Leonard Sweet–self-proclaimed theologian, author, & futurist–is a controversial figure. But whatever your opinion of him, he is an acute observer of the church and has some compelling ideas about the church’s future.
One of his ideas that I have read about recently is the massive paradigm shift that is happening in Christianity. In case you were too busy during the 1980’s seeking the ultimate Nutrasweet drink, the Modern Period (a.k.a. The Enlightenment), which perfected hyper-rationalism, materialistic science, and humanistic philosophy, is over…flatlined…dead in 1980, according to most historians. We are now living in a diffuse period that some, for lack of a clearer label, call “Postmodernism.” Only history itself will be able to explain the changes that have come about following the demise of the Modern period.
Sweet says (among many other things) that during the Modern period the church became “APC,” which is a medical term. The military treated “Aches, Pains, & Complaints” during World War II. APC was also a medication that combined Aspirin, Phenacetine, & Caffeine–a good treatment for temporary symptoms, but harmful in the long term.
In the church’s case, APC means Attractional (i.e., “Come to us, and be assimilated; we’re the best church!”), Propositional (i.e., truth is a set of defensible, rational statements, rather than a Person), and Colonial (e.g., churches compete with other churches for control of geography and influence). While some of this paradigm is true, it reflects more of the Modern context than authentic Christianity.
Sweet instead suggests an MRI for the church, another medical term. We need to become Missional (i.e., Jesus said, “Go, make disciples of all nations,” rather than “Come to our church.”), Relational (e.g., Jesus said, “Follow me,” rather than, “Follow my teachings”; that is, truth is ultimately a Person instead of a static set of propositional statements–“I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life”), and Incarnational (e.g., living in the world but not being of the world; joining Jesus in his work in the world; lifting him up so that he might draw people to himself).
This is challenging stuff for those of us who are involved in the leadership of the church! Since the average heathen out there has a rather negative opinion of church and would rather be subjected to waterboarding than sit through a worship service of ours, maybe we need to rethink our outreach strategies a little bit! And since the church has lost its home-field advantage in our culture, maybe we need to take a more humble, proactive approach with those around us who don’t know Jesus Christ!