Sorry for the long, long break from my last installment on this. I got sick and then had a little vacation, and life happened. And now the 7 megatrends that are shaping 21st Century missions, and an attempt at a short summary or quote to get you wondering a little bit more about it. If one doesn’t make sense, ask me and I’ll fill it out a bit more. I just didn’t want to overdo it or spoil it. I will not be giving my own thoughts here, just trying to summarize. The first megatrend is fundamental to many of the following and Tennent spends a great deal of time on it, so it’s a little longer, and I’ve tried to pick some of the bits that would give you the skeleton to what he’s saying, though to hear his fuller thoughts and conclusions, you’ll need to buy the book, which you should do right now! Again, I’ve tried to capture his ideas. If anything is great below, it’s his. If I’ve messed up or misrepresented something, it is my fault and I am sorry.
1. The Collapse of Christendom (Page 18f): Christendom links Church and State either officially sanctioned like some countries in Latin America or unofficially resulting in civil religion like in the US. It also links the Church to territory (if you’re a Roman in 450AD or an American in 1950, you’re a Christian). Finally, after a period, Christendom assumes that every important question has been covered. Christianity’s connection to the nation states of the world is ending, as is its place of privelage.
A. Moving from the Center to the Periphery: In Christendom, “Christianity is the normative expression of religious faith and ethical action, and there are no major dissenting voices or alternatives religious worldviews. Therefore, the “gospel” does not need to robustly defend itself against either secular humanism or some alternative religious worldview such as Islam or Hinduism.” However, with that collapse (see #1 above) comes the fact that Christianity is one of many players needing to articulate its message in a world where it is merely a fringe movement, much like AD 33 Jerusalem or modern-day Delhi.
B. Moving from Jerusalem to Athens: “As much as we may look back wistfully on simpler times, we must recognize that we are no longer proclaining the gospel from teh “Temple Mount” of our “Jerusalem.” Instead we are seeking to persuade the gospel into people’s lives in the midst of the raucous, pluralistic, experimental, skeptical environment of the “Mars Hill” of their “Athens.” Enough said.
C. Moving from a Geographic, Particularistic Identity to a Global Identity: “We must recognize that the Western world can no longer be characterized as a Christian society. The important and operative phrase in (that) statement is “no longer.” Many societies have never had anything remotely reflecting a dominant Christian ethos, Yet, some of those societies, like India and China, are still able to produce generations of vibrant expressions of Christian identity and faithfulness.” We are surrounded by the pagan ideologies of the world now in the West, and we must be able to respond to them here and now, as well as out there wherever these ideologies may have sprang from.
2. The Rise of Postmodernism (Page 24f): Theological, Cultural and Ecclesiastical Crisis: The Church has responded to PMism in different ways. “The mainline Protestant churches were desperate to make certain that the church retained its position at the cultural center” and was willing to jettison the faith in order to do so. “Evangelicals have not been immune to the general cultural malaise. They were ill equipped for the robust catechesis…that was required to counteract the wider cultural attitudes” and therefore were unsure whether those people out there needed Jesus or not. Some churches found out about God’s work in the majority world, got excited about it, but also carried around centuries of guilt about former western missions tainted with colonialism and the like, so they elected to “stay home and support the indigenous missionaries through prayer and finance” resulting in a “weak and passive” mission vision. The “megachurch movement was not prepared to occupy the margins of the culture. Instead, they were committed to impacting the culture by portraying Christianity as useful, relevant, and user-friendly…(and) unwittingly became just another illustration of popular culture, rather than a prophetic call to a radical gospel and the Jesus of the prophetic imagination.” The “emergent” churches have not been around long enough to gauge what they will do missionally, but an uncritical acceptance of the postmodern understand of epistemology is worrisome. “One of the goals of this book is to rearticulate the missionary mandate to a church that no longer occupies the cultural center and has largely lost the biblical and theological moorings that have traditionally supported missionary endeavors.”
3. The Collapse of the “West-Reaches-the-Rest” Paradigm: 4,300 people left the church every day in North America and Western Europe (Another study says 7,500) b/w 1970-1985.” At the same time the Church was exploding in Africa and places like India, China, and Latin America. It’s unbelievable that the old missionary strongholds are becoming church graveyards, while the old mission fields are now the places of vibrant faith and growth. And it is these places that are sending and will be sending the majority of the world’s mission force into the harvest.
4. The Changing Face of Global Christianity (Page 33…this is a similar idea to the above though slightly different): “The major point to recognize…is that never before has the church had so many dramatic and simultaneous advances into multiple new cultural centers…the dawn of the twenty-first century witnessed a world with over 420,000 missionaries, of which only 12-15 percent were from the West.
5. The Emergence of a Fourth Branch of Christianity (Page 37f): “We can no longer conceptualize the world Christian movement as belonging to Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox communions exclusively. The twenty-first century is characterized by enormous changes in Christian self-identity, which influence how the Christian message is understood and shared” as most of the thousands of new believers coming to faith each day are part of a church that was not started by any of these groups or have any real ties to them either.
6. Globalization: Immigration, Urbanization, and New Technologies (Page 42f): The result of the massive changes in the world due to globalization is that “traditional sending structure and geographic orientation that (has) dominated missions since the nineteenth century (is) no longer tenable.” How do I sum these things up for you? The mission field is coming to the West, as are our brothers and sisters from around the world. Tennent says that Western Christians “should understand that immigration represents the most important hope not only for the ongoing viability of our society but also for the reevangelization of the West.” Urbanization is important b/c most mission strategies were designed for rural areas, not the cities which is becoming more and more the place that missions must happen including dealing with all the dangers and difficulties of ministry in 3rd World urban centers. Technology has made the Gospel available to many, but it also has made the Gospel just one more message available on a long list of google search results.
7. A Deeper Ecumenism (Page 47f): “The advent of global Christianity with multiple centers of vitality means that we have an opportunity to see ourselves first and foremost as Christian proclaiming the apostolic faith and only secondarily as Reformed Christians, Pentecostal Christians, Dispensational Christians, Arminian Christians, or independent Christians.”
Well, Tennent’s suggestion at the end of the chapter for responding to these immense challenges and opportunities is Selah and Rebirth. Selah-a pause to allow these realities to come to the fore and to affect our thinking, not just about strategy, training, and structures, but our very understanding about the Church and the mission of God itself. Therefore, included in such a pause is diving into the nature of the Triune God and His revelation in order to once again to align ourselves with His mission. Put our missions on hold in order to rediscover His Mission. That is what will give rebirth. And it is Tennent’s hope that his textbook will help foster exactly that kind of rebirth. What a huge goal and hope, huh!