The April version of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research has a number of interesting articles. Articles are available for free at the website after your subscribe to its email newsletter. Among articles which are relevant to faith, culture and mission in the postmodern context are:
In his introduction:
Several recent studies have focused on emerging adults in the United States, considering the spiritual and religious lives of high school teens (ages 14–18) or of twenty-somethings (ages 19–29). Two works helpfully draw out the implications of this research for the spiritual formation of high schoolers and of twenty-somethings, but so far little attention has been given to the implications this research holds for mission. It is evident that shifts in the emerging generation (especially twenty-somethings) will have profound consequences for the recruitment, formation, training, deployment, and retention of the next generation of missionaries and thus for the shape and sustainability of mission itself, as this generation will practice it. What do we know about emerging adults, and what are the implications for the future of global mission?
I start by exploring two broad interpretive ideas that enlarge our understanding of the spiritual lives of today’s emerging adults. Then I examine more closely the cultural and social forces that have shaped the spiritual and religious trajectories of teens and twenty-somethings. Finally, I draw out implications for cross-cultural mission in the twenty-first century.
2. “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct”: Thinking Back and Looking Ahead by Indunil J. Kodithuwakku K.
Though it may not be the chief purpose of the author, this article depicts the typical postmodern phenomenon of the increase of sub-cultural groupings manifested in the form of various religious entities struggling to find an identity in the postmodern multi-religious and pluralist context. The author highlights the need for proper Christian witness in the midst of religious tension.
3. Evangelization and the Tenor of Vatican II: A Review Essay by Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder
This is a book review for Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization by Ralph Martin
Excerpt of the review:
‘The focus of this book is an investigation as to why contemporary Catholics, despite encouragement from Vatican II and from Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, evidence a certain hesitation or lack of enthusiasm for evangelization and ad gentes missionary work. Martin argues that such evangelical lethargy is due to two causes. The first is a lack of attention to the teaching of the Council on the urgent necessity of mission, despite its teaching “about the possibility of salvation outside the visible bounds of the Church, or of Christianity” (6). The second is a “culture of universalism” or “practical universalism” in Catholicism that presumes the salvation of all humanity (196).’
People today often identify themselves as spiritual but not religious.
Of course much can be said of the actual definitions of being ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious’, but in general, people take that by being spiritual but not religious means they do not need to associate themselves with an organised religious body. My reading of various sources seem to cause me to conclude that this is a necessary reaction towards the religious institution or organised religion in the postmodern age, by people who reject the institution due to their ‘modern’ outlook and modus operandi.
Like many others, I have become convicted that people who are having a low view on the institution which we call the church are blinded by their postmodern sentiment. This is due to a lot of factors apart from the ‘Mcdonaldisation‘ of the church. One of them is a diminished ecclesiology.
Schmidt helpfully wrote about this in his post, ‘Spiritual AND Religious? Yes! – Reason #1 why we can be both spiritual and religious: Church is not just a gathering of like-minded people.’ An excerpt from the post:
If churches were simply a matter of sitting alongside like-minded people who share similar spiritual commitments, I can think of easier ways to get that done. One way that religious people try to do it is by handpicking the like-minded people with whom they spend their time and practice their religion.
That option isn’t open to us and, if it was clearer to the world around us that we can’t do that, it might be easier to connect the spiritual and religious dots.
I think Schmidt has a point. Coming from a purely enlightenment point of view, where humanity takes the centre stage, church is nothing more but a gathering of men and women. However not only this view is relatively new, it fails to capture the essence of what a church is. Schmidt mentioned Paul and his teaching about church being the body of Christ, and he summarised it into three points:
- The church is the instrument of salvation.
- It is part and parcel of the spiritual destiny of its members.
- And it is an inseparable part of the individual’s experience of God.
Combine the above with Newbigin’s missional ecclesiology where he argued that the church’s existence is for mission, I think we have a much better definition of what the church is. In other words, no Christian can be spiritual but not religious if he or she is definitely a part of Christ’s body, saved to belong to it and is destined to live in love with the other parts of the body.
Yet the question remains, that how many of us do experience such church? Or all we see is an institution which, as my earlier post suggested, is seriously flawed in its ability to make spiritual seekers feel at home? As much as people wants to be considered as both spiritual and religious, I think they will find it hard – not because of the absence of the kind of church which is depicted in the Bible and mentioned by Schmidt, but because it might not be easy for them to find one which they can connect to meaningfully!
I have read a number of Brian McLaren’s works in the past as I did my postgraduate dissertation which includes a research on how Emerging Churches implement the idea of inculturation (interaction between faith and culture).
Brian McLaren has been vocal on the need to find new ways for Christians to relate to people from other religions. He has been critical towards the way Christians behave and how the somewhat unnecessary ‘fusion’ of the cultural elements into Christianity has caused problems. By looking back, he sees Christians had been time and again, causing various tensions with others due to their lack of judgement – which in turn was due to an uncritical mix of political and social intentions and motives with a Christian outfit. In short, if anyone is to take the blame for religious hostility, Christians should have a hard look at themselves, especially as they claim to live for and according to Jesus.
In this video he highlights the need for Christians to begin thinking about conversing with others with a new attitude. Instead of finding or defining our identity via looking at the differences we have with others, he proposes for us to first be critical to ourselves. He begins, by referring to history, as mentioned earlier.
McLaren then refers to how various doctrines have been used as ‘weapons of hostility’ towards others. The Doctrine of Creation for example, is often used to attack others. The same applied to the Doctrine of Original Sin and the Doctrine of Election, which he sees is often used to show ‘who’s good guy and who is not’. McLaren wonders what if we use them differently – not to show that are we special, nor to exert supremacy?
Next, McLaren refers to the way which the West seems to side the Israelites over the Palestinians, and questions if Christians should be more hospitable. To illustrate, he mentions the plight of some of the non-Christians whom have Christian neighbours who never seems to enjoy them – the only interest they have is to convert them, making them feel like being persuaded to be the down-line of certain network marketing! He then turns to baptism. Again he sees the tendency of Christians making the ritual a way to alienate Christians from others, forgetting that John the Baptist actually performed this rite outside of the exclusive religious establishment – the temple.
After a brief mention of the Eucharist McLaren proposes that Christians today must work closely with others to face the vast challenges which the whole of humanity is facing – environment, political and social problems, etc. He calls this the Missional Challenge. According to him, due to the magnitude of the challenge the only chance is for everyone to collaborate and work together, and this includes Christians working with others. McLaren believes that the Holy Spirit works through everyone and every religion. So he has taken a more friendly stance towards the others, in particularly, he mentioned how he speaks kindly about the Muslims, so much so, a Muslim commended that he is ‘saving Muslim’s lives,’ and told him, ‘you are a true Christian.’