I'm convinced that all the hard work on our theology for our emerging context, and all the creative ways we are finding for doing and being church, will amount to very little. By that I mean it will see very few people come to faith despite our best efforts.
I'm not saying that as a pessimist, just that I think we live at a time when there is a dominant religion and world view, that has captured peoples hearts, minds and souls as the basis for living and being, that they will not convert from, until it has run it's course.
That's why I wasn't surprised by the church of england report last month, Explorations: Making Sense of Generation Y: The world view of 15-25 year olds. This report hit the national UK news, and showed that young people, are not the spiritual seekers, who would turn to Jesus if we could just change the way we present and do church better. Far from it. It shows that increasingly people's narrative, the story and gospel for life is 'Happiness'. The vision and mission for life has become about being happy, with no fear of death, just of growing old, and the drive to live in the now.
God is a consumer choice, a product that I can consume to support this vision of life. Ideas of eternity, consequences to how we live, and what we believe, are meaningless, in the face of measuring everything by the rubric 'I just want to be happy'.
Tony Benn last saturday on BBC radio 4, astutely commented on why we have business news updates on the radio and TV, snippets of communication telling us how the FTSE and Dow are doing. Surely he asked, the people that need to know this aren't listening to this information on the radio, but have it pushed to them all the time at work. So why do the rest of us need to hear it regularly several times a day? Because it is the new prayer to capitalism, the new daily announcement about what life is really about.
Thomas M. Beaudoin in an article titled, The church: defender of theocapitalism?, coins the phrase Theocapitalism to describe the interplay bewteen consumerism and the way of life in terms of beliefs and practices by people.
So non/pre christians aren't neutral to the Gospel, they are entrenched in a religious system as totalising as Islam or any other religion. Indeed Theocapitalism offers a way of life, that scorns any alternative. To see people come to faith in Jesus, and his mission through the church to the world, is not to make church more relevant, but to offer a new religion.
And theocapitalism is destroying church and mission. The measure by we so often live, is the promotion to the better paid job, the great place to live, the bigger house, after all they are what life is all about? We watch our church communities blighted by people following the call of theocapitalism, lulling us into missional apathy. We will do anything for Jesus as long as it makes and keeps me happy.
So what can we do, hope and pray for in the face of this growing religion?
1. Wait: Theocapitalism, is and will continue to reap it's rewards. We face a population preparing for old age alone, where the fruit of consumer choice will be living on our own, seperated from community and life with others. May our churches become places for those who grow old together, and offer something different for people to see and convert to. With a culture terrified of growing old, maybe we can celebrate and live into old age together.
2. Offer an Alternative: Can we offer and alternative way of living as christians? Maybe the most radical alternative to live by is to not live by the narrative and vision of capitalism. What if christians were a people who showed committment, in the face of a culture who won't committ to anything. Committment to marriage younger, having children, living in community, not living out the dream of 'keep your options open, until you have everything you want'. And can we do that in the context of mission, submitting my relationships, my job, my house, my money, to the mission of God's people to the world, rather than fitting in christianity when I have time to.
3. Committment: I've mentioned it already, but maybe the counter cultural approach we need is not proclaiming the truth, is not resisting drugs and sex, but to live lifes fully committed, shoewing committment to something other than me.
4. Grace: And in all this, the witness if not about correct moralistic living, but the grace of God. The grace of God that enables me to committ to something other than me, and the grace of God that allows for the messyness of life, for when I stuble, fall, blow it, and live out my way, and still come back and re-enage with God.
5. The Spirit: And betraying my charistmatic heritage, more than ever, I long for the power and prescence of the Spirit. That the holy spirit might inspire, bring conviction, fall upon the people we connect to in power, to break through and show the false religion we so often worship.
At the school my youngest kids go to, one of the most evangelistic opportunities my wife and I have, is that parents are intrigued that we have been married 16 years, got married when we were 21, and are still in love. They notice, and find is bizarre (I offer this story not as a examplar of marriage, just that it is novel for two people to marry young and stay married these days). They ask how on earth did that happen? We get to talk about having something in our relationship bigger than the two of us, our faith, that enabled us to commit, and the committment we have in the purposes and mission of God, and how that keeps us growing together.