For a good number of years now I’ve had an itch to write a book about my perspective on what I observe as more recent developments concerning the Christian faith and the church in the context of my pastoral work. My perspective is informed by more than thirty years in resident pastoral work plus ten years of itinerant transition pastoral ministry in about ten different churches. What I have to say has also been significantly influenced by my experiences of more formal education earlier on in the university and seminary, and then more recently by additional study in a pastoral doctoral program at another well-known evangelical seminary in the US — Trinity International University.
Both by life-long experience and conviction I have been well-established in the evangelical tradition. But I have also been taught to think critically while seeking to be creative in understanding the application of the faith to every-day life and church ministry. Experience in pastoral work has also taught me that I cannot necessarily trust denominational or church leadership simply because I am told that I should. Not all leaders are created equal, so to speak, regarding their conviction or style of leadership. As a result I have not always been able to readily sympathize with prevailing notions regarding the interpretation and application of Scripture. Necessarily, I have taken pains to work collegially and constructively as best as possible in these relationships, but my lack of sympathy on some points has been known and noted. As a result, I have often felt like a lone voice “crying in the wilderness” to prepare the way of the Lord.
An additional factor in the development of my own perspective of current issues in the life and ministry of the local church has to do with my particular ministry gifts and personality. Since child-hood, I have had a deep sense of call to pastoral ministry but there are aspects of this service that do not come easily or naturally. Though I enjoy the preaching/teaching aspect of pastoral work, which I sense is also generally well-received, I have to confess that these ministries are not natural. It usually takes me awhile to figure out what to say and how to say it well. For example, most of the time I find it necessary to preach from a full manuscript which means the words don’t always flow as easily as I wish they did. This means that I have had to work at developing my writing skills. But in the end it may mean that my writing communication skills are better. Fortunately, by God’s providence I believe, I learned typing skills while in high school — which has turned out to be a great blessing.
The focus of the book I have in mind is bout the impact of the philosophical shift in western society from modernism to post-modernism. Not only has this radically changed the nature of popular culture; it has also deeply impacted the church. I grew up thoroughly schooled in the modern way of thinking. In that world, there was a cause and effect relationship between everything. Most thinking was linear and monolithic. It was a world that consisted of structures of rationality involving a certain prescribed order of things. The Christian faith provided a reasonable meta-narrative or all-encompassing world view. In the modern era, arguments against Christianity were relatively simple, challenging such basic assumptions as the existence of God or the reliability of the Bible on purely rational grounds.
Post-modernism, on the other hand, challenges the most basic notions of rationality. Attention has shifted from pure logic to the issue of motive and the use of personal power or will. Nothing can be taken at face value because we have reason to be suspicious of why anyone holds a particular point of view. Facts have given way to opinion or the use of perceived facts for more personal agendas. In the post-modern world all communication is seen as a struggle for power. Since, in the post-modern world, such a thing as truth doesn’t actually exist, life is really about control.
The church has been impacted by this shift in a large variety of ways. It means, for one thing, that it is much more difficult to agree on the interpretation of particular texts or theological positions. It is perceived, for example, that since the Bible was written in a fallen world with a patriarchal emphasis, that such has to be taken into consideration when seeking to understand what the Bible really has to say about gender roles. Post-modernism appears to allow for various means of approaching and interpreting Scripture and application to life. On one hand this means that larger differences over disputable matters have come to exist in the church of these times. On the other hand, many have concluded that these differences aren’t really important and shouldn’t affect how we relate to one another since we are all “one in Christ.”
Such a book has been in period of gestation in my soul for some time. No doubt it will continue for a while longer, but hopefully it won’t be too long before it is actually born. If I have some time soon to focus attention on this matter it may emerge as early as this fall. Much will depend upon whether or not I have the time to devote to more thinking and longer periods of writing. It will also depend on a sense of discipline as well as courage to actually be willing to put my thoughts out there for innumerable scrutinies. I think it is a piece of communication I should try to leave for this generation, a legacy for my children and grand-children. If it happens, it will only ultimately be, by the grace of God and for His glory.