By Steven M. Studebaker
The cultural geography of the church today in the West is increasingly secular, multicultural, and religiously plural. Christianity no longer holds a privileged place in western society. Mainstream culture is more likely to malign than value Christian institutions and influence.
How should Christians respond to this changing cultural circumstance of the church?
Should Christians celebrate this change because it enables the church to regain an authentic Christian witness on the cultural margins?
Perhaps Christians should endeavor to recover the lost cultural ground and reinstitute explicit Christian influence in western public policies and institutions? In other words, should Christians seek to recover western Christendom?
Maybe the church should be content to service the domain of personal spirituality and evangelize the lost because politics and culture are worldly affairs and not the concern of God’s kingdom?
The Centre for Post-Christendom Studies supports theological efforts to understand how churches and Christians can respond to the changing social location of the church. Theology is a key resource for discerning the way forward for Christian life and ministry in the contexts of the post-Christendom.
Fortunately, theological efforts to understand the relation of the church to its cultural setting begins in the Bible and carries on throughout the history of the Church.
Jesus told his disciples to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world, it comes from heaven, but also proclaimed it present in his ministry and urged his disciples to pray for its coming to earth. Paul tells the Christians in Rome to obey the civil authorities because they hold office by the will of God. They bear the sword, moreover, to protect the weak and innocent and to punish the wicked.
The history of Christian thought yields diverse ways for understanding the church’s relationship to its cultural context. From Eusebius’ Constantinian synthesis of church and empire to Augustine’s heavenly and earthly cities, Luther’s two kingdoms, the Reformed tradition’s transformational models, and Anabaptist separatism as well models of the cultural engagement in the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox traditions.
The Centre wants to do more than look back and look around. It wants to look forward. Popular historical and contemporary approaches have enduring contributions to make, but certainly new and innovative ways can be developed. The McMaster Centre for Post-Christendom Studies supports endeavours to that end.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of McMaster Divinity College or the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.*