Star Trek, The Borg, and the Church (pt. 2)
In my last post I listed three “harsh realities” that the church is going to have to face if it is going to have an impact on this modern, or more correct, postmodern, world. The first is that politically speaking our leadership is becoming more anti-Christian by the election, and that is not saying much seeing how anti-Christian some administrations were prior to this generation. Second, our culture is anti-Christian, and this can be demonstrated in countless ways, and in some facets it can be traced all the way back to our founding fathers and the creation of our constitution. Finally, we live in the 21st century, not some mythical 1st, 5th, 19th or 20th century. Nostalgia is fine for high school reunions, but it is fatal when it becomes the only source of nourishment for the church.
In my illustration of the Star Trek series and the menace of the Borg to the Federation, I pointed out that all the brilliant weaponry that the Enterprise and her sister ships was absolutely useless once the Borg identified the threat and adjusted their defenses. Same with the Klingons and Romulans and all the other alien worlds. This I found to be a brilliant piece of writing – it really should have been the theme of a full length movie to begin with. As it turned out, the only way the Borg could be defeated was when the crew of the Enterprise planted a “virus,” some sort of unanswerable question, in a captured Borg and returned him/her/it back to the collective. In time the Borg shut down. Now, I think that was just for an episode or two; it seems that the Borg returned later (as I mentioned, I am not a TNG aficionado). But I like the metaphor for how the church needs to address this postmodern world.
What is the question that this culture refuses to answer? In fact, what is the question that the church in this culture refuses to address for the most part? In a phrase, Jesus Christ and him crucified.
The mega-church model is built on several different but closely related pillars. One is salving the conscience of aging baby boomers who have had every whim and fancy carefully given to them by their parents. They are spoiled, and do not want to be confronted by their hedonism and selfishness. I know this by experience. I am one. We have had all the creature comforts that our parents wanted us to have without any of the hardship or pain that our parents and grandparents had to endure. We are the most spoiled generation in history. Mega-churches feed this hedonism. No crosses are to be found in the mall-complex institutions. The Lord’s supper is moved to the middle of the week so that “seekers” are not offended by “churchly” language and symbols. “Sermons” deal with how to make money without feeling guilty, how to have a spiritually acceptable divorce (just love your ex and make sure you spend time with your children) and how America is the new Israel. Don’t get me wrong – plenty of Scripture is used, even going verse by verse in many churches. But the hard edge of the gospel is always blunted. Jonathan Edwards brought thousands to the cross by preaching against sin. Mega-pastors in mega-churches bring thousands to the auditorium by presenting cute little melodramas and politically correct hymns. No blood sacrifice, no atonement, no “take up your cross and follow me.” It’s just all, “Jesus is your best buddy, hallelujah.” Mega-churches are built upon the mega-egos of the mega-pastors.
The Emerging church has reacted strongly against this tripe, and for good reason. They have brought back the cross and Christian imagery into the sanctuary, in many cases they are returning to a meaningful liturgy, they are recovering the importance of weekly communion on the Lord’s day. But ultimately they have failed to address the major failing of the seeker sensitive, mega-church movement. As I read the books and articles written by emerging church leaders I am struck by the fact that they are promoting a core attribute of the seeker sensitive movement that they supposedly are reacting against – a profound narcissism. I am sympathetic to much the Emerging church is saying, and I appreciate their willingness to return to ancient Christian faith and practices. But lurking under the surface of so much of the emerging church literature is just rank narcissism that, if it is not identified and corrected, will in time destroy the movement. The leaders claim they are trying to step outside of modernity, but in too many cases they are simply hyper-moderns. It should come as no shock that the overwhelming majority of Emerging church leaders are under the age of 40, many under the age of 30, and a huge percentage have come from ultra-orthodox (sometimes fundamentalist) backgrounds. It is a movement that is a-theological, youth oriented and anti-authority. It is reactionary, and oftentimes not in a healthy way. As I said, I am in sympathy with many of the issues that the emerging church authors identify. I simply cannot accept their solutions, because at their philosophical root their solutions are no more sound than those of the seeker sensitive mega-churches.
Which leads me back to my question. What is it that the New Testament trumpets that is lost today? It is lost in the traditional church, it is lost in the mega-church, and it is lost in the Emerging church. It is the cross. I can hear the wails of denial from all three groups – but that just proves my point. If we were preaching the cross it would be evident and there would be not need to protest. The traditional church fails to preach the cross because it feels too secure in its established presence. The cross is disorienting, and the one thing the traditional church cannot allow is anything that disorients its position. The mega-church cannot preach the cross because the cross points to sin, and preaching against sin is harmful to attendance figures and church budgets. The Emerging church talks a lot about the cross, but once again the cross confronts narcissism, and so while the cross returns as a symbol, the substance is kept at a safe arms length.
The church will survive, and will have an impact on its culture, when the cross of Jesus is preached. It must be preached in all of its full-throated power. Sin must be named and confronted. Jesus died because of sin, not to be someone’s best buddy or to generate a spiritual buzz. But the cross speaks just as loudly about the grace of God. The cross cannot be allowed to become a new legalism (the major besetting sin of the traditional church). The cross confronts all modern images of the church – the traditional, the seeker sensitive mega-church and the Emerging church.
We live in a bent and broken world. In one way it is inescapable that we should have to struggle with some aspects of this bentness and brokeness creeping into the church. There is a way to overcome this plague. We must confront the bent and broken world with the one question it cannot answer – in fact the one question it simply refuses to discuss. We need to preach the cross of Jesus, in all of its ugliness and in all of its beauty.
But, before we do that, we need to hear and to submit to the message of the cross in the church. First and foremost, the church must once again become bearers of the cross. If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
Posted on May 9, 2012, in Christ and Culture, Spiritual Formation, Theology and tagged Christianity, Culture, Emerging church, Jesus, New Testament, Postmodernism. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.