So why is the church so awash in a sea of culture-assessments and postmodern analyses to find out “what we’re doing wrong”? One reason, I believe, is the rapid rise of evil in an historically conservative culture which always spawns a desperate counter-attack to preserve all that is treasured and familiar. In other words, the evangelical church has simply not been content with dwindling numbers, strained budgets, increased persecution, academic ridicule, and cultural marginalization. But this is precisely when the temptation to compromise is at its zenith. Instead of seeing such circumstances as “normal” (though not acceptable) in a declining culture of rebellion against God (millenniums of human history demonstrate this), we’ve made an idol out of “the impact we used to have”, gone back to the drawing board of ministry, redefined the purpose of the church, and congratulated ourselves for our new crowds, pragmatically-gotten budgets, and fad-focused hype. Unfortunately, this new generation of ministry “architects” is too sufficiently disconnected from historical ecclesiology and theology to have any idea what they’ve crafted. They are truly a “generation who knows not Joseph”. Who determined that we were doing something wrong? How was it determined? “The church is old-fashioned and out-dated” some will argue. OK, update your illustrations, modernize some of the churches great hymnology, write new songs, use technology, aggressively evangelize, let your presence be known, etc. I agree that these methodologies aren’t really the issue. But if everything about the worship of God’s people is “up for grabs” and dispensable simply because the culture seems more disinterested than ever, then the emerging church is not a “church” at all, but just another paradigm shift among pagans—a new way of “feeling” like they spiritually and morally matter in this life.
Another reason for this sprint toward “a new kind of church” is the disappearance of the universal necessity of the cross. When ministry becomes an attempt to subjectively “touch” the hearts of individuals rather than bring them face to face with their actual condition and ultimate need, the necessity of the cross is eliminated! Sin is no longer the result of natural corruption but the unfortunate outcome of limited knowledge, unfulfilled expectations, and overwhelming odds. Today’s average postmodern “reachable” is therefore not looking for a savior but a sympathizer who understands their plight from their vantage point. They don’t want a God whose friendship is conditioned upon obeying another master but a supplier who meets them at their desire. Professions of “faith” are merely pledges to join a less stringent religious group whose god demands nothing. Guilt from sin is more of an unfortunate inconvenience in an otherwise deserving, worthy, and loveable life. If a gospel is offered in these “churches”, it is often reduced to an acknowledgment that the historical Jesus “died for sinners”, while the new “convert” retains his/her sense of significant wholeness, allowing God to make him/her feel more deserving, worthy, and loveable. Trusting in the Holy Spirit to regenerate by means of His truth quickly becomes a forgotten essential. David Wells was poignant when he said, “The church [has adopted] strategies that…it is hoped, will make up for the apparent insufficiency of the word and ensure more success in the culture.” Furthermore, if human beings are not thoroughly corrupt and in dire straits with a holy God one wonders why God made such a big deal of Jesus’ death at all. Such a horrific bloodletting for the unavoidable mistakes of otherwise good people? Whatever for?
If today’s “purpose-wars” tell us anything, it’s that we must let God define the postmodern heart and the means to “reach them”. I don’t believe today’s postmodernist truly values anything but themselves. Indeed, that’s what makes them postmodern, believing in no objective reality or meaning outside of the one they create. Reaching their ears with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ is our most awesome privilege and responsibility! But reaching their hearts with the gospel’s life-giving power is God’s sovereign joy. I long to see God move mightily in the hearts of sinners, but I shudder to think that some might find today’s “emerging authenticity” more attractive than truth. In fact, until they face the truth on God’s terms and stop haranguing about what they think the church ought to offer, they can never know saving grace. We should not be surprised that our culture is in a rapid declension away from truth, clarity, logic, and true meaning (2 Tim. 3-4). We must trust implicitly in the saving power of God to regenerate hearts—A work He has not ceased to do as He builds His hell-defying church. If we lose the battle here, we are no different than those who consider the preaching of the gospel as “foolishness”.