Church and Culture
John Telgren

Nearly all sociologists agree that the Western world is in the midst of a huge cultural shift that began over four decades ago. This is nothing new. There were other shifts such as the time of Constantine that gave rise to Christendom, the Renaissance that gave rise in part to the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, which in part fueled several revival movements.

These shifts enable us to look with a more critical eye with the strengths and weaknesses of the previous paradigms. The most recent Enlightenment paradigm has had the most profound effect. In enlightenment thought, there was a human scientific methodological solution to everything. We only had to investigate and test all the available data to improve the human condition. The same scientific mindset was applied to Christianity. Since scientific truth was deemed to be objective and true, a scientific study of the scriptures would produce a universal objective truth, producing unity. The Bible became more of an object to be analyzed and dissected. If rational logic and science produced advances in other disciplines, it was thought that the same would apply in Biblical studies. Not only would enlightenment ways of thinking with its rational thought, logic, and scientific outlook improve the human condition, it promised to improve the religious condition as well. The assumption that humans were capable of much led to little need for the power of the Spirit or of grace. The inherent sinfulness of man and the need for grace and faith that dominated reformation thought melted away in the early enlightenment years. Many Christians believed their effort to improve the human condition and religious condition was going to usher in the millennial reign of God. Many today call this "post-millennialism," which dominated most religious movements, including churches of Christ. This belief was heavily affected, like so many others, by the spirit of the age. Due to the civil war and two world wars, we don't hear much about post-millennialism any more.

This highlights some of the shortcomings of human rationality and the scientific method. Perhaps this is not the way God intended for us to read the Bible. Perhaps the word is supposed to analyze and dissect us rather than the other way around. Perhaps we need to read and meditate rather than merely scrutinize and analyze.

The key is Christ. If we understand this, I believe that we can be much more effective in carrying out the mission of Christ. We can truly begin to walk in his shoes and take his challenges to us seriously. As Jesus left heaven and went to where those in need were, we can leave the church building and go to where the hurting, poor, and oppressed are and invite them into the freedom, peace, and joy found in Christ. As a people of peace, joy and love, we can be the city set on a hill. We can engage in what Christ was most passionate about, which were ministries of compassion, which brought good news to the poor, downcast, and the oppressed.