Is the church obsessed with working out what ‘age’ we are in, and does it matter for mission anyway?

Over the next few weeks I will be reading the following book by Andrew Root, Faith formation in a Secular Age. Andrew is one of the USA’s key thinkers and writers in Youth Ministry. However, it seems as though it has become significant to herald and pronounce what kind of age were are living in, try to understand what it is and then in so doing be able to do ministry that we have is being as relevant as possible.

Back in 1996 when I was doing a gap year with Oasis, the talk of the town was ‘Post-Modernism’ , Generation X and the shift in culture from Baby Boomers and Modernist thinking.

Then there is the other posts. The Post-christendom age, Post Modernist, and maybe even Post-truth.

Lesslie Newbigin suggested that The Gospel was needed to be rooted in a Pluralist Society.

Then there is the word ‘Secular’ – and this is common. I am not sure I go a week that someone in church, in an article or on social media poses a question that refers to the current age as being secular.

However, as Linda Woodhead, and others suggest – The Secular age might be behind us. It is just that other things are taking on religious meaning. And religious adherance is on the rise. (but not always church attendance). Secularity might be coming to an end, this was some of her thoughts in this book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spiritual-Revolution-Spirituality-Szerszynski-Wiley-Blackwell/dp/B00G09S68S/ref=sr_1_23?ie=UTF8&qid=1516652265&sr=8-23&keywords=linda+woodhead

Understanding the ‘age’ and ‘stage’ of the world, seems to be the obsession of the missiologists. In ‘Transforming Mission’ David Bosch refers to Christendom, Rationalism, and the emergence of a Post Modern Paradigm in which Mission is to take place, but give him his due, Bosch is more concerned with the nature of Mission rather than the world in which mission is to be inculturated. But it seems, that especially in Youth Ministry, there is much more time spend understanding the ‘age’ than reflecting theologically on Mission itself. From Generation Y, to Millienials and back again. John Drane talks about ‘Evangelism in a ‘new age’.

In such a Post-Christian, Post-Christendom world, new approaches to church, youthwork and mission were deemed required (Nigel Pimlott, Stuart Murray et al). It seems as if the doing the right kind of mission is pre-determined by understanding the right kind of ‘age’ that we are in. I am awaiting to read what Root has to say about Faith formation in a secular age, i might also not know how he defines secular, although a cursory look in the introduction and a plethora of common themes emerge, MTD, the rise of the Nones, ‘spiritual but not religious’ and ‘declining church’ all seem to be lined up read for use as evidence.

There is a book in Youth Ministry called ‘Starting Right; Thinking Theologically about youth ministry’  and i wonder whether the church and youth ministrys obsessions with correct pronouncement of the current age, have distracted from the task of starting right in doing mission. The words like Post this and post that, secular this and relativist that act to put people off doing mission in the first place. Starting right might be less about understanding the age, than observing the context by being in it, and never stopping being curious and learning from it, within it. Starting right involves less pronouncing and more presence. For, no one who is met in the local shop, or on the streets considers themselves to be ‘living in an age’ at all, many are just living day to day. The right starting point for acting like Jesus is to act like Jesus would ask of us, go, listen, find and find a place of welcome, or be a place of welcome for others. For, we can only be Jesus in the small place of the local community anyway, so every local church need not worry about the age, but just be personal and present in the space. Know the culture and context, and learn what it is like.

It need not need an announcement of the ‘age’ to know what goodness, love and charity look like, neither what peace, joy and hope are. As church in mission, we might follow the gentle example of St Francis and his simple life, in an ‘age’ of materialism (or we might join in and spend lavishly on church buildings/Ministries), in an age of Social media we might join in to be relevant, communicative, or be prophetic against it.

But theologically, what age might we be living in? In a way thats what the 5 act Theodrama helps us with, we are in the closing age of the fourth act, of Gods acting on the stage of the world through the church before the coming of the King. Theologically God is on the move through his Spirit, it is this age and stage that is more crucial, surely…

What is this age- the world asking of the church? It doesnt matter. It is what the people who live in local communities near to local churches think that is. A globalised world needs churches to act justly and lovingly locally.

Might the church be as obsessed by ascertaining the ‘age’ as it could be about being loving locally?

References

Bosch, D Transforming Mission, 2011 (2nd ed)

Boff, Leonardo, St Francis, A model for Human liberation

Dean, et al Starting Right, thinking theologically about youth ministry 

Drane, John, Evangelism for a New Age

Newbiggin, Lesslie, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

Pimlott, N, Youthwork Post Christendom 

Root, Andrew, Faith Formation in a secular age

 

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