Where church and society are heading
Over at the Washington Examiner, Mark Tapscott has written a very insightful article looking forward. It’s pretty rare to have someone take a peak into the future and come up with a believable scenario, especially one that runs counter to prevailing wisdom, but that’s what Mark has done. And what he envisions for our society has repercussions for the church as well.
You may be aware of the pervasive belief that we are in the midst of an emerging Democrat majority. The argument runs that all the power centers of the culture have been taken over by liberals who direct the culture and define the terms of the public debate. Added to that is the fact that the coming generations are much more oriented toward finding group solutions to social problems than the Boomers, or any other generation in American history for that matter.
The argument is persuasive because both points are incontrovertible. Most of government, the bureaucracy, academia, the media, entertainment, unions, and much of the church lies in liberal hands. Yes, there has been a conservative countertrend, especially in the presidency and to a lesser extent in the Supreme Court, but the overall situation is extremely liberal and humanist. And the digital age has facilitated a group approach to problem solving among the younger set. The dominant meme now is networking and peer-to-peer collaboration.
It’s worth noting that at the hands of the media, entertainment and the public schools, there has been a massive dumbing-down of our children in terms of moral discernment and historical perspective. Had this not been the case, Mr. Obama would not have been able to hoodwink much of the population with deceptive “hope and change” rhetoric.
All this bodes very ill for conservatism, and well for liberalism. So the argument goes.
But a year into Obama’s reign, now that we’ve gotten a glimpse of what his vision of America looks like, Mark Tapscott has peered down the road a bit, and while not arguing with the facts undergirding the emerging Democrat majority theory, has come up with a alternate vision that is at first troubling in its admission but ultimately hopeful in its outlook.
Tapscott makes the simple commonsense point that when the younger generation sees the fiscal bankruptcy that liberal social policies bring, and when they see their own parents impoverished and dispossessed after a life of honest hard work, and when they then realize that they themselves have been stuck with a massive generationally-deferred bill for this big-government disaster, they will recoil in horror and revolt against progressivism.
He then gives the further insight that the very peer-to-peer collaborative skills that have made our young folk more social-minded toward problem solving have also made them more independent of top-down, command-and-control solutions and their necessary massive bureaucratic layers. Those of the digital generation want to work together, yes, but they do not want overhead. They want to target the problem, reach a rapid consensus solution, and then go at it lean-and-mean, hard and fast. The backroom deal-making that Obama, Pelosi and Reid have made their hallmark, even while promising transparency, disgusts such down-to-earth idealism.
For these reasons, Tapscott sees the next ten to twenty years as the generational graveyard of American progressivism.
And I agree, should we survive that long.
Now, regarding the church, I think we can draw two conclusions from Tapscott’s projections.
First, the young generation’s disenchantment with big government will drive it to the church in its search for a network with which to solve social problems. This is a conservative’s dream. Conservatives believe that charity should be by private organizations and individuals, who, unlike government entitlement programs, can discriminate regarding who should receive aid. Unlike government hand-outs, which typically disincentivize responsible behavior, private charity is free to reward responsible behavior and to withhold aid from people who behave badly. And getting the government out of social services will not only clean up the social services, it will give the church the chance to be the church. Privately run welfare is minimalist and direct, efficient and effective. And when it is done under the banner of the Gospel of redemption, the whole man can be healed.
Second, the church will undergo a change of shape that will parallel society, and that will dramatically influence its theology of Body life. Postmodernism is upon us, like it or not, and is here for the foreseeable future. The church has been searching for ways to stay relevant, and a large part of the answer is to be found in flexible collaborative forms, of which cell groups, house churches and other organic models will play an important, if not dominant, part.
Increasingly, the church in America may turn to the church in China as a model. The underground church there is lean on structure and intense on spirit and commitment. Under decades of brutal persecution, it has grown perhaps twenty-fold since World War Two, to some one hundred twenty million souls today. Hopefully the church in America will not have to deal with government antagonism as do the Chinese, but however that works out, the church needs to emulate the fervor of the Chinese believers.
Many fear deconstruction of traditional church structures, fearing the loss of orthodoxy. There certainly will be a dynamic “peer” feeling to the new arrangement (just visit online Christian forums for a taste), but also a vitality, and the Lord can lead His church in it. Indeed the bursting of rigid structures based on the corporation model is precisely what the American church needs.
There are no guarantees any of this will happen, but the above scenario is plausible and food for thought. It would be wise for us to prepare for massive change, whatever shape it may take, because that is a pretty sure bet. It would be nice to be in position when it happens.
Addendum: in the Washington Post, of all places, two well-connected Democrat pollsters have written a powerful admonition to Democrat leaders, saying that the way they have pursued healthcare reform will cause massive backlash at the polls this November, unless there is a backtracking and a wave of transparency and bipartisanship. They barely fall short of outright condemnation of Obama, Pelosi and Reid for the aggressiveness of their agenda in the face of deep public opposition.
I mention this because as we enter this latest “final” push for healthcare, the nation’s unease is increasingly palpable. Rather than being the fatal stroke of socialism, Obama may prove to be our inoculation against it. Saints, we need to keep praying and acting.