BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
Today’s church struggles between modernism and
postmodernism . . . between a retreating theology and a hopeless
philosophy . . . between a passing past and a futureless future. And
this struggle is not an abstract idea. Nor is it just one more cog
in the slow turn of history. Futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that
this century alone will bring 20,000 years of change (at today’s
rate of change).1
Typically, church leaders have decided to
"manage" their way through this dilemma . . . to "design" practical
strategies and tactics . . . to "improve" what they are already
doing. But these modern tools won’t work. The church can’t get there
from here. We can’t move with the Lord of history by merely
We must, instead, think a new way . . . see a new
reality . . . speak a new language.
Still, what’s going on today—even in so-called
"postmodern" churches—could mostly be called "hypermodern," simply
squeezing the last drop of blood out of modern skills and modern
Fighting a Vanished Foe
The vast number of "believers" outside the church
attests to another major disconnect between the church and present
history. Though these believers explode from a long-awaited
spirituality, it’s a spirituality that differs from any religion
we’ve known before.
While the church dogmatically digs in, this new
spirituality moves beyond the old split between faith and life.
While the church "manages" the residue of the mystery, unchurched
seekers move beyond "officially" mediated experiences. And, while a
"sacred" church continues its fight with a "secular" world, a new
"lived theology" replaces both the secular and the sacred:
I can’t for the life of me fathom why so
many Christian leaders are still setting their armies
against secular humanism, a foe that has vanished from the
field. No one is secular anymore; everyone believes in God
or gods or Spirit or spirits or ‘the sacred’ or ‘the
Obviously, these "spirits" are untraditional—even
deviant! Still, they represent serious spiritualities . . .
"unmediated" experiences . . . "heightened states of private
feeling."3 Deviant or not, this hunger for the mystery is
often more intuitive, yet more intense . . . more subtle, yet more
summoning . . . more supersensible, yet more sensory. The alarming
chasm between this new spirituality and an old, "official" religion
may prove the church’s greatest challenge.
Have we mistaken our enemy? Have we mistaken the
command to be "set apart"—to be in the world but not of the world?
Or should we remember our call to be "living sacrifices,"4
making all things sacred, not just some things? Should we, perhaps,
follow the black church where sacred style and popular culture form
almost a continuum?
The old notion of a split between sacred and
secular ignores the fact that the significance of life has always
been spiritual though not necessarily "religious." Whenever and
wherever the "Word becomes flesh," something turns the familiar into
fire and fire into the familiar. Indeed, can we ever say anything is
(We find) God’s presence and action where
we least expect it, catching us when we are up to our elbows
in the soiled ordinariness of our lives and God is the
furthest thing from our minds.5
Born of Spirit
Grace is neither abstract, impersonal, nor
externally objective. While old theologies traveled from doctrine to
decision, a new theology journeys from personal encounters to faith.
While old beliefs reasoned from head to heart, a new belief moves
from heart to head. While abstract "spirits" survived as good
"ideas," a new spirit thrives autonomous and unmediated by ideas.
Can we say this is wrong? After all, the gospel
of John insists whatever is born of the Spirit is Spirit.6
And this Spirit is more than an idea near or present to us. It is,
instead, a miraculous reality present in us and in all things. This
means wonder and sacred power are found not in another place, but in
this place . . . not in another moment, but in this moment.
After all, God doesn’t speak to us when it’s
So is the church the sole source of Truth? No.
Are the artifacts and symbols we’ve constructed the only mediators
to His Presence? No. All Truth is God’s Truth . . . wherever it’s
found. It shouldn’t surprise us that unchurched believers want the
church that you have when you’re not having church?
We must recall, "The Word became flesh and made
his dwelling among us."7 This fact forever affirms the
truth that spiritual reality may be known through earthly form. We
must also remember that the Hebrew God always remains active in
history, revealed in history. Whatever form this revelation assumes,
it should not be scorned.
Yes, the future requires being fully Christian,
and a new, out-of-church spirituality certainly requires scriptural
integrity. But the future also requires breaking the boundaries of
what we familiarly call Christian.
The kingdom of God does not come with
signs to be observed or with visible display, Nor will
people say, Look! Here [it is]! or, See, [it is] there!8
For behold, the kingdom of God is within you [in your
hearts] and among you [surrounding you].9
Real Science Fiction
The church suffers another major disconnect with
the massive shift in technology. Changes more profound than the
Industrial Revolution, antibiotics, and nuclear weapons—all rolled
into one—will certainly "freak us out." Today’s computers already
explore global networks, endless data, and virtual realities unheard
of before. But these breakthroughs reveal only the tip of the
First, the computer will certainly exceed the
human mind. Biotechnology will undoubtedly clone humans, manipulate
genes, and extend life. Nanotechnology will surely invent new matter
at the molecular level. And robotics will soon birthe sentient
robots flaunting "feelings," "emotions," and "consciousness."10
These discoveries are alarming enough. But they
are nothing compared to their most frightening feature: All of these
technologies are "autocatalytic," that is, they are
self-accelerating and self-replicating. They can’t be stopped! In
other words, "We are being propelled into this new century with no
plan, no control, no brakes."11
If it weren’t so real, we would call it science
The world, of course, will be totally changed—for
better or worse. Disease could be wiped out, life extended, even
destructive personalities changed. New products could "be
manufactured at a cost close to zero."12 And, the machine
could be our most trusted adviser and closest friend.
Yet, the ethical, moral, and spiritual risks are
These epochal shifts will force the church to
reexamine our most deeply held beliefs. They will cut to the core of
what it means to be human, let alone Christian. In short, the
decisions demanded in this age will put the church on a collision
course with the world and its leaders.
At the same time, the very structure of "knowing"
will also change—not only "what" we know, but "how" we know. Church
leaders and theologians will be called upon to rethink "thinking" .
. . to prove a new proof of Truth.
Is the church ready?
It’s hard enough to just keep head above
water when it comes to information these days. How do we
spiritually process this constant stream of information and
change? (Anonymous clergy comment)
A New Kind of Conversion?
These changes in spirituality and technology,
alone, would be enough to drown most church leaders. Regrettably,
church leaders also carry the burden of their institutions. "All
institutions are inherently degenerative" says sociologist Robert
Merton, and today’s sharp suspicion of church authority tends to
confirm his claim.13 Indeed, institutions and godliness
often oppose each other. At times, the evil in an institution seems
greater than the sum of the evil in persons within the institution.
It’s no surprise, then, the church unwittingly
creates labels that the world, in turn, uses to silence those who
wear those labels.
Other burdens include trying to reconcile two
separate congregations—the youth and everyone else. Churches have
yet to discover how to make both groups dance the same music. So
they either ignore the youth or obsessively chase youthful trends.
Turning youthful style, however, into a religion repeats the same
mistake the Boomers made. Remember, being different doesn’t
automatically manifest God’s presence.
After all, the latest fads can become overnight
Still, today’s dilemma drives many churches to
endless experiment, resulting in a deluge of "alternative" churches.
The one-model-fits-all church no longer exists. And, like the
Internet, believers "surf" from one church to the next—from
"celebratory" churches to "satellite" churches, from "liturgical"
churches to "life-related" churches, from "house" churches to
"histrionic" churches. . . .
No matter the style, bigger is getting bigger and
smaller is getting smaller. Some varieties for the right reasons,
some for the wrong reasons.
And, finally, most mainline churches have ceased
fighting charismatic worship. Why? Churches that worship like our
elders are disappearing! Yet, within this new celebratory worship,
the same old routine has returned—even in charismatic churches.
Three models of "doing church," though, are
thriving: (1) Large regional churches (pooling economic power), (2)
Boutique-type groups (catering to a particular clientele), and (3)
Franchises (selling similar products).14 Note the obvious
parallels with marketing. And, no doubt, seminaries will soon add
classes in marketing! Yet, faith was never the fruit of profit . . .
and never will be.
Nor is faith quantifiable . . . like counting
"heads" in a herd of cattle.
With all the ambiguity and confusion of these
experiments, the church is still "looking for a new story to live
out of."15 The "apocalyptic factor" in the "9/11" tragedy
brought a bump upwards in church attendance, yet even that hope has
returned to where it was before.
Is the world less inclined toward fear-induced
salvation? Has the old propositional truth lost its allure? Perhaps,
postmodern believers simply want a sense of wonder restored. Maybe
they are asking for a new kind of altar call. If we can say
"conversion" or being "born again" includes a changed relation
within a different existence, then maybe we are talking about the
conversion or rebirth of civilization itself.
How do we get there from here? How do we get to
where the Lord of History is going? Continue reading in
FutureChurch.net—it’s an exciting journey.
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Ray Kurzweil, "Accelerated Living," PC
Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 15, September 4, 2001, pp. 151-153,
2. Eric Standford
3. Mary C. Grey, Prophecy and Mysticism: The
Heart of the Postmodern Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997) p
4. Romans 12:1.
5. Eugene H. Peterson, The Message
(Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1995) p. 9 (my parentheses).
6. John 3:6.
7. John 1:14, New American Bible.
8. Luke 17:20, EXP; Luke 17:21, AMP.
9. Luke 17:20, 21; AMP.
10. PC Magazine, September 4, 2001, p.
142, 144, 146, 148.
11. Bill Joy, "Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us, Wired Magazine,
12. PC Magazine, September 4, 2001, p.
142, 144, 146, 148.
13. Rowland Croucher, "Essence of Christianity,"
John Marks Ministry,
14. Rowland Croucher, in an email.
15. An anonymous clergy comment.