The Gospel and Church Culture


The Gospel and Church Culture


David Eagle writes
I had lunch today with a Mennonite fellow from Abbotsford who asked me how the church will need to change in order to more significantly reach into the liberally minded, religiously suspicious Canadian. His question was far from theoretical, as he has a daughter who has disengaged from the church. Her disengagement was not out of anger or a spiritual crisis, but simply because the church didn’t seem necessary. I immediately noticed that he did not use the word relevant (that’s to imply a marketing framework), but necessary (which implies the mission of the organisation).

In think that those in power in conservative centres such as Abbotsford must wake up and realize that we are not dealing with a marketing problem, but rather a problem of core identity. Conservative churches have long occupied themselves trying to package the gospel and the whole “evangelical/pietistic” experience just right so as to attract different types of folks. I think what were finding increasingly is that the problem isn’t with the packaging, the problem is with the fundamental message and worldview that is contained within the packaging. Or, better put, the problem is with the way in which evangelical assumptions affect religious packaging so as to make it distasteful.

I hope that pastors paid attention to the latest election. I hope they realized that in order to get a Conservative government in Canada, you have to silence the relgious voices (particularly the conservative ones) and present a more socially progressive agenda. Evangelicalism, and many of its core assumptions and lifestyle constraints is simply distasteful to many (particularly urban) Canadians.

The dominant Canadian culture and the evangelical subculture have grown so distant from each other it is somewhat like the Jew/Gentile controversy in the early church. We have evangelicals saying the heathen must be assimilated in to church subculture before they follow Christ. In the same way the Judiazers said gentiles had to become Jewish before they could become Christians.

I think your average Conservative evangelical would say: “You want us to water down the gospel to make it more palatable to this generation. The gospel should be offensive. If we make Christianity less offensive we empty the cross of its power.”

I think this argument has a point but it assumes that all that we have in our subculture is the gospel. The gospel should offend, but we do not need to add to someone’s potential offense by requiring people assimilate in to the evangelical church subculture.

In this election a great many Christians became upset at Paul Martin and the Liberals for staking their claim on “Canadian values.” The Liberals implied that pro-life Christians who wish to impose their morals on the rest of the country are unCanadian. The rhetoric was somewhat disingenuous because there were pro-life Liberal’s in the caucus, but it does have an element of truth. Trudeau and his charter, more than anything else, have defined Canadian values. Democracy, individual rights, pluralism, liberal social economics, multiculturalism can at times be at odds with evangelical values.

  1. #1 by Linea on January 29, 2006 - 2:24 pm

    LT,

    You said, “Democracy, individual rights, pluralism, liberal social economics, multiculturalism can at times be at odds with evangelical values.” Are the values they are at odds with “evangelical values” or are they the values of a church steeped in modernist thought that equates it’s own values with those of evangelical faith?

  2. #2 by Bene D on January 29, 2006 - 6:26 pm

    Religiously suspicious Canadians?

    Liberal minded?

    Pardon et moi?

    Why is he asking you how the church needs to change?

    You are indicating this is a man with a grown daughter. You have left us with the assumption your friend has spent his life in a faith group.

    Does this man, (who must be older than you) have any life experience? Does he have any understanding of life outside his door?

    I’m not asking unkindly LT.

    He comes across as sadly naive and isolated, and that may be just how I’m reading it, or how you wrote it.

    Is your friend of the ‘his way or the highway’ temperment?

    Since his primary concern appears to be for his daughter, I hope you were at the least, able to pray with him. If she has disengaged for the reason you stated, is he able to see great hope that she has amazing opportunities to encounter other believers and the Living God?

  3. #3 by Bene D on January 29, 2006 - 6:48 pm

    Never mind LT, saw the link and quote after commenting…

  4. #4 by Leighton Tebay on January 30, 2006 - 8:31 am

    Linea:

    I think there are somethings about Christianity that don’t play well with democratic values. In a democracy it is the people that determine what is morally correct and what types of behavior should be curbed by law. Evangelicals and other Christians get their sense of morality by interpreting the scriptures.

    Religious pluralism carries the assumption that one religion isn’t any better than any other. Religions like Islam and Christianity believe they alone are the truest path to divine knowledge or experience.

    I do agree that much of the conflict between evangelicalism and the broader Canadian society isn’t about timeless values, but a clash of cultures.

  5. #5 by Markio on January 31, 2006 - 11:11 am

    I had my hair cut by a homosexual last night. I told him I was a pastor and that stopped the conversation cold. Before that we were chatting and he was telling me that he loved his work because he could be himself there. Once I was a pastor, he “knew” that I would judge him harshly.

    I did something different. I asked him if he was a Christian. Most people here, namely El Salvador, think of themselves as Christians but he viewed himself as an evangelical. He doesn’t go to church because he knows the reaction of the people. He’ll be kicked out/beat up at worst or have deliverance attempts at best.

    We eased back into the conversation and I asked him if he would go to church if he could find a place that would receive him. He wouldn’t answer. He thought I was joking.

    I would suggest this is a good illustration. No one can talk to this gentleman until he trusts them. Most people don’t trust Christians because high profile right-wing conervatives makes brash public declarations and people are afraid that some Christians will act the same way, just in the context of their community. No one wants that.

    I don’t agree with the homosexual act based on simple interpretation of clear scripture but I think that there is a generation that will never here the living truth of the gospel because we are not willing to accept imperfect people into our communities. It is not inconsistant with the life of Christ to love sinners. I would suggest it is the most useful strategy because it will take a life changing experience of grace and power to reach some of the people in our diverse society.

  6. #6 by Linea on January 31, 2006 - 9:55 pm

    Leighton,

    I think that people in democracies may decide what is legal or illegal but that that should not be equated with what is morally right. Christians should determine morality by our interpretation of scripture even if it clashes with the laws our democracy has put in place.

    I think that it gets fairly blatant during elections – the way Canadian culture and Christian morality can clash. I dislike the way that politicians claim to stand up for Christian values when what they are standing up for are sometimes only conservative (or liberal or whatever) Canadian values that at their heart have little to do with following Christ’s example.

    Canadian values are great. We have a great country to live in. But there are many times when we have to choose to live differently than the majority who define those Canadian values.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that being a good Canadian is not equivalent to being a Christian – but that’s OK. We should sort of live with one foot in a different sort of dominion.

  7. #7 by Linea on February 1, 2006 - 10:45 am

    Yikes – after reading Bene’s blog entry about Dominionism, I think my choice of the term “dominion” was a poor one – although I think it is an appropriate term, just has been used with prejudice by the extreme right.

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