmodern/emergents recognize paradox in life and logical thinking

      • Logic suffers from sufficient perspective

      • Meta-narrative also product of human thought

    • Narrative speaks truth to the heart so it may inform the mind

      • Markedly different principle of human organization and understanding

    The problem with constantine

    The Problem With Constantine

    • Growing distrust for precepts, teachings of post-Constantinian church

      • Doctrine formalized at his direction

      • Theology shifted from Judaic wholistic concepts of life and structure

      • Became Hellenized dualism, Greco-Roman cultural hierarchy

        • Body = evil, suspect; soul = separate, good

      • Salvation concept went from how to live out God’s will to a guaranteed ticket to Paradise

    • Great Emergence about restoring wholeness to Christian life

    Future possibilities

    Future Possibilities

    • Great Emergence may rewrite Christian Theology

      • Atonement, origin of evil up for question

      • New theology may be more embodied, paradoxical, narrative, mystical than before

    • Roman, Protestant communions will need to adjust to massive changes

      • Protestantism will have major impact

      • Will need to assume greater collegiality

    Not easy to discern

    Not Easy To Discern

    • How will the Great Emergence interface with results, consequences of realignments?

    • How will Emergents themselves consider resulting Christianity?

    • The growing emergent movement must be intentional about faith and what it is to become

      • Once-inocuous movement no longer is

    The emergent mission

    The Emergent Mission

    “The church became a place to go…

    …Let us make it a people to be.”

    Emergence emersion

    Emergence, Emersion

    The emerging church (sometimes referred to as the emergent movement) is a Christian movement of the late 20th and early 21st century that crosses a number of theological boundaries: participants can be described as evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, charismatic, neocharismatic, and post-charismatic. (Wikipedia)

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