Following on my post from yesterday providing some context for the Missio Alliance as an initiative and our first national gathering, I wanted to begin commenting on the significance of the key words in the title of our conference. First up, FUTURE.
The relevance of FUTURE as a way to frame a conversation about the gospel is (at least) two-fold: theological and cultural.
From a theological perspective, talking about the FUTURE of the gospel is meant to suggest that amid all the debates about the nature of the gospel, our desire is to cultivate a conversation about how this issue will continue to be shaped. That is, while we want to discuss the gospel as its own issue, we also want to consider how the gospel itself should influence the FUTURE shape of all theological discourse is it relates to the health and vitality of Christian witness.
In a time when ‘evangelical’ has more of a political connotation than a convictional connotation, we need bright voices that can help sort through the noise and imagine a way forward for those who call themselves evangelical.
This is a testament to the growing sense of the Church’s need to conceive of a compelling theological trajectory into its FUTURE.
At the same time, we want to think deeply and discerningly about how the gospel is proclaimed and embodied amid the rapidly shifting cultural realities of North America. The need here, I suspect, will be self-evident to many, but as a case in point, consider a few snippets from this telling piece by Skye Jethani of Christianity Today regarding the recent ordeal of Louie Giglio’s invitation to and subsequent withdrawal from President Obama’s second inauguration, “Giglio & the Weakness of the Evangelical Brand”
Where does this leave us? Well, it has led many younger evangelicals to abandon the label altogether. Despite the word’s rich theological and historical significance, some have determined it is now culturally contaminated beyond repair. Without a meaningful alternative brand, however, the media and academy who shape public perceptions will continue to apply the evangelical label indiscriminately to all bible-centric Protestants.
…perhaps the energy of concerned Christians would be better spent in self-reflection. We not only need to consider how we contributed to this unfortunate outcome by our endless pursuit of relevancy, but also how we are going to change in the FUTURE. [caps mine]
There are a great many Christians who are looking for a new public identity–a new banner–that is distinct from the tainted brand of evangelicalism we’ve inherited from the Religious Right. We’re looking for one that retains the theological orthodoxy of Scripture as well as the historical commitment to the common good that earlier manifestations of evangelicalism affirmed. I suspect the leaders who rise up to carry that new banner will not only find many post-evangelical Christians rallying around them, but they may also discover the public square welcomes their presence.
If Skye Jethani is on target, and I very much believe he is, then it is indeed a unique time for us to be thinking about the FUTURE – and doing so together.
As a closing rejoinder, can I just offer this: The disposition of many Christian tribes and movements toward the FUTURE is to try and get back what has been lost. There is a strong temptation, all the stronger as the cultural FUTURE we fear becomes the cultural present we inhabit, to simply stake out a territory to call our own and draw fixed lines of in and out. This is a habitual Christendom pattern and it’s a hard one to break. But here’s the deal, the population (“market share”) of people who are anxious to identify with territorial moves such as this is shrinking and disaffected. Thus, for pragmatic reasons, this is a failing enterprise. But more importantly, I submit that it fails for theological and missiological reasons as it runs counter to the nature of the GOSPEL, which takes us to the next post!