What should churches start doing, given Wuthnow’s findings? My answer would be that they should redistribute energy. When we think of all the time and energy that churches invest in children, youth and their parents, and when we think of the high level of clout exercised by senior church members, it’s clear that young adults are being left out or left behind. This is tragic for the church because it means that the substantial investment in children and youth is too often allowed to be lost when they graduate high school. And it’s tragic for the young adults because during the years when they make their biggest life-shaping decisions, they’re outside the church’s circle of influence and support.
The weakening dollar will have a bad effect on world missions, by the way. It will become more difficult for the US to send out as many missionaries as it does today.
Working as I do in close proximity with my church’s World Missions department, I am very aware of the problem here. The cost in US Dollars of supporting American missionaries has become much higher of late, especially in those regions (Europe and the UK, and to a lesser extent East Asia) where the dollar is further and further upside down relative to the local currency. It is a real problem for Americans called of God to go to these parts of the world.
However, this is as good of an opportunity as any to take issue with a message that many American mission agencies either state or imply, i.e., that, if the U.S. doesn’t send out missionaries, the Gospel will not be spread and the world will not be saved. While this may have had some validity in the past, this is not the case today. The Anglican Communion is an excellent example of this: with the widespread apostacy we see in North America and Europe, the "Global South" provinces are having a field day directing missions (if not necessarily financing them) toward the U.S.
Beyond that, many Christians from all parts of the world are answering the call to take the Gospel outside of the borders of their home countries. The Koreans which the Taliban kidnapped in Afghanistan are a recent, well-publicised example of this, but there are many others.
One example of such a missions effort took place several years ago when Gordon Robertson, Pat’s son, was in Manila, Philippines, managing CBN Asia. He got together with Miguel Alvarez, a Church of God missionary originally from Honduras, and together they began a school to train Asians to go to the neighbouring countries (Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, India, etc.) and do missions work. The Filipinos and other Asians are culturally closer to those they are ministering than Westerners, and bluntly they are far less expensive to send out then their Western counterparts. It was also a good example of cooperation between a parachurch ministry and a denomination, which we need to see more of. It took a little nerve, though; as Miguel explained to me, they started the school first and informed their respective organisations about it later.
Below: Miguel Alvarez lining up his putt carefully at the LifeBuilders Golf Tournament. He shows equal care in his ministry, currently to the rapidly growing Hispanic population in the U.S.
The U.S.’ role in world missions is important. One reason God has blessed this country in spite of the way it does is because Americans have generously supported missions work both with funds and personnel. But the Great Commission was for the entire church; as men and women from other countries go out to spread the Gospel and, yes, lay people give of what resources they have to support this, the blessings to everyone will increase.
Scientology and Christianity are diametrically opposed in their entire approach to life and eternity. The fact that Christian pastors are seeking help from Scientology is a sign of the desperation that too many Evangelicals (?) feel in their quest to move up in the world, a topic I dealt with in Taming the Rowdies.
Our idea about Scientology boils down to what we feel are its two objectives:
To be a religion that addresses the issue of modernity head-on.
To do so in such a way as to generate maximum cash flow for its leadership.
Modernity is very much at the centre of this story, and its unleashing was a dangerous business for most of the twentieth century. Attempting to build a religion in that context is no safer of an enterprise than building a political system or an ideology. Hubbard added to it the element of fantasy, which is also a product of modernity. The ability of an individual, a political party or the state to build its power based on the projection of illusions was a well trodden path in the twentieth century. As for the cash flow aspect, the evidence suggests that this part can be called an unqualified success.
There are many sites that deal with Scientology on an adversarial basis, and the Scientologists are not afraid to use any means at their disposal to try to rid themselves of these. As a Christian, however, my view is different from many of Scientology’s opponents. True freedom is to be found in the saving, resurrection power of Jesus Christ, God’s son, not in Scientology and not in the Lodge which my grandfather was active in all of his adult life. That conclusion is in some measure the result of the legacy my grandfather left, but that’s another story altogether, and my purpose has been and is to be as complete and broad in my scope as I know how.
And I added the following:
Perhaps there is one place where L. Ron Hubbard assumed some of my grandfather’s legacy. Somewhere along the line he became the chairman of the "Bologna Club."
The "Flying Bologna Club" was the name given by correspondent Ernie Pyle to the lunchtime gathering of aviators at the old Washington-Hoover Airport. My grandfather was "Chairman" of that club. That airport, my grandfather and Hubbard himself are gone, but it’s obvious that the Bologna Club lives on to mislead Christian pastors–with sad eternal consequences.
It looks like we’re "off to the races" again with the impending release of the anti-religious children’s film The Golden Compass. Based on the open atheist Philip Pullman’s books, the release is beginning to generate the predictable firestorm.
Unfortunately, as is the case with much anti-religious (usually anti-Christian, most of these people don’t have the guts to take on Islam) material these days, it’s a sad song we’ve been hearing for a long time.
In Pullman’s trilogy on which the movie is based, a pair named "Adam and Eve" end up killing a god named "Yahweh." But such a scenario begs many questions. Is he saying that God was once alive but now dead, as liberal "Christians" used to do in the 1960’s before they got run over in the stampede out of the church? Why does he give publicity to the creation story, one that evolutionistic atheists hate just about worse than anything else? Why can’t athetists write about the glorious world they’re supposed to be leading us to, rather than incessantly coming back to the theistic one they’re trying to destroy?
Looking for the answer takes me back to an episode on the 700 Club in the late 1970’s, when Pat Robertson was interviewing Richard Wurmbrand. He was the Romanian Anglican/Lutheran minister who spent many years in jail under Nicolae Ceauşescu’s communist regime. Later he founded the organisation that is now known at the Voice of the Martyrs. Well versed in Marxism, Wurmbrand made the statement that Karl Marx wasn’t a true atheist–he knew God existed, he just hated him. (That, BTW, is where the phrase "God-hating liberals" comes from.)
For anyone who knows anything about communism, that’s a pretty bold statement. Universal atheism was one of the fundamental objectives of the "dictatorship of the proletariat," where the "opiate of the people" would dissappear along with the state. In the end neither did. At the core of the problem is the simple fact that eternity is more hard-wired into human beings than atheists want to admit.
And that includes the atheists as well. They never seem to tire of pillorying Christianity. But, in doing so, are they admitting that they’re not real atheists? Surely they should have figured out by now that real Christians face an uphill battle in getting to positions of power and influence in Western societies, certainly in Europe and to a lesser extent in the U.S. But they keep on acting like they’re facing a firing squad from the nearest megachurch. Like Madeleine des Cieux’s miracles in the novel The Ten Weeks, the more attention the left-wing government paid to the miracles, the stupider it looked. In spending so much time attacking religion, the atheists only admit that a) they really hate a God they’re afraid exists more than deny his existence, and b) give backhanded credibility to Christians.
The danger for Christians–and it’s a real one–is that, in a country where Evangelicals work far too hard to be a part of society, Christian parents will take their children to see such a movie without realising the nature of its message. The campaign against the film may be lampooned by its critics, but it’s part and parcel with the system. After all, secularists, you weren’t hauling the few children you had to the Chronicles of Narnia, were you?