A lot of very interesting things are happening right now in the evangelical movement in the western world. As far as I am able to tell, this movement has enjoyed a level of prominence over the last several decades as the growing voice of the non-Catholic church in the eyes of the media and public. Watching the unfolding drama at my alma mater – Bethel Seminary – has been revealing and insightful. The gap between the present and the future seems larger to me now than ever before. These three issues I believe will prove the hardest points during this period.
1) A new understanding of Sexuality
Living in Minnesota this ‘battle’ was all too real just 12 months ago when the state voted to allow same sex marriage, yet this is not the end of this conversation. As more information becomes available to us on the spectrum of sexuality, and of sexual orientation, the firm constructs of male/female and the associated roles will be very difficult to maintain.
The fact that most are unfamiliar with the term ‘intersex’ (wikipedia) shows the lack of exposure that the public has to this natural diversity in sexuality. In reality between 1-2 out of 1000 births are not strictly male or female (this means that the Twin Cities metro there are between 3,400 and 7,000 intersex people). Historically these people had their anatomy ‘corrected’ at birth or shortly after. Just this week Germany added intersex as a gender option on their birth certificates. Our understanding of gender/sexuality has been blurred for the sake of simplicity.
There is also growing clinical research that shows physiological responses proving heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bi-sexuality within the human spectrum of sexual orientation. While churches, denominations, and movements are all seeking to understand their communal perspective on the issues of sexual orientation, this conversation is only going to get more intense, political, and difficult as time moves forward.
2) Switching places of Modernity and Postmodernity in society
Youth today are increasingly viewing the world in a fundamentally different way than their parents. A shift in knowing and understand the world around us (epistemology) has not occurred like this since the onset of modernity and the scientific revolution. As to be expected, this transition will follow similar patterns as before; slandering, belittling, and attempts to prove the new perspective as invalid or empty.
However, the challenge is that those arguments will do nothing to change the perspective of those in the new postmodernity camp, but will only create a greater divide between the two. As I see it happening, the entrenched perspective of modernity will use its power (politics, money, prominence) to defend their understanding of theology, worldview, and the faith. This is understandable, though I personally would struggle to commit my personal finances to supporting an individual/institution that sees the world in such a different way then I do.
I have hope that a bridge between now and the future can be made. Those individuals in leadership of the evangelical church would use their influence to open conversations and include new voices and perspectives into the lives of their communities.
The young people I engage with have left the church because of issues related to this divide. Most of them do not have the language to articulate it in this manner, but this issue is huge and will only loom larger in the years/decades to come.
3) The discovery of life elsewhere in the Cosmos
Probably the most fun item on this list, but I anticipate that within my lifetime there will be life discovered elsewhere in the universe. It may be longer until other sentient life is discovered, but the odds and scope of the universe are too overwhelming for this to not happen. With 100 billion galaxies each with 100 billion stars there are far too many opportunities for other civilizations to exist.
This is a challenge for the church, because of the narrative that has been used for as long as the church has existed: that humans are the capstone of all creation. So far this understanding of the created order has worked for us, and the literal interpretation of Genesis has also supported this claim. Yet this coming discovery will force a glaring omission into the narrative – how could God create whole other worlds and peoples (who may be more advanced and superior to us) while never telling us? Where do they fit into the redemptive story of scripture?
What do you think? What are your top three?
Well, these are the three things that I believe are the biggest challenges to evangelicalism in the next several decades. Do you agree? Is your list different from those listed above? Let me know what your top 3 things might be.
Photo Credit: Jared Stump