As we head towards the global consultation in SA, we are being invited to reflect on issues affecting the church, the gospel and truth, particularly as we face a growing secularity in many quarters. Paul Johnson wrote of “the birth of the Modern,” which he assigns to the year 1840. Around this time Modern was contrasted with ancient, and new was viewed as being better than the old. Historic wisdom, insights, traditions or views were progressively subjected to a deeper, more critical scrutiny, and anything that could not meet the emerging demands of reason or experience was to be bypassed in favor of the new thinking. Christopher Dawson (a worthy historian on Christianity and the modern world) wrote “it seems as though a new society was arising which will acknowledge no hierarchy of values, no intellectual authority and no social or religious tradition, but which will live for the moment in a chaos of pure sensation”.
One of the results of the tremendous breakthroughs in thinking, science and knowledge (from the 17th-21st centuries), was a growing secularization. This is “the process through which starting from the center and moving outwards, successive sectors of society and culture have been freed from the decisive influence of religious ideas and institutions” We have now had a few hundred years of the processes of modernization which have had enormous impact on all areas of life and on every area of our world. Today, the western world seems fatigued, tired, and worn out (to some degree). The power houses of India and China and all their smaller burgeoning neighbors tell a different story: growth, energy, vision, potential and prosperity (at least for many, not all). The world is changing and the opportunities and threats grow alongside it all.
Many voices (in the last 150 years) proclaimed the end of Christianity and their post-modern descendants still believe that we will see, indeed should see, the last gasps of “religion” as enlightened men and women across the globe shed their superstitions, their socially inherited narratives, and the life-denying beliefs that hold them in bondage to fear, other men, or some controlling narrative. If we will all become more rational, more informed, more scientific, then we can build a brave new world, save the planet, and finally concentrate on what real life is all about! However, we see all is not as simple as some would have us believe. Religion is not dying out and there are many areas of the world where the interface and dialogue regarding the nature of “reality” is not merely a matter of civil discussion or disagreement, but can be a matter of life and death. As Alistair McIntyre wrote “Whose justice, which rationality?” When someone like Dr. Richard Dawkins invites us to be rational, whose rationality is he envisioning?
As Christians, committed not only to a historical confession and belief (Jesus is Lord), we find a mixed response and engagement with the forces of secularization. At times outright hostility, and more often than not an uncritical embrace of means and methods that carry with them values and orientations that may subvert our confession, redefine our values and refocus our priorities so that the very gospel we hold to gets mixed and muddled with another story rooted in man’s promethean visions for self-definition and self-reliance. The church has at times made mistakes, yet she is guided by her Lord and has made many vital course corrections in her journey across time and cultures. Today, in this generation, we are invited to a conversation, a process, and a hope that our God has something for His church at this point in human history. I invite you to join us in a global conversation on how to be the church, how to share the gospel, and how to make a difference in the changing contexts that make up our world and its marvelous diversity.