I started a conversation with a friend and thoughtful Christian on how the church engages culture. I’m posting these to get our thoughts moving. The author of this article, Tim Keller is a reformed Christian who is engaging culture quite well while holding to orthodox Christian distinctives. I will post all four parts in time.
We are entering a globalized, urbanized, and post-secular world. This means that we are going to be more like the Roman Empire than anything seen in centuries.
First, it is a globalized world again. The triumph of Rome’s power created the Pax Romana and an unprecedented mobility of people, capital, and ideas. Cities became multi-ethnic and international in unprecedented ways. So today, cities link as much if not more to the rest of the world than they do to their own geographically connected countries. Saskia Sassen in The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo makes the case that increasingly the residents of these cities are more like one another than they are like other residents of their own country.
Second, it is therefore an urbanized world again. In the Greco-Roman world during the height of the Roman empire, individual nation-states were weak, and large cities (Rome, Corinth, Ephesus) operated virtually as independent city-states. Cities, not national governments, ruled the world. Today, technology and mobility are again weakening the control nation states have on their own territory. It is becoming impossible to control the flow of information or capital in and out of countries. Multi-national corporations operate out of major cities but do not submit to or serve the interests of any country. Corporate and creative elites, who Pico Iyer calls ‘Nowhereians,’ live in several cities at once, rather than in any particular country. Everywhere we see the growth both in power and size of major cities.
Third, it is a fragmented, pluralistic world again. For centuries-cultures and nations had much more widespread consensus about basic questions of truth, morality, and the nature of God and ultimate reality. Now, as in the Roman world, there will again be multiple vital religious faith communities and options in every society. We will have traditional, secular, and pagan world-views living side by side. Why? a) Globalization- the mobility mentioned above. b) Disillusionment with the Enlightenment in the West. For nearly 100 years the elites of Europe and North America were fairly uniformly ‘secular’-skeptical about any religion or spirituality at all. But the old idea that unaided human reason and science would solve the world’s ills and answer the heart’s big questions finally is seen as dead end. We are entering a truly ‘post-secular,’ pagan- pluralistic era much more like Rome. Most interesting is the fact that the number of orthodox Christians in philosophy departments in this country has gone from 0% to nearly 25% in just 30 years. This means that for the first time in 80 years there is ‘intellectual space’ for Christians to do scholarship, art, and other cultural production. This is big news for center cities like NYC and LA.
No matter what their world was like, Christians have gone back to the book of Acts for centuries to learn ministry practice. But we have now a double reason to do so. Our world has become much more like the world of the Mediterranean world of the 1st century. If we want to see how to spread the gospel in the 21st century-the book of Acts has not been more directly and simply applicable to our situation in 2,000 years. There are two features of ministry strategy in the book of Acts that are crucial in our own world and time. New Testament ministry strategy was- Church-multiplying (Acts 14) and Gospel-centered (Acts 15).
read the whole thing here