One of the challenges we face as we plant a church in 2019 in the United States is that we don’t get to start from a blank slate. People already have ideas about Christians and God because the United States’ mythology and ethos is wrapped up and exploitative of Christianity. Christianity is part of the cultural landscape in the United States (just like any other cultural artifact is, be it football, apple pie, or Walmart), and I think this is especially true among the people that might decide to check out a church.
But the culture itself has moved on from Christianity, even if the residue of Christianity is still all over it. More and more people are not identifying as Christians. Our old church buildings are turning into condos. And Christianity is no longer an assumption about people. Five-hundred years ago it was impossible for people not to believe in God; these days, it feels impossible for them to believe in God. We’re dealing with a different landscape and set of philosophies. We’re all expected to come up with a worldview that suits us. And so in the marketplace of ideas, we are hard-pressed to find God.
Before, finding God was as simple as waking up to a Christian hegemony and rule. But that isn’t how the world is anymore. And you know it’s not because there are people that are committed to restoring it to how it was. They are the fundamentalists that have allied with white nationalists, as they grasp for a time that has past. Western Christianity, as it was, has become synonymous to Westernism as it is. So you can see why such an alliance seems to make sense. But that sort of alliance, where Christianity is a construct of the West and byproduct of whiteness, is deadly to the church. We need to find new ground to plant the church in our postmodern landscape, and undo the idea that Christianity is “cultural” at all. We’re not grandiose enough to speak on behalf of the whole church; we are applying what we’ve been given to do in a very specific time and place.
Rather than living on the “inheritance” of the church, we want to let go of what is dying and find new soil to plant the Gospel. We want to plant the church in the postmodern, urban Northeast United States, specifically in the Philly metro. That means we need to make a new church, for the next generation. We are imagining what the Spirit is doing next and we feel gifted in finding new ways to help people get next to Jesus.
The problem, of course, is that everyone knows something or other about Christianity, and has ruled themselves out or bought in already. It’s like trying to convince someone that McDonald’s is totally worth their time to try again. You either are into it or not, and that’s kind of it.
One of the problems we face is that people have assumptions about faith and Christianity that are rooted in Christianity’s insistence on being a relevant part of the culture. The result of that is something called “folk theology.” We think of folk religion as beliefs or practices or symbols that are religious in nature, and sometimes applied to a religion, but not explicitly coming from that religion.
I want to walk through some commonly held “folk beliefs,” some of which are attributed to Jesus and the Bible, because of this. Now, I don’t want to do it so that I can prove them wrong, as much as I want to knock off some of the barnacles that have grown onto the ship of our faith on our journey. I don’t want a clean boat, but I do wonder if we clear things up, if we won’t get some more passengers on the ship who might have been too freaked out by the barnacles that have grown on it. So join us on Sundays as we explore Things Jesus Never Said. You might be surprised by the things you think He said and what he actually said.