Perhaps it is time for those of us who call ourselves Christians to take a look at the calendar. Although it is 2009, many of us still function as if it were 1980 – or even 1955. In “American Churches in Crisis,” David Olson challenges the American church to engage three significant transitions:
- Our world used to be Christian, but it is now becoming post-Christian.
- Our world used to be modern, but now it is becoming postmodern.
- Our world used to be monoethnic, but it is now becoming multiethnic.
On the first item, I would argue that we are not becoming post-Christian, we already are post-Christian. Christian values and teachings may have once provided the cultural soil that nourished our society (although the fruit was often unrecognizable as Christian), but this is no longer true. Other voices in the culture have a stronger influence. For example, when Michael Jackson died, there was much more discussion of his musical accomplishments and artistic impact than his eccentric lifestyle or bizarre personal behavior.
Although we are becoming postmodern, the average person does not yet understand the impact this is having not only on literature and the arts, but on philosophy and politics. Postmodernism emphasizes the role of the reader or interpreter in every aspect of life. Even in science, this postmodern idea about the impact of the observer is considered a significant factor in scientific research.
Finally, we are certainly becoming more multiethnic. The New York Times reported in 2008 that the U. S. Census Bureau had “calculated that by 2042, Americans who identify themselves as Hispanic, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander would together outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Four years ago, officials had projected the shift would come in 2050.” We are becoming a nation of minorities.
The impact of these trends differs according to where you live. These transitions have already become clear in the northeast U.S., the West Coast, in major cities across the country and in most university communities. In other places, the change is occurring more slowly and may not be apparent for two more generations, Olson notes. My experience in a suburb of Nashville that is home to a major university and numerous small industries (some with home offices overseas) is that it is already here for us.
As the church considers its ministry in the early part of the 21st century, we must recognize these transitions. Any planning or strategy will be incomplete if it does not take into account our post-Christian, postmodern, multiethnic culture.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.