Monday, November 06, 2006

Questions recently asked of me...and the answers I gave

(1) Do you see any significant shifts in Western Christianity that are of concern to you?

The shift that most concerns me in the West is the steady dismantling of philosophical and cultural modernity. On the one hand, we can rightly rejoice that modernity has finally been revealed for the tower of Babel that it was. Modernity placed all of its hopes on the supposed certainty of its scientific tools and "objective" methodologies. On the other hand, nothing has yet stepped into the philosophical and cultural void, which in recent times has been dubbed, for better or for worse, "postmodernity."

The naked truth that we now face is the realization that the church has been just as dependent on modernity as the rest of the society, and so modernity's demise marks the demise of much that Christians once took for granted. The postmodern world may offer fresh opportunities to preach the Gospel to a dying world, but what many Christians are discovering is that the message and methods once considered "tried and true" simply do not answer the questions or address the needs of the postmodern individual, who quite naturally retreats to the inner self to find any semblance of meaning or purpose for existence.

Once we realize that the default position of postmodernity is "self-absorption," then the success of the contemporary megachurch model is easy to understand, which has all but turned narcissism into a Christian virtue. Recent events have revealed how susceptible today's evangelical megachurch leaders are to the cult of personality, and thus how vulnerable they are to the narcissistic culture we live in. And yet, the megachurch model is held up by today's evangelical community as the measure and standard of kingdom-building success! What makes the megachurch such a dangerous response to the needs of postmodern man is that, rather than challenging self-absorption, it embraces and institutionalizes it. The resulting paradox is a hugely successful message that is profoundly vacuous of any objective content.

(2) What hopeful signs, if any, do you see in Western Christianity?

Ironically, the challenge of postmodernity is also an opportunity to recover a Gospel unencumbered with the artifices and constructs imposed upon it by modernity. Not only have the so-called "secular" institutions of modernity been revealed as naked, but the denominational and confessional ones of our churches have as well. This opens up new possibilities for ecumenicity based largely on the rediscovery, reappraisal, and return to more ancient (i.e. "pre-modern") paths. Some of this is already occuring in the emerging church movement, though I hesitate to give it my full endorsement because of its infancy, and because it too often appears to be the "blind leading the blind." However, there are "prophets" of a previous age, who I believe anticipated the demise of modernity, and who of late are being rediscovered and reappraised -- thinkers like Bonhoeffer, Barth, Rahner, and C.S. Lewis come readily to mind. This gives me great hope.

(3) What is your advice to students studying to become pastors today?

Stay away from self-help gurus in evangelical guise, and "how to" manuals on church growth or on successful ministry ventures (e.g. youth, adult, small group, etc.). Read lots of history, until you become sick of it. And then read some more. Learn the lessons of history by relating them to the present. Be patient with those who are ignorant of history. And when your patience for people runs low or runs out, pray earnestly for more. Don't neglect yourself or your family's well-being. In fact, put your family first, always. Enjoy the life that God has given you by making the most of those fleeting moments when you haven't a care in the world. Never feel guilty about having a good time, and resist the temptation of feeling self-righteous when the world seems to be against you. Most of all, pray that God will keep you humble.

(4) What advice would you give to those already pastoring who are feeling burnt out?

Find a way to take a break or a sabbatical. Go on a retreat. Better yet, take a long family vacation. Renew your relationship with your spouse, your family, friends and loved ones. Call an old friend who you haven't talked to in a long while. Seek the advice and counsel of an older pastor or clergy. Confide in them. Whatever you do, do not do it alone.

(5) What is your personal (general) rule of life (devotion/prayer/Scripture, etc.) as a pastor and/or professor of theology?

I rely on the constant and relentless study of the Bible, reading the lives of the saints, and using devotional aids to prayer, like prayer beads, prayer manuals/books, or seasonal disciplines like the stations of the cross to encourage and to embellish my personal regimen of prayer.


CSPellot said...

Gracias for this, Dr. D. Excelente!

John said...
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