Adventures in Post-Christendom

ZionYesterday I announced that I am retiring my blog tagline, “Posts from the Blog of an (un)Tamed Cynic” and adopting a different tone and focus. Today I begin this new journey under the banner of Adventures in Post-Christendom.

With this rebranding I intend to convey a sense of excitement and wonder at the prospects of Christian life and ministry in our rapidly changing world. I’ve spent plenty of time commenting on the decline of mainline Protestant denominations and I’m ready to turn the page and focus more attention on what is coming to be.

As I start down this new path, here are my assumptions and working understandings:

  • There are a variety of “posts” that we use to describe our current situation in Western culture. I used to think that postmodernism was the most important. It may still be the most comprehensive. But in the context of the church, post-Christendom is the most helpful. (Thanks to Tod Bolsinger for helping me see this.)
  • All versions of American Christendom—Protestant, Catholic, mainline, evangelical—are rapidly declining if not effectively finished already.
  • Similar realities exist in Canada, Europe, Australia, and other Western societies. While I will continue to be informed by and in conversation with these developments, my most direct context is the United States.
  • The death of American Christendom does not mean that the church or Christianity is going away. Phyllis Tickle calls what we are experiencing the Great Emergence; Harvey Cox calls it the Age of the Spirit; Brian McLaren calls it a new kind of Christianity; Doug Pagitt calls it the Inventive Age; and Dianna Butler Bass calls it a new great awakening. Whatever you call it, there is no doubt that the church is being reborn into something new for this new and rapidly changing world.
  • The most exciting expressions of Christianity are eschewing the trapping of Christendom. I want to be a part of that.
  • I still serve a congregation and a denomination largely shaped by Christendom paradigms. This will cause me to live with a degree of creative tension, but I will not let my spirit be stifled. I hope to be a catalyst for change in these systems.
  • I’m most comfortable bearing the “progressive” label, but I’m no longer very interested in liberal vs. conservative polemics. In the same way that I am post-evangelical, I’m realizing that classic mainline liberalism doesn’t always suit me either. By progressive I mostly mean forward-thinking, open to change, and engaged in the new things God is doing in the world.
  • Instead of polemics, I’m more interested in articulating and proclaiming faith as I understand it and through which I experience God.
  • I value the relationships I have with both like-minded adventurers and those with whom I disagree.

Through this blog I hope to share my experiments and adventures in post-Christendom. I hope to connect with others who find themselves on this same journey. I hope to curate a collection of examples and inspirations I encounter along the way.

Christian life and ministry are indeed an adventure. I hope you’ll join me.

Comments

  1. s c miller says:

    * ” All versions of American Christendom—Protestant, Catholic, mainline, evangelical—are rapidly declining if not effectively finished already.
    * “Similar realities exist in Canada, Europe, Australia, and other Western societies…. ”

    Oof ! In the current scene of shockingly weakened social institutions, all of which were important sources of moderation and pause, that is an unexpected gut punch, John, even if yours is just an early warning. I look forward to reading more about that.

    /pete miller (son of the late Shelby Miller, member in Clarendon Hills)

  2. Deborah Brewster says:

    I’m more interested in articulating and proclaiming faith as I understand it and through which I experience God. – YEAH!
    forward-thinking, open to change, and engaged in the new things God is doing in the world – YEAH!
    there is no doubt that the church is being reborn into something new for this new and rapidly changing world. -YEAH

    Count me in. In fact you can count a lot of us in. We are looking for leaders like you who are not afraid to speak what we have been reading and thinking. Thank you.

  3. Cary. Donham says:

    John I think avoiding labels and following the spirit will serve all of us well, even while we benefit from being part of a community of people who the spirit is leading in different directions.o

  4. Bradley McCallum says:

    As a regular reader of your blog, I am looking forward to your new direction! Very much! Our sharing how we encounter and experience God in our lives is truly, indeed, proclaiming the faith. Your insights and thoughts are appreciated.

    One question, what is your definition of Christendom, and what formed your view of all versions of American Christendom “rapidly declining etc”?

    • Historically speaking, Christendom refers to imperial versions of Christianity since Constantine’s adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the empire. From that point on, Christianity and empire were intertwined as the center of western culture. Even the conquest of the Americas was done under the banner of Christendom. For that matter, American “manifest destiny” is another good example.

      More recently and more pertinent to our present context, Christendom in the United States was the privileged status of Christianity as the center and shaper of culture. Think of the pinnacle of mainline Protestantism in the 1950s or the power of the religious right in the 1980s and 90s.

      All of that is history now. Christianity is holding an increasingly smaller share of pluralistic America. Christians no longer set the moral, ethical, theological, or political agenda. Attempts to do so are simply reflexes against the changing tide.

      Even more immediate, think about how Sundays have changed. Sunday morning is no longer sacred time in the United States. There is no longer any cultural expectation or benefit to going to church.

      This is what I mean by post-Christendom.

Trackbacks

  1. […] is one thing I forgot to include in my opening list of assumptions: exile is not the right metaphor for […]

  2. […] a period of my church life marked by cynicism and frustration. (I’ve consciously tried to pivot my posture here on my blog.) Still, looking back on previous posts (2011, 2012, 2013), I think I struck a […]

Speak Your Mind

*