July 30, 2014

John Anderson on Reaching Millenials

I am publishing this essay even though it is long because it the first serious discussion of the culture of the Millenials (20-30 Somethings) written by an Orthodox that I have come across. I know that author John Anderson hits some important points. I have been talking to Millenials over the last year and how they approach truth and authenticity is far different than what Boomers and even Gen-X’ers think.

I also agree with his central thesis that post-modernism provides a doorway to the recovery of sacramentalism.

It’s worth a read. Hopefully it will spur some beneficial discussion.

Source: Orthodox Ruminations | John Anderson

church-and-culture-logo-290x106Preface: This is just a simple paper assigned after an introductory study of postmodernity and the current cultural shifts and a reading of “The Younger Evangelicals” by Robert Webber. This paper is not designed to be very formal containing a thesis and points. It is merely a personal reflection upon 5 cultural shifts that are opportunities for the Church, 5 cultural shifts that are a danger to the Church, and 5 ways I want to create ministry in this cultural context or how to carry out ministry. I believe the ways these younger evangelicals, who come from multiple Christian Traditions, have some solid ways of engaging the culture that we Orthodox Christians can implement and learn from as we wrestle with the context in which God has placed us. I hope this will be of benefit as you continue to wrestle and to struggle in these anxious times.

LIVING IN THE HINGEWAY: A REFLECTION ON CHURCH AND CULTURE

Dr. Carlus Gupton writes, “Our time is best described as transitional, a very fluid moment where previous ways of understanding the world and functioning within it are increasingly abandoned, yet without clear definition of what will replace it. Something has ended, but the new beginning has not yet taken shape, thus we are in the uncomfortable wilderness, the neutral zone.” The Church is living in a day and age where absolutes are being denied and truth is relative. This day and age of Postmodernism can present to the Church opportunities to ministry and dangers to the Church’s ministry to preach the Gospel and be a hospital for the sick sinners.

Five Opportunities the Cultural Shifts Present

Robert Webber writes:

The younger evangelicals are conscious that they grew up in a postmodern world. One younger evangelical writes of ways postmodern thinking differs from modern thought. Postmoderns ‘no longer feel a need to bow the knee to the modern God of rationality.’ Postmoderns, he argues, ‘have a much broader conception of what counts as reason’ because they acknowledge that ‘all rationality (religious, scientific, or whatever) is laden with faith.’ Postmodern young people recognize that ‘thinking is highly indebted to others.’ Therefore, the younger evangelical rejects the modern notion of individualism and embraces community. And to be postmodern in a Christian way is ‘to embrace the kingdom of God and renounce the values of the world.’”

This is the first opportunity presented to us to witness to people. This opens the door that much of Protestantism, with its emphasis on the rational, had closed and that is the door to sacramentalism or a sacramental world-view. For too long reason has dominated the Church in the Western societies. We, as Orthodox Christians, must not let reason dominate the life of the Church too much.

The Enlightenment with the emphasis on reason and scientific method stole all the mystery from the Christian faith ranging from throwing out the sacraments and calling them “ordnances” to the rejection of Christian mysticism. This shift away from reason allows for the Church to restore a sacramental world-view for it allows for a restoration of mystery, the Mysterium tremendum et fascinans (fearful and fascinating mystery). This shift opens the door for the Numinous to be once again believed, for there to be transcendence beyond our reason. This is not to say reason is invalid. The Church would be wise to follow the words of Blasé Pascal, “If one subjects everything to reason our religion will lose its mystery and its supernatural character. If one offends the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous …There are two equally dangerous extremes, to shut reason out and let nothing else in.”

“The postmodern September 11, 2001, world has led to the recovery of the biblical understanding of human nature. The language of sin, evil, evildoers, and a reaffirmation of the deceit and wickedness of the human heart has once again emerged in our common vocabulary,” writes Robert Webber, “The liberal notion of the inherent goodness of humankind and the more recent evangelical neglect of the language of sin and depravity have failed to plumb the depths of the wickedness that lurks in the human heart. The younger evangelical approaches humanity with a more realistic and biblical assessment of our estrangement from God.” This presents the Churches second opportunity to present the Christian meta-narrative of the Creation, the Fall, Israel, and Jesus Christ. This allows for the Church to tell Her story of redemption and how She has been made a part of the re-creation attempts of God.

Pragmatic Evangelicals, seeking to draw in seekers (no pun intended), neglected to preach about the wickedness of men and the depths of humanity’s depravity. David Crowder, of The David Crowder*Band, put it this way: “When our depravity meets His divinity it is a beautiful collision.” This cultural shift allows for a sacramental understanding of the Cross and Resurrection to take place. The shift allows for the preaching of humanity’s depravity coming into collision with God’s divinity, which overcomes the wickedness and clothes the redeemed in the Divine Nature (II Peter 1:4-5).

The Church can present the story of the Fall, but that there is more to life. That there is a door for humanity to be ontologically changed, transformed back into an original state of glory. David Horseman writes, “”Theosis is neither a mere psychological change nor a simple behavioral change. It is both, but not in a superficial sense. These changes of thought and behavior are but the indices of a deeper, ontological change, in our nature, a sharing of the divine nature, in which we become more and more like God, changed from glory into glory, until the day of our final redemption…” This could be the story we tell with this change in culture.

The third opportunity presented by this cultural shift is in the context of evangelism. The Next-Wave web magazine states of younger evangelicals’ desire “is to see people enter a relationship with Jesus Christ. Receive His forgiveness, enter His community with the saints, worship in ways that are meaningful to them, and reach out to others in their world.” Robert Webber believes that the new landscape of the culture will provide a new type of evangelism that is ancient-future evangelism. The old is that the Church must emphasis a personal regenerative relationship with the Triune God via Christ, but the new is the context in which the Church worships and facilitates community that is missional.

This aura creates an opportunity for the Church to fashion a community focused on relationships of reconciliation: relationships with humanity and with God. The Gospel is presented through relationship primarily. A good model of evangelism in the postmodern world would be: dialogue, demonstration, declaration, and defense all lived out incarnationally in the context of our greater society but also within our communities.

The Church’s fourth opportunity within this cultural shift is to begin to see Christianity as more than a world view. Robert Webber writes, “Today the younger evangelical questions the priority given to Christianity as a worldview. Younger evangelical Charles Moore writes, ‘The idea of Christianity as a worldview is essentially Gnostic. It makes Christianity an idea, a philosophical viewpoint, and a construct. Christianity is primarily a kingdom, an embodied reality and is more about a faithful discipleship than affirming an intellectual construct.’ Moore argues that making Christianity a worldview ‘abstracts reason from history and pits the existing, choosing subject against the object. It reduces Christianity to metaphysics.’”

This part of the cultural shift is very important to the life of Christianity because seeing the faith as something to be believed, rationed, and defended can leave it shallow and empty for there is no living it out. Christianity is primarily relational and has to be incarnational in this world. The Church can benefit with this ideological shift because it allows the Church to embody Christ and be formed to His image and live as He lives.

“The Christianity Today articles reported that ‘postmodern Christians are trying to redefine the relation of faith and knowledge, that instead of coming to the faith rationally, true knowledge requires the Holy Spirit to work an ontological change in the human heart,’” writes Robert Webber. He goes on to clarify that this is not a new approach, but that younger Christians are deconstructing in order “to reconstruct an historic life of the mind”. The road to the future lies in the past. The Church has an opportunity today to revisit the past with the Creeds, the Church Fathers, St. Aquinas, and St. Augustine and let that ancient wisdom shape and mold the way the Church carries out faith and practice. Many young Christians are even reverting to the ancient Orthodox Church and becoming one with Her and Her Mysteries. This is a good thing!

Five Dangers the Cultural Shifts Present

The number one thing for the Church to distinguish in the cultural shift of postmodernity is that there are two schools of postmodernity: soft postmodernity and hard postmodernity. Milliard Erickson, in Postmodernizing the Faith, writes:

Hard postmodernism, best represented by deconstruction, rejects the idea of any sort of objectivity and rationality. It maintains that all theories are simply worked out to justify and empower those who hold them, rather than being based on facts. It not only rejects the limitation of meaning of language to empirical reference; it rejects the idea that language has any sort of objective or extra linguistic reference at all. It moves from relativism to pluralism to truth. Not only is all knowing and all speaking done from a particular perspective, but each perspective is equally true or valuable. The meaning of a statement is not to be found objectively in the meaning intended by the speaker or writer, but is the meaning that the hearer or reader finds in it. ‘Whatever it means to me’ even if it is quite different from what it says to you.”

The Church has to remember that wonderful idea by Blasé Pascal that there are two dangerous extremes shutting reason out or letting nothing else but reason in. The pluralism of today’s society is dangerous to the truth of the Gospel. The Church must defend and live the truth of the Gospel and learn to evangelize to a pluralistic society instead of assimilating into society.

Religious tolerance is the second danger. Dr. Gupton writes about what postmodern thinkers believe, “No religion should be thought of as superior to another. Indeed, this belief in superiority is the major roadblock to religious unity.” This hard postmodernism belief is very dangerous to the truth of the Gospel. The Church believes that She has an exclusive claim on the Truth, which She must stand by and defend.

The third danger of hard postmodernism found in this cultural shift is in the area of evangelism. Dr. Gupton writes about postmodern thought, “Proselytizing is bigotry, pure and simple. The idea of winning converts is based on the antiquated notion that one religion has more to offer than another. Our task is to help others discover the hidden inner meaning of their religions, rather than convert them to our own.” This is something the Church must absolutely reject to defend the Gospel. Only through Christ is forgiveness of sin offered and deification began. Other religions contain some universal truths, but do not contain the Truth found in the Gospel presented by the Church.

The fourth danger the Church must be careful to be aware of moral relativism or moral pragmatism. Easum writes, “In the new emerging society right and wrong will not exist. Whatever benefits the individual will form the basis for ethics.” The Church has to come to the defense of morals and ethics. The problem with hard postmodernism is that it deconstructs to the point of chaos, which cannot be upheld. This is no accountability of ethics, but the Church can account for its ethics, which stem from God and absolute truths. Society and individuals are dangerous grounds upon which to build what is moral, right, or just.

The fifth danger to the Church is privatization. The Church must be careful to fight against this idea that faith, too, can be privatized and individualized. The Church must maintain a strong emphasis on communal living both at home and in ecclesiastical settings. Easum writes, “People are preoccupied with themselves. Whatever is done behind closed doors is considered acceptable conduct. Privacy is the ultimate price…The majority of people will tend to withdraw physically and psychologically.” This is the danger to an incarnational people called to be God’s hands and feet in the world. We must do well to remember that our faith is personal, but it is not private! The rampant individualism of Western culture is an extreme heresy that we must be aware of and reject thoroughly.

Five Ways to Interface with the Culture

As a young man who feels called to the priesthood, I am feeling lead more and more lately to plant a church from the ground up. There is a great outline of postmodern churches compared to pragmatic Evangelistic churches and how they function within the postmodern culture, by Eric Stanford, found on pages 116 and 117 of “The Younger Evangelicals” that I think fits perfectly how I would like to approach ministry in this postmodern society:

1. Even though I would be the priest and carry out all the sacramental duties I want to approach leadership as a team effort with all the members of the parish helping to carry out the duties of the church. Ministries may not always come from the leadership team, but from within the congregation who feels lead to start up a ministry. Christ is the head of the Church, and I am a part of that thus He moves mysteriously and powerfully in all our lives in the parish.

2. Life is about relationships. My life motto is “I am a person of worth created in the Image of God the Father, the Almighty, to live, to love, and to commune with fellow humankind and with the Blessed Trinity.” This is how I want to carry out ministry in the church. Programs, as Eric says, “are means not ends.” Everything thing we do ought to be to foster community and relationship and not just to learn and do. Developing close, healthy relationships is the focus within the postmodern context I want to employ.

3. Eric writes, “Be authentic. Don’t pretend you’ve got it all together, spiritually or otherwise. Admit your mistakes and struggles, for then we can work on them together. No posers allowed.” I believe this is core to who I am. I strive to be real and authentic. I am drawn to real and authentic people, so I want to be a part of a community that emphasizes that over excellence or perfection, but wants to strive towards those together.

4. I want to help create a community that honors “intellect and emotions, doctrine and intuition,” as Eric states. I want to take a holistic approach to faith and life. I want to focus on the power of the story that Christianity tells: Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus. I see it often as a five act Shakespeare play that has last the fifth act thus we are left to write the fifth act on our own according to the authority of the other four acts. Our stories should come inside of this grand story.

5. I want to create dialogue and relationship between Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, and Orthodox. There is no us vs. them in regards to other Christians or in regards to non-Christians. After all, our Lord told His disciples when they told Him someone was casting out demons in His name that was not a part of their group, “whoever is not against us is for us.” Christians and non-Christians often face the same issues and have the same questions. It is about cooperation and not competition or condemnation. I want to clarify that I do not propose a false sense of unity or ecumenism either. The Orthodox Church is the one true Church, and I firmly believe this. We have made our conditions for unity known, but I think that dialogue is a good thing that promotes healthy conversations and understanding among those who profess Christ. I want to help foster this healthy conversation.

John Anderson has a B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership from Johnson University and is a member of Saint Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, TN, where he resides with his wife, Courtney, and their Chihauhau, Charlie. He is very passionate about preaching, church leadership, missiology, and preaching the Gospel to a lost and hurting society. He aspires to become a priest in the Orthodox Church. He is the editor-in-chief for Orthodox Ruminations.

Comments

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    Andrew says:

    Congratulations to John on having a great set of skills and some very clear thinking with regards to the Orthodox Church.

    The unfortunate thing is that the vast majority of the Church’s leadership both clergy and lay will do whatever it can to maintain the status quo at the expense of young men like John. Ask any number of clergy who have expressed their creative thoughts on a variety of matters.

    My advice to John is simple. Honor and nurture your deeply held beliefs as they are a gift from God but never put yourself in a position where any Orthodox hierarch can control your life or your ability to raise and support a family. Develop a nice portable side career that can support a priestly ministry. Only when you are 100% sure you have achieved this should you then seek the priesthood.

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      Thanks for the congrats, Andrew. I do appreciate your loving comment. I do my best to be a contributing voice, but also realize I need to sit at the feet of many others before I can do so from a position of authority and priesthood.

      I have been warned by a very wise priest who speaks with me often that I will have to fight the status quo of Orthodoxy. I take much encouragement from Father John Peck’s article about the future of Orthodoxy in America.

      I do appreciate that sound advice. This Tuesday I am taking an exam for my insurance license and hope to build a career out of this if I can. I realize I have to be bi-vocational and find ways to support a family. This advice is well received and deeply appreciate. Thanks :)

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    Alexis, Patron Saint of the Nice Guy says:

    I wholeheartedly embrace the aforementioned essay, but I am quickly aware of the realities of American Denominationalism, which I think is the biggest obstacle here. Mr. Anderson astutely recognizes that he does not want to promote a false sense of ecumenism, but the biggest obstacle for his Orthodox evangelism will be those in the other tens of thousands of Christian denominations, where Christianity has been marginalized into a carcicatured morass of cheap believism and circus atmosphere antics as manifested by televangelists; Christian “rock” music (to make Jesus cool); fast food salvation; the Gospel of Reciprocity; pusillanimous preaching; inordinate over-priced Bible schools and seminaries (some teaching New Age theologies); and bible-based theme parks (?). I could expound a little more on how “the” American Religion, American Christian Denominationalism, is becoming a joke and would pose the biggest obstacle to Mr. Anderson’s mission, but I won’t and only refer readers and bloggers here to the movie, “Fletch Lives,” which hilariously and poignantly makes my point. I also wanted to encourage people to read two powerful books that really enlightened me to the epidemic of which I speak, and they are “Dancing Alone” by Frank Schaeffer (who has now flaked out and is busy maligning his parents) and “Thirsting for Water in a Land of Shallow Wells” by Professor Matthew Gallatin. The former is a bit incendiary, but the latter is loving and gently persuasive, and they both give very informative perspectives on the same topic. Furthermore, I would also add to the reading list, “Against False Union,” a 1963 classic by Dr. Alexander Kalomiros.

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      Fr. Johannes Jacobse says:

      Alexis, the critique is sound but don’t you think entertainment as worship denominations will fall of its own weight? What I mean here is that I don’t think it is even a concern. The people who see the shallowness and have abandoned (or never embraced) it are.

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        Alexis, Patron Saint of the Nice Guy says:

        Nice to hear from you, Father J. I am addressing solely the pop culture appeal of Christian rock music from the entertainment angle. It’s catchy, loud, has a good beat, and serves the short attention span of this fast food generation. Contrast that with the reverential lengthy Orthodox melodies, especially the Greek liturgical atonal/monotone chanting, and I think more would be inclined to embrace the former. As far as Christian music falling on its own face because of its supposed shallowness, I don’t know if I necessarily agree with it. CCMI (Contemporary Christian Music Industry) is huge, making mega bucks on cheesy lyrics and subpar music. In fact, in 2000 Christian artist, Michael Card, had issued 104 Theses Against the CCMI (akin to Martin Luther’s 95) for supposed abuses and misrepresentations of the Christian music genre. My point of all this is that Christian rock music and worship music is very American pop culturesque and appealing, and to me, cheapens the reverence and respect for Jesus Christ. How can you go from Handel’s “Messiah” to “Jesus Freak” by DC Talk? I had seen a book some time ago by Dan Lucarini entitled, “Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement,” or something like that, but I have the author correct. Christian rock and worship music has appeal like the Big Mac. It’s cheap, quick, and easy.

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          Fr. Hans Jacobse says:

          I know that the music category is “Christian,” but it is just entertainment. Sounds a bit cynical I guess, even stodgy, but for me it is just another category. I don’t see it as Christian in any meaningful sense.

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    Cynthia Curran says:

    Nice to hear from you, Father J. I am addressing solely the pop culture appeal of Christian rock music from the entertainment angle. It’s catchy, loud, has a good beat, and serves the short attention span of this fast food generation. Contrast that with the reverential lengthy Orthodox melodies, especially the Greek liturgical atonal/monotone chanting, and I think more would be inclined to embrace the former. As far as Christian music falling on its own face because of its supposed shallowness, I don’t know if I necessarily agree with it. CCMI (Contemporary Christian Music Industry) is huge, making mega bucks on cheesy lyrics and subpar music. In fact, in 2000 Christian artist, Michael Card, had issued 104 Theses Against the CCMI (akin to Martin Luther’s 95) for supposed abuses and misrepresentations of the Christian music genre. My point of all this is that Christian rock music and worship music is very American pop culturesque and appealing, and to me, cheapens the reverence and respect for Jesus Christ. How can you go from Handel’s “Messiah” to “Jesus Freak” by DC Talk? I had seen a book some time ago by Dan Lucarini entitled, “Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement,” or something like that, but I have the author correct. Christian rock and worship music has appeal like the Big Mac. It’s cheap, quick, and easy.

    I think the Copts are smart, they observing a traditional liturgical service but allowed young people to do contemporary music at a bible study. There is a group in Greece that uses modern music about God but was almost ban in Greece. The group wants to observed the proper liturgical service at church but wants to sing outside of church contemporary music. A smart moved would be to copy the Copts which observes traditional liturgy but allows for modern expression at a bible study. .
    REPLY

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      Alexis, Patron Saint of the Nice Guy says:

      Cynthia:

      There is a time and place for everything, and the yahoo entertainment and carnival music (i.e. Christian rock) seen in many contemporary churches makes Christianity and its worship a farce. I was even a visitor to one non-denominational church, and the two aspiring female rappers at the altar were waxing philosophic on DA MAN UPSTAIRS, YO. C’mon! You would not see such spectacles in the Jewish and Muslim faiths and people seem to treat these faiths with a hush of awe and respect. American Christianity needs to reclaim its dignity and respect, and there is no better place to start than in the tradition of good ole American Protestant hymns. Using Jesus as a punchline in music whether intentionally or inadvertently to make money and Christianity “cool” is silly. There are two different Christian radio stations in my area playing two genres (respectful and disrespectful) of their music, and I can emphatically testify that one elicits a feeling of awe and reverence, while the other makes you feel corny and embarrassed. It sounds as if the Copts are understanding “a time and place for everything.” Music is a very powerful and effective media and when conveying the power of Jesus Christ should be done so wisely and respectfully. Hey. Wouldn’t it be great to have a show called “COPTS” as a reality show alternative to the show “COPS?” You would see Coptic Orthodox monks and priests busting up parties and Bible studies playing Christian rock, heavy metal, and rap music. Yes, I was actually in a Christian bookstore and it was selling a c.d. entitled, “Heavy Metal Praise.”

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    Cynthia Curran says:

    The problem is Orthodoxy doesn’t not want to invest in converting a major metro area. Take San Diego there are plenty of young evangelicals or not religious young people that are tired that the only game in town is between the evangelicals or Roman Catholics which in a placed like San Diego tend to be cradle Catholics A lot of young people read the church fathers particularity if they have attended a religious college. I think you could convert as much as 20,000. Currently, the Orthodox population in San Diego including the Oriental is about only 13,000 Most people there think that Orthodox are mainly interested in Greek Festivals.

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    Cynthia Curran says:

    Dancing Alone” by Frank Schaeffer (who has now flaked out and is busy maligning his parents) and “Thirsting for Water in a Land of Shallow Wells” by Professor Matthew Gallatin. The former is a bit incendiary, but the latter is loving and gently persuasive, and they both give very informative perspectives on the same topic. Furthermore, I would also add to the reading list, “Against False Union,” a 1963 classic by Dr. Alexander Kalom

    Well, the problem with Frank is he likes the liturgy of the 6th century but not the morality. Case in point, Frank is liberal on the social issues but in the age of Justinian, Justinian not fundamentalists evangelicals made the remarked about God punishing Sodom and Gomorrah for their homosexual sin. Now, I don’t think that God punishes people all the time for homosexuality as the emperor Justinian thought but to go almost the opposite extreme is to take a very modern view of things that is divorced from ancient Orthodox teachings or culture. Case also in point,Justinian was far from a model Christian but in his day you called a spade is a spade not so in the modern world.

Care to comment?

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