How should the church address the changing culture? Two diametrically opposed answers to that question can be found by comparing two books: David Wells’ The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, and Tim Stevens’ Pop Goes the Church: Should the Church Engage Pop Culture? Let me briefly compare and contrast these two books and detail which one I believe has the more Biblical perspective. (Note: These comments were originally posted at PyroManiacs: Setting the World on Fire.)
Let me say first of all that I do not in any way doubt either author’s love for the Lord and their desire to see people come to know Him. In fact, as I read both books I was challenged in some ways to consider my own desire to reach people for Christ.
As I read these two books, I saw that in some ways Wells and Stevens agree—primarily on the deconstruction of the current cultural situation.
For example, Tim Stevens writes:
The first five words of the book unChristian sum it up quite succinctly, “Christianity has an image problem.” The respect in the community that was prevalent for men of the cloth for decades is nothing but a memory. It may be present in reruns of Little House on the Prairie, but it has no foundation in our current reality.
At the same time, people haven’t stopped pursuing the God-shaped void in their lives. They haven’t stopped asking questions or groping for answers. Most of them just don’t go to pastors, priests, and churches for help anymore. Instead, they go to the First Church of the Open Cinema to watch and hear the latest message by Steven Spielberg or Oliver Stone. Rather than call their pastor, they flip on afternoon television and catch America’s favorite spiritualist, Oprah Winfrey, or they develop their theology based on the lyrics of artists such as U2, Coldplay, and Carrie Underwood.
George Barna says, “A growing number of Americans are shifting away from conventional church experiences and gravitating toward alternative expressions of faith” (p. 58).
David Wells agrees:
We are spiritual. We want relationships, but we do not want to be religious (p. 60). . . .
In America, 78 percent of people say they are spiritual. When solving life’s dilemmas, 56 percent say they are more likely to rely on themselves than on an outside power like the God of the Bible. And 40 percent claim specifically to be spiritual but not religious. The same change has occurred in Britain. A study looking at the decade from 1990 to 2000 found that during this time weekly church attendance dropped from 28 percent to 8 percent but those who said they had spiritual experiences rose from 48 percent to 76 percent. There clearly has been a surge in spiritual appetite that is either hostile to religion or, at least, has lost confidence in institutionalized religion.
Religion as we typically understand it is a publicly practiced matter. . . . This new spirituality is about the private search for meaning, a search for connection to something larger than the self. It is in fact a self-constructed spirituality (p. 179). . . .
In the United States, 80 percent believe that a person should arrive at his or her own beliefs independent of any external authority such as a church. Indeed, 60 percent say that since we all have God within us, churches are unnecessary (p. 180). . . .
Those who are on a spiritual journey—and that is the most popular metaphor—have no destination in mind (p. 183).
The difference between the two books, I believe, is primarily in the reconstruction. In other words, given the current cultural situation, how do we “do church”? Next week we’ll examine the answer to that question that each author provides.
- Read part 2