Monday, May 07, 2018

The American Church: Embarrassed by God's Presence

Cottonwood tree in my backyard

For anyone following this, it's old news: the American Church is, for the most part, secularized. We have been captured and colonized. (On how to decolonize see my chapter "The Language of the Presence-Driven Church" in Leading the Presence-Driven Church.)

Lee Strobel, via theologian Roger Olson, agrees. One of Strobel's interviews in The Case for Miracles is with Olson. Olson says,

"American religion in general has become secularized. That is, a lot of churches don’t really believe that God intervenes or guides, except through what we might call human wisdom and reason.

... “My point is that American evangelical Christianity has accommodated to modernity’s rationalism and naturalism,” he said. “The truth is, they don’t really expect God to do anything except in their interior spiritual lives. They pay lip service to the supernatural, whereas the Bible itself is saturated with it.” (Strobel, The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural, p. 218) 

In Western Christianity, secularity prevails. Olson states:

“Years ago, I noticed that churches were tending not to think biblically or theologically about the way they ran their operations. Decisions seemed secular to me, as if they were being made in the boardroom of a corporation. They’d ask, ‘Will this fit into our budget?’ regardless of any faith that more funding could come in. They wanted predictability." 

So much for the Holy Spirit, who is unpredictable, non-programmable, uncontrollable, and as unsafe as C.S. Lewis's Aslan!

Strobel mentions an article co-written by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon in 1986, "Embarrassed By God's Presence." Strobel writes:

After nearly three pages of largely gentlemanly prose, [Hauerwas and Willimon] were blunt in their bottom-line assessment: “The central problem for our church, its theology, and its ethics is that it is simply atheistic.”

Yes, you read that quote correctly. They were accusing mainline churches of conducting their business as if God didn’t really matter. “We endow pensions for our clergy and devise strategies for church growth,” they wrote, “as if God were not here.” 

How does this godless presupposition affect the church? “Our Sunday worship is immoral and indifferent (if not rather silly) unless we really believe that God is present in our gathering and in the world..." (Strobel, 217)