Why Are Churches of Christ Shrinking – James Nored

James Nored shares some really good insights on why he believes the Churches of Christ are in decline. He has over 11,000 view on this post in the last week so he is striking a nerve here. Take some time to go and read what he wrote there. It looks like he has more posts coming on this topic so tune in and check by later. The premise of his first post is that we value our Restoration roots so deeply that we haven’t really made the turn to stay culturally relevant. He says we are a left brained (linear, logical, modern) church in a left brained (more artsy, intuitive, less concrete) world. I think he makes some valid points there. That is one aspect of a larger and more complication issue. On the other hand, I wonder if we evaluate it all so much that the issue becomes more complicated than it really is. I am pretty sure James would say one of our problems, though, is the other extreme where local congregations haven’t always assessed their culture and figured out how to communicate the Gospel to them.

What is more he does something that few people who are offering critique do, he gives suggestions on how churches can address this and adapt. I really appreciate that. I think he has hit one aspect of the issue here really well and has more posts on the way. I have my own opinions as to why this is happening but I am not out to steal his thunder on this so I will leave it alone for now. This post is not here to generate a big discussion and take any focus off what he is saying…this post is more of a signpost pointing you over to James’ website as he often has many good and insightful thoughts to share as well as practical solutions. I would encourage you to subscribe to his site if those are things that interest you.

41 Responses to Why Are Churches of Christ Shrinking – James Nored

  1. Paul Smith says:

    Matt, I read James’ blog and had a comment, but you have to join HIS network to leave a comment (talk about being open!) so I will comment here. It was just a coincidence, but yesterday I read and printed an article by Greg Laurie in ChurchLeaders.com entitled, “4 Dangerous Church Growth Myths.” The four myths are: If it brings people in, it pleases God; The less confrontive or overt the Gospel message, the better; Find out what your church is hungry for and feed it to them; and Target your church to a particular demographic. It is amazing, but James nailed all four of the myths. Get big, get splashy, it won’t work unless you have three jumbo screens and stadium seating, go for the 18-25 year old “right brained” experiential worshipper. His whole article was a journey into applied consumerism.

    I even challenge his assumption that the churches who use these gimmicks are “growing.” They may be “stealing sheep” but are they “growing?” I subscribe to Christianity Today, and from the reports I read in that journal, virtually every “Christian” group is shrinking today from those that use hard rock worship bands to the most conservative Baptist groups.

    It troubles me deeply when I read and hear leaders within the Churches of Christ wanting to apply bandages when when we need open heart surgery. Sure, re-build your auditorium and install three (or more!) mega screens and people will come in to be entertained – for a while – but what happens when THAT experience becomes stale? If you measure spiritual growth by numbers, and achieve large numbers with cheap theatrics, you will ALWAYS be grasping for the newest and latest in technology, “experience” and “what works today.” In other words, you will never be satisfied and you will always be living in fear of losing your flock to the church down the street that is just a little bit “edgier” than you are.

    James’ suggestions might work for a very wealthy, very suburban, very young and very technologically savvy congregation – but only for a while. But what will they do when the sun comes up tomorrow?

  2. Mark says:

    Paul, you said everything that I was thinking so well. I would also add that Nored’s history tends towards the straw-man version of whichever elements he wants to critique. I think he makes some valid points about not being afraid to let emotion be part of how we worship God, and I agree. But you are quite correct that when all we focus on is the experiential aspects of worship, we are not necessarily addressing the bigger need, which I perceive to be the development of authentic relationships both with God and with other members of our congregation. I also feel like his first major point, “acknowledging we are shrinking,” is hardly big news. I don’t think I could count how many times I’ve heard this over the years from both conservatives and progressives among our numbers.

    I wasn’t a huge fan of his first installment, but I liked his second one a lot. I think he means well, and at least he is provoking some good discussion.

  3. Lindsey says:

    I also refused to join his network just to leave a comment. Glad to see I wasn’t the only one!

    To me, this discussion happened about 20 years ago, but most Churches of Christ are just now catching on. We’re always a few steps behind the broader evangelical culture which is a few steps behind the secular culture, so we’re always late to the party. This, I think, is one of the biggest reasons why we don’t keep our young people – we’re rarely relevant. I’m right in the middle of that target demographic (26 year old female) and have had discussions with my peers about where we see ourselves making a faith home for ourselves. We left the conservative ones of our youth and moved to ones that would certainly be labeled progressive (or ecumenical, to borrow Richard Beck’s terminology).

    I agree with your thesis that we, as a generation, enjoy an experience over a lecture but we also crave substance. Don’t forget the knife cuts both ways – we’ve grown up in a technological age so we aren’t fooled by lights and pretty graphics on screen. Technology is just a tool, so if at the end of the day we’re still troubled by the theology we encounter, it won’t make a bit of a difference. We’re exploring our theology and we’re amazed at how much is out in the world that we never knew about in our sheltered Church of Christ bubble! We’re reading blogs and books and having discussions over coffee and questioning and praying and we can feel the Spirit moving among us! And none of it had anything to do with lights or projectors – most of it didn’t happen in a church building at all! And then, when we brought our newfound discoveries to the churches of our youth, so eager to share, we were met with disapproval. The message was clear – questioning the status quo is unwelcome.

    The Churches of Christ have traditionally been resistant to change and fearful – even angry – at people who ask questions and dare to wonder if perhaps we have been wrong. This is why my generation leaves; we don’t think there is a place for us.

    So, by all means, use technology! It can be a great tool – but don’t expect it to be what keeps my generation hanging around.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Lindsey, I am not able to respond to your comment right now but will by Monday. I think much of what you have said here resonates with many your age. We talk about being the church in Acts and our young people are mature and serious enough about their faith to actually read acts and then wonder why we aren’t more like what we read there.

      I will get back with you on this. In the meantime I would love to hear more from 18-28 year olds on this topic.

      • Lindsey says:

        Thanks! To be fair, I don’t think this is a problem specific to Churches of Christ. I would imagine any denomination would encounter the same problem. But Churches of Christ seem to struggle more in this area. I’m inclined to think that a lot of it goes back to the traditional method of interpreting the bible (command, example, necessary inference) in our circles, which I believe is woefully inadequate.

        I’m very interested to see how the Churches of Christ evolve over time. I think there’s a lot of us who are invested in them because it’s the place of our spiritual formation and want to remain with our heritage. That said, we’re probably the least denominationally loyal age group. Passion and community matters most to us and we’ll go wherever we can find it, regardless of the name on the sign out front.

    • Jim says:

      Amen. There is so much to be read on blogs now that is legitimate, and I am glad for it. I think the older people would drop bricks if they read some of the blog postings. OR they would appreciate that we had the guts to say things that their upbringing taught them not to mention. They might realize just why young people are disgruntled and leaving. I am also glad for sites like this which seem to be the only place where concerns can be expressed, topics debated, and questions answered without repercussion. (It sure wasn’t in Bible class at Harding.) The younger generations in the CofC want more substantive answers than they have been given in the past.

  4. James says:

    Hey guys. Thanks for your thoughts. Just a note. If people were not required to sign up for the website, then the site would be tons of spam. And even then, I have to decline about 20 spam, “fake” members. I have tried to make it easier for people to join by making it where people can use Facebook to join.

    I am not sure what my “history” is. The irony of this post going viral is that I almost never post on assembly issues. I am a “Missional Outreach” guy, and I still absolutely believe in the importance of going out and serving in the world. But I still think that we have to learn to speak the language of our culture. As I say in the article, this does not mean that it is the only thing that we need to do or all of the solution.

  5. baltimoreguy99 says:

    One piece of this is our difficulty in dealing with change and balancing change with enough tradition and continuity to give individuals enough reason to stay in Churches of Christ. On the one hand countless Churches of Christ simply cannot process even innocuous changes and expend their life energy in the trench warfare of the change wars. But on the other hand progressive Churches of Christ rarely remain healthy and growing for more than a generation if that. The children of Church of Christ progressives generally go to other fellowships by their 20’s or 30’s. I don’t know that there is any solution. Churches of Christ may be a passing phenomenon in the wider scheme of church history. I am thankful for the promise of I Corinthians 15:58 that our labor in the Lord is not in vain.

  6. Paul Smith says:

    Another question that I would like to see discussed is, (and I am not trying to be antagonistic here), “why are we so infatuated with youth?” In congregations who make the shift to a far more “progressive” worship style (something James Nored is suggesting) there are always many who leave who are middle aged or elderly. No one wrings their hands and says, “What about our seniors?” The most they receive is a passing, “Well, we are better off without them.” But if any young families leave or young singles leave we act as if the roof is falling in and there will be no tomorrow.

    I know of a congregation that once was over 1,100 members in attendance that now has about a third that number. They have become increasingly “progressive” and the numbers just keep getting smaller.

    If you attempt to cover up theology that is fundamentally conservative with a “progressive” worship veneer, what have you actually accomplished? And, if you change the theology, can a congregation truly claim to remain within the fellowship that is a biblicist movement? And if a congregation does not know what it believes and is constantly changing to adapt to the next “biggest thing,” why stay? The emotional whiplash is just too much.

    I agree with the comment above – in “progressive” congregations the young people ultimately leave anyway. I attribute it to the “White Men Can’t Jump” theory. You can only change a congregation of the Churches of Christ so far before they no longer are a church of Christ, and if you make that change, why not be a part of a church that does instrumental music, praise teams, liturgical dance, and other forms of “experiential worship” at so much of a higher quality?

    BTW – I have a six year old daughter, so these are not theoretical questions for me. I want her to find her faith and be able to grow and serve in a faithful congregation of Jesus’ church.

    Thanks again for the discussion.

    Paul

    • mattdabbs says:

      Paul,
      I intended to address these things in a far more significant way in the coming weeks. I have written about this pretty extensively here in the past – https://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/ministry-tools/20s-30s-ministry/

      What bothers me the most is we think technique trumps everything. If only we do this right or that right…if only we wiggle our finger while we tug on our ear, and pat our belly while we rub our head…then this or that will finally happen right! Technique is not the end all be all solution to all of our problems. Technique will constantly change, as will our ability to measure up to those techniques or trying to “compete” against what is going on at the mega church down the street. That is a consumer mentality that will result in failure.

      What is we connected with our young people like we used to do way back in the day, before all the age segregation? What if they knew we loved them, because we spent time with them, mentored them, and actually knew and loved them? It is hard to leave a group you know loves you dearly. It is easy to leave a group you aren’t connected with in the first place.

      I have MUCH more to say, but let me start with that. You know what is crazy? We had some megachurch guys ask us how on earth we pull off intergenerational small group ministry. We didn’t have an answer because we never did it any other way. They broke all their groups up by age, realized how poorly it was working and wanted to get back but had invested so much time, staff, etc into their new approach they couldn’t see a way out. We looked cutting edge to them! Funny how that works.

  7. Paul Smith says:

    “What is [if?] we connected with our young people like we used to do way back in the day, before all the age segregation? What if they knew we loved them, because we spent time with them, mentored them, and actually knew and loved them? It is hard to leave a group you know loves you dearly. It is easy to leave a group you aren’t connected with in the first place.”

    Exactly! Well said!

    And I love the example you gave in the next paragraph. Funny how we can be cutting edge and never know it. I feel the same way about some people “discovering” acapella music. Hey guys, we’ve been here for years! Ditto with baptism. Stay around long enough and all of a sudden you are radical thinkers!

    Paul

  8. Ralph Miller says:

    Churches of Christ are shrinking because American Christians have become complacent in teaching other complacent and smug Americans who see no need for God. Dimming the lights, having rodeos and three ring circuses won’t help but might bring in those who need amusement. I grew up in the denominational world in a religious group that entertained to get numbers . Today that group is almost non-existent. Worship is what God has commanded to be done directed to Him. We need to do a better job teaching all Christians. If you had grown up in a denominational world like I did, having found the Truth, you wouldnt want to go back.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Ralph,

      The typical Church of Christ teaches and teaches and teaches and teaches and is in decline. We teach in Sunday Bible class, Sunday in the sermon, Sunday night, Wednesday night, Tuesday morning ladies class, and on and on we teach. And yet we are in decline. Just like more powerpoint doesn’t guarantee success, more teaching doesn’t either. There is an intersection of what both of you are saying here and that is this – we have to make our teaching relevant and engage people with the Gospel, the mission, etc. In order to do that we do need to understand culture and understand how people learn and present that same Gospel to them in ways that connect. That doesn’t mean you have to have a rodeo. That is hyperbole, I understand, but you know that is not what James is saying.

      Second, have you heard James preach? Are you saying he doesn’t preach biblically?

  9. James says:

    Ralph, do you really think that I am advocating “rodeos and three ring circuses”? That I am against truth? Is that really what you think that I said, or are you just using provocative rhetoric? If you look at what I say, I indicate that we should in no way water down the message or preach fluff. But it is foolish to not speak the language of the people that we are trying to reach as we share the gospel message. Are you against all forms of technology, or just the ones that are current? Do you realize that people used to rail against padded pews, air conditioning, and microphones? Are you against these too? People are usually supportive of the communication methods that they grew up with, and think that ones that come along later are unnecessary, showy, entertainment.

    To communicate in the language of your people is not “entertainment”. It is being incarnational. And what I highlight in this one post is not the only reason why we are shrinking. But it is definitely one of the reasons.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Paul contextualized in Acts 17 and in doing so converted the poetic words of pagans into inspired writing of the NT. We don’t have the authority to do that today but there is a principle in there about contextualization that we need to take seriously, that is, if you take Paul and his approach seriously you will!

  10. Paul Smith says:

    James, I think you totally missed the point of Ralph’s comment. In your article you specifically mentioned having multiple screens to project multiple images during the sermon. Why? Is it because people cannot focus on the message without multiple images? Or is it because multiple images portrayed during a sermon tend to distract, and therefore entertain? I think Ralph’s point is very much on target – if “new technology” and multiple screens and fancy PowerPoint presentations were the answer then the most technological savvy churches/congregations would be growing by leaps and bounds – and they are not.

    You said that “to communicate in the language of your people” is being “incarnational.” You cannot be serious. The incarnation was the invisible God coming in human flesh – bringing deity into the form of humanity. Paul said it was the most profound mystery God ever revealed to man. Using multiple screens, incorporating video, even using PowerPoint is simply shifting communication forms. It drives me crazy when people use provocative and theologically rich terms like the incarnation to justify using incense or bells or multiple projector screens. If you think that such shifts in communication are the answer to our shrinking numbers then by all means make your case, but please, do not try to make your case using terms that are manifestly NOT the equivalent to what you are suggesting.

    I think you need to re-read Ralph’s comment and consider it. He is speaking from his heart and his experience, and you dismissed him as a knee-jerk reactionary. Perhaps your language reveals your attitude toward those who are resistant to your agenda? It is at least worth considering.

  11. Jim says:

    Not all churches/ministers/elders are capable of understanding and relating to all generations. I will say that it is a hard thing to do. I have never heard of ministers asking for input, new ideas, and whether or not a particular topic would reach certain people. I am not advocating for changing the tenets of the faith, but merely determining what the congregation needs to hear and then discussing it in a way they can understand. Churches are like businesses, some get it right and some don’t. Jesus could relate to most people; we need to go back and study that approach. That said, a good speaker can accomplish a lot with a well-thought 10 minute homily. Stop making the sermon the focus of the worship. No one likes jumping between different books of the NT and the pause for people to find the verse to read along with it. Use a short homily to reinforce the portion of gospel read right before and provide relevant examples. I go to PowerPoint seminars all the time and have taught off slides but still don’t like them. One image or slide is fine but just text on slides is a pain. The old style Episcopalians don’t use it at all. The service is either on a handout or in the prayer book and known by many in attendance as it rarely varies. (Don’t attack me, the C of C’s prayerbook may not be written but we all know it by heart.)

  12. James says:

    Paul, I did not specifically mention having “a rodeo and three ring circuses.” And an essential part of incarnation and mission is speaking the language of the people that we are trying to reach. Yes, I am serious, and any missiologist will say the same. Someone can pick out some individual item and blow it out of proportion and criticize it. Like saying that air conditioning and microphones are the key to the gospel spreading. It is not–but someone might suggest that in North America in the 21st century, these might be helpful.

    Again, someone can take a small, practical suggestion and make it into a rodeo and circus and ignore the context and everything else that I have said. Really, if you only knew, I almost never write on these issues. I am a “missional outreach” guy. I spend endless hours studying with people, sharing the gospel in groups and one on one, helping members discover their gifts and start ministries that reach out to the community. Right now, I am helping some of our members get a community garden for the poor in our neighborhood and ministry to women who have been involved in sex trafficking. Go through and read my other blog posts. Talk to the churches that I have ministered in. It is ironic that these posts, out of everything I have written, have gone viral.

    But I have heard from all kinds of people, including numerous ex-Church of Christ members, who have said that this post described their reality and that the things talked about in the post–being a left-brained fellowship in a right-brained world–one of the major reasons that they left. Hey, I don’t have all of the answers. But unlike some who just deconstruct everything, I am trying to offer some practical things that, in their cumulative, may help those that feel that we do not speak their language. And from the response and the stats, that appears to be a lot of people who fall into that category.

    Kurt Fredrickson, my D.Min. director at Fuller, likes to say, “Everything we do is theological.” And how we communicate also affects the message that we communicate, and therefore is eminently theological.

    In the book, Outspoken: Conversations on Church Communication by Mancini and Leonard Sweet and others, Jimmy Sexton writes an introduction that I believe articulates well part of what I am writing about:

    ———————————————————————————————————————

    Media Is Preaching / Jeremy Sexton   There is a common misconception that preaching is something that happens only from behind a pulpit on the weekend. This is narrow-minded. Who says that is the only way the gospel can be communicated?

    Tradition may say so, but even the most set-in-our-ways among us have shaken off this notion unknowingly . . . Every time you communicate anything in any medium as a church, it is preaching. I’m not suggesting you start tweeting, “God reads knee-mail,” from your church’s account. What I am suggesting is that no matter what you’re saying, it is a sermon being preached.

    When you inform your community of a free outreach with no strings attached, you preach of God’s generosity. When you painstakingly craft a design for a sermon series, you preach of God’s beauty and preach the content to visual learners in a way a sermon would not speak to them. When you package a video of someone’s testimony, you are preaching of God’s redemption. It is all preaching.

    You should feel encouraged by this. What you’re doing is important. It is very important. You may feel that you toil in vain. You might want to quit. You may feel that you are putting in late nights and long hours for no reason because, “who cares about a stupid sermon graphic anyway?” Nothing could be further from the truth. You are preaching the gospel. The question we must ask ourselves, then, is whether or not we are treating what we do with the level of reverence that it deserves. We would be appalled to learn that our pastor had thrown a sermon together at the last minute without seeking the face of our Father. How many times have we done this with our work in media, design or communication?

    ———————————————————————————————————————-
    My hope is that we can be much more effective in our message–and communicate a more holistic gospel–and therefore impact and reach more people for Christ.

    • Paul Smith says:

      James, again, I believe you missed the point of Ralph’s comment and my defense of it. Ralph shared something from his past that was very important to him – his movement out of an “entertainment oriented” service to what he felt was a more worshipful attitude. You attacked him in terms that I felt like stigmatized him as being a knee-jerk reactionary. Yes he used hyperbole – we all do. Was it over expressive? Maybe – but as the author of the first piece you should have at least listened to what he had to say.

      And I still object to your over-inflation of the word “incarnational.” What you are talking about is simply changing, or adding to, communication styles. There is nothing about a video screen that communicates the reality of the Creator God being revealed in the flesh of Jesus Christ. This kind of postmodern language distortion is mangling the message of the cross. At some point we have to back up and ask ourselves what we are really saying when we use such terms.

      I have no doubts about your ministry. I have never attacked your ministry. I trust you are doing all kinds of good things in your ministry. But I can say that I thought your blog post that attracted so much attention was way off base. It was purely “seeker sensitive” and could have been written by Bill Hybels or some other mega-church guru. That approach has been exposed as having serious theological and practical failings. So people are leaving the church because of a right-brain/left brain issue? Really? I never in a thousand years knew that Jesus’ sacrifice had anything to do with a hemisphere of my brain.

      I have read many of the same source materials that you have. I am aware of the same surveys and studies about church growth/stagnation. You have come to one conclusion, and I think I have come to different one. We are both interested in the growth of the kingdom, and I think we should support each other where we see common ground.

      But, really, you seem to be very sensitive to the charge of creating a “three ring circus.” I think you need to go back to Ralph’s comment and search to find why you are so pricked by what he said. Maybe God is trying to speak to you through Ralph. At least you should have the capability of hearing what Ralph was trying to say without being so defensive. Or, maybe his comment hit a little too close to home??

      Blessings on your work.

      Paul

  13. James says:

    Paul, I feel that language is very important in general, and to use language in this way to dismiss something is not helpful to the discussion. There are endless studies that show the shaping effects of the mediums that we use, and that different mediums can impact the mind, or the heart/will, or the emotion. A well told story–or video, which is the story form of today–is far more likely to move people holistically, with heart, mind, and emotion–than a proof text. Why did a man turn himself into the police for murdering someone after watching The Passion of the Christ? Why was The Bible the highest rated cable series? Why did Jesus speak in stories and parables? He preached nothing like the Aristotlean philosophers of his day. How we communicate the gospel is important, and this is not just in worship assemblies. And yes, I guess we just disagree about the importance of speaking the language of the people and using their mediums in being incarnational.

    We can deny that these affect people or make a difference. But in addition to the studies, hundreds of people have told me that they do. So for me, if it helps one person hear the gospel and be impacted by it, I want to help them by speaking their language and using their medium. Others think that, despite what our people who have left say, that this is not important. To me, this is to ignore reality and to continue to miss a whole generation. I could quote from those who have reached out to me to say that this right-brain, left-brain divide–which is another way to speak of the heart, mind, and soul aspects of our being–is indeed a big part of why they have left. I want to listen to this and help everyone and not deny the reality of what people are telling me. But others clearly have come to different conclusions and believe that these things are not important. This saddens me, as I do think that we are missing ways to connect with people. But I will accept that others have come to different conclusions. There are other things that we can do to support one another, as you say, and I hope that those who see these things differently can seek to find this common ground.

    • mattdabbs says:

      James,

      I agree with what you are saying here. I would be very curious as to what the demographic is where Paul and Ralph are. It may well be that they have an older audience who is not as engaged by these sorts of things. So maybe that works for them for now. At the same time it is important that we understand what is effective and why. What reaches into someone’s heart and what doesn’t and why. You are doing more than just talking about this, you are engaging in this and have seen a real and obvious impact on the lives of those around you. I commend you for that. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Paul and Ralph are completely ineffective if they choose not to use those mediums. I have seen churches that had all the latest technology that were shrinking instead of growing. As you have probably said before, we can’t expect technology to replace the Gospel but it certainly can assist in helping communicate it.

    • Paul Smith says:

      James, it frustrates me that we appear to be talking past each other here. I agree with you that language is important, that stories communicate profoundly, and that the younger generation is far more visually oriented than previous generations. What I am objecting to is this concept that somehow or another I have to have three huge multi-image projection screens in my auditorium in order to reach these younger people. That is simply insulting to the intelligence and the faith of many, many young people.

      You are in a very affluent situation. The people you talk to are no doubt very technologically savvy. Having three screens with continually changing images may speak to them. If so, well and good. But I can speak to thousands of situations in this country alone where that situation would be horribly off-putting. it would be distracting. It would be the very opposite of what you are trying to accomplish.

      And I simply do not accept that, even in today’s visually oriented culture, the spoken word is unable to connect. Why is Rush Limbaugh the highest rated radio show today? He has no visual images. He cannot project anything other than his voice. And millions of people tune in to hear his broadcast – either in part or in total. And don’t argue that his audience is mainly older people – I was introduced to Limbaugh by someone in the exact age demographic that you reference as a part of this right brain/left brain divide.

      And, to answer Matt’s question – I am currently serving as a campus minister on a state funded university. I deal every day with 18-22 year olds, and I just based on my informal “gut feeling” I would suggest that a majority, but certainly not a overwhelming majority, of the young people I deal with would agree with you completely. But a large and largely ignored segment would consider your multiple screen auditorium to be a condescending manipulation of their emotions and a clever way to obscure serious theology. Yes this generation loves story and metaphor and seeing how all things are interconnected. But they can spot manipulation from a mile away – and will avoid it at all costs.

      A couple of Sunday nights ago I had a conversation with a university sophomore who was incensed that her generation is a group of narcissistic crybabies who want everything handed to them on a silver platter and who refuse to put forth any effort to see any deeper meaning in life than their next “hook-up” and who is posting what on FaceBook. She may be in the minority, yes. But how can I ignore her voice?

      If I could put my objection in one simple sentence it would be this – You are painting with entirely too large of a brush, and a brush that is primarily designed to address an urban and affluent audience. As I said – you are no doubt having great results in your demographic. But, please, understand and respect that there are many other opinions and values not only in the church but in the society at large.

      If that makes me a knuckle-dragging troglodyte then I guess I will wear name. I’ve already admitted to being such. My opinions are in the minority. But that does not make them invalid or unimportant.

  14. Jim Campbell says:

    The comment on contextualization relating to Paul’s speech to the Areopagytes seems peculiarly appropriate. We in the West are like Paul’s Greeks – we live in a very civilized and relatively secure environment. In such a world, God can be effectively “Unknown” because He seems apparently unneeded (and unheeded) by those seeking hedonistic self-gratification – apart from a vague anomic discomfort of wondering whether this is all there is. The Areopagytes could argue about that, and if something seemed lacking, import or derive a religious or philosophical view, complete with focus objects, that would fill the gap, for a while… With the up-growth of IT and downloadable knowledge networks and apps, we’ve gone one step better, because now people can just about spend their whole lifes in trying to learn what’s ‘out there’ and how to use the information tools that tell you. They don’t even have to deal with the “vague anomic discomfort” for they can always find some sense-grabbing experience to block it out. Paul apparently didn’t make many converts at the Areopagus; and, it seems the biggest influx to the churches of Christ was in times when people were less socially secure, less materially proficient. God is only a rewarder of those who are looking in their hearts and minds for Him, who need Him, and who aspire in faith thru His Christ to everlasting life; not those seeking oblivion in life, and whose ultimate destination is to be discarded in the everlasting fire pit, like the stream of consumerism rubbish that they go thru.

    Now, James Nored wants us to submerge the little God-given capacity we have in the churches of Christ for discerning the Bible’s purpose of Life, in some mind-blowing audio-visual entertainment? I don’t think he understands even McLuhan (essential reading for all media pundits?), let alone the implication of Jesus’s words in Matthew 13: 10-17 for believers. In our sadly depleted congregation in Dunoon, Scotland, started up by believing members of the US Navy, we are in the process of losing one brother who is so immersed in the ‘truths’ brought to him audio-visually thru the Discovery Channel that he can no longer see the wood for the trees, and finds himself questioning the relevance of yet another ancient history that runs counter to the ‘established truth’ of popular science. Our enemy is what brother Nored wants to embrace – a technology that can make fantasies like “The Lord of the Rings” seem more immediate to undiscriminating minds than the only Word of Life that can rescue them from the ultimate material dark place that hedonistic living tries to shut its eyes to, but can’t. Think again, brother Nored! We, as God’s Church on Earth, are supposed to be preaching The Truth, not a truth that redeems Delilah thru Saint-Saens’s aria “Softly, awakes my heart”, or half-invokes sympathy for Iscariot as in Elgar’s “The Apostles”. That’s a taste of what you risk exposing the future flock to, even from principled men; and, what in this age you should be defending them against. Look for the reasons why people turn away from belief in God today – not the cliches like post-WW I/II disillusionment (for we in the churches of Christ at least know that He gives people freedom of choice whether to seek good or evil), or entertainment value deficiency (did Jesus ‘dance’ to please the crowd? [Luke 7: 31-35]), or even presentation language (when a young person is courting, or at a football game, or with adults they look up to, do they have any difficulty in changing their talk or their manner?). Were the Areopagytes reaching after God, or were they merely looking for an entertainment? Where people don’t have freedom from conflict or oppression, where they don’t have material security, where they desperately need God, there the churches of Christ are increasing in leaps and bounds.

    As for our identity re the rest of the world, maybe I agree. Are we our brothers keepers, our brothers in the body of believers claiming allegiance to Christ, or just our brothers in the churches of Christ? Paul, in his speech at the Areopagus, says that God “has made from the one blood every nation of men” – they are all our brothers, whether we are comfortable with that or not. And if they decide to go their own way, denying the very God who made them, will He forget that they are His creation to fulfil His determinate purpose? Apparently not, as can be seen in the very recently excavated remains of Sodom and the cities of the Jordan Plain, which testifies the hard way to the fact that all peoples everywhere are His (whether they want it or not) and He wasn’t joking when He “commanded all men everywhere to repent”. Therefore, if we have been given the privilege of seeing beyond ‘the parables’, then, our part is maybe that we have a duty to watch over our brothers to contain their wilful erring, or we’ll be doing the repenting before our Father for their unfortunate demise, and our lack of a caring and compassionate spirit. (Abraham hated what Sodom et al represented, but he tried to intercede for them with God.)

  15. James says:

    Jim, thank you for your thoughts. Can technology be used for ill? Sure. But technology is not inherently evil or our enemy. Like our tongue, it can be used for good or ill. But if you are using a telegraph when people are using telephones, well, you are not even in the conversation.

    As to your charge about Marshall McLuhan–“the medium is the message”–I would say that I read him and a quite a fair number of authors, articles, etc. on communication medium for my doctoral work. Rather than not understanding him, on the contrary, I would say that McLuhan’s work illustrates my point precisely. So much of our typical communication styles and emphases has historically conveyed the idea that Christianity is a mere head exercise with points to be made and proved. That is a very partial and incomplete view of the Christian faith.

    Narrative or story, which is 75 percent of Scripture and the overwhelming way in which Jesus taught, is much more holistic, engaging the heart, mind, and soul and hitting across all personality types. No where in Scripture do we find the type of Aristotelian point logic sermons that have been so predominant in our fellowship that I grew up with. In fact, the gospels, in my experience, were often left for children, while “real men” read Paul.

    If I had to choose one thing to change in our communication medium, it would be towards a more narrative type of format, which the ancients practiced as well. To object to adding additional visual or audio elements to this communication today is like objecting to changing the color of ink in an outline or microphones of yesteryears.

    And you are again making my point when you say that these movies like the Lord of the Rings and the Discovery channel move people powerfully. If you want to object to something, why not object to the content? Again, the idea that an enhancement like an amplified microphone, a picture, a word outline, a video, etc. is inherently bad is nonsensical. If that were the case, then we ought to all be Amish. Technology is not the enemy. It can be used for good or ill, based upon the content.

    Finally, you have suggested that Churches of Christ tend to do well when people are “less socially secure, less materially proficient.” I am not sure if that is merely our fellowship–when people go through hard times, they tend to be more open in general to God. But you are right in this. We struggle very much in reaching a more literate, educated, technologically sophisticated people. And that overwhelmingly is the Millennial generation. And that is one of the reasons why this generation (and those like them) are scarely to be found in our fellowship. Why we would refuse to do even the smallest of things to communicate in a way that is more endemic to their generation is something that I do not understand and saddens me greatly.

    Paul said, “20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:20-22).

    Paul even went so far as to circumcise Timothy and offer up a vow in the temple to help take away cultural barriers and help people hear and accept the gospel message. We should take the same approach today to reach people for Christ. And if we do, I believe that we will be far more effective.

  16. baltimoreguy99 says:

    The greatest period of numerical growth in American Churches of Christ in the last century was the economic expansion and post WW2 boom of 1945-1965. No lessons peculiar to Churches of Christ can be drawn from that period of growth because practically every religious group grew as we did. I had a friend, now deceased, who was a Church of the Brethren pastor from the 1950’s through the early ’90’s. He told me he thought he was an expert in church growth in the ’50’s because his church grew so easily but in retrospect he said that all churches grew in that period. Church of Christ growth rates began to slow after the mid ’60’s until we stopped growing altogether by the early ’80’s and began a decline which is now accelerating. While a capella Churches of Christ will probably still exist a century from now I don’t see an end to this decline. Churches of Christ are ill equipped to thrive or even survive as a viable fellowship/denomination in the 21st century. There will always be some congregations that are exceptions to this downward trend but too few to turn the decline around. I would personally love to see a merger with our brethren in Christian Churches and the Disciples of Christ. Most Churches of Christ would rather die than do that and, given enough time, will do just that.

  17. Jim Campbell says:

    Hi James,

    Does McLuhan indeed actually justify your position? McLuhan’s advice here is surely that you need to choose a medium appropriate to the message you wish to convey; otherwise, the medium slants or dictates the message that gets delivered. If you want people to think about their relationship to God and their neighbour, the nature and state of their souls, how they should be considering their place in the face of eternity, etc, you don’t barrage them with sensory input that forces compliance to your point of view, or overwhelms their brains with so much information that they’re there to next Sunday trying to make sense of it all (admittedly that’s one way to hang on to a congregation!). Besides, if all they are there for is to be entertained, are they really seeking to know about God? If your teenage kids came home from the first night of a church crusade, and told you that the best thing about it was the Led Zeppelin footage, and that tomorrow night featured an hour of Thin Lizzy or the Grateful Dead, do you think that they would be picking up any useful Christian message? When I was at uni, one of the worst Christian celebration experiences that I ever had was being part of an audience asked to participate in singing “There is a Green Hill Far Away” to the melody “The House of the Rising Sun”, being pounded out by some terrible backing group with squealing amplifiers. The organizers tried to justify their choice of music by saying that they wanted to make the audience aware that Christ died for even those living a life of unrepentant sin (!!). Yes, the message is the medium.

    Regards,
    Jim Campbell

  18. Mark says:

    James wrote “We struggle very much in reaching a more literate, educated, technologically sophisticated people.”

    I have seen this happen, and it is in deed tragic. I am not sure what is being taught in seminaries, but somehow the newly-minted, scholarly minister morphed into the mediocre preacher. The youth minister morphed into an entertainer and host(ess). If any of you have heard rabbis teach, they come across as far more educated and can run circles around most cofC ministers. It is like the sermon is written to the lowest common denominator which is fine when used to teach the uneducated. However, if you are trying to reach (and teach) people with advanced degrees then you need to teach directly towards them.

  19. baltimoreguy99 says:

    I have to disagree about the quality of preaching in Churches of Christ. While we probably do have some poor preachers just given the law of averages I believe we have some of the finest preachers in the country. I mean no offense to my brethren in independent Christian Churches but even the preachers they showcase in regional gatherings and even the North American just aren’t that good. I found almost without exception that their gatherings have great music and, frankly, mediocre preaching including some of their most wellknown names. In contrast, the preaching at Pepperdine Lectures and similar Church of Christ gatherings is often magnificent and rarely disappointing. Unfortunately having some great preachers doesn’t seem to be helping Churches of Christ stop their decline.

  20. Mark says:

    Now in re quality of preaching, do you mean those who can make a argument and proof-text or those who can actually teach application to modern problems while keeping it to 15 minutes or less?

    Additionally, though, most congregations are geared towards older people who may not appreciate the “cut to the chase” scholarly homily. Also, why is the only time that people see the preacher is on Sunday in the pulpit? There are articles out in the blogosphere about churches in messy places. I think many young professionals would appreciate going to dinner with the minister and getting insight on the ugly topics, the ones that can’t be mentioned from the pulpit.

  21. baltimoreguy99 says:

    Mark, I think the avoidance of difficult topics is a real quandry for Churches of Christ. Most congregations would implode to have a serious discussion even of instrumental music much less actual current social issues such as homosexuality. But the studied avoidance of challenging subjects is part of the long, slow death so many Churches of Christ are in the midst of.

  22. Mark says:

    I was not suggesting IM or the social issues but the more important ones for the young professionals like situational ethics, medical ethics, etc. Just the idea that the minister is a (disinterested) third party who would be willing to listen to the problems that we encounter on a weekly basis and give an opinion would go a long way. Many people my age will get on the net and ask questions of (secular) ethicists, rabbis, and priests, read their opinions and apply the knowledge gained but won’t talk to a cofC minister who, in their opinion, will just brush them off or condemn everything.

  23. baltimoreguy99 says:

    Mark, have you invited your minister to lunch or breakfast to share your concerns? It might be fruitful. Many ministers become protective of their evenings and try to keep as many as possible with their spouse and family. Also is there a somewhat older professional in your church who could lead a class or small group on ethical issues in the workplace? If your minister is persistently not approachable or available there is probably something very wrong with either the minister or the church or both. The same is true for elders.

  24. Mark says:

    No, that I have not.

  25. James says:

    Jim, we are simply at different places, my friend. The medium of preaching in the modern worldview engaged only the cognitive, point logic aspect of people’s thinking and being. This is terribly problematic for a postmodern world which engages people more holistically through story and media.

    And I do not have this sacred-secular divide, that sees no redeeming value in anything in the world. I believe that the Spirit of God is active in the world, and that truth and redemptive analogies can be found in culture–much as Paul found this redemptive analogy and truth in culture in Acts 17 in Athens. You indicate that it would be bad to have kids come back talking about a popular music group. If they come back seeing how this music could help them think about God, this is good. That is what Paul did when he quoted from pagan poets. According to your understanding, Paul would be “entertaining” them by quoting from these poets.

    The accusation that finding something that people identify with and understand is “entertainment”–by which, you mean has no redeeming value–is a position that I utterly reject. By this criteria, Jesus was a mere “entertainer” as he told memorable–“entertaining”–stories of everyday life like sowers sowing seed or a memorable–“entertaining” story about a prodigal son. Why would he do this? Why not just “tell people the truth,” give them an outline and have them fill in the blanks? Why illustrate at all? Why tell stories? Why do these things if we are just robots with no hearts who merely need information and do not need to be moved or impacted or engaged at all?

    This approach, and the refusal to even consider or understand the world today and how people communicate, process information, and are moved is the very reason why so many are just walking away. Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over and getting the same results. I would ask, how is this approach working for us? The answer is becoming abundantly clear. Not well at all.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Narrative was Jesus’ powerpoint. He was able to construct mental images of things that people could remember and assign meaning to. Don’t you wonder if Jesus ever just told stories to entertain people too? We don’t have any examples of that but it wouldn’t surprise me because Jesus knew people and Jesus loved people and was the master connecter.

      If we entertain for the sake of entertainment, we have missed it. But grabbing someone’s attention in an entertaining way can be used for the glory of God. I know that because Jesus did that all the time. He was able to capture the imagination, use a mental image and assign value or meaning to that image and transform people through the medium of narrative. Powerful stuff. We can do the same today. We can do it with words. We can do it with images. We can do it in many ways. We just need to make sure we aren’t spending all our time just entertaining without providing the transformation. That is just empty and I don’t hear anyone here advocating that approach.

  26. Paul Smith says:

    Matt, I would kindly and gently point out that James comes close to, if not indeed, “advocating that approach.” In his next to last paragraph in his last response he said, “The accusation that finding something that people identify with and understand is “entertainment”–by which, you mean has no redeeming value–is a position that I utterly reject.” Throughout his responses he has been advocating the same point. He emphatically said he rejects any kind of “sacred/secular” divide. Now, he may have one connotation of these statements in mind, but I read them as advocating an entertainment oriented process. Get the audience hooked on some video or some music, tell them that, by the way, you can see God in this movie, and send them home.

    This is NOT what Jesus did with his parables or stories. This is NOT what Paul did in his linear, logical letters. If I understand Jesus’ explanations to this disciples correctly, he often used images and parables precisely because the people were unwilling to listen to his straightforward teaching, not in order to make a difficult cognitive concept “easier” to comprehend (Matthew 13:10-17 and parallels.)

    As I remember in James’ article that you used to start this discussion, he walked into an auditorium with two or three huge video screens and he thought to himself about how great it would be to preach in such an auditorium. Note – not because preaching the gospel would be so great, but “preaching” where he could use three huge screens with multi-layered images being projected simultaneously would be so awesome. As several commenters have pointed out, that sounds precisely like entertainment for the sake of entertainment to us. I will allow James his own interpretation – but it did not come across that way to several readers. Tongue in cheek I might add that maybe he should have used a PowerPoint presentation so we would have understood him better.

    James makes several statements that reveal his bias – at least he is open and consistent. But, as I have pointed out earlier, his brush strokes are far too broad, and I believe that he has simply sold the contemporary American out as being incapable of processing any information unless it is accompanied by stunning video or audio. I think this is a misrepresentation of the human brain, and a far too simplistic, reductionistic reading of “postmodernism.” It turns humans into helpless lab rats that cannot think themselves through a maze without multi-sensory stimuli.

    I have read much of the same academic material as James – we shared a class at Fuller Theological Seminary. James came out of the class (and his entire D.Min. program) apparently pointing one direction, I came out of the class (and my program) pointing almost 180 degrees opposite. The “postmodern” landscape has just been shifting too radically and too rapidly for us to say anything with any degree of certainty; and I suggest it borders on arrogance to deduce epistemological shifts based on data that is contradictory at best and also changing so rapidly.

    As I said in an earlier response, James may be 100% correct for his audience – but he clearly does not speak to mine. In fact, it would be my suggestion that he speaks for a very small, very computer literate, very affluent, very urban mindset. When he stated, “The medium of preaching in the modern worldview engaged only the cognitive, point logic aspect of people’s thinking and being” he totally misrepresented the preaching I grew up with, which was linear, but engaged my imagination far more than watching a 2 minute YouTube clip ever does. When you simply tell a story to an audience of 500 people, that story can be internalized 500 different ways. But when you attach a visual to that story, that story and that visual is internalized 1 way 500 times. I would suggest that the visual actually MISSES a large percentage of those 500 people. I would also suggest in this sense that NOT using a video projector might be more “postmodern” than using one! And when he stated, “This is terribly problematic for a postmodern world which engages people more holistically through story and media” he needed to add, “…in the situation in which I preach” or words to that effect. He should know that in postmodernism, every situation, every person in unique, and so therefore making any kind of reductionistic statement is unacceptable.

    On one point I do agree with James. We are in different places. I reject the premise that people have changed so radically that the gospel cannot be preached, nor the human heart touched, without the use of multiple video screens, multi-sensory worship “experiences” and millions of dollars worth of audio-visual paraphernalia. The gospel might be heard through all of that noise, but I suggest it can be heard just as clearly, if not more clearly, through a still small voice. (1 Kings 19:12).

    I know this has been a huge response, but just one example and then I’ll close. Remember that story of the young man who related the entire story of the Bible from “Genesis to the maps” as a testimonial to the power of daily Bible reading? The video of his presentation went viral once it was posted on the Christian Chronicle. Notice he did not use one single YouTube video or PowerPoint slide. He stood ram-rod straight with a microphone in his hand. Yet his talk was riveting. If a pre-teen young man could hold everyone’s rapt attention for as long as he did to recount the story most had heard dozens of times previously, why is it so hard to think that an adult can do the same thing on a regular basis?

    The quality of the harvest is not determined by the value of the tractor used to plant the seed. The quality, and the quantity, of the harvest is determined by the content of the soil in which the seed is planted. (Did I have to include a link for a John Deere tractor, or did one come to your mind almost automatically?) I think we need to give our fields a little more credit than telling them they cannot understand the simple gospel of Jesus.

    Thanks for letting me rant. Guess I’m a little wound up tonight.

  27. James says:

    Paul, I was at a church recently with a combined Bible class. I had people raise their hands if they were Millennials (those born 1981-2000). Out of a class of 150, six raised their hands. We have lost this generation almost entirely. This greatly grieves me. We can say these things don’t matter–and perhaps they don’t in your context–but surveys and what kids in my context tell me–and how they vote with their feet–say that they do matter.

    And if people don’t think it matters in their context, that is fine. Just say, I have a different experience in my context and what we are doing works well for us. I am dealing with broad cultural trends.

    But why the vociferous response and ad hominem attacks? It is “borderline arrogant” to seek to interpret data? And not I am now not interested in preaching the gospel? You say that all I just want to “get the audience hooked on some video or some music, tell them that, by the way, you can see God in this movie, and send them home”? Really? So when Paul quoted from the poets of the day and used the altar to the unknown God, he was not interested in sharing the gospel? Really? And you think that I am not interested in sharing the gospel? Really? I have devoted my life to sharing the gospel, sharing Christ, and baptizing people into his name. That is a ridiculous charge and unfair characterization of a brother in Christ.

    Was Jule Miller not interested in sharing the gospel with his film strips? Why did he use that medium? Was he an “entertainer” too? Or was he simply trying to use the medium of his day to share the gospel? Disagree if you want and hold to the position that our approach and communication method need not change. But please do not put words or attitudes in my mouth and heart.

    • Paul Smith says:

      James, I spent over an hour writing, re-writing, and editing my comment. I made every effort I could to not attack you personally. Maybe I failed. If so I apologize. But, to be honest, it gets a little stale when someone disagrees with someone else the first thing said is “ad hominem” attack. I challenged your *conclusions* and specifically one of your *statements* but I honestly and seriously tried to make it clear I was not attacking you personally. I did refer to your article and to your responses, but you wrote them! To whom was I supposed to refer? And I did not say you personally were arrogant, I said it was “borderline arrogant” to make deductions based on data that is contradictory and changing so rapidly. For example, there are studies that show that PowerPoint presentations have been overused to the point that they are actually counter productive to what the speaker is trying to communicate.

      My statement of “get them hooked on some video…” was directed to a *process* of entertainment, and was not specifically directed at you. As I re-read it, I can see I did a bad job of differentiating that point. What I wanted to communicate did not come across very well.

      I never said you are not interested in preaching the gospel. At least I never meant to. If I did that was a horrible mischaracterization and once again, I apologize. I pointed out that your statement was that you wanted to preach in that building because of its electronic settings. That, I suggested, *sounded* like all you were interested in was the visual effects and the prestige of preaching in such a place. That came across, in your original post, as *sounding* a little self centered.

      I responded earlier that I think we are talking past each other. I do not think you are hearing what I am saying at all. I am not attacking you. I am challenging a mindset that seems to reduce any human to a reactor to a certain set of stimuli.

      Even in your response to me, you said that “we have lost this generation almost entirely.” I would suggest that *we* have done nothing of the sort. I would suggest that *we* never had them. It never has been, nor will it ever be, about *us*. If they were disciples of Christ, then He had them and still has them. If they are “lost” then either they were disciples of Christ, and they have turned away from Him, or they never were. And, even using the “we have lost them” as a metaphor, exactly how have we lost them? By not showing movies during the sermon? Once again, I suggest that this terminology reveals far too much power and responsibility has been placed in the physical church building and in the *event* of the worship service, and not nearly enough in the nature of discipleship and what it means to follow Jesus.

      If what you are speaking of is the need to preach and teach narratively, then I am in absolute agreement with you. But if you are suggesting (please notice the “if”) that the solution to this faith issue is simply the use of multiple projectors and souped up “experiential” worship services, then I say, no. Other religious groups have been doing what you are suggesting for decades, and their numbers are no healthier than the numbers related by the Christian Chronicle as relating to the Churches of Christ.

      Once again, James, I truly am sorry if you think I was attacking you ad hominem. I was extremely worked up last night (not about this subject, but I fear my emotions probably erupted in my response) but I have no ill feelings for you. As I stated, we have different conclusions, and I felt like in your post (and in responses to several who have been dialoging with you) that you have put *every* young person and *every* congregation in the same category. That shoe simply does not fit. And, even for those to whom it does fit, I would say there are far greater theological and hermeneutical issues at play rather than the audio/visual presentation during a class or sermon.

      And, by the way, I am in no way a fan of the Jule Miller filmstrips. I believe they were highly reductionistic, and perhaps one piece of the discipleship issue that we are facing today.

    • Mark says:

      “..Millennials (those born 1981-2000). Out of a class of 150, six raised their hands.”

      I would ask for the average over the course of quarter or two. Was it summer? spring break? What about attendance at the main service? Some might not have gone to or stayed for Bible class.

      What was the subject of the class? Was it a topic that they wanted to listen to or learn about? Who was teaching it? What is the political/religious leaning of the congregation?

      I am truly surprised that in a Bible class you had 6. I would have thought the number would be lower.

      To say that you have lost this generation almost entirely is a far-reaching statement. You have not backed it up with enough data.

  28. Jim Campbell says:

    Hi James,

    I believe Paul Smith has hit the nail on the head. You seemed in your proposal to have forgotten that it’s people’s souls that are stake here, and not the number of people thru the turnstiles. If they don’t understand what they need to do to get their hearts, minds and actions right with God or why they need to, it won’t matter that they really “dug the music”, attended all “the raves”, watched all the church programmes, know how to put themselves into the right christian mind-set, etc. It won’t have any more significance than superficial ‘known-as-Christians’ religiously filling pews in traditional denominations. Sorry to be laying it on heavy, but the schema that you are advocating offers mind-numbing oblivion, possibly even (in some cases) robot-like compliance with a skilfully-crafted dictated message or programme, not a call to consider one’s ways.

    But, maybe you have woken us up to one thing – it’s a sign of the times. I think the reason for public lapse of interest in hearing the Message is that the view of the future that the Bible offers is now quite out of sync with what society in the West is hoping for. In earlier centuries, life was so full of hardships, wars, plagues, famines etc, that God’s Paradise for the saved was the only reasonable utopian view that had any meaning to most people: they could suffer and die without earthly hope, but, if they believed, thru God’s grace they had a heavenly hope that could not be taken away from them, even by mortal death. Today, there is an undercurrent in Western society (and soon, by the way it’s going, in the whole world) where there is a belief that mankind can establish an earthly utopia, where war and terrorism is banished, disease is eliminated, everyone is well-fed, spaceships fly to new terraformed planets (a cherished dream of NASA), and although we may not be able to cure death, our senior citizens can look forward to a contented closing out of their years. Instead, the Bible offers them a fast-approaching era of catastrophic destructions in punishment for the lawless unrepenant sinning of the peoples, for which the only remedy is either death while believing or miraculous deliverance (e.g. the Rapsody) by the arrival of the Judgement. Society has a short memory: of course many of the enlightened benefits that people enjoy today came from the intercession and self-sacrifice of the saints who labored to spread Christ’s gospel throughout the world, but, like the Samaritans at Jacob’s Well, the people attribute this enlightenment to their own (society’s) efforts, rather than accept that it was shown to them thru servants of God’s choice. When Jesus stood before Jerusalem and warned it about the doom that they had brought on themselves for rejecting God’s means of salvation, only Christ’s legacy, the Church, listened, watched for the signs, and moved away from the doomed city in time. So, are we surprised that a registerable message that the Revelation (and there’s no way to avoid this book in the public mind) preaches for latter days, of a fast-arriving cosmic destruction on an apostic society goes unheeded? For such a society the only hope that we can offer runs counter to the hedonistic self-serving pre-occupations that are enabled thru our technology. Wake up and smell the coffee, James! Our collective senses are already so audio-visually engaged that the world looks to be going into ecological heat-death because nobody can tear themselves away from pre-occupation with the TV, the wide-screen or the computer long enough to seriously turn down the Earth’s thermostat… and you say, ‘if you can’t beat it, join it’?

    Regards,
    Jim

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