I snuck into pastoral ministry via the English department rather than the theology department. I wasn't planning on being a pastor, but you know how these things go.
There was a moment in graduate school (it was the late '70s) that I won't forget. Not the moment one of my freshman comp students (I had a teaching fellowship) told me he had trouble with spelling, so he wanted to turn in his composition assignments on cassette tape instead of on paper.
No, it was the moment I "got it" regarding a strange new school of literary theory, then associated with the terms "post-structuralism" and "deconstruction." A chill ran up my neck, and two thoughts seized me:
1. If this way of thinking catches on, the whole world will change.
2. If this way of thinking catches on, the Christian faith as we know it is in a heap of trouble.
I couldn't have articulated why these thoughts so gripped me back then, but my intuition was right, I think. I was "getting" some facet of what we now term "postmodernism," a way of thinking that has both continuities and discontinuities with the modernity from which it grows, in which it is rooted, and against which (perhaps like a teenager coming of age) it reacts.
Another moment came in the early '90s. I had left college teaching to pastor a church. A newcomer to our church, a spiritual seeker, highly educated, highly motivated, and highly skeptical of easy answers was asking tough questions, I was giving (thanks to C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and Josh McDowell) my best apologetics-informed replies, and I wasn't getting through.
My linear Liar-Lunatic-or-Lord arguments, either-or propositions, and watertight belief system didn't enhance the credibility of the gospel for my new friend; rather, they made the gospel seem less credible, maybe even a little cheap and shallow.
Oh no, I thought. That way of thinking I encountered in grad school has caught on, and Christianity as I know it is in a heap of trouble.
Since then, I've grown less anxious and much more hopeful about the future as I've discovered how many opportunities arise along with the challenges of the emerging culture. (Modernity, after all, was no Sunday school picnic for the church.)
The way we traditionally expressed Christianity may be in trouble, but the future may hold new expressions of Christian faith every bit as effective, faithful, meaningful, and world-transforming as those we've known so far.
In recent years, as I've met, emailed, conversed, and conspired with many usually-younger ministers in the emerging culture, I've seen three themes—rivers, if you will—that seem to be shaping the contours of ministry. Are these radical, threatening, and revisionist? Or are they continuous, harmonious, and resonant with our past? Perhaps they're a little of both.
The spiritual formation stream
Compare modern Christianity's quest for the perfect belief system to medieval church architecture. Christians in the emerging culture may look back on our doctrinal structures (statements of ...