Monday, April 26, 2010

And Looking to the Future...

My final (I think) description of how the characteristics of American culture affect American evangelicalism.

American culture characteristically sets the near future as the focus of thinking and effort. Individuals choose their actions, and their actions today are important because of how they will affect that individual and his or her environment in the foreseeable future. If the goal of action is focused on the future event of glorification and new creation, this view can be readily incorporated with the Christian mindset of sacrifice and suffering that accepts them as worthwhile in light of the future glory that will result (Rom. 8:18). On the negative side, future-orientation makes it easy to forget to be grateful for God's past and present blessings. American Christians face the danger of living for an imagined future and neglecting the treasures and opportunities of the present.

A future-oriented society values things that are new and change that anticipates the needs of the future. This allows changes for the better to occur more easily and quickly than in past-oriented cultures. Conversion to Christ can occur much more smoothly, without the same level of struggle against the patterns of previous generations. If the conversion shows evidence of changing the near future for the better, than the patterns of the past can quickly be tossed aside. If one generation of the American church exhibits faulty thinking, the next generation is ripe for a message of change within the highly-self-critical, continually-contextualizing mindset of evangelicalism. While some Christian movements are barely catching up with one wave of trends, other voices are calling for a new barrage of changes to keep with the fast-moving culture around (and within) the church. This does not bring all good changes, however: some valuable and useful practices are also brushed aside in the forward press for new forms of contextualization.

One corollary of future-oriented thinking is a glorification of youth. “Reaching the next generation” and touching the lives of youth “because they are our future” are commonly used phrases within the American church. Leaders are frequently favored because of their youth and energy - sometimes so much that the more important qualities of proven Christian character and wisdom are examined less rigorously. Christian organizations readily accept the mindset that, if they are to continue to thrive, they must cater to the desires of a youthful target audience or constituency. Thus members of the church who have lived long and faithful lives of Christian service may be marginalized or forgotten because of the cultural perception that they have outlived their usefulness and have little value for the future. In the rush to rescue the “orphans” and build them into future leaders, the “widows" may be neglected (James 1:27), even though this evaluation of age and worth is not warranted by a biblical theology of the church.

1 comment:

Abby said...

What's the solution? You mention the glorification of the youth. I connect that with the current trend of using youth group to mostly entertain our youth instead of teaching and discipling them. Do you have any suggestions as to how to create an atmosphere of discipleship in youth group-type gatherings?