If Christianity leaps high in Africa and walks tall (well, medium-height) in America, in Britain it staggers and falls to its knees. That’s the bad news. But worse news still is the way many Christians respond.
Some circle the wagons and gather round the campfires of nostalgia. They tell tales of revival, packed pews and thriving Sunday Schools; they put on summer Sankey sing-songs and play it again and again, Sam; they organise fetes and fayres, coffee mornings and coach-trips, for dwindling numbers of loyalists; and, rather than covenant with the church across the road, they pray that they may be left to die in peace before the dry rot closes them down (”health and safety” issues - how ironic!) and call it faithfulness. The body of Christ has become a corpse. This is the way of despair.
Then there is the way of assimilation. Instead of ignoring our postmodern context, assimilators capitulate to it, while smugly assuming that they are spoiling rather than apeing the Egyptians. Their creed is: Organisational Performance is God, the Management Guru is his prophet, and the Alpha Course is the bread - or rather the pasta - of life. In place of the pulpit and the sermon we get PowerPoint and bullet points, as casually dressed “worship leaders” with lapel mikes stroll around the sanctuary “telling their story” and getting folk to “share”. The church has become a small marketing firm, its ministers motivators, its lay-leaders cheerleaders, its members punters and consumers. It promotes programmes like “Catching the Vision” or “Re-imagining the Future”, but the bottom line is, well, the bottom line of financial prudence.
If despair or assimilation are the best we can do, then I would suggest that God’s experiment in this particular laboratory of the Sprit we call the church may be over. Perhaps we need to consider the possibility that we are in such a parlous state not because of the indifference or hostility of the world, but because God, in his judgement, has sent us into exile; and that what is called for is neither hankering after the fleshpots of old-time religion, nor singing choruses while dancing round the golden calf of technology, but the sackcloth and ashes of repentance.
Kierkegaard prophetically, if paradoxically, declared that the day may come when God takes Christianity away from Europe as the final proof of its truth.