In April of 2012, Youth With A Mission Quebec, Montreal hosted a conference on the the Post-Christendom culture that the body of Christ finds itself living in today. It is an important subject because it has a direct impact on how the church will carry out our mission to share Jesus with the cultures of the world in meaningful ways. YWAM Organic attended this conference to talk with leaders who are engaged in this conversation. These discussions are transcripts taken from the video, The Christendom Church in a Post Christendom Era.
Jeff Fountain is the chairman of the Hope for Europe Round Table and the director of the HOPE II Congress. Originally from New Zealand, Jeff has lived in Europe for over 35 years and carries a Dutch passport. He was director of YWAM Europe for twenty years before resigning in order to establish the Schuman Centre for European Studies, affiliated with the University of the Nations. Jeff and his wife Romkje live in Heerde, the Netherlands, and have three adult sons, one foster daughter, two daughters-in-law and one granddaughter. Jeff writes an email column called. "Weekly Word" and edits HOPE magazine. He has written several books including, "Living as people of hope" and "Deeply Rooted".
YWAM Organic: Hi Jeff. Thanks for being here. First, what would you say is post Christendom?
Jeff Fountain: Post Christendom is the condition we find ourselves in in the west at this stage of history. It is in the classic European sense where you have a state church in countries like England. In Germany where people are still charged a church tax up until 10 years ago in Sweden and quite a number of other countries, an official denomination recognized by the state. Now other countries like France separated church and state a long time ago. By that they meant religion and politics. But in recent decades we see a large abandoning of the church so that the term can be applied more generally meaning a society where the influence of the church is no longer seen as central. It is seen more as a private hobby that people can pursue in their private time over there in the corner but don't talk about it in the public square. Now Christendom officially though, is where the church has an official role, in particular denomination, an official role in society. However, it is being used in North America for example where there was not an official church to mean or to refer to the waning influence of the church in society.
YWAM Organic: So what started this shift? Why is this happening?
Jeff: Well it has really had a long genesis from the enlightenment onwards. And in some places it has been long and gradual, in other places it has been recent and sudden. We're here right now in Montreal in Quebec. And here it has been like as an island. It has been quite a sudden thing since say the seventies. But in France it has been ever since the French revolution. In other countries where the enlightenment had a strong influence and we could include the United States as being part of this gradual influence as seen in the media, as seen in the cities, as seen in the university's particularly. And that has been, that gradual shift from the so called age of faith where everybody lived under the sacred canopy as Peter Berger put it, is shifting from heaven to earth, from God to man, from revelation to reason. Not that those things should be necessarily divorced, but that is what has happened. But particularly in the 20th century where let's say the evangelical churches tended to withdraw from society, you see it's really only ever been since 1974, Lazzaunne 1 where evangelicals started talking about what we could sometimes call a two handed Gospel. The social Gospel going along with the Gospel of Salvation. Before that time you were very suspect it you started talking about the social dimensions of the Gospel. So we have a very short history trying to recover this lost ground. That's not been the case with the Catholics for example. They have had powerful encyclicals from the Pope over the years, and particularly rarem evarum from over 100 years ago that equipped the church to engage with the new social situation and the industrial revolution and so forth. And so we're having to catch up a lot of lost ground here. Now in the meantime, because of the influence of Freud, because of the influence of Marx, because of the influence of Darwin, the church got intimidated and we separated faith issues from truth issues and we internalized the gospel and basically, our message was, "come and join us. Get your ticket to heaven and wait until we get raptured out of here. Now I don't think that is really a Biblical gospel.
YWAM Organic: I've always thought that the post Christendom movement started maybe in the sixties. People were starting to leave churches. But I'm not convinced people were necessarily leaving God. They were just maybe leaving the way we do church and the way we think about church. So is Post Christendom a new term? Is the church accepting this as a reality or are we fighting against this idea of post Christendom, this idea that we need to change the way we do things?
Jeff: Well the term post Christendom is being used in different ways by different people but I think the most common ways within evangelical circles is that there has been a growing realization that the Constantinian model, going back to Constantine, we're talking about the fifth century where the church became officially adopted by the state almost like a chaplain to the state. And that really has been the model in which the Catholic Church developed, and then out of that the Anglican Church and other mainstream churches, that era seems to be coming to closure and there are a lot of free church people who are rejoicing and saying, "At long last, we will be able to get back to a true definition of what it means to be a church and what it means to the Christian".
YWAM Organic: That's part of my question because obviously in the states of course we can say we separated church and state at our beginning so we're not among that crowd. We are already doing that and we are already involved in our communities and I'm wondering if, especially in North America, there is a resistance to this growing shift in culture.
Jeff: When the settlers came to America very often they were actually running away from that kind of Constantinian model. It had been used to bash them over the head. Actually to put them to the stake or to drowned them or whatever. America was a place of freedom and America really got it right when it came to the separation of church and state which did not mean taking any religion out of politics or government. I mean, obviously in America you have, " in God we trust" on your money, you have chaplains for the house of representatives, you have Rick Warren coming to pray for Obama in his inauguration and so forth. It doesn't mean there is no place for religious belief. In fact it's hard to run for president without declaring some kind of religious belief. Now French people, for example, cannot understand that because they think separation of church and state means religion shouldn't interfere with politics. No. It doesn't mean that. It means that no church should be favored by the government and the government should not interfere with church business. And they got it right and that's the model that is being followed around the world in all continents except for Europe. Now, there is an interesting book called, "God is back" by two editors from the economist magazine that really do a very good analysis of why the American model has been followed around the world and not the European model. Nevertheless, if we talk about rather than just post Christendom but we say post Christian and then we talk about the influence of Christianity on society as a whole, then I think although a lot of Americans can live in areas where there is vibrant Christianity, bible belt areas and so forth, we need to face the reality that in the cities, through the media and the university's that is not the case generally, and those are the sources of influence that sooner or later are going to shape the general culture. Also because young people are sucked into cities and influenced by the media and the universities and their thinking is going to filter down to another generation. So this issue of Post Christendom or post Christianity really needs to be taken seriously.
YWAM Organic: And is the church taking it seriously generally speaking?
Jeff: How seriously the church is taking it is patchy. It's very patchy. I don't think we have woken up to this fact, that is that the world's fastest growing religion is being exported from Europe and is affecting the large and fast growing churches that we have rejoiced in in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, is beginning to erode those churches. And what I'm talking about here is unbelief. In the 20th century, at the beginning of the 20th century 10% of the world's atheists lived outside of Europe. Now 90% live outside of Europe and the number of European atheists has grown enormously. So we have a problem coming on the horizon that there is, well it's part of a paradox. The paradox of secularization. On the one hand we had the myth of secularization being propagated by the media, by the university's and so on saying that the more modern a society becomes the more secularized it will become. Religion will disappear and it will only be practiced by a few weirdos. Now that hasn't happened that way and it has been quite disconcerting that God has suddenly reappeared all around the world when he should have disappeared. That's one phenomena and we can be very grateful for that. But the other phenomenon at the same time and perhaps connected to it is the revival of an aggressive secularism epitomized by the so called new atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and so on. This is partly a reaction because they woke up to the fact that religion wasn't disappearing and they said, "We've got to do something about that". They actually came together on the East Coast and said, "We need to start writing books." So they started writing, "The God Delusion", "God is not Great", and so on. Books like that which were adopted by many many people saying, "At last, yes, you are saying what we believe". They were not well argued and coherent with a good scholastic basis. Dawkins is not a theologian, he is not a philosopher. He's a biologist. He was outside of his area and a lot of scientists feel very embarrassed by the kinds of things he said. But you see, people adopt their beliefs not necessarily because of a logical process but it's what they want to believe. Now Christians are often told, "You believe in God because you need a crutch and it's wish fulfillment." Well it's an argument that can be used both ways. In fact Aldous Huxley said, he frankly admitted that he did not want a god hanging around interfering with his promiscuous sex life. It was very inconvenient and he frankly admitted that this is why he chose to believe in nihilism. So yes, we have to be careful that this is an argument that can be used both ways.
YWAM Organic: So what does the church need to do to address this issue?
Jeff: One of the challenges that we face is that we are intimidated by it. And for good reason. And I say for good reasons because we ourselves have retreated from truth issues. Vishal Mangalvadi puts it this way. Christians have lost America, or we could say the west because we became the faith party and not the truth party. Secularists were the so called truth party and science was made to look like it stood for the truth even though so much of the scientific outlook is actually based on mythology. If you are really materialistic you've got to admit that your understanding of truth is nothing more than some chemical reaction in your brain, hence, the progression or regression towards postmodernism which says there's no such thing as truth. So we have to come back to reclaim truth. We separated our hearts from our minds. We separated the sacred from the secular. We made Jesus' lord of one small area but not lord of everything, and as Francis Schaefer often said, "We should not be afraid of pursuing truth as if we are going to fall off the edge of the world like the Sailors of old feared. God is already there. He's gone before and either he is lord of all or he's not lord at all. And so we must recover this ground. We should not be intimidated. We must learn how to engage with our minds as well as our hearts. Therefore we need to have reasons for our faith. Now reason and faith are two words the secularists say do not go together. But they don't realize how much faith they exercise as well. I mean to believe that everything has been a result of some highly improbable chance process, slime plus time, requires a huge amount of faith that frankly I do not possess. I mean to say as Richard Dawkins says, that the reason why we live in this universe which resonates with us as being a universe of beauty and order and seemingly made for human beings, what philosophers call the anthropic principle, is that actually there is probably an infinite number of universes and we just happen to be thee really really really really really really lucky people who are living in this universe. All right. Who is taking the huge blind leap of faith there? Where is their scientific basis for that? Or his other statement that life started on earth. We don't have to conjure up a god. Actually, aliens probably brought life here. Well all that does is postpone the question to another planet. Let's be reasonable! Peter said, "Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in your heart. A reason for faith". Now we've got to come back again and recognize that our faith is utterly reasonable and there are reasons why we believe. It's not just a blind leap of faith.
YWAM Organic: I know of two people who do that. One is a guy named Andy Fletcher who is invited to IB league secular schools all over the world to teach on God and the new physics. Now it's not intelligent design but it is often confused with that. And he talks about this very thing. He uses secular science, to prove that there is a reasonable, rational, scientific reason for believing in God. There is another person though I don't know him personally. He is, or was on the radio and he always started the show with the statement that we need to be able to give a reasonable and rational explanation for our faith. The problem I found with him was that his reasonable rational answers were very conservative and sometimes were not reasonable and/or rational at all. So it takes me to the question, one you brought up in a lecture you gave when you talked about memory. We have to go back to remembering our history and to some extent our theology. But what do you do in a culture like the United States where nobody can agree on what our history is much less our theology? How do we start there? How do we rebuild on something none of us agree on in the first place?
Jeff: I think it's very important that we look to our roots. Now roots are not things we invent. Roots are things we discover. We've got to go back and say where have the values come from in our society that we hold dear? There has been a lot of, lets say, a political hijacking of some of the Christian story in order to prove American exceptional-ism for example. So it's very important that we draw broadly on, and look for consensus among Christian historians. But there has been a steady, we can call hijacking of the Christian story by an enlightenment perspective that actually obliterates a lot of the memory and says that basically the important things started with the French revolution. Fraternity, liberte', egalite', brotherhood, freedom and equality. But that ignores where those concepts came from and it also ignores what the immediate result was, the French revolution. It ignores everything but those things. How do you have brotherhood without fatherhood? Where does equality come from? Where does this idea come from when people demand equal rights and so on? What gave them the idea that we should have equal rights if at the same time we're talking about the survival of the fittest? It doesn't make sense. There is only one basis from which we can talk about equality and equal rights and that is Genesis 1. God created mankind, humankind, male and female in his own image. That's the only bases. John Grey is a philosopher, professor, and used to be at the London school of economics. I don't know what he would call himself. Maybe a post humanists. He certainly is not a believer. But he wrote a book called, " Straw Dogs". And in this book he said human beings are nothing but straw dogs which the Chinese made once a year as part of a religious ritual. They would set up these straw dogs and worship them, and then the next day they would throw them away and burn them. They would impute value into these straw dogs. Basically, when you take God out of the picture, he says, humans are nothing but straw dogs. And he says humanists are simply Christians in disguise. They are borrowing Christian concepts. They are squatters in a Christian concept. That realization hasn't dawned by and large on the intellectual community, but it is absolutely true. Hermann van Rompuy who is the president of the European Council puts it another way. He says humanism is basically Christianity decapitated. Here are things that Christians should pick up and begin to learn to actually stand on strong ground and respond. There are significant atheists who are becoming believers these days. And why is this? I think there are three reasons from contemporary science. From the latest science. We're talking about the last 10 years. One is the Big Bang. There has been so much evidence amassed and supported by the Lucerne nuclear accelerator in Geneva that is so affirming of Biblical truths that there are jokes told about the scientists who pulled themselves up peak after peak of human knowledge, precept upon precept until they came to the final summit and they found a bunch of theologians setting up their quoting the first chapter of the Bible, "In the beginning God...!". The fact that there was a beginning pulls the rug out from under pantheism, for example. A second major reason is the DNA. The amazing intricate library of information in everybody's DNA. Now Francis Collins wrote a book called "The Language of God". He headed up the human genome project. He was an atheist. He became a believer, a self confessed evangelical. And he said he just had to face the evidence. Antony Flew was perhaps the most celebrated atheist of the last century. He just died a year or two ago. He was the mentor for people like Richard Dawkins, but a few years ago he announced that he had become a believer in God, not yet a Christian but a believer in God, a Theist. There were a number of factors that led him to conclude that and he wrote a book called, "There is no God" and the "NO" was crossed out and a big "A" was put there. There is A God! Antony Flew. Now his story is being mirrored by many others who are being confronted with the Big Bang, DNA, and what we mentioned before, the Anthropic Principle. The idea that this seems to be such a highly, finely, intricately tuned planet on which we live in a solar system that is tuned within a constellation etc. etc. within the cosmos, that if any small variation should take place, the tilt of the earth, the thickness of the atmosphere, the makeup of the atmosphere, the makeup of water, etc. etc. life as we know it would disappear. What Antony Flew said, and he was a member of the Socratic Club like CS Lewis at Oxford University. He said, "I followed the motto of the Socratic Club which says, 'You must follow the evidence to where it leads you.'" He had reasons for his new faith in God. Now these are things that we as Christians need to recover and not be intimidated. How can we recover our memory? I will put it this way. I think there are five simple-to-remember reasons for our faith, for our hope. The first one is God's book of works. That is creation and I will use the thumb. You see, Pascal was asked once why he believed. And he said "The thumb Sir. The thumb!" Because of the amazing ergo-dynamic design of the thumb he realized that there was intelligent thought behind designing that thumb for humankind. Imagine without that we couldn't do so many things. The thumb! Paul said people are without excuse when they reject God because God has set the evidence there in his book of works. Francis Bacon talked about the book of works and the book of words. The second finger here, this is our index finger. It points, it commands, beckons and so on. Now, God's word it does all of that for us. This is about God's word. God's word is an amazing book. There has been no book in the whole of history that comes close to having the influence that book has had on our art, our architecture, our agriculture, our business, our education, our family life, our health life, our language, our literature, our laws, our government, our politics, the science, social reform, and so on and so on. It was put together by 40 writers from three continents over 1500 years and has such an amazing consistency without a general editor. Just that alone, I mean you don't have to be a believer to recognize what an incredible book that is. Even Richard Dawkins says, You cannot understand European history without understanding Christianity and the Bible. Now if he says that, why are we so ashamed of it? And yet that book is ignored when it comes to our education. Is that through ignorance or is that through prejudice? It's certainly not professional. So that's another reason for belief. A third reason, and here, the central person of history, our central finger, the central person of history was the living word. OK? So God's book of works, God book of words, and the living word, Jesus Christ. We have to conclude who this man was. You read through the Gospel of John for example, and you see all the things he did and said in the Gospel of John. It confronts the reader with the question, who is this man? Starting from the miracle of the wine and people said, Who is this man who's done these things? Things he said about himself. Things he did, walked on water. The disciples said, "Who is this man?" And again and again and again you see the crowds responding. Some say he's crazy or he's a liar or he's a deceiver or he's the Messiah. Now one thing you can't say about Jesus is that he was simply a good teacher which is what the most comfortable option would be for the world. But no, he confronts you with a decision. If we think about who he is and we follow the evidence where it leads, we too have to conclude he is the Son of God and we need to believe in him. The fourth finger is our ring finger. It talks about faithfulness. If we trace the story of God's faithfulness in history through a faithful minority, history can be incredibly confusing and very discouraging. Especially all of the stuff done in the name of the church and the name of the cross. And again, we have it thrown at us. Religion has just been the source of all these religious wars and so on. There is some truth to that. But we should not get sidetracked. Follow through the story of the faithful minority. What an amazing story. See the impact in Europe with the storytellers coming in telling the story of Jesus. Paul to the Greeks. Patrick to the Irish. Boniface to the Germans, etc. etc. And it transforms societies. It transforms communities. It reconciled enemies. In tamed tyrants and so on. Now that's where Europe got its soul from. The story of that fateful minority and the influence of that fateful minority is unparalleled in human history. The last reason is my story. This is his story. This is my story. My little story, my own experiences, the experiences of those around me, my family my friends and so on convinces me that the most reasonable conclusion, explanation for life is to be found in God and in his word. If we were to learn those five simple reasons, then as we engage in conversation, just a 2 minute conversation and go through those reasons, it is marrying mind and heart. It doesn't make Christians look like just a weird bunch of people blindly following some antiquated religion.
YWAM Organic: Yes, I agree with everything you say and yet in my experience in the American church so many Christians are confronted with reasonable rational questions from people who are truly seeking truth, but they can't get a halfway decent answer from the Christians that are their every day contacts. The Christian will give some stale, pat answer that they heard in church one day and expect us to believe it. Why did God allow Muslim terrorists to fly planes into buildings? Well, I don't know, but he must have had a plan so we love him and we will worship him! And I've had conversations with nonbelievers who ask simple questions like, "Why does God hate homosexuals?" Very often people will tell me they haven't actually rejected God. They've rejected the church's representation of God but they have never been given a reasonable rational answer to a very honest, reasonable, rational question. How do you get the average Christian to get past their weird theology? Because to me that is the heart of the post-Christendom issue. We have failed to become relevant to the people around us. Is that fair?
Jeff: One of the big challenges of the post Christian situation we find ourselves in is the gap that we have allowed to develop between our own culture and the culture of those who live around us. We prefer to live in our own bubbles, whether that be a local church or a YWAM base. That's why we have been talking here about the Post Post Post Post world in which we live in. There was a film when I was young called, "It's a mad mad mad mad world". Well, I've been saying it's a Post Post Post Post world. It's post Christian. It's posts communist in Eastern Europe. It's postmodern, its post migrant, the children of the migrants are living among us as well as migrants, and its post secular, a growing group of people who have rejected the whole rationalist scientific thing a long time ago to embrace esoteric beliefs. How do we build relationships with each one of those kinds of people is the big challenge and opportunity for us in the church today, and we've got to go outside our comfort zone. That's what incarnation is all about. That's what mission is all about. You go outside your own comfort zone just as you would if you were trying to reach a lost tribe in New Guinea. You have to go out there and understand their language, their culture, their belief system and look for the bridges of communication so that you can connect with them. You take the new age type people, people into all sorts of new types of spirituality. You find lots of people like that in the Bible. The wise man who came looking for Jesus. They were astrologists. They were not charismatic Christian evangelicals or anything. But they were seeking spiritual reality. There are many many people looking for spiritual reality who believe that the last place they're going to find it is actually in the church.
YWAM Organic: Isn't that at least partly because the church so easily dismisses them as people who have purposely rejected Jesus. That is often the church's response to actual, real seekers.
Jeff: Well it's easy for us perhaps to say that these people are making a choice, they are rejecting God. I wonder sometimes if we don't say that in order to absolve ourselves of any responsibility. It may be that they are just rejecting our clumsy delivery. And we have to say to ourselves, Okay maybe I didn't communicate that very well in which case, you do accept responsibility. And one of the things we have to do is to accept responsibility for the mess of things that we as the body of Christ have made throughout the centuries. I mean, there are many skeletons in the cupboard and right now. Of course, all sorts of things are coming out about sex scandals, although putting that in the context, it is probably no higher than the average situation across the board. But of course, the media and society want to have a reason to reject the church because then they can reject God and he is not there to interfere with getting on with the lifestyle that they want.
YWAM Organic: A lot of people will say that post-Christendom is bad, that we need to do something in our church so that people don't stop going to church. I kind of have the thought that it might actually be a good thing. And you talked about the opportunity's Post-Christendom brings. What are some of these opportunities?
Jeff: The post Christian situation brings challenges but also great opportunities as well. You see, one of the huge mistakes we've made in the church is that we thought it was all about the church. And it comes as a huge surprise when people are encouraged to read through the gospels and count the number of times Jesus talks about church. You can read all through John, all through Mark, all through Luke and you'll never even see the word church. And only in two vs. in the whole of Mathew. It's not what Jesus talked about. It was not the end goal. That's not what it's all about. So what is it all about? It's about kingdom. Over 100 times Jesus talks about, Repent, the kingdom of God is near. And then the sermon on the mount. He talks about blessed are the poor in spirit. They will inherit the kingdom. And then he tells them to pray for the kingdom to come. He says, "Seek my kingdom first!" Then he tells a whole bunch of stories about the kingdom, all these parables. And the he tells them the great commission in terms of the kingdom. Matthew 24: 14, "This gospel of the kingdom has to be preached as a witness to all peoples. And then the end will come". And then the very last words he gives to the disciples over a period of 40 days after his resurrection is teaching them about the kingdom. You almost get the impression Jesus is really trying to say something about the kingdom. So that's a huge area we must come back to. What did Jesus really mean? We have put people on the wrong track saying you've got to belong to this church. And we have made the survival of the church and the growth of the church be an all and be all. What God is after is to see his rule, his will being done here on earth. That was the first instruction that he gave to the human race and that's what Jesus reiterated with the great commission as well and and that's what we've got to keep our focus on.
YWAM Organic: But the common mainline eschatology today says that the kingdom of God will never be on this earth. That is for after the rapture. That's for the second coming. You are talking about changing an entire eschatology. Isn't there that tension that on one hand yes, we are supposed to change the world for God. On the other hand, it can't ever possibly happen because of our dispensationalist eschatology?
Jeff: I've just mentioned that a misconception we have had that's been putting us on the wrong track is that of making the church central when it should be the kingdom. Another misconception is our eschatology. We are waiting for the wrong thing. We think that God is going to destroy this mud ball, he's going to send a space capsule to rescue us to some other place, take us to another planet to some place called heaven. We've got to challenge that as being un-Biblical eschatology that is making us wait for the wrong thing. Therefore, we have to recover the Biblical eschatology. Let's just challenge one of these sacred cows here. I just said I don't think God wants to destroy this mud ball. "Oh! But this is exactly what Peter says! 2 Peter 3. The world is going to be destroyed by fire! It's right there! Just as the world was destroyed in the days of Noah by water, so it will be destroyed by fire." Well, that's interesting. If the world was destroyed by water in the days of Noah what planet did he land on? Does it really mean destroyed? What was destroyed in the days of Noah? Evil. It was purged. So what actually is going to happen is that there is going to be a purging. And that fits the whole context of that chapter in Peter because he then says if this is what's waiting for you, what kind of life should you be living now? Holy, pure lives! It's all about purity. Being purged. And one of the problems we have is that we have mistranslated where he talks about there being a new heaven and new earth and everything being destroyed. Well, you see, the new heavens, first of all the Hebrew understanding of heaven was three heavens. The third heaven where God lives, the first heaven where man lives, and in between is the heaven, the space where the principality's and powers exist. And we know there are fallen principality's and powers. We don't have an open heaven. Now, those are going to be cleansed. That will be destroyed, indeed. But, the new heaven and the new earth, the word, "new" is not the word for brand new, it's the word which means renewed. So it's going to be a renewed earth and a renewed heaven. Even if that wasn't true and we know the Bible talks about a new heaven and a new earth, if we are all going to go to heaven, why is God making a new earth? Who is going to live there? So if it is talking about a renewed earth, then that is totally consistent with the prophets, totally consistent with Romans 8 which says that creation is groaning, waiting to be destroyed... No it doesn't! Waiting to be liberated to God's original intention and purpose. This is what we're looking forward to. Which way does the new Jerusalem come? It comes down onto earth. If we understand heaven as God's space, where God dwells, where does he want to dwell? He wants to dwell here on earth. And in Revelations we see the fulfillment of it where it says that the kingdoms of this earth have now become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ. And he shall rein forever. This is what we're looking forward to. N.T. Wright wrote a book called, "Surprised by Hope". And he starts off saying that this book is about two questions. What are you waiting for? And what are you doing about it? Now, what are we waiting for? If we're waiting for the wrong thing, if we are waiting for the rapture, that will affect the way we live here and now. But if we are waiting for God's purposes to be fulfilled on this planet and we know we have a role actually in fulfilling that and we can work towards it now, that transforms the way we live. The kingdom of God is also a paradox. It's here but it's not yet here. It's like a woman carrying a baby. When a woman is pregnant does she have a baby? Yes but... Now that is exactly the imagery that Jesus used in Matthew 24 when he talked about the birth pangs. When the disciples were talking about all these so called end times signs, wars, famines, persecutions, Jesus, I think says, "Wait a minute guys. Yes, there are going to be wars, famines, and persecutions. I know the kinds of paperback books you guys have been reading, written by the apocolypticists, but, that is not yet the end. These are the birth pangs, the struggle of giving birth to the new kingdom. But that's not yet the end. The end will only come when the Gospel of the Kingdom has gone to all peoples. So, we see that he's using the same imagery of being pregnant with something. Now that's the phase we we live in. So our eschatology so much affects the way we live now and it is Christianity which has taught the human race to hope. Emil Brunner, a Swiss theologian said, that we should live today in the light of tomorrow. To live in the present in the light of God's future. So our eschatology really matters.
YWAM Organic; It seems to me that our current eschatology today is doing the exact opposite. It promotes a doomed outcome to this world but offers escapism to believers in a way that does not require any participation on our part. You are talking about something that brings hope to a church that by and large doesn't seem to believe in hope except for their own personal survival from a corrupt world that is only going to get worse. And for me, if often sounds like fear which leads to actions that try to influence or even manipulate political outcomes, not just personal behavior. We seem to have abandoned hope and often just create more stress.
Jeff: We hear a lot of messages about faith and love but where do we hear messages about hope? Hope seems to be so wishy washy, so vague. How do we get a handle on hope? And yet the Biblical imagery for hope found in Hebrews 6 is very solid, very concrete. It's the anchor. When an anchor falls on your foot it doesn't just give you a vague wishy washy feeling. You know you have encountered a concrete reality. Where does this image come from? In the context of Hebrews 6 the writer says God made his promise to Abraham and he confirmed it with an oath. By his own name. So that by two unchangeable things we can know that we have this hope. Now what are these two unchangeable things? It's God's character and God's promises. Those are the grounds of our hope. God's character never changes and his purposes will be fulfilled. This is what we go back to to get hope. Hope comes from memory. That's why the Bible builds on history. The old testament starts with a whole bunch of history books. It ends with a whole bunch of prophetic books looking to the future. In between it tells you how we should now live in light of God's past and God's future. That's why we need to learn to be three dimensional people who are rooted in the past, focused on the future so that we can be effectively engaged in the present. And so that's why God says again and again and again in the old testament, remember, remember. Don't forget. But we have become creatures with very short memories and short memories breed shortsightedness. So much of the church has become very shortsighted with our eschatology etc. And instead of being love and hope based they become fear based. There is a lot of gospels of half truths and fear going around when it needs to be truth and love. The soft powers of Christianity. So what is hope? Hope is what we are waiting for. Hope is what we are expecting in the future. And the grounds of our hope are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If God the father was not who the Bible reveals him to be, loving, merciful, long suffering etc. etc. etc. we would have no reason for hope. If he was like Zeus, the Greek god disguised as a bull who seduces Europa the Phoenician princess so he can take her off and rape her, what kind of god is that? We have confidence because of the kind of god that has been revealed in the Bible. Also we have hope because of Jesus having come, died, and risen from the dead. That was the turning point in history. If that didn't happen we have no hope. And we have hope because the Holy Spirit has been given to us as a guarantee for the future. A down payment, a deposit on what is yet to come. It says the best is yet to come. So the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, those are the grounds of our hope. They are also the goals of our hope. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are going to spend eternity with the Father. We shall be transformed in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, and we shall be like him, we shall see him as he is. This is our hope. Our hope is also the blessed return of the Lord Jesus. He is going to come, balance the books of history, make sense of all the injustices of history. This is what we're hoping for. Not endless reincarnation. What a hopeless future that would be. And our hope, of course, is in the Holy Spirit because it is not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord. So our hope is looking to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but it is based upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as well. Now here it is a message that we must recover because if we don't believe this, if we don't grasp it, we don't have a message of hope for this world. And what the world hears from the church is that there is no hope for this world, it's going to get worse and worse so just come and join our club, get your ticket to heaven so you can be raptured out of here. Now that's not the message of hope at all. Now I may be very simple but it seems to me logical that it's always God's will for God's will to be done. And it's never God's will for God's will not to be done. So why do so many Christians seem to believe that it's God's will that things should get worse and worse? That's not consistent with the Lord's prayer. He told us to pray for his kingdom to come on earth, for his will to be done on earth. Why is he telling us to pray that if he doesn't really want it to happen? Now, we live in a world full of paradoxes, yes. And we need to explain what's going on. Why do things seem to get worse and worse? Well, that's not the full picture. We have to recognize that the parable of the wheat and the tares growing up together which will be harvested at the day of judgment, they will continue to grow so that we can look back on the 20th century, and it was a terrible time, it was the century of Satan. It was the century of Lenin and Stalin and Hitler and Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung and so on. It was the century of the atom bomb. It was a century of two world wars and the cold war. It was a terrible time. Ah, but it was the century of the Spirit. The greatest revivals in history, the greatest in gathering for the kingdom of God ever took place in the 20th century. You see the wheat and the tares are growing up together. And what can we expect from the future? Will it be worse, will it be better? And the answer is, yes! Because we can expect more of the same. So if you only focus on the one thing, yes, you can conclude that things are only getting worse and worse. But let's also see what God is up to. We are living in the most exciting time church history. I firmly believe that.
YWAM Organic: It is so good hearing this stuff. What is your hope for the church? If the church accepts everything you've just said, how do we now reach our world for the kingdom? The guy next door?
Jeff: The task of the church in this stage of history which I have described with all of these posts, we need to recognize that the word, "Post" always describes a temporary situation like post war, postnatal and so on. It is temporary. We should be looking at the Post Post. What comes after that? And it's our job to shape that. You see, when Rome collapsed and began the so called dark ages, who provided the building blocks and brought new order into that? It was the monastery, Christian communities based on promise, covenant together. So much so that as the city states eventually began to emerge in Northern Italy and then Northern Europe and so on, at the time of the reformation Erasmus said, "What is a city but one big monastery?" Because he saw that it was based on this concept of agape love, covenant. I have a professor friend who is actually writing a book on this very thing. How agape shaped European civilization. So we should not be discouraged by this post situation we find ourselves in. The Holy Spirit is far more committed to fulfilling his purposes than we are. We should be looking to the Father to see what he's up to today. What are some of the signs of hope we see today? Well, he's shaking our world. He's been shaking the communist world, the Muslim world and the Capitalist world. And anything not based on his kingdom is going to be shaken. That is a sign of hope. The second sign of hope is the spiritual hunger that we see around us. Maybe evidenced by new-agers and so forth, but people are fed up with secularism. It does not meet the deepest needs of the human heart. There is a hunger out there. How can we present the Gospel in a way that is going to connect with them? Just like Jesus with the woman at the well. I would hate to think how we might have handled that situation. The third sign of hope is really the stirrings and prayer. Just think of all the new prayer initiatives over the last couple of decades. March for Jesus, 30 days of prayer for Ramadan, global days of prayer, prayer triplets, prayer conferences etc. etc.. Is God teasing his people or does he have a plan? You answer. A fifth sign of hope is look to see who God is bringing to help us in our post Christian western nations. The migrants are coming with a new vibrant faith and they are rejuvenating the urban churches on both sides of the Atlantic. And they're coming with gifts that we have lost, gifts of spiritual discernment, gifts of colorful worship, gifts of bold proclamation of the Gospel. Help is on the way! In fact, we often hear about Europe, that we're being swamped by all these Muslim migrants. One out of 10 of the migrants coming into Europe are active Muslims. But one in two are active Christians. God is at work. One out of two migrants coming into the EU are active church members. In England we often hear how England is getting so swamped by Muslims. England has a 3% Muslim population and only 1/3 of those are active. 1%. We have listened to too much fear and too much half truth.
A sixth sign of hope is the new ecumenism of the heart. Now perhaps some are not comfortable with that word but it means a heart based on unity, not based on coming together on theological issues. It involves accepting the lordship of Jesus and the authority of the word of God and recognizing we can agree to disagree on a lot of other issues. In fact the Pope recently, when he visited where Luther went to the monastery he said that the mistake the catholic church made at the time of the Reformation was to emphasize our differences rather than our commonality. There has never been a day in 500 years since the Reformation or 1000 years since the great schism between the church east and west where there is so much convergence taking place. And the seventh sign of hope is recovering an awareness that the Gospel is all about kingdom. That means the lordship of Jesus over every sphere of life. Just as Abraham Kuyper 100 years ago, the prime minister of Holland said, "There is not 1 square inch where Jesus who is sovereign overall does not say 'Mine!'" Now that involves every sphere of life, that involves the whole of Europe that involves the whole of this world, it is His, not the devil's!
YWAM Organic: Thank you Jeff for talking with us.
Pierre LeBel is the Coordinator for YWAM Montreal Quebec, Canada. A French speaking believer who was raised in the Catholic Church, he has a unique perspective on what it means to be a cultural Christian and how the Post-Christendom cultural shift that is taking place there has impact not only on the culture but also on the church itself.
YWAM Organic: Pierre, thanks for being with us. In the context of what you do, what is post-Christendom?
Pierre: Well, I have to reflect on what post-Christendom means for me. I need to explain that in the context of our particular culture here in Quebec we are a French Canadian culture unique within the North American context. A French speaking people, about 7 million of us surrounded by about 300 million anglophones. That's why we're a little bit feisty on certain issues. But particularly here in Quebec we were historically from the very foundation of our province back in the early 1600's and Quebec city, founded in 1608 and Montreal founded in 1642 as a mission station to reach the first nations people that lived in the area. And so this whole province and people had that strong affiliation to the Catholic Church. And so this was the kind of Christendom that was the dominant player in virtually every sphere in society. That was a given until around 1950 or 60. When I grew up as a kid we were basically told as French Canadians if you are French speaking, you are French Canadian so ultimately you are a Catholic. And anglophones, well they are Protestant. They were the enemy. They were English and Protestant. We were Catholic and French. To a very real degree the church, nonetheless, played a very important role in helping maintain our collective cultural identity as French. So we were French and Catholic. The two were inter-related strongly. That was our identity. In the 20th century, already going back maybe to 1930 or 1940 there were already different kinds of thought that were raised challenging the authority of the church and I think around 1950 that a number of intellectuals and artists got together and wrote a document which contested the authority of the church and they really wanted to emancipate our cultural identity from the church because the church was the dominant, very controlling, very moralistic institution that basically put its nose even into the sex lives of people because it implied that if you are a catholic, you know, the woman at home has to give birth etc etc. And so I have a friend who was the 21st of 21 children and they are all married and they all have kids so when they get together on Christmas day they fill virtually a whole town. That was the Quebec that I grew up in. So it was Christendom. We were cultural Christians because although we went through all that the institution demanded, you know, all the rituals, confirmation, holy communion, very few of us were somehow introduced to discovering Jesus and the intimacy that was possible. So we had all of these multitudes of rules that we had to follow basically. We did them by rote and by obligation rather than by conviction for the most part. And so in the 1960s we had here in Quebec what we called the quiet revolution. In 1960 we were virtually a working class people and some subsistence farmers, a lot of subsistence farmers, and we worked in Englishman industries as the working class people. We were the laborers. There was no way to climb the ladder. We were the working class. We were poor. We had large families. We were all believers. We were all Catholic. We went to church on foot on Sunday morning and we were uneducated. By 1970, 10 years down the road everything at flipped over. We knew in Quebec the quickest process of secularization that any culture has ever experienced. Generally secularization has happened over two or three generations or even four generations in the Protestant world. Even in the European Catholic world in part. Virtually our identity was so part of the Church, but by 1970 we were exactly the contrary. We were urban, we were no longer a rural people, we were urban people. We had one of the lowest birth rates in the world. All of the sudden we had a large number of young people studying in the universities, and, we were secular. We no longer went to church. Actually I remember in 1967 I was still going to mass and by '68 none of my friends were going anymore. Somehow the church just emptied out and from the 80% of people that went to church there are now maybe 3%, maybe 5% in some more spiritual towns but those who come to Catholic churches today do so because of personal faith. They don't come because they are cultural Christians but they have a commitment to Christ in one way or another expressed within the church. So there are certain forms of renewal within the Catholic church here in Quebec. So that is encouraging. But that's what Christendom was and we went completely the other way and since 1970 basically we caught up with Western Europe. We caught up in the hundred years of secularization in Europe. We caught up in 30 or 40 years. We were radical.
YWAM Organic: So is post Christendom a result of people just tired and fed up with a religion that had no personal affect on them anyway or is it people who are still believers, who still have a close relationship with God, they are just fed up with the church? Is there any connection between those two things?
Pierre: I would say that most people did not have the intimacy with Christ. I still remember as a child at several events at mass or religious things really feeling that if somebody had been able to introduce me to Christ and coach me and disciple me in my walk with God that that would have been phenomenal. But nobody was around to do that sort of thing. We just maintained the institutions. You went to church on Sunday because that was expected of you. So it was just basically the obligation, the routine without ever experiencing ultimately what the disciplines and exercises were meant to give us. We never attained, we never knew. So after a while, and we have been doing this for three and a half centuries, so the enthusiasm progressively became embittered in our hearts and we dropped out.
YWAM Organic: I guess the reason I ask this question, in the state's it's been sort of my assumption, and maybe falsely, because our history is not exactly the same. We have a pretty lengthy history of Protestantism so we were freed from the catholic controls...
Pierre: As in English Canada. English Canada was not protestant uniquely as the French Canadians thought because there are just as many Catholics as there are Protestants. But the Protestant community is nonetheless very present and perhaps the primary representation of the anglophone people in Canada.
YWAM Organic; So what we had was and is evangelicalism which has a different set and different kinds of controls. It seems to me, and I could be wrong, that guys like Barna who wrote the book, "Revolution" a few years back are saying church attendance is dropping dramatically, but it's not necessarily an indicator of faith. And so, is post Christendom that as well? Are those two things two different but similar things that are happening in Post-Christendom? You have people who were never really of faith, who are just tired of going to church. But then you have another group of people who really are people of faith, who are not leaving God, they're leaving the church. Is that another shade of post Christendom?
Pierre: Well I would say that I think that the two expressions are correct. I think post Christendom is the idea of leaving something that we're bored to death with and that you no longer understand how it gives meaning to your life. I remember when I was a child going to schools, even going to a catholic school, basically, we would have catechism, we would still go to mass on the last Friday of every month, the whole school. And yet at the same time aside from the religious exercises all of the rest of the content of education was simply secular. We had math. We have grammar and reading and writing and arithmetic and science and history, but none of it was in fact, taught in a way that highlighted how Christianity influenced and spoke into these different spheres. So basically we were raised with two world views simultaneously. We have the religious Christian world view, and this was the worldview of faith and then all the rest of the education was basically the secular view of education. So it was two world views in that one point. Well, how do you juggle the two? And if your personal faith is not nourished and you are not helped and aided to be able to interpret your faith biblically, basically you are stuck and so at one point you pull out because if you see the world is going the other way in science and it seems to have a greater voice, basically it has undermined some people's faith. I think badly interpreted faith, unfounded faith or founded on broad principles. Because science I don't think in any ways should make us insecure or intimidate us about our faith. It's God's creative word and it is there. And so I have encouraged scientists, continue your science, continue studying this world. It's just so extraordinary that you can't at some point come to the conclusion that someone must be behind this. It's just so extraordinary. So continue doing your scientific research. I applaud you.
YWAM Organic: Well, ultimately science has to affirm the existence of God since it was created by God.
Pierre: And that's what I believe. And that's what I mentioned earlier. Perhaps the institutions are secular but that's the institution. We need to know how to articulate our faith within the context of the secular institution. We are invited to the table like anybody else. But it is an even table. Everybody comes in with the quality of his reflection, his thought, his life, the integrity that we bring to it, the listening, the capacity of being able to dialogue. But that's where I find evangelicalism profoundly wanting is in its incapacity to enter into dialogue.
YWAM Organic: The title of this week's seminar at least as I originally saw it was, "Deprogramming and discipling and the north American cities conference". Deprogramming! It almost sounds like we are this cult!
Pierre: Well, let me tell you what I think about de-programming and why I used this expression. I think that Jesus, when we talk about post modernity and postmodern philosophy as being deconstructionist, there is no meta narrative, whether it is religious or scientific or otherwise. None of us has the full picture and no one full picture gives us the whole picture. They are all limited in their expressions. I don't have too many problems with that. That does not in any way undermine my faith in God or Christ as being the creator, the personal living God, valuing life, the life breathing God, the very present spirit of God. That does not deny any of that. But the first person to actually deconstruct is Jesus. Recently I was very struck in reading Matthew chapter 5. I was with a group of students in a seminary. I was giving a course on incarnation over this past winter, in our last course we were reviewing a number of things but I had the class take the Be Attitudes and put them side by side with the Lord's prayer and highlight the similarities. The kingdom of God, the kingdom coming to earth, and then the humbling, the humble, the meek, repenting, the simple in spirit, the un-proud. The similarities were just so strong and I said, This is phenomenal. We have this at the very beginning of the New Testament. These are highlighted. I think it is significant that we would have it at the very beginning of the New Testament. But at the very first he affirms the Kingdom of God coming to Earth. Not us abandoning Earth. I find that significant. But in between those two portions where he makes these mutual affirmations, one is this kind of person that is going to heaven or going to be involved in the Kingdom of God coming to earth and here is how they should pray. This is how you should live your spirituality. Your intimacy with Christ. Now in between, what Jesus says six times he says, "You have heard it said, you have heard that it at one time was said... You have heard it said..., and so much of our faith is just hear say rather than a thought out, lived out struggled with the text and the ideas to grasp them and make them..., very few Christians wrestle with their faith to that degree. Basically we have heard it said and so we just follow, and that's where Post Christendom actually has to happen. When you are just basically following, and when ultimately the foundations of your faith are shaken, well you drop out. Six times Jesus says, "You have heard that it was at one time said..." So it's two sources away, you know? You have heard something from somebody about something that somebody else said, and we're not exactly sure who it is but we have given it gospel truth, authority, and you are living according to those principles. "But I say to you...". So there is deconstruction, there is a deprogramming. And I can honestly say to you with the Urban Cultures Discipleship Training School that we run here in Montreal, I would say that half of our school is deprogramming. We don't say that to students at the beginning of the school but there is a form of deprogramming from the religiosity of our faith to encourage them to rethink their faith. To grasp and to wrestle with their faith. So there is a partial deprogramming. Not that it's cultish necessarily, but a lot of our faith is based upon what we have heard. That's legitimate. But until you have wrestled with it in context of the world in which we live and the questions that secular culture is asking...
YWAM Organic: So would you say that in a similar way that the child who is raised in a Christian home comes to a point in his life where the faith of his parents has to become his own, is Post-Christendom perhaps the symptom of a culture or of a society saying, We want to find our own faith, and not the faith of our parents. Is that a possibility?
Pierre: Well yeah, I think that's a very real possibility. I believe that if our faith is just based on the traditions that we have inherited without us having to work them through personally then at one point it's going to die because it's not being fed. Somehow you are living, you are pretending that you are believing something but you are really living a secular life, your life in the other world and somehow there is an incoherence. Your life out there, you're 9 to 5, your Monday to Saturday is not integrated into your faith that you are proclaiming on Sunday. There has to be an inter-relationship to bring the totality of faith in the whole and to see the kingdom in every aspect of that life. Unless that is worked out and integrated you are just basically following the religious rule and at one point it's going to kill you. I have seen many young people leave churches and leave faith. I have seen some very close and gifted young people who in frustration have gone and said, "I don't want to be part of this anymore. My needs are not being met." And some have known frustrations. There's a lot of gripes out there and a lot of them are very legitimate. But I would say that there are also many and particularly in the last 10 or 15 years that are leaving the institutions that we have somehow deified. We think we are this that and the other thing. I think there is a deification. Our golden cows and calves. But there are so many people who have pulled back, who have not denied their faith.
I believe a lot of the church often creates a lot of dependency of its members on its church, on the church community. I believe that and it attributes itself an authority that I certainly question. I do believe in the body of Christ, I do believe there's only one body, all those who are believers in Christ. I believe the church is broader than just those regular expressions. We need people who are disciples and followers of Christ in the day to day walk. That's not just praying in the morning before they go to work and reading my bible but interpreting their faith in the context of that work, their study, their social lives.
Actually, I would want to say and refer here to a french author who was a journalist with the New York Times of Paris the equivalent, and he was a top journalist for 20 some odd years winning prizes and recognized highly and in the late 1980s he told his paper that he was leaving. They offered him more money but he refused. He said, "Here I am a journalist just running from one country to another just recounting and writing about the symptoms of the changes that are happening deeply in western society today. And in my job I'm just simply called to report on the symptoms of massive changes. I need at this point in my life to withdraw. I need to pull back in order to understand the underlying causes for this transformation." So he pulled back and became an editor with a very important french publisher and basically connected with the primary intellectuals and philosophers and thinkers in the French world, particularly in France. And in that whole process of reflection and discussion etc. he published a book in 2006, "How I've re- became a Christian". He basically looks at the secular world and he highlights six of the values of the secular world. The equal worth of individuals etc. And in his studies and his reflection and his thinking he basically says in his book that all of these values actually all have the Judeo-Christian faith as their root, as its soil, and it could have no other. And he's not the only one who has said that but he affirms it and he says that we cannot be other than Christian. So basically he says that in the secular world we still see the fruit of the Judeo-Christian faith. I think of all the NGOs. I see many young secular couples, their involvement in social issues, community groups, ecology. There are many that are trying to live wholesome lives. I see them struggling and trying to process things. I love them. They give me hope. But this author says that here we have the fruit cut off from its source which is Christ Jesus. And my belief is that evangelicalism has for the most part been so preoccupied by its roots roots roots that we have not really produced the fruit. We have reduced redemption to its simplest form. The salvation of our individual souls to go to some far off heaven for eternity totally disconnected from this world. I think that is a handicapped inadequate gospel. It's not that I don't believe in salvation of my soul but also my body and the culture and my family and the world in which I live and perhaps the artistic world that I'm connected with or the educational world that I'm involved with. All of these worlds have to be redeemed. So there is a lot of reductionism. We have reduced worship to 1/2 hour of singing these tra-la-la songs once or twice a week. We think that this is worship and people think that this is how we do it. But actually the way I work, the way I respect my neighbor, the way I am sensitive to the needs of other people, the way I do my work with other people's needs with the idea of service, and not just to put money in my pocket because it's my job because I have a family to feed, but all areas of stewardship, all areas of work should always be done with the sense of servant-hood with proper stewardship. So if I have that and I seek integrity in what I do I think that integrity speaks of trust, will nurture trust, will nurture relationship. I think that's grace. What I like to say is that in John 1 the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us full of grace and truth and in that text we have the word "grace" that comes out four times. The word "truth" but twice always preceded by grace. So as evangelicals we have already talked about absolute truth. Well, I would like to say that the grace that precedes it is also absolute because it is only in the context of grace that truth can be received. In the context of trust. Otherwise truth in and of itself is cold, it's debilitating.
YWAM Organic; It's a bludgeon. The church now can respond in one of two ways. Some churches will dig in their heels and insist that church attendance is the key to withstanding the social and cultural shifts that are going on. You need to come to the place where the professionals can enlighten you, train you to go out and bring more people to them in order to help them adjust to this dying world as well. That's one way the church has responded. But would you say there is also a shift within the church itself to try and be more relevant? In other words, how should we and how are we as the church responding to this Post-Christendom shift?
Pierre: I'm working on a book right now and it has been the fruit of reflection and some teaching I have done over the last two or three years, four years. Workshops I've given, and the book has to do with incarnation. It is written in French. I don't know if it will ever be translated in English but basically the title is, " Incarnation - Rethinking Redemption". Rethinking the content and the totality of redemption. Redemption is the restoration, the reconciliation in all aspects of relationships that were broken. Our relationship with the invisible God obviously, my relationship with myself, my relationship with my neighbor on a social level, with myself on the psychological, with God's spiritual, and also with the earth, economics, and ecology, because economics and ecology are always interrelated. It's because of greed that we mess up and it's through proper stewardship of the earth that we actually feed ourselves. So it is interrelated. That for me is the totality of redemption. Redemption includes all of those spheres. It's because we have a handicapped gospel, I would say a perverse gospel. I will be that harsh in my wording because it is an unbelievable gospel. I believe that the gospel we're proclaiming is not interesting and our (christian) culture is not attractive to the western world where life is actually quite free and it's not all sinful. There's actually a lot of healthy and healthful things out there. Actually to make a point, whenever I meet groups, "In your communities when you go to a farmers market what kinds of organizations do you see around and involved with ecology?" And they say, " Well, Buddhist, New age, and what ever". And which are the communities that seem to be more concerned about the way we care for the land? Well, basically these same communities. And it just shows me that we have lost a creation theology. Without a creation theology the whole notion of redemption is nonsense. When you consider the first three commandments that God gave man in Genesis 1 and 2, to fill the earth and multiply and exercise stewardship, to govern over the earth in light of who he is. So we are the image of God in his likeness in our being but also in our task and our doing. The two are interrelated. So generally our governance of the earth should be in the light of who he is and how he has governed and under his government life proliferated. How come under our governance we have brought death to life and continue to do that? That is tragic! So creation theology, which actually the new testament and Paul in particular gives to us in Romans 8 when he says that all of creation is anticipating the revelation of the sons of God, the redeemed who in the image of God will finally learn and know how to ultimately steward who we are because this has been a tough go for us as the creation, as the earth under our care, under our dis-care. So the first three commandments, this is the initial one and then in Genesis 2, take care of the earth. Get your hands dirty. Play around with the earth. Work in the garden. Be a Gardner... Basically it was an invitation to discover the world. Learn to differentiate. It's a scientific method. The first task of human beings after creation was to look around and see. So there is awe and a profound sense of responsibility. I have to care for this? I don't even know this world. etc etc
So basically the first three commandments have to do with how we care for the world. That's pretty strong. And somehow we have lost total sight of that and it seems to me that if we had a creation theology we should be at the forefront of the back to the land movement, organic farming, proper eating. But we are obese. I think that this is so tragic. We should have been at the forefront and even now today it is still all these other groups that actually are more in line spiritually with God's ultimate command then we are ourselves. That doesn't undermine the fact that Christ is still Christ. I'm not compromising the fact that Jesus is the Christ and there is no other Christ and yet at the same time we are all image bearers of God. All human beings are image bearers of God and some of them have still maintained that image of the God aspect where they care for the world. They realize that they are part of the created order. We were created on the sixth day. The same day that God created the animals. We are part of this creation and the one thing that differentiates us is that we were created in God's image. It's phenomenal.
YWAM Organic: Someone once said that all truth is God's truth regardless of where it comes from. So not everything about Buddhism is wrong but we will demonized every teaching from it just because it came from a Buddhist text rather than a Christian text. Today, in modern society how do we as the church who are experiencing this Post-Christendom phenomenon, how do we reach our neighbor next door?
Pierre: The whole notion of God becoming man and living amongst us, the whole notion of mission, we do have going into all the world and you'll be my witnesses, but how we do that? The only way and the only model ever given to us was Jesus first of all in prayer in John 17, vs 18, praying, "Father, as you sent me so I sent them into the world." And then in chapter 20 and verse 21 he actually commissioned them. So he goes from prayer, then he commissions them, "As the father sent me so I send you out into the world." And then what I love particularly is first John chapter 4 and the second part of 17 where John writes "As he is, so are we in the world." I just love that. That is the actual confirmation that the process of going into the world. So the world is the world. The world is secular. Well, it's a secular world but it's still my world. The parable of the weeds and and the wheat in Matthew 13 is a strong one. Basically what I see is the church wanting to pull away from the world and escape the world yet the field still ultimately belongs to the master. And Jesus says to occupy it until he comes. Continue to be rooted in the world. You are the legitimate people that should be there rooted in this world. Don't let your space be taken over, occupied by others. Occupy your proper space in a proper respectful way.
YWAM Organic: Does that not conflict with the notion that you are to be in the world but not of the world?
Pierre: John 17, we are to be in the world but not of the world. But how are we not to be of the world? Because there is a difference. We are different from the world because his kingdom is not of this world. So our kingdom is not of this world. So we look to Christ. So spiritually our reference is Christ. Is God. We are not of the world in the sense that in that passage it says that we have received his word. So our source of information, that which we nourish and feed our morale, spiritual, ethical, and every other perspective on how we are to live in this world, we draw it from scripture. So spiritually and morally our source is Christ and his word. That's how we are separate from the world while we are physically involved practically in every aspect of life on earth. So we are to be in the world, dancing with the world, dancing with the world closely, intimately, involved with the world because that's what Jesus did. And because Jesus's kingdom is not of this world and because we follow the word of God, in his dancing he stepped on toes and he did not apologize for it in the process. In certain cases he taught people how to dance properly. So he was involved there practically discipling out there. But we [in contrast] want to create a homogeneous community where everybody dances the exact same way, talks the exact same way and we are uncomfortable when anybody dances a little differently from us. I think that's tragic.
YWAM Organic: Many say, " Well yeah, I'm involved in the world. I give money to the church and the church is doing all kinds of things with the homeless and the poor. They're absolutely right. But the individual is not actually involved. They give the money and someone else does the work.
Pierre: I think that is inadequate. That is simply abdicating and not taking on. Somehow we have to grapple and work with things. I don't know how it is in the states and I don't want to put any judgment there. But I know that in Quebec in the secular world I see all of the churches that have tried to create different kinds of organizations. There are some organizations trying to do some great stuff. For incarnation, several principles that have been significant for me is that the first principle of incarnation we find in Philippians 2 where it says that he did not seek equality with God as something to be grasped. But he humbled himself and became a man. Nobody knew that God lived on the block. So the first principle of incarnation is that you go into the world leaving your own religious culture behind. Many evangelicals are incapable of doing this. We always bring our culture with us. We even hide behind our culture. We want people to come into our culture or we're not going to connect with them because we don't want to compromise and we're afraid for the most part. So the first principle is to leave our own religious culture behind because that's what Jesus did. He left his Glory. Again, in John 17, "Father, give me back the Glory that was my before the foundation of the earth that I ultimately left up there when I became a man. So I left my religious culture, all my Glory, all my wings, and I became simply a man of my times. And my unique identity while I was a man was actually that I was known as the son of Joseph and Mary and the brother of Juda and Simon and James. I was known by the family that I was a part of and I was known by my job as a carpenter. So that was the secular Jesus. Jesus was a secular person. Jesus was known in this community primarily because of his family ties and his occupation. That's secular. Nothing to do with his religious upbringing. None of it was there. And that's for 30 years, he was totally comfortable within his human body. And he was just as intimate with the father during those 30 years, and he was just as full of the Holy Spirit in those 30 years. And so the second principle is discretion. Be discreet. God and Jesus were always discreet. Even when he had his ministry he said, "Don't tell anybody. Don't give me away." Do we know how to be discreet, quiet, to build relationships? And when it's appropriate to help somebody, to share our faith, but to learn to wait for when the moment is appropriate in the context of grace which cultivates relationships of trust, which gives the opportunity. So maybe we speak less but when we speak it is in the context of trust. So the truth penetrates so much more deeply and it is so much more easily received. I think we have a lot more learning to do about what it is to be discreet. A third principle is being rooted in this world. Jesus was rooted in this world. We just talked about that. A Fourth Principal is intermingling our roots with the roots of the world as we have in that parable of the wheat and the weeds. That's how the enemy basically ensured himself a permanent place of influence was in putting seed where nobody could see them and it grew and intermingled its roots in with the roots of the wheat and you could not pull out the one without pulling out the other. Well, we need to learn to be comfortable in that. We feel that it is compromise. But when you grab a clump of weeds someplace and there are different plants, for us it's just a mass of weeds and we don't know what's connected to what, but every root knows to which plant it is connected and which fruit it wants to produce. Even if it's a dandy lion. It knows its identity and it is clear. So we intermingle our roots with the roots of this world and still maintain our personal moral and spiritual integrity. That's what it is to be in the world and not of it. Jesus showed us that example. That's what he modeled for us. Let's be mature. Let's be grown up. Let's be part of the world. We are called to exercise stewardship in this world and we have to do it with all of humanity. Not just with the church but all of humanity. As far as social engagement in the world, I see a lot of church movements doing things. I see secular movements doing things. At least in my context I have generally seen secular, non Christian organizations doing things often much better then we do as the church. They are there because they really care. We often do it because we are Christians or because we want to evangelize. We have an ulterior motive, a hidden agenda. Actually in a church panel several years ago somebody was mentioning on the panel that she first began doing social work because it was an occasion to share the gospel. I said, "The moment you actually help somebody in a pretense of love ultimately with an ulterior motive, then it is no longer you loving your neighbor. People see us coming from miles away. They can't handle it, they can't stomach it anymore. They smell us from miles away. But the secular organizations and community organizations really work because they really care. They're concerned about housing issues, their concern about AIDS, they're concerned about their kids in this particular neighborhood. They are left to themselves and how can we meet their needs? They are single moms. And they work out of personal motivation. Often they are better researched, they're more intimately connected. We come from the outside and we stay on the outside and the periphery because we don't want to intermingle. We just want to do the necessary and hopefully share the gospel and hopefully bring back two or three with us to our church community. We're actually going contrary to what Jesus said. Actually, come out of the world and join us, and sit on our church benches and Jesus is someday going to come back so there's really nothing to do out there except sporadic evangelism time and again. Basically we're just waiting for Jesus to show up. I just think that is so lame. And it's escapist.
YWAM Organic: Pierre, thanks for talking with us.
Timothy Svoboda is currently the International Urban missions Director for Youth With A Mission and also serves as the City Coordinator for YWAM San Francisco and the Bay Area. Tim, his wife and children have served in India from 1983 to 2007. Tim was the National Director for YWAM India, the South Asia Urban Ministry Coordinator and the Chennai City Coordinator. Tim and his family currently live in San Francisco giving leadership to the ministry of YWAM there and around the world in cities.
YWAM Organic: What is Post-Christendom as you understand it?
Tim: Post-Christendom to me is an era in which we have entered into where Christians are no longer the majority of the population and we are living more in a pluralistic world. So especially with the large immigration wave that's happened between 1980 to the present, so you have a much larger Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim mix that is coming to us especially in North America and Europe. So we're no longer the majority.
YWAM Organic: As an urban minister do you see this as a new thing?
Tim: I think it's increasing more and more right now. Obviously it's something that's been going on for a long time but especially since the cultural revolution since the 1960s there has been a steady decline in Christianity. Evangelicals are going down more and more. Well, I should take that back. The mainline church is going down more and more. Evangelicals have been fairly stagnant and decreasing in some places. David Olsson who wrote the book "The American Church in crisis" says the only place where the church is growing is in Hawaii. Every other state of the United States it is in decline. I don't know why Hawaii is, he didn't give any reasons why. But now by growing it is just barely growing. It is keeping pace with the population but it is not great growth that is taking place. He did a survey on how many people attend church on any given Sunday and I believe he took something like six Sundays in a year and then analyzed the data. He says it's about 17% of Americans attends church on Sunday morning.
YWAM Organic: What effect does the Post-Christendom phenomenon have on the way you reach and meet the needs of the community your trying to reach?
Tim: I think in a post Christian world the dilemma that we face is that the recipients of the gospel when we preach, if we do open-air, or if we were to do open air evangelism or in your face aggressive evangelism, it is not well received any more. The Christian message has become minimized and the Christian message has been scoffed at, laughed at, rejected, or it is not really even known anymore in society. So coming on with a strong message to them doesn't really makes sense to people. So the way that we go about sharing the gospel has to be much more through a friendship evangelism. Or through relationships. And having discourse and dialog with people in such a way that it is civil without trying to win an argument. It's more about building relationships whether you actually bring in the gospel or try to win an argument about the gospel first and foremost it's about having genuine authentic caring civil relationships with somebody else and then as the question comes in about God it is communicated in an atmosphere of friendship and relationship.
YWAM Organic: What is friendship evangelism?
Tim: When we talk about friendship evangelism we're not talking about short term relationships. We're talking about presence, we're talking about place. We are talking about living amongst people. It's really talking about the incarnation and a theology of place not just a theology of going. The theology of going is a very short term mentality and God uses it where we may go on an outreach and we may encounter people and are able to share the gospel with them. But a theology of place is where we really live in the neighborhood, we become a part of the neighborhood. And the way I see becoming involved is by being in the confines of a neighborhood and getting involved in the local activities of a neighborhood. Maybe sitting on the neighborhood association. Or maybe attending the local police station meetings that happen every month. Or going to the local jazz concerts in my neighborhood or being on the park and recreation board. And as I am mixing and rubbing shoulders with the majority of people who are non Christians in my neighborhood they begin to get to know me, I begin to get to know them, and as we build friendships and relationships with one another they begin to ask questions, I find open doors in opportunities to pray for them, find out what their problems are, enter into their world, minister to them and doors begin to open up. So friendship evangelism to me is more about a presence. The way I see things going more and more especially in city environments, neighborhoods are really coming back to life in many of our cities today, especially were I live in San Francisco. It's the city of neighborhoods. And so the opportunity's are tremendous. Just living in a neighborhood and then getting involved in the local stop that is going on.
YWAM Organic: So when we talk about Post-Christendom and the fact that people are leaving the church, the church would say, "Well, we do that, we're friends with people. We're reaching our neighborhoods. But when you talk about Post-Christendom and the fact that people are leaving the church, then what is it that they're leaving? What is it about the church that people are leaving if the church, in fact, is doing what some of them say they are?
Tim: Well, the church in many ways, just like YWAM, the church has become a club. And so you have to kind of join it in order to get on the inside. I think what we have to do as YWAM and as the church is to think about how we can get outside of the church, how can we get outside of YWAM? It's not about bringing people into YWAM or the church, it's about taking the church and bringing it into the neighborhoods. It's about how we bring the kingdom of God not to ourselves but out into the neighborhoods around us. How we take what God has given us and not keep it inside the four walls whether it's the church or youth with a mission, but how we take this and bring it out into the neighborhoods and to the non-Christians among us and making it contextual and relevant and palatable to how they understand things so that they don't see us as being some weird group that's over here. And I think that's what's happened. The church might have been in the neighborhood but the neighborhoods were not inside the church. YWAM might be inside the city but the city is not inside YWAM. And it's because we've become isolated and greenhouses or communities and life revolves inside of our buildings rather than going out into the neighborhoods around us.
YWAM Organic: How do we build those relationships then, and in a way the that does not suggest a hidden agenda?
Tim: I think the way that we really build genuine relationships with people is by living in a place long enough that we really care about the place. We live in a place long enough that we are really known in the place by the other people and we become vulnerable and we are not there just with our hidden agendas. But we do have a theology of personal salvation, but we also have the theology about place. And that theology of place makes us to really care about the people that live there and the place where we are living. I fortunately live in a place that is a very inner city blighted neighborhood with a lot of problems in it. And so there are a lot of things that are easy for me to get involved in and to care about because we want to make our neighborhood a better place. So I think it is just being there long enough and having those genuine friendships with people without having the hidden agenda. But obviously, because we're Christians, we are involved. In India one of my friends ran a restaurant and he was a Christian. His concern was that he wanted to serve good food. Oh, and by the way, I'm also a Christian. That gave him a lot of opportunities to get in conversations about reality, about the purpose of life, about who God is, but he served good food. A lot of people ate his good food but could care less about what he believed in. That didn't mean that he cared less about them. He still served good food and still developed genuine friendships with them.
YWAM Organic: It has to do with the intention doesn't it? Whatever we do we do with intention. I'm friends with my neighbors because I genuinely care about them and I want with intention to use my relationship to be able in an appropriate way to share the love of God. There is a difference between that, doing something with intention and doing something with an agenda.
Tim: I think my wife is a great example of that in my neighborhood with the women, whether they are from a Muslim background or Hindu background. She just loves them and she wants to be involved with their lives. A lot of them are having problems with raising their kids or getting them on a proper diet. They are eating junk food and so she is involved with helping to plan their diets or get better food into the house. Or maybe they are dealing with issues of domestic violence with their husbands. So she's there to listen to them and care for them. A lot of them are people that are coming in from foreign countries and America is scary to them. Because we lived overseas for 25 years, we are a little bi-cultural. And so my wife is able to help them understand. You know, how do you go to the grocery store? How do you cross the street? How do you do the simple things in life that we all take for granted? My wife just loves connecting with people and serving them and helping them. She just builds genuine friendships. Out of that questions start arising. And she's curious about their religion. So she will ask them, not in judgment always what they believe, but she will just ask questions because she is still learning herself. What do Muslims believe? And what do Hindus believe? And how do you pray? And so she just asks out of curiosity and it creates a civil dialogue about our different beliefs and we leave it at that as a dialogue. It turns into all sorts of very interesting relationships.
YWAM Organic: I guess that is one of the differences because what your wife does, she does with a genuine-ness. But when it is agenda driven, I find, I haven't seen it as much lately but I found that there would be a cut off point. I have heard people say in the past, that they realized this person were never going to reconsider their opinion about God and so we would just have to cut off the relationship because there was no point in it anymore.
Tim: We have had people, we have the drop in center in the tenderloin district. We just open the doors. As long as you are not packing a gun or selling drugs you are welcome. Our agenda is to have a safe environment, a place where people can come and relax, get off the streets, and we are there to help provide services in whatever way we can. We have had people coming in for, one guy I can think of has been coming in for two years. We have shared with him, we have talked with him about the meaning of life and we have talks to him about God. And he just says, no, I'm not interested. But he became one of our close friends. He eats with us, helps us out with stuff, he loves what we're doing, providing a safe environment for people, but he never fit into our agenda and it didn't bother us and he was fine and he just kind of kept hanging around and that just went on for two years. He came over to us a few months ago and, not because of us but because of someone else, he said, "I became a Christian!" I said, "WHAT!?" He said, "I was at a church the other night and all of the sudden it just made sense to me. Everything you guys have been saying, everything everybody else had been saying, and I just decided to follow Jesus." And I said, " Oh, wonderful. You've been hanging out here, continue to hang out". And so we just do that in our neighborhood.
YWAM Organic: It takes a lot of pressure off doesn't it?
Tim: It takes a lot of pressure off but you know it's not something that people always want to fund because the way things are looked at is, "What are you producing?"
YWAM Organic: As one who has been in missions long-term, you rely heavily on churches to support you. How do we bridge the gap between Church, a lot of churches are getting this Post-Christendom thing. A lot of them are agreeing with it. I have talked with pastors who actually feel trapped by their churches because they want to change the model of church but they don't have a model to change it to and they're trying to start with the model they have which is a flawed one. So one of the main issues they have is this whole funding thing because they have to produce results. Otherwise no one is going to pay their salary. How do you resolve that inevitable tension between doing what you do and the growing conviction that we have about the church becoming less and less relevant? And how do we maintain the relationships with the church that is funding you? If we throw out all the churches, we wipe out our own paychecks.
Tim: I think we have to be really good at loving people. Look at Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa was very authentic, genuine in loving the people that came to her and the people that she went to. Because her love was so authentic there were many people that wanted to fund Mother Teresa, to be Mother Teresa, to be Jesus to those that just needed to have that presence and that witness. Now, she provided services, she provided homes. But most of her ministry was just about caring for people. Her home for the dying and destitute is a home in Calcutta where it's just where people go to die with dignity. So I just think we need to be really good at that and be a presence. But we also have to think about how do we, what is it that we are doing to provide for people that really demonstrates that in a meaningful way? And it will look different in every type of neighborhood or group of people that we are involved with. I have a friend, a pastor friend that lives in a very difficult neighborhood, a very postmodern, post Christian, upper class neighborhood and he is just using a game night in the basement of his church through who meetup.com and people are coming over to play games from 8:00 PM to 2:00 in the mornings in the basement of his church. And these are people who would never set foot inside of a church. He does it because he loves board games and also he loves people and it's a way for him to play board games with people and then get involved with their lives. He now is deeply involved in the neighborhood. He has been asked to be a marriage counselor by many of the people in the neighborhood and some of them are not necessarily in straight relationships. So he is deeply involved and he is accepted by the neighborhood and by the community because he cares, he loves, and he's available. Yet he is known as a pastor. Those people are not necessarily coming to his church yet. He is the only pastor that I know that is reaching into the gay community effectively. And the gay community accepts him, totally! I think the problem is that the post Christian world sees Christians as weirdos. The only way for us to address that issue and overcome it is for us to be their friends and showing up at their events and getting involved with what they are doing.
YWAM Organic: Do you mean like showing up at Gay pride march?
Tim: I do mean things like that. Now, we cannot compromise... I have seen rallies in my city whether it is proposition 8 or its pro life or it's the guy issue, and the Christians come out with their signs, Turn or burn or Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve and all these types of things that go on, and it becomes a culture war between the two. Yes, we may have different beliefs, but I don't think that's the way to express it. I don't think that's the venue for it either. So I just think we have to get more involved and find ways of having a civil dialogue with one another. As an evangelical I go to the interfaith meetings in my city. And so I sit at the tables with people from the Unitarian Universalist or from the spiritualist churches or from Buddhist backgrounds or from the liberal churches in the city and sometimes they treat me very cordially but they are a little afraid that I am a weirdo. My task in that is to just sit and be their friend and have civil dialogue with them, not compromise on my beliefs, but to have civil dialogue with them. I recently went on a prayer walk in our city which was called, The Good Friday Stations of the Cross, done mainly by the mainline liberal Church of San Francisco. And I remember when I went one of the organizers said to me, asked me where I was from and when he found out where I was from he said, "Why did you come here? You are going to get roasted alive! You believe differently than we do!" And I said, "Of course I do! But should that be something that we argue about? I came out here to pray with you. It's Good Friday." He looked at me and said, "Well, thank you very much for reaching out to us." I got a very kind e-mail from him later on saying, "Thank you for being cordial, thank you for being friendly. I would like to come over and see you some time." Now, I am not going to compromise on what I believe. But it is a discussion that we can have together.
Dave Skene is the indigenous and International Coordinator at Global Youth Network British Columbia, Canada. Inspired by the story of Jesus and stories of his friends from around the world, his passion for social justice education and action has grown to suit a wide range of projects. With its growth, Global Youth Network has grown into a diverse, multi-faith, educational and collaborative organization that works in solidarity with people from all different walks of life.
YWAM Organic: Part of Post-Christendom involves the phenomenon where people are leaving church for one reason or another. The challenge for you, I assume, is to find a way to make Christianity relevant. How do you do that?
Dave: I guess that's the hard question because I'm not working so much with Christians but with non Christians. So I am not trying to make people who have had experience with the church relevant as much as I am trying to communicate to people who have not had an experience or very minimal experience with the church.
YWAM Organic: But in a sense, the same rules apply because the reason they don't go to church is because they have never seen anything in the church that seems relevant to them.
Dave: I would say that probably the biggest thing we do related to trying to create that relevance is to put people in contact with Christians that are actually doing something a little bit different than church. So we take university students to a YWAM base in Brazil where we have worked for around 12 years. They experience Christian community on a YWAM base but they also see Christians who are engaged in their world with the issues of the world, with the social justice issue, with children. They also see Christianity lived out in a Brazilian context with prayer, where people are praying out loud all around you and that kind of stuff. So it's not something that is done just on Sunday. They see it experienced every day and then they see how that experience than relates to life in the community, life in the city, life all around them. So it becomes very practical. We took a student down to Brazil who had no connection with the church, no real connection with dates and he had a powerful experience just seeing Christianity lived out in Brazil. He went into the city of Manaus and got one YWAM tattooed on his shoulder. He came from a fairly affluent home, and so he had money and he put YWAM into his inheritance because of this profound impact. But that impact wasn't like anyone preaching to him, it wasn't going to the church. It was basically seeing Christians living their life in front of him. And so that was the impact.
YWAM Organic: What possesses a non-believing college student to want to go with a Christian organization anywhere? They can go to Brazil any number of ways.
Dave: I think what most people have kind of said about why they want to travel with us, I think the main thing that has been consistently said is because you are Christian, we know it is safe to travel with you. The other thing is that I find on campus that everyone is asking questions. For a lot of people they say this is their opportunity to ask those questions and go a little deeper to try to find what my spirituality is. I think from the post secular Idea, a lot of these university students understand that religion is around them but they don't know how to pick a religion, how do you go about deciding what religion you are? Because they have grown up without any connection to spirituality. And so they have made a choice to come because it gives them the opportunity to dialogue about faith. We have clearly said we are a Christian organization so that dialogue can continue to be there. So it is people really trying to figure things out most of the time. They are trying to figure out the world, they are trying to figure out their place in the world, they are trying to figure out how to be more actively involved socially with justice issues, and they are still trying to figure out their faith. So all of those things I think kind of bring people into contact with us.
YWAM Organic: What is this sudden interest in getting involved with causes? I mean, the church has been doing this for hundreds of years and no one has given them any credit for that despite, as Jeff pointed out, almost all the institutions we take for granted today, the reason the common man is educated to read and write, all of that stems from churches. What is this sudden issue with causes that the rest of the world is involving themselves with but they don't want to do it with the church?
Dave: I think there are multiple reasons. I just read an article recently that said that basically because we cannot engage locally in politics, especially in North America, we are removed from our own political situation, people don't want to vote because they don't like the options. There are no other options. But people still want to be involved in society. You take the lack of participation locally out of the picture and the awareness of what is happening with justice around the world, then more and more people, what this person was saying was that people want to engage in things that they can change. So, if they can't change it here because they can't engage their politicians or whatever, they will go to where they can create change. Of course, just the information is there for them to go. I think the other thing to is that in North America people feel guilty for what is happening in other places. There is that kind of feeling that if I could go and build a house or that kind of thing for somebody, I alleviate my guilt. So it is not necessarily always out of compassion. And then for some people we have talked to, it's almost like a rite of passage. This is what you do when you are in the university. You go and do something good for somebody. So there are a number of different reasons. And also I think one of the biggest reasons is because the international community, international development, relief work has become such a huge industry that more and more people are interested in it as a profession. So they are really checking it out as an industry the same as somebody will check out some other profession. They are wanting to connect to see if this is the industry that they want to get into. The industry pays quite well. If you are working for some of the larger organizations...
YWAM Organic: How do you bridge the gap between the church and ministering to people who don't go to church or who don't want to go to church?
Dave: One of the main things that we do, we're not saying to go back to church. Most of the time we are just making introductions to what Christianity is. So it's not really that detailed. But what we have tried to do is, like with a fairly large organization we have tried to keep it relational like YWAM. And within that we try to provide community. So those people who feel like they have had a significant experience and want to go on, we have tried to create pockets of community for them to travel on. Some of that is done within our own organization at Global Youth Network. Some of that is done with other YWAM locations. So we had a girl who did our program and then went on to take teams out and lead. But she was interested in spirituality. She was not really interested in Christianity. Anyway, through her program she ended up coming to Montreal. We connected her with YWAM Montreal because she didn't know anybody in Montreal. And so YWAM Montreal became her community. Eventually, through her connections with Montreal she started going to church and now she is a committed Christian. She married another guy who kind of found God, the reality of God as a catholic on one of our trips. He began to see that God was not just this religious thing but there was something personal about it then he made a commitment. Those two got together, got married, had kids. They go to the catholic church and they go to kind of an alternative evangelical church.
YWAM Organic; So is the post Christendom phenomenon something that is even on your radar as you are reaching people?
Dave: With the students on a campus level nobody is talking about it. That is not a part of the dialog. So they're not saying that they are post Christian or that they are secular. It's just not in their vocabulary. So for myself I have not really invested in trying to understand that philosophical idea. But it is different from 30 years ago when I became a Christian and what was happening in the church and the acceptance of Christianity and all that kind of stuff. I see it quite a bit different then it is now. It's not necessarily that people are turned off from the church. They are turned off with the image of the church that the media has presented to them by and large. But not from their experience with the church. And the other thing that I find very interesting is that most people are not turned off with Jesus. Their experience is negative about the institution of the church but their understanding of Jesus is still very positive. They might not know anything about Jesus but they know that Jesus was a good guy. And so you can't go wrong talking about Jesus because there is still some attraction to Jesus as long as it is not connected with the institution.
YWAM Organic: So there is an intuitive understanding that God and Jesus cannot be often who the church has presented them as being?
Dave: And so where I see the difference is when we have Christians to join our program. Usually they are Christians who have left the church. They are often more upset than those who don't have a connection. They are upset at the church and they are mad at Jesus. They don't necessarily say it that way but they connect those two things together of course and so they are actually harder to communicate with. But the cool thing about them is that they get the conversation going. The atheists who came out of the church, they just want to talk about God. Why they don't believe in God. And so if we have a couple of atheists, the conversation is always about God. It's better than having Christians on a team.
YWAM Organic: And perhaps that's more when the post Christian thing kicks in because they are wrestling through what they have been told about God and how that conflicts with their intuitive knowledge of who God can and can't be. The downside, often is, that the guy leaving the church is often inoculated against Christianity.
Dave: I think language, in this whole process as we talk about postmodern or
post Christians and all the posts, but just engaging in society, I think language is a huge part of how we communicate. In YWAM one of the problems I have is the language because we continue to talk in a language that even I don't understand but everybody thinks I understand. "Apostolic what ever" what does that even mean? Everybody has a different idea but we communicate like everybody understands. And then we take that language out into the street and expect everybody to understand what we are saying. I think what we have to do as Christians is find the language, if I am a missionary, I go to a tribe who speaks the different language, I have to learn that language, and then I have to find out how to take the gospel into that language. What we do is that we take bible language and we speak this language and we take it out into the street and expect people to understand what we are saying. But it doesn't translate. Probably the biggest thing for me as I have engaged more with non Christian students on the campus is to really wrestle through what it means, what does sin mean? How do they understand that word? How do I understand that word? Or how do I use words differently than just saying sin?
YWAM Organic: You are talking about contextualization. That has been controversial for a while. But I agree, language is a huge part of it. We have a mindset and we think everybody understands the language we are using. There is a YWAM language and then there is a Christian language. And those two languages are quite often mixed together. And then we take that second language and introduce it into a third culture.
Dave: And then we are not even sure what it all means. And yet we are using it to communicate with other people. And I think, I would say that is the most challenging aspect of engagement with the non Christian world in our own neighborhoods is how, because we do not contextualize because we think they are like us. We don't think we have traveled to another culture or language group so they must understand what we are saying. But our language is dated. We're not keeping up to date. And you see it through the communication through our own leadership, this language that comes down to us and we think, wow, I don't understand that.
YWAM Organic: I wonder if that's part of the reason for the move out of churches. In the United States they say that out of the population of people who actually go to church, far less actually live a life style that is in keeping with a clear understanding of Christianity. Only a very small percentage of church goers in the US actually live a lifestyle that could reasonably be called a Christian lifestyle. There is something about the language involved with that. How can that be? People are either not understanding or they are choosing to not live a life style. They are going to church as a fire insurance policy.
Dave: Or because of language we have established certain priorities or because of some people's understanding of language, we have established certain priorities which do not necessarily relate to my life. I think of what was said last night, it doesn't relate to the other 50 hours of life that I have. So we create this dualism, this separation. This is spiritual, this is not spiritual. And then eventually we begin to say that if it doesn't relate to the majority of my life why am I even doing this? That's a big thing with justice issues. People have information, they have awareness, they know these things are happening, whatever it is, whether it is the sex industry or slavery or all that stuff. They see what's happening but there is no way of communicating, or the church has limited resources because of language to communicate how to engage in those problems. And I still think that in evangelicalism we are afraid. Even in YWAM I have heard it said that social justice is a good thing but we have to be careful because we don't want to have what happened to the salvation army happen to us where we become secularized. I think you cannot decide things simply because you are afraid. You can be cautious and therefore communicate cautiously. But you can't do it because you are afraid. Fear should not prevent you from moving in those directions. And because we are informed, people want to do things about the things we are informed about. Compassion is not something you just feel. True compassion moves us two response. We have to respond and if we can't respond we shut down our compassion because we cannot deal with the reality that we cannot respond. Giving money is not response enough for true compassion.
YWAM Organic: What is your understanding of post-Christendom and how does it relate to what you're doing?
Dave: I guess simply, post Christendom is made up of Christians who are tired of playing the religious game. They want something more to their lives and I think the language and opportunity that is provided is not enough for them. I think they are looking for community and ways of expressing their faith in the real world. When the opportunity isn't there for them then they will start searching for something else or stop searching altogether. Most of my experience with people is that they are just tired of the game.
YWAM Organic: Some people will say that post Christendom is a movement that has been going on for maybe 100 or so years. That it is about people leaving the catholic or high Anglican liturgy and institution. I think of it as Christians leaving the protestant, contemporary Christian music singing cafe style church as well. In fact all of them are being left. Because very often seem to be nothing more than a re-packaged tradition that by and large becomes meaningless to people. So they are either leaving the church altogether and leaving God, or they are simply leaving the church but not God at all.
Dave: I did not grow up in the church so I did not really have the church background. It was sort of a mix of catholic and Protestant. So we did go to church every once and a while and I was familiar with that but I didn't really know that much about it. When I became a Christian I did it in the YWAM Dilaram houses. For many church just became community. So I was just filling out an application for something and the question was for an evangelical. So the question was where I was at in relationship to church. So I just said that I was not bitter or angry with the church as an institution. But it has never been relevant to me because my experience has been community, real community. Small groups of people. So that has always been my reality. So that is church. I've always been connected in some way to a community outside the church, outside the institution of the church. In reality what we would call the church because we are encouraging each other, we are accountable to each other, we are learning from each other, we are discovering things together about God ourselves and faith. So to me that has always been church. I have never really been connected to the institution. Therefore, it has never been an issue for me.
YWAM Organic: Thanks Dave, for talking with us.