Contextualizing the Gospel -Part 1

One of my most-discussed topics on this blog has been the life of faith in a post-Christian America.  The most read section of this blog is the Church Tech section, about the use of communications technology within the church.  These two topics are not disconnected, though.  Any new culture necessitates new ways of communicating the message of Jesus.  Radical societal changes create a new culture.  Thus, the Christian message must be re-contextualized.  In order to understand the methods of communicating that, we must first truly understand the basic reasons behind this.

The difficulty is that the Church in America has largely missed addressing the massive changes in culture over the last 40+ years.  In some ways, the Church has insulated herself against these changes.  While the community is seen as increasingly ungodly, many Christians have banded together into Christian ghettos.  Over time the Christian culture has changed independently of the culture around it.

A great example of this has been seen in worship.  In the 1970’s the Church in America started to adopt the musical styles of the larger American culture.  In a relatively short amount of time the Church changed its worship style from the hymns of the last thousand plus years to the more modern praise songs.

A natural result of a more exuberant worship style was increased movement in worship and raising of hands.  Churches needed a way for its members to see the words of these new songs.  Songs were being frequently added to the musical canon, and older ones were being removed.  This was not conducive to printed hymnals.

As technology increased and prices dropped accordingly, churches began to display these words with overhead/slide projectors and more recently, video projectors.  So, visiting the average church in America on a Sunday morning, one will find a group of people clapping along to the music as they sway and sing at a digital projection of words and video.

This isn’t greatly different from a rock concert, but people staring at projectors with one hand raised as they awkwardly shuffle their feet is its own beast for sure.  While this has evolved in Church, the larger outside culture has grown into a greater variety of musical expressions depending on genre.  A rap concert might have a crowd packed tightly with people jumping and arms swaying, while hardcore and punk fans are moshing in the pit up front.  Although it has been modernized, Church music still looks and sounds very different than its secular counterparts, but for new reasons.  While the culture evolved, church culture has evolved too, but separately.

A second response to the changing culture has been for the Church to cling to the methods of the past, refusing any changes at all.  Many of these churches look to the glory days of the 1950’s when the sanctuary was packed.  Either because of political forces within the church resisting, or as part of a poor growth strategy (similar to keeping your Member’s-only jackets in hopes it’ll come back in style), these churches have tried to keep everything museum-quality.

In these churches one can find the only places in America with pews and pipe-organs.  Deep Maroon carpets and green pew hymnals sit locked eternally in 1962.  The pride of these churches is their history and they give even vocal approval of the fact that they haven’t evolved, as if the gospel itself is encapsulated by the accumulation of dust.   -Ryan


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