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CHRISTENDOM IS DEAD
WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES OF SEATTLE
I have spent the last twenty years of my life ministering in one of the least churched and most liberal cities in America.
In many ways, Seattle is not just post-Christian; it's pre-Christian. We never had a Christian heyday. The Puritans landed on the other side of the nation. The Great Awakenings did not touch my hibernating hometown. The evangelical church-planting movements, the denominations, the publishing companies, and the theological institutions spread to the South and Midwest but never to the Great North Left. The county I live in voted enthusiastically for gay marriage and marijuana, which means I can now smoke a joint while marrying a dude. The Netherlands decriminalized marijuana; Jamaica overlooks it; we legalized it, so I guess we're to the left of Amsterdam and Kingston, if you can believe it.
When I first planted Mars Hill Church out of a college ministry in Seattle in 1996, we were a small group of broke, newly converted, single indie rockers trying to reach a city that was home to more dogs and cats than children or evangelicals. Today a growing majority in the United States, Canada, and Europe—especially young people and urbanites—think and act pretty much the same as the people I've been trying to reach. In the providence of God, I was granted, along with other ministers in cities like mine, the great honor to plow new ground and scatter gospel seed early—with all the birds, rocks, and thorns that Jesus promised.
Of course, the rest of the country and the world are not destined to become just like Seattle. But I am convinced that what my church has seen become normative in our city will soon become normative elsewhere. The tsunami of cultural change hit our beach first, which puts us in a position to help others learn from our fruit and our failure. Maybe our little church plant was like Noah's dove, sent to explore the landscape of a new world.
I have been hated, protested, despised, lied about, threatened, and maligned so many times and in so many ways I could not even begin to recount them all. I have made mistakes, committed sins, failed, and said things in ways that should have slowed down the forward progress of the gospel. Yet while we started with about a dozen mainly broke, single, arty people in the living room of our rental home with literally nothing but an open Bible and open hearts, we've seen God graciously build a church one changed life at a time. We've become one of our nation's largest and fastest-growing churches, based upon an hour-plus of Bible preaching every week. It truly makes no sense. But every time the media ask me what the secret is, I tell them the same thing: it does not matter what is against you if Jesus is with you.
Jesus said the fields are "ripe for harvest," and he was not exaggerating. For multiple years in a row we have baptized over a thousand new Christians. Many if not most of them are young, single, college educated, and not virgins, who have spent more time with porn than with Paul and who represent the first generation of faith in their families, breaking decades of unbelief, perversion, addiction, and folly. All of this is happening in what some affectionately call The People's Republic of Seattle. Our run won't last forever, and not every church will experience exactly what we have, but there are reasons for hope.
For those Christians concerned that culture is trending more hostile to the faith, I assure you after two decades on the front line that this is not a time of retreat but rather resurgence. This is not a time for compromise but rather courage. The fields are ripe. And as Jesus says, "the laborers are few"—in part because the prophets of doom are many. I'm frankly sick of all the books and movies trying to predict when Jesus will return and we'll get to start our eternal vacation at his all-inclusive resort called heaven. I'm also sick of the nerd parade of books and conferences that approach the Bible like scholars whose mission is to get their master's rather than soldiers who are on mission with their Master.
We've got work to do. There are lost people to reach, churches to plant, and nations to evangelize. Hell is hot, forever is a long time, and it's our turn to stop making a dent and start making a difference. This is no time to trade in boots for flip-flops. The days are darker, which means our resolve must be stronger and our convictions clearer.
ONE NATION, UNDER GOD?
If you don't believe me that evangelical Christians' days are getting darker, consider the spirituality of our 2012 presidential candidates. Unlike in past elections, candidates proving themselves to be born-again Christians is no longer seen as helpful for campaigning. The loser's beliefs were clearly Mormon. The winner's beliefs were clearly unclear.
On January 21, 2013, Barack Obama placed his hand on a Bible he may not entirely believe to take an oath to a God he may not entirely know. Jesus alone will judge his soul one day, but in the meantime we are free to be confused by a man who says he's a Christian while ending his speech to America's largest abortion provider with, "Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you." Anyway, with a hand on the Bible, he swore to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, concluding with the words, "So help me God." He then made a speech that invoked God five times. In a conspicuous display of religious pageantry, an array of leaders representing numerous faith traditions witnessed the event, each offering some nebulous greeting card statement from the Sky Fairy while wearing a robe or fancy hat, because the best way to keep up a farce is to really play along and pay attention to the details.
Barack Obama then took his place as the leader of a nation whose money says "In God We Trust" without even the courtesy of a punch line to let us know it's a joke. At the very least, the photos of the dead presidents on our currency should show them smirking to clue us in on the ruse.
One notable omission on the inauguration stage was Pastor Louie Giglio. He was dumped like a prom date with tuberculosis, although the official report was that he withdrew. He had been invited to offer an opening prayer as the token evangelical. Louie is by all accounts a great, noncontroversial guy—unlike some of us—which is pretty much what you'd expect from a guy named Louie who wears scarves. He's known for leading the Passion Movement, which hosts conferences for upward of sixty thousand college students who flock to Atlanta every year to hear from God's Word and sing God's praises. He has given years of his life and raised millions of dollars to free people from human trafficking and the sex trade. He started a popular church in Atlanta, where he loves and serves people. It's no wonder the Obama administration took notice and invited Giglio to give the benediction at the second inaugural festivities.
The hose found the bees' nest when a website published excerpts from a sermon Louie had delivered almost two decades prior. In that message this pastor had the audacity to point out that, according to the Bible, the homosexual lifestyle is unacceptable in God's eyes. The disclosure had its intended effect. Like-minded critics jumped on the story, and a guy who could have won "most huggable" in Bible college became Public Enemy Number One overnight—all because he was God's messenger instead of God's editor. Forty-eight hours after receiving the invitation to join President Obama onstage, Louie Giglio was scratched from the schedule. Clearly embarrassed by their original choice, the Presidential Inaugural Committee went into damage-control mode and issued a statement assuring the nation that "we were not aware of Pastor Giglio's past comments at the time of his selection and they don't reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country.... As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration's vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans."
Like most hypocrisy, the irony was unintentional, I'm sure, as those who are most vocal about tolerance are often the most intolerant. While the nation celebrated tolerance, liberation, and homosexuality, the evangelical Christian was forced to get into the closet. When George W. Bush was in office, he personally addressed the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention by either satellite or video at least four times in two terms and got a standing ovation from conservative evangelicals who were respected and influential at the highest levels of government. In President Obama's first term, the White House had invited Rick Warren to pray. This time around, however, one of the faith's most likable, well-meaning, accessible representatives was barred from participation. When evangelicals can't even land a token appearance at an event orchestrated to reflect the various facets of American society, it's clear that Christian clout has reached its expiration date and been pulled off the shelf.
The Inaugural Committee replaced Louie Giglio with a very nice, unquestionably pro-gay Episcopalian pastor in a bathrobe, brought in from central casting to lend an air of formal spirituality to the whole affair. The prayer he offered was forgettable and diplomatic; he's about as likely to preach repentance as I am to get pregnant. The Associated Press reported on the significance of the whole ordeal: "There may be no clearer reflection of this moment in American religious life than the tensions surrounding prayers at President Barack Obama's inauguration."
January 21, 2013, was more than Inauguration Day. It was also a funeral. The highest office in the land made it clear: "inclusion and acceptance for all Americans" no longer includes Bible-believing, evangelical Christians.
As far as Western civilization is concerned, Christendom is officially dead.
AN OBITUARY FOR CHRISTENDOM
Like many deaths, the final demise of Christendom occurred after a long, painful struggle that started in the 1960s and 1970s. Christendom took a serious beating during those years from the fatal five: gender confusion, sex, abortions, drugs, and Spiritless spirituality. Strength and vigor waned as Christendom grew old and tired in the 1980s and 1990s. By the turn of the millennium, it could no longer fight back. Finally, after more than a decade of labored breathing and a weakening heart, Christendom has gone the way of all flesh.
But before we move forward into a future without Christendom, it's important to look back to see where we've come from. What exactly is Christendom, how is it different from Christianity itself, and how does it relate to the church today?
The life of modern Christendom began about the time of the Reformation and lasted roughly five hundred years, depending on which historian you read. The United States of America was among the most adventurous experiments of Christendom. It was a nation established in large part by professing Christians motivated by Christian values to accomplish Christian purposes.
For many years Christendom shaped the development of Western culture in general and American culture specifically. Judeo-Christian ethics provided a shared moral infrastructure, the church and its leaders were welcome participants in the fabric of society, a common vocabulary facilitated discussion regarding the public good, and religious organizations benefited from certain legal and financial advantages (for example, nonprofit designations for ministries and tax deductions for giving to the church).
Practically, this did not mean that everyone was born again, loved Jesus, hated sin, and believed the Bible. Devotion to a particular deity was not as important as being a moral person and good citizen. Even so, a common heritage of faith resulted in a general consensus on many social issues. For example, in the days of Christendom, couples were discouraged from living together before marriage. Conventional wisdom said that the best context for raising children was heterosexual marriage. Pornography, prostitution, and drugs were considered wrong. And at least until the 1990s, Christendom in America wielded great political and cultural power in the form of the Religious Right and the Moral Majority, a term that almost no one would use to describe Christians today, unless while scoffing.
In many ways, the world benefited greatly from the collective conscience instilled by Christendom. But the era came with plenty of disadvantages as well. Those representing majority values were often guilty of cruelty toward those in the minority. The wealthy and powerful could justify horrible atrocities with token references to out-of-context Scripture. Christendom sometimes enabled rampant hypocrisy, undermining the credibility of Jesus, the gospel, and the Bible.
Christendom bears the fingerprints of our faith, but it is not Christianity. In fact, when a society favors Christians, people are incentivized to claim the faith whether they actually believe it or not. Publicly practicing some aspects of Christianity—baptizing a child, getting married in a church, giving money to a church, attending services on occasion—included enough perks to encourage people simply to go with the flow. Christendom may have created a favorable environment for Christians, but it often did so at the expense of true Christianity.
THE RISE OF CIVIL RELIGION
Now that Christendom is dead, don't be surprised if you see its corpse lurching around like a zombie, inhabited by an impostor wearing what's left of the body. As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat observes, "America's problem isn't too much religion, or too little of it. It's bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place." One of the most common "pseudo-Christianities" is a construct known since a landmark 1967 essay by sociologist Robert Bellah as "American civil religion." In this rival religion, who God is and how God is to be worshiped are secondary matters we can agree to disagree on so long as all theologies and houses of worship conform to a basic moral framework that serves the primary matter of making a great nation.
American civil religion is not a recent phenomenon. In his farewell address President George Washington said, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. ... Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
Likewise, 150 years later, President-elect Dwight Eisenhower said, "Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply-felt religious faith, and I don't care what it is."
What has changed since the days of Washington and Eisenhower is that Christendom is no longer the legitimizing center of American civil religion. Instead, our nation has created its own religion that appropriates many of the symbols and narratives of Christendom but without the substance of Christianity. Think of American civil religion in biblical terms: America is Israel. The Revolution is our Exodus. The Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Constitution compose our canon of sacred scripture. Abraham Lincoln is our Moses. Independence Day is our Easter. Our national enemies are our Satan. Benedict Arnold is our Judas. The Founding Fathers are our apostles. Taxes are our tithes. Patriotic songs are our hymnal. The Pledge of Allegiance is our sinner's prayer. And the president is our preacher, which is why throughout the history of the office our leaders have referred to "God" without any definition or clarification, allowing people to privately import their own understanding of a higher power.
Due to the ongoing existence of American civil religion, many evangelicals are oblivious to the fact that Christendom is dead and real Christianity is in serious decline. Those in the United States may have a general sense that Christianity is struggling in Europe, but many remain fairly optimistic about our "one nation under God." As long as we see Christmas trees on government property, as long as The Bible miniseries gets good ratings, and as long as we hear public figures talk about "faith," many believers naively assume that real Christianity is alive and well and respected by the majority of our people.
Brace yourself. It's an illusion.
If you're reading this book, most likely you're an evangelical Christian (or one of my critics looking for rocks to throw, which I have piled for your convenience). While many definitions of evangelicalism exist, this diverse and delightfully dysfunctional family of God is perhaps best identified by four distinguishing characteristics:
Bible. The Bible is God's true Word.
Cross. Jesus died on the cross for our sins.
Conversion. Individuals need to be personally converted.
Activism. Belief in the gospel needs to be expressed outwardly.
Based on these criteria, what percentage of Americans could be classified as evangelical Christian? Take a guess.
The answer is around 8 percent. Yes, there are more left-handed people, more Texans, and more pet cats than evangelicals in America.
Excerpted from A CALL TO RESURGENCE by MARK DRISCOLL. Copyright © 2013 On Mission, LLC, and Mark Driscoll. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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CHAPTER 1: Christendom Is Dead: Welcome to the United States of Seattle.... 1
CHAPTER 2: Standing Knockout: How We Got Our Bell Rung.................... 33
CHAPTER 3: A New Reality: From Modernism to Everythingism to Tribalism..... 83
CHAPTER 4: Home Sweet Home: Understanding Our Borders.................... 117
CHAPTER 5: The Holy Spirit: Empowering the Church for Mission.............. 151
CHAPTER 6: Repentance: A Biblical Response.................... 177
CHAPTER 7: Mission: Seven Principles for Resurgence.................... 215
APPENDIX A: A Word to the Tribes.................... 247
APPENDIX B: Recommended Reading.................... 297
Posted August 28, 2014
Is American Christianity becoming a thing of the past? Is there a future for it?
Mark Driscoll address these questions and others in his book, A Call to Resurgence. In his book, Driscoll starts off with the challenges that face modern day, American Christianity and how the church arrived in this position.
He then goes into how churchs are going the way of tribes; holding on to beliefs, having chiefs, and fighting for their land. While some of this is not bad, when the fighting becomes nasty with verbal, and printed word, attacks the world shakes its head and becomes disinterested.
For example: one church may say that drums are okay and another say they are distracting. The outside world could care less and seeing churches fight over this trivial matter (I say trivial because sinner dying and going to hell do not have the same weight as use, or non-use, of percussion instruments) deters them form attending a church.
It is this type of combat that Driscoll is opposed to and wishes were not the case. However, there are some truths that must be fought over and not dismissed. Driscoll argues passionately that many in the church have let go of truth and it has caused great judgment and suffering.
From there, Driscoll goes into some church history and various beliefs within certain denominations. I found this section to be quite interesting as denominations arose because of certain understanding and interpretation of passages. While Driscoll does his best, even he admits that not everyone denomination holds to all the same tenets but as a whole most denominations stay close to certain beliefs.
The whole point of all this is to show that while we have differences, the church must continue to reach the lost and quick bickering among its various expressions. Once the whole world has heard, then we can debate some finer points but not before that. We need a resurgence of vibrant, active, and bold Christians to stand up for what they believe; standing up for truth. That is the heartbeat of this book and it is heard loud and clear.
Posted July 27, 2014
I really enjoyed reading this book because it explained so much to me about the differences in the greater church body. At one point the author discusses how some churches have become shallow and entertainment oriented. He likens it to a barbecue restaurant known for its spicy sauce. When the managers want to appeal to more people they water down the sauce to make it less spicy. While some may not have liked the spicy sauce, no one likes the watered-down, weak sauce. “What is true for barbecue is also true for biblical teaching. Nobody likes weak sauce.” At another place Mr. Driscoll talks about young men and how they just are not found in churches. Singe, twenty something males are as “rare at church as a vegan at a steak house.” At another point in the book the author discusses the differences between the beliefs of different denominations, or, as he calls them, tribes.
Mark Driscoll has lots of statistics and numbers to back up his statements. He is a pastor of a large church and discusses his particular beliefs. He brings to light so many things I had never thought about in my own Christian life and I highly recommend this book for those who are believers – to not only make you see what you are believing but also to understand what other believers believe and understand the differences better.
Posted July 18, 2014
Mark Driscoll is a pastor of a church who wants to help Christians define their beliefs and establish boundaries. He said the problem is the gospel must be spoken with words because the gospel is not what we do, but what Jesus did for us. Our beliefs define and establish boundaries. Our faith grows as we read the Bible, recite our creed of faith, read books, and attend Christian education classes and conferences. He said we’re not to be afraid, for God commands us about 150 times not to fear. He cautions against spiritual one-ism because it naively assumes all spirits are good and ignores the existence of Satan. He explains the dangers of pornography and the severity of sexual sin. We all belong to a tribe (denomination) and how they differ, some like a prison, but good ones like a home where you are free to enjoy friendships with Christians from other tribes. He showed how life with the Holy Spirit is like flying kites. Sin is like floating slowly down a river on a tube when suddenly the current becomes too strong to be fun, but becomes dangerous. We live in a hostile culture which makes evangelism necessary and reading the Bible critical. The Holy Spirit empowers, excites, guides, enters and helps us. He discussed the Trinity, Revelation, Creation, (made in God’s image), as well as the Fall (causing God’s judgment), the covenant (God’s pursuit), Incarnation (God comes). The Cross (Jesus dies in our place), Resurrection (God saves), Worship (God transforms), Stewardship (God gives us purpose), and Kingdom (God reigns and the rapture occurs). He discussed tongues, the need to translate the Bible into every language, and the need for repentance. He is sure Christians will lose the battle for a biblical definition of marriage. We need to love the church, work for religious freedom, and evangelizing the lost. He suggests following good principles to reach college-educated, urban nonbelievers. In our increasingly non-Christian culture, we have to be hold fast to core doctrines and explain lovingly how relevant the gospel is to us today. We also need to send people out to nearby neighborhoods to talk to people about Jesus. This is an excellent “How To” book on building our churches in an increasingly hostile world.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 19, 2014
I read this book because I am trying to read as my books as I can get a hold of on Tyndale's summer reading program. This was a very good, very thought-provoking book.
"As we read the book of Acts, we see that the church comes into being through a Spirit-empowered sermon by Peter on the day of Pentecost and not through some guy spending six months playing checkers with people, hoping to somehow earn the right to share the gospel." This statement stuck out to me. Mark doesn't water down the Gospel--he doesn't try to make it palatable or politically correct. He preaches out of the Bible with no apologies and I appreciate that.
I don't necessarily agree with all of his viewpoints, but the thing that really challenged me was the plain teaching that we no longer live in an age where Christianity is the accepted religion. We are viewed as intolerant; how are we going to handle this opposition--are we going to try to glorify God in the midst of it or are we going to run for cover? I would read more of Mark's books if I get a chance.
Posted January 15, 2014
Wake Up Call in A Call to Resurgence by Mark Driscoll
A Call to Resurgence by Mark Driscoll is a must read for Christians. Mark tells us that we need to wake up and realize that if we don't start looking at what is going on in our country when it comes to Christians then our churches and Christians are going to go away. It is a call for us, as believers, to get our heads out of the sand and to start back to the basics in putting God first.
This is a well written book that is thought provoking and eye opening. If you think that Christianity in our country is going strong this book will show you that is not true. We need to move on from the feel good religion into a working meaningful relationship with God and strive to be like him in all we do. We are still in the business of taking care of others and being the light in a dark world not a hide behind the church Christian.
I really think that this book should be read by all that are believers and that we need to be a part of the resurgence.
Good book to read.
This book was given to me by Tyndale Publishing for free to give my honest opinion and review.