Three Crucial Issues

One of the keys to understanding social change is to keep your finger on the pulse of culture. In my book, Makers of Fire (November 2014), I call this the fuel of the triangle of combustion. Let’s put this in the form of a question:

Where are the trigger points that are shaping the narratives of faith and culture?

Over the next year, I want to focus on several cultural issues that are shaping the narrative of both faith and culture. Here are three of these issues.

(1)
THE FUTURE OF MARRIAGE, CHILDREN, AND SEX

There are more singles today than ever. Divorce rates are high. (So high, for example, in Montreal that, in anticipation of a likely divorce, newly married couples must pay an additional administrative fee to legally change the bride’s name to her new married name). The acceptance of Gay marriage is changing the meaning and usage of the word marriage.

Young urban affluents write about the negative economic impact of having children. Others express concern over how bearing children taxes the environment. Still others write about killing their children to reduce their carbon footprint. Recently one young lady even filmed her abortion to show that it was no big deal.

In the future children may be incubated within artificial wombs, raised by nanny-bots, and live out their lives in a world of fewer children.

Tech magazines write about porn as if it were a normal and acceptable aspect of society. The rise of sensitive robots points to a potential future of unprecedented human-machine relationships. We will see a rise in the legal commercial sex industry around the globe.

Needless to say, mindsets are changing.
Rapidly.
We often acknowledge how things are changing, but do we stop to consider how we are changing.. and being changed?

What is the future of marriage? What is the future of sex? What is the future of the family? What is the future of children?

How might followers of Christ understand the changes that are underway in light of their story? To draw upon biblical imagery, where is the spirit hovering upon the face of the deep, upon the chaos of our present moment?

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(2)
THE FUTURE OF THE BIBLE

For millions of years before the rise of humans, living things experienced suffering, pain, and death. Multiple species of humans walked on Earth before the emergence of modern humans. New knowledge of this kind shakes the underpinnings of many who read the Bible as a chronological history.

The rise of Islam brings to the forefront billions of people who believe that God wrote a book. And millions of Christians feel the same way about the Bible that Muslims feel about the Qu’ran.

At the same time, are we hearing rumblings that some western Christ followers will want to distance themselves from both fundamentalist Muslims and Christians? Meanwhile, a conservative and fundamentalist Christianity rises in the developing world and promises to be the global religion of the future.

What might be the future relationship of the Christ following faith to its scripture? Is the Bible a divine book? Or is this bibliolatry? Is the Bible only human literature? Or is this blasphemy?

(3)
THE FUTURE OF NORTH AMERICA

In his book, The Post-American World, Fareed Zakariah argued that The United States is no longer the epicenter of global culture. Where might global culture be going? In another book, The Next One Hundred Years, George Friedman argues that the United States will remain the center of the world for the next 100 years.

Where might current trends of immigration, an aging population, and military prowess be leading us? What might North America look like towards the end of the 21st century and how might that impact what we do today?

These are three critical issues (among many) which will require answers from us in the very near future. They represent some of the trigger points that are shaping our cultural narrative. Where do the cultural narratives and faith narratives merge and where do they diverge? How can followers of Christ, regardless of geography, frame a Christ following mission for the next century and beyond? What does 21st century discipleship look like in light of massive cultural changes? As cultures change and paradigms shift, where is our own story taking us? How can we respond to the competing narratives around us and tell the story of Christ (and where faith is taking the world) in a compelling way?

I hope these questions primed the pump of your imagination. They have mine.

________________________________________
Join Alex McManus, author of Makers of Fire, for IMN 2015 in Orlando, Fl on Feb 2-6. He will discuss, during the Master Class Certificate sessions, the skills necessary to understand and navigate these kinds of rapid cultural changes through the analogy of Making Fire.

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Atheists Start New Churches

TOPIC: The Human Need for Community
TESA:Technology/Entrepreneurship/Society/Arts
FINDING: Atheists Give Starting Their Own Churches (called The Sunday Assembly) a Try (Click “Finding” text to tweet. Thanks!)

IMPLICATIONS:
One implication of atheist churches is that (hopefully) they may help lonely people connect with others.  That’s good.  Humans need community.  Atheist churches may also encourage atheists to “help others often”.  I say,  welcome aboard.  Too many hurting people out there to demand a monopoly on caring.

Another implication may be the development of atheist communities that are about more than “what they don’t believe”.  The Sunday Assembly mission statement- “live better, help often, wonder more”- is hardly atheist.  It would fit nicely within the mission statement of many Theistic churches too.  And, without a reason, a purpose, a mission beyond “non-belief” these communities would most likely fizzle.  Hopefully, these atheist churches will inspire generosity and self sacrifice as have many of the Theistic churches. There’s not enough of that going around and every bit of help is appreciated.

COMMENTS:
The loss of a sense of community is a symptom of the malaise that afflicts western culture.  Partly in response to this, over the last 4 decades, Christians have made huge efforts to start new churches in the west.

In part,  this is premised on the need all humans feel for community.  The need for community is so powerful that now even atheists are seeking to satiate the hunger.

Because I work with many young leaders who are starting new enterprises many of which are new churches,  I can tell you that starting a new church is hard.  These new “atheists churches” may experience an early surge because there are many self-identified atheists who long for a place to belong.   But these efforts may flounder in time because the “need for one another” is not a strong enough adhesive for community.  Personally,  I think they’ve got an uphill climb.

I doubt, for example,  that their numbers are growing as rapidly as they think.  Recent demographic research has identified a growing population that does not identify with religion. They are called “nones”.   But the so called “nones”,  who do not identify with any religion,  may actually represent a large number of devout believers who no longer identify with the institutional church.   In fact, many people that I know would claim to be a “none” because of their devotion to their faith.

Another challenge before these new churches that will emerge after the initial surge is the development of a mission. Take the efforts to launch new Christian churches.  The “need for community” that helps new Christian churches start is only one part of the recipe that helps them thrive.  Another essential piece is the “bigger picture”,  the grand narrative,  that gives meaning and purpose to the new community.  Even with this important piece,  starting a new church is difficult work.

Will atheists succeed in finding a purpose, a mission that will breathe life into their community development efforts?  Just “getting together” may not be enough.  In order to thrive,  these atheist churches will need both a sense of mission and healthy leadership.   Ironically,  if atheists communities are to succeed, they will need to “believe” in something. Whatever they “believe” and act upon will define their  “faith”.

As mentioned above, one of the implications of atheists churches is that (hopefully) they may help lonely people connect with others.  That’s good.  They may also encourage atheists to “help others often”.  I say,  welcome aboard.  Too many hurting people out there to want a monopoly on caring.

Does it matter if a lonely human is cared for by those who do not believe?  Or,  if a person is encouraged to be a better person by someone who does not believe?

For me,  I’m happy to see anyone — atheist or theist — strive to make this world a little more human.

The mission statement for The Sunday Assembly is  “live better, help often, wonder more”.  For me “making the world human” through “living better, helping often, and wondering more” is only a small part of the human story,  but it’s a good part of the story.

Christians,  in particular,  should rejoice when others seek to emulate their efforts to make this world better for everyone.  And we should try to help others who are trying to figure it out.  After all,  Christians,  in spite of the decline of the institutional churches in the West,  are expert at community creation and development  and would be helpful resources to these new communities.

An even better resource would be the life and teachings of Jesus.  He does not belong to the church.  He belongs to the world.  And he knew a thing or two about creating community.

The gospel has had enough energy to sustain a movement for over two thousand years without any signs of burning out.  If anything,  it burns hotter today than ever and still churns out thousands of new communities around the world. Christian churches and leaders would be a great resource for atheist churches and their leadership,  should they ever run dry or need help figuring how to keep communities together.  After all,  becoming human is not easy and we could all use a little help.

QUOTES:

“…the Sunday Assembly is a British import, but with a difference: This church doesn’t believe in God. It’s motto is “live better, help often, and wonder more.” It’s striving to be a global atheist religion.”

“The stated goal is to have ‘a godless congregation in every town, city, and village that wants one’ — and hopefully 30 to 40 by the end of December. If they reach that goal, the Sunday Assembly says in a press release, ‘the 3000 percent growth rate might make this non-religious Assembly the fastest growing church in the world, catering to the fastest growing belief / non-belief group.'”

SOURCES:

(1) http://theweek.com/article/index/250032/why-atheists-are-starting-their-own-global-church
(2) The Sunday Assembly Main Website
(3) JWT Intelligence