Rewiring the American Church
By Harold B. Bullock, Pastor
Hope Church, Ft. Worth, TX
This article was submitted by Harold Bullock and Will McRaney. They are sponsoring the Rewiring the American Church Conference in October in Florida, information and registration can be found here. Because of the pertinent nature of the article and our desire to promote this conference, we are taking a break from our typical format in order to share some of Harold’s expertise in church planting and leadership.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED IN THE PAST
- Christians have been led to believe that the Bible has little to do with the real world.
- The Enlightenment (1600-1800) separated the intellectual quest for an understanding of the world from the Bible. “Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and the celebration of reason, the power by which man understands the universe and improves his own condition” (Britannica). Reason, not faith, was the need. Whatever god there might be would be discovered by reason apart from the Bible. Indeed a full explanation of the world would one day be produced by study and reason alone. Enlightenment thinking set the stage for the exclusion of the Bible from intellectual discussion and for the increasingly secular scientific attitude. For more and more thinkers over time, the Bible was left in the realm of the non-intellectual and, perhaps, “spiritual.”
- Darwin’s impact (mid-to-late 1800s) separated the universe from any necessary influence by God. For some time, the developing sciences had made the world appear to operate in a more mechanistic fashion, without the need for a God to exist in order to explain the world’s functioning. Only in explaining the creation and design of the universe and of life did a god of some kind seem needed. Darwin’s theory of evolution provided an explanation for the development of life that seemed to eliminate any need for the involvement of a god in the process. In removing any god from the development of life, Darwin effectively removed the Bible from having anything to say about science or how the universe operates. The popular success of evolutionary theory remanded the Bible to possibly speaking in the realm of the “spiritual,” but certainly not regarding the physical world.
- Freud’s success (early 1900s) essentially left the Bible mute and unable to speak authoritatively with regard to understanding how people “tick,” defining what human life ought to be like, solving human personal problems, or understanding and setting norms for culture and society. For a vast number of Christians, Freud’s legacy relegated the Bible to the realm of the “spiritual.” That is, in the popular mind, after Freud, psychology/psychiatry should determine what ought to be normative for human life and should be the source of the insights, process and procedures for dealing with individual human problems and for building societies. The developing science of sociology would study society and come up with norms and “therapies” for civilization.
In reality, as a Christian worldview was discarded, Marxism preempted the development of sociology. In subsequent years, sociology has developed less as a science and more as a philosophically prescribed interpretive scheme for society, identifying problems from a Marxist perspective and proposing Marxist solutions.
A similar problem has developed in psychology. Psychology originally began as a philosophical concern. As it became an emerging “science,” psychologists attempted to do research and to reach research-based conclusions about human beings. However, since psychology is a much less exact science than the “hard sciences” of physics or chemistry, the interpretations of research frequently have been driven by the researcher’s personal philosophical views—such as naturalism, existentialism, eastern monism, etc. The result has been that, as Sociology was hi-jacked by Marxism, so Psychology tends to be hijacked by the philosophy of the researcher. His conclusions are not simply the “unbiased” result of his research data. Rather, his conclusions are informed and guided by his philosophical presuppositions. Thus, psychology has been pushed in radically different directions. So, popular social ideas have tended to skew psychological conclusions and doctrines to fit the agendas of different groups vying for social or political control—as, for example, in the popular psychological teachings about homosexuality.
The result has been, however, that, an increasing number of people have thought that the Bible might speak about one’s spiritual relationship to God, but was not adequate for understanding the human situation. Nor could it be trusted to prescribe how to solve human problems, either for individuals or societies. “Freud may justly be called the most influential intellectual legislator of his age. His creation of psychoanalysis was at once a theory of the human psyche, a therapy for the relief of its ills, and an optic for the interpretation of culture and society.” (Britannica)
- The battle between the Fundamentalists and the Modernists (1920s) further isolated the Bible from the societal realm. From the 1870s into the early 1900s, liberal Protestants (disbelieving the supernatural segments of the Bible) had dedicated themselves to the betterment of society through applying Biblical principles of charity and justice, a movement called the Social Gospel. Bible-believers (“fundamentalists”) began to focus on contending for the truth of key Scriptural doctrines. Liberals won the political battles to dominate the leading church-related universities, such as Princeton. The “Scopes Monkey Trial” received national attention and humiliated the Fundamentalists in the media. “Modernists” (theological liberals) were left to rule the day, addressing the societal life of the nation and giving prescriptions for national health, solutions that were rooted more in contemporary philosophy than the Bible. The Fundamentalists retreated to a privatistic monastery mentality, focusing on personal spiritual life not corporate, societal issues. Those who still believed the full Bible message tended to focus on the private, spiritual realm.
- From the birth of the “evangelical movement’ in the 1940s, an attempt has been made to return to a broader understanding of the implications of the gospel for both individuals and societies. With its focus on doctrine and apologetics, it has helped achieve greater doctrinal clarity and laid theoretical structures for societal impact. But, despite its prowess in publishing, the movement has not been able to stem the secularization of the mentalities and values of church members. With the evangelical movement, the Bible has gained more intellectual respect among conservative ministers, but tends to remain, in the minds of church members, a spiritual book with no valid guidelines for real, daily life.
- With the development of the “charismatic movement” in the 1950s, there has been an increasing interest and confidence among Christians in God’s ability to work supernaturally in today’s world. However, the focus of the movement has drifted into the realm of “faith to acquire what I want in life.” By and large the movement has not challenged the secular, privatistic drive for personal success. So, though there is some greater confidence in the Bible, it still is a book for personal spiritual matters and a book to stir faith so that one can achieve his dreams/goals. It is not a practical book for how to construct one’s life, worldview or society. Indeed, the charismatic movement tends to develop people with an aggressive “faith” that operates on the semi-secular world-view and value system of the culture around them.
- The “innovative church movement” of the mid-1970s to the present has helped regain an edge for the church in speaking to people whose mentalities have been shaped by the media. It has re-gained the ability of churches to create interest in church life among the secular community. Evangelism has surged through the innovative churches and those imitating them. However, it has had difficulty in moving its converts from being religious consumers to being committed disciples. Thus, the Bible remains a spiritual book for many of the converts, but they stop short of using it as the basis for their worldviews, their lives, and as a basis for constructing societies. The contemporary focus on “simple churches” or “house churches” tends to reinforce the privatistic (focus on personal concerns) of the members and, like the charismatic movement, has trouble raising their spiritual sights beyond their own immediate personal needs, family and friends. The Bible remains a book for personal salvation, personal growth, and helping with family life.
The net effect has been to make the Bible a book by which one might “get saved” and develop a devotional life, but not a book by which to guide.
- An intelligent inquiring mind to understand the fundamental matters of life and the universe. That arena belonged to philosophy, which had become divorced from religion.
- Society, either as a basis for critique or as a basis for deriving principles by which society and government could operate in a successful and healthy manner. Those arenas belonged to the social sciences and to political theory.
- Practical daily living so that one could be successful and emotionally healthy (family, relationships, thought life, career). Those arenas belonged to psychology and psychiatry. The surrounding society looks to these to do firm, reliable research, and to outline the causes and cures of individual human problems and family life.
- Practical issues—the Bible has become a book to help people understand that they are sinners, see how to get saved, and to relate devotionally to God. It has become a “spiritual” book, not a book by which to guide practical life. For practical living, one seeks Christian “self-help books,” usually books rooted in secular psychology. In the Christian realm the psychological insights are given a Christian twist and relevant verses were added from the Bible as affirmation of the secular insight.
Many pastors and staff members have grasped that the Bible is a book to guide all of life—but many also primarily resort to psychology as the trustworthy source in guiding people.
- Of those who have “made the jump” to view the Bible as the source of guidelines for the full range of life, there is the massive challenge of “digging out the gold.”
- Though they pursue study of the Scriptures for intelligent insights on how to live, the task is huge and most are not trained to do the study or lack the time for the study necessary to adequately line how the Bible comprehensively deals with the practical issues of daily life.
- As a result, many rely on the “Christian Self-Help” books as their primary source for practical guidance. However, the “self-help” books are uneven in terms of hermeneutic and theology.
- And, even those who have “made the jump” have difficulty leading their church members into the same kind of life that they themselves have experienced. The form of American church life makes it difficult to lead church members beyond a media-dominated mindset.
Pastors have become teachers, not leaders.
- With the growing disjunction between the Bible and real life, the model of the minister became more and more that of “teacher of spiritual things” and less and less that of leader of a congregation which should impact its community, and even of an adviser on the matters of life. Ministers became teachers, not leaders.
- And, what they taught was seen to be valid to help a person relate to God but unrelated to the workings of real life. Fewer and fewer would ask a pastor for help in solving family problems or “emotional” problems. These arenas were for the psychological professional. Pastors were not trained to deal with them.
- Pastors were trained to teach the Bible and stir people’s hearts to love God and “be nice.”
- Without “leaders”, the vast majority of churches have had difficulty overcoming organizational inertia so that they could reach into the community and have difficulty making any kind of sustainable impact on the society around them.
- The church lost its Christian culture.
- Before World War II the culture of the church and the culture in the USA were more alike than different.
- The founders of the USA government and its early leaders developed a nation that encouraged the Christian religion, read its book, emulated its values, and honored its ideals.
- The life of the church and the life of the nation were similar in outlook, values, procedures, and style.
- Whether or not they were Christians, parents basically understood a biblical perspective on life and basic American-Christian values and ethics. The home passed on a reasonable facsimile of Christian perspective and values.
- The public schools affirmed and attempted to train students in the ways of the American-Christian culture.
- Public officials gained and maintained status and influence based, in part, on living (privately and publicly) and governing in line with Biblical values.
- Thus, the American church did not develop a strong counter-culture stance or a vehicle/means by which to communicate specifically Christian values and perspective in a non-Christian context. There basically was no non-Christian context.
- World War II, however, brought sweeping social changes to the younger people: women in the work force (as, Rosie the Riveter) seeing new possibilities for themselves, and the “broader” attitudes of young men coming back from war.
- In the revival of the 50’s these young married couples entered the churches, bringing with them significantly different social attitudes.
- Church life continued, but many of the attitudes and values of its members were already different from the earlier culture.
- Also around the time of WWII, a political shift began.
- The agenda of the political far left began to be pressed in the courts. The Supreme Court began a shift away from Christian roots to a bias against Christianity. The apparent “left” was still much friendlier to Christianity.
- Many church members were “New Deal” Democrats.
- But the “theoretical” left had begun a journey toward creating a secular society.
- The push of the schools toward atheism began in the 1940’s and accelerated in the 1960’ and 70s.
- With the arrival of TV in the 1950’s and portable radios a bit later, a much greater change in American social and moral attitudes began.
- The Boomer generation grew up soaked in “media values” built around gratifying the desires of the individual.
- Through books, movies and music, older teachers, who represented the fringe of American thought and values but the core of the developing media, rose to guide the emerging generation.
- By the time Boomers were having children,
- The popular culture only faintly resembled the America of the past or the church that had been.
- The Media, especially TV, had become the primary teacher of values and definer of what one ought to aim for in life and how one ought to behave along the way.
- Schools had dropped to a secondary importance in teaching how to live life—though what was taught tended more and more to echo the far-left individualistic “gratification” message in the media.
- Churches failed to develop the ability to overcome or revise the media-driven values systems of their members.
- Church had never developed a serious perspective and values shaping ability/program—they had relied on the home and the public schools to do that job.
- The home was now soaked in American-media (TV) values and ignorant of Christian values. So it produced children who were more and more committed to their own desires and gratification.
- The schools no longer educated church members in the perspective and values of the American-Christian culture. Rather, they taught the opposite.
- Thus, members worshipped at church, but learned their lessons about life from the movies, from pop-psychologists, from TV and from music and musicians. And their children were shaped by “processing” in the shifting school system and drawn into the future by media-induced visions of “the best things in life.”
- Though many churches have tried to create “counter-culture” training programs to develop a Christian worldview and Christian practices, the cognitive, idea-driven approach of the church has not been able to counteract or overcome the experiential, emotion/desire-driven approach of the media.
- Church had never developed a serious perspective and values shaping ability/program—they had relied on the home and the public schools to do that job.
THE SITUATION TODAY
- “Church” no longer shapes the worldview or values of its members.
- It is an organization made up of people committed to “American values” (in the older members) and “media values” in the younger members.
- It honors the Bible as the way to get to know God and as a help in praying, especially through the difficulties of life.
- Few church members would think that the Bible should be consulted as a book by which to understand life, build a career, raise a family, lead a mentally healthy life or guide a society.
- Nor is the Bible considered the only book by which to shape one’s value system.
- Pastors are not leaders of a “people” with a different agenda for the world.
- The “people” (church members) now have the same agenda as the world: health, wealth, and prosperity in my time.
- And, pastors are not leaders; they are now merely teachers of the Bible or religious motivational speakers.
- Pastors are not even taken seriously as advisers. They may be experts on the “spiritual” arena, but the spiritual has little or nothing to do with the realities of daily life. Thus, pastors are not seen as credible advisers. Professional counselors and consultants—or even TV advisers like Dr. Phil, Oprah and Jerry Springer, would be more credible. In some communities which still appreciate a Christian heritage, the pastors might be the spiritual presence and offer prayers at formal civil or social functions. But, in most places, the larger number of people—both churched and unchurched—feel that pastors have nothing to contribute to the real, this-worldly health or success of individuals, families or the community.
Thus we have the situation of the church today:
- A national context
- Dominated by a left-oriented media that drives individual gratification as its continuing theme and preferred value in order to make money for itself and its advertisers.
- In which there are many alternative “ways” to meaning in life: religious paths like Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism or New Age paths like Witchcraft or Neo-Paganism, or more media/secular paths, like Oprah.
- A book (the Bible) that now is
- To the society, only one of many (Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam have books also)
- To church members, useful to help you spiritually get in touch with God,
- To all, empty of valid insight for constructing philosophy, science, history, psychology, society or life in general.
- A message and mission that is “spiritual”—but completely unrelated to and devoid of help in constructing healthy, successful daily lives, families, careers, communities and nations in the real world.
- An organization
- Whose members function out of current cultural/media values (priorities), not Biblical values.
- Which, in its functioning, tends to
- Operate just like other social organizations (as, Kiwanis or MADD)—pragmatically and somewhat ruthlessly.
- Thereby undercut the reality of the Bible message about a changed life.
- That has great difficulty shaping the worldviews, perspectives on life, and value systems of its members.
- Currently, the church appears incapable of overwhelming or even undoing the media grip on the worldviews, perspective on life, and value systems of its members,
- So church members lead lives largely unchanged, very like the media culture and out of conformity to the message of Scripture.
- Pastors and staff who
- Are not leaders and cannot lead,
- Are useful only as teachers or sermonizers whose messages
- Stir hearts to want to be better persons
- But who have no worthwhile insights to contribute to living real life,
- Are seen as irrelevant by the society and by most church members.
THE TASK AHEAD
Thus, to make an impact through the church in America, WE HAVE A 4-FOLD TASK: To
- Develop pastors and staff who
- Are leaders, not just teachers. They must be good preacher/teachers, but they must lead righteously and effectively.
- Intelligently understand the Bible’s teaching for how to live healthily and successfully in a real world (personally and societally).
- Are personally committed to live out the Bible’s teachings practically in faith as they walk with Christ.
- Develop a training program that will change church members’
- Perspectives and values to fit with Biblical standards
- Personal and corporate behavior so that their lives change
- Societal views so that they impact society with their buying power, voice and vote
- Develop a church organizational form that operates
- Justly and with integrity
- Effectively in completing its ministries
- As an experiential training ground for Biblical values
- Multiply multiplying, re-wired congregations
© 2007 Harold B. Bullock. All rights reserved.