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A (Re)Defining Moment?

Has the faith of Christ arrived at a defining moment?

The ongoing process of secularization demands that Christians redefine themselves and their movement for the future.

That, at least, is the view of Hans Joas, Director of the Max Weber Center at the University of Erfurt. Writing in the Spring 2011 issue of The Hedgehog Review, Dr. Joas thinks that Christianity can experience a resurgence of interest in the West, as it has in Africa and Asia and throughout Latin American; however, it will need to rise above denominational and ethnic divides to rediscover its core essence, from there to engage more effectively other faiths, including secularism.

Dr. Joas offers some important insights to guide Christians in working for a more convincing and compelling expression of the faith once for all handed down to the saints. His views are sociological in nature and, therefore, incomplete; however, they are helpful, but not without caveats.

The primary challenge Christians need to surmount, as Dr. Joas sees it, is to overcome barriers of theology, eccesiology, and national origin to engage a dialog among themselves concerning, in effect, what we want to be when we grow up. As "social millieus" shift and reorganize around the world, "ecumenical dialogue and ecumenical cooperation among Christians become more meaningful." That, of course, will only be true if Christians can unite around a core of true and historic beliefs, rather than around the more generic and compromised religious convictions that guided the liberal ecumenical movement for the better part of the last century.

Dr. Joas also encourages Christians to reformulate their beliefs in a way that will enable them to engage other religions and the secular world (itself also a form of religious expression) in more meaningful and effective ways. This, too, is an excellent word of encouragement, as long as the privilege of dialog does not entail the setting aside of the core convictions of faith. Christians must resist the tendency, now becoming a tactic in certain Christian settings, of defining our beliefs and practices to accommodate the temper of the times - using the language and practices of the secular age in a "Christian" manner, in hopes of making room for our secular contemporaries in a bigger and more commodius tent of "faith."

I welcome Dr. Joas' call for Christians to rise above the things that divide us and to rediscover our common orthodox beliefs and heritage, so that we might then engage the world more effectively through dialog, evangelism, apologetics, and ministries of love. However, the challenge is to engage such defining moments as this with the intention only of defining the faith more clearly, not of redefining it to suit the prevailing worldviews of the day.

Further, Christians need to rediscover the value of practicing such disciplines as prayer, worship, and evangelism in ways that transcend a merely personal spirituality or that of "my church" alone. Only by seeking the Lord together through such means, in a more expansive view of Christian community, can we truly hope to express the oneness of His Body in ways that will persuade the watching world that Jesus has, indeed, come in the flesh (Jn. 17.21).

If this is a defining moment - and the numerous crises afflicting the secular house of cards suggest it could be - then it will be up to pastors and church leaders to initiate movement toward revival, renewal, and awakening. Which makes this a defining moment for them, as well.

Additional related texts: John 17.17-21; 1 Corinthians 1.4-10; 2 Corinthians 10.3-5

A conversation starter: "Are Christians prepared to make a positive contribution to the future of our growing global civilization?"

T. M. Moore, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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