Friday, June 10, 2005

prodigals and post-Christendom

I'm listening to Moby's lovely Hotel album - possibly up there with his best work; some tracks are just bursting with life-affirming energy, I can't help grinning broadly as I type. There is a very revealing interview with the artist in the current issue of the excellent Relevant magazine -arguably the best Christian magazine on the market - in which Moby talks candidly about his faith in Jesus and his exasperation with the church and Christians.

He strikes me as typical of one type of so-called prodigal - those who grew up with some church connection and faith, but who have stopped attending. Some prodigals have walked out on their faith, viewing it as a phase of their life that they passed through, as well as church. Others - and I suspect the majority - have given up on the church but are still intrigued by Jesus and would like to know him better.

Thousands of people are leaving the church in Britain every week - Stuart Murray has the figures in his book Church After Christendom (which is well worth reading, by the way). But many of those are doing so, not because they've lost their faith in Jesus, but because they can't deal with church anymore.

Maybe this trend is part of the breakdown of Christendom; people are realising that the institution can be separated from the faith and they're choosing the latter but rejecting the former. Maybe it's part of trends in our culture away from high-commitment activities, away from joining organisations and towards greater autonomy in terms of consumer lifestyles...

Now there are problems here, of course. The New testament would find the idea of a solo Christian a totally alien concept. As someone has said, it takes a church to raise a Christian. But the question 'what is the church?' has never been more pressing than it is today.

Is church what happens in ecclesiastical buildings up and down the land Sunday after Sunday? or is it something else. Stuart Murray suggests we start using 'church' as a verb not a noun. Church is something we are and something we do, rather than something that is.

But the question is what will that look like? We're so used to talking about church in terms of hymns and songs, sermons and Sunday schools, centrally planned mission activity, ministers and volunteers, that we cannot begin to ask what church might be like without any of these things.

But maybe the presence of so many prodigals in our midst means that we need to start asking these questions. Many of them are still interested in Jesus. In fact, many of them still find Jesus the most compelling, dynamic, intriguing, beguiling and wonderful person they've ever met. Is this a challenge to our current churches or what?

As Moby sings on Spiders 'we just had to ask/maybe someone out of heaven/would hear us down here'.


Louise said...

I agree that the Moby interview was fascinating - and certainly not the first time I've heard those "Jesus is cool but the church is rubbish" sentiments expressed. And the whole magazine (which I bought for 99p in Wesley Owen!) seemed to have some good things to say.

I haven't read "Church after Christendom" - but I'm in the middle of "The last word and the word after that". I'm intrigued by McLaren's concepts of "post-protestantism" and "deep ecclesiology". Got any thoughts? It sounds like Murray and McLaren are looking at similar issues but exploring them in different ways.

simon said...

I've just started McLaren's The Last Word, so I'm not able to comment on it. Murray and McLaren do have a good deal in common. The difference is in their approach, however. Murray is attempting an analytical overview of the situation the church in the West finds itself in. McLaren is speaking as a pastor/theologian laying out his view of the way forward.

Hope others have got their 99p Relevant Magazine - there's lots of good stuff in it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks!! I think Ill return in the near future