In the recent post When Opinions Are Sought the two recent Christian works were Pagan Christianity and Jesus For President (I have linked to the websites, not the books). They are both worth checking out.
As with many thinkers in the Emerging Church and postmodern evangelicalism in general, they get the diagnosis right. Yet I always have an overriding disquiet about the ability of contemporary American evangelicals to get the solutions right. They are earnest, they are intelligent, they are observant, yes. But the growth of the church in the last fifty years has not been in the West. The center of mass of Christianity has moved to the developing countries. Increasingly, it is China, South America, Africa, and Korea that will lead. We are the eroding church. Western Europe is even more postchristian, having taken what values it likes from the church, discarded the rest, and moved on. It is likely that we are next. For those outside of New England, this may seem premature. But New Hampshire has 4% church attendance every Sunday - not much above the European churches.
Evangelistic types, forever prophesying that God is about to do a mighty work here or there, will claim that I am not relying on the Spirit to make such a statement. I often wonder if the "spirit" they mean is the spirit of evangelical culture rather than the Holy Spirit. Certainly, God might just take these unlikely places for revival. He seems to like that, in fact, and I earnestly desire it. But it is one thing to say that God can make this dead fig tree come to life, and quite another to say that dead leaves are really a sign of life, just because we wish it to be so.
Most EC types tell us that the forms and structures of church no longer fit our culture, that they do not speak to the typical human of our times. They point out, often with great accuracy, that aspects of our Christianity which we think central are in fact ephemeral, cultural add-ons from the century of our denomination's founding. They propose to strip these off and build anew.
I'm all for it. I will be presenting a fairly radical idea to my own congregation this week, in fact - something which goes against our traditional view of church but I believe will become increasingly common. Yet I don't expect the next world-changing work of the Spirit to come from me, or even from my culture. The glory has nearly fled. The house churches under persecution in China or the churches enduring war and poverty in Africa are much more likely to produce new wine.
I notice resignation that these American church-changers resolve into a very few slots, once the decorations have been taken off. Unsurprisingly, these slots are labeled "My secular subculture's preferences." I have no objection to that as a style - I think every subculture should indeed have the worship and church structure that fits it. But I draw the line at taking up the Jesus a subculture prefers.
Currently, Jesus as an early version of the Dalai Lama (or Gandhi) is popular. By this telling, He was centuries ahead of His time, but taught little more than that we should be generous to the poor and be pacifistic toward the powers of the world.
I have stated before and will repeat here that Christian pacifism may be adopted for righteousness sake, particularly in specific circumstances, but Jesus did not teach it as a strategy for conquest. That is a modern idea. General pacifism has popped up in a few places in church history, especially in the form of withdrawal from the world, but it is not the teaching of Christians in most times and places. You may become a pacifist because you believe that Jesus teaches that your individual righteousness is of more account than worldly justice, and even believe that in the longest of long runs it will endure, but you cannot take it up just because you think it is a clever strategy that Jesus said would work. That is Dalai Lama territory, Buddhist territory, and I will point out that they have never freed nations by that strategy - not even the Dalai Lama's own country. Individuals may consider themselves freed by these negative acts, but that is quite different (and I am suspicious of even that in many circumstances). Jesus did not say love your enemy because that will work. Paul does mention briefly that returning good for evil dumps coals on your enemy's head, but he doesn't specify whether that is in this world, or if said enemy must have a conscience of his own for it to work on him.
There have simply been too many unresisting believers who have been wiped out by aggressors, vanished beneath the waves, to consider this a worldly strategy. Do you believe you are called by God in this time, in this place, to lay down your sword and accept whatever worldly consequence results, for the sake of the gospel? Fine. You may be right. But do not tell me that Jesus taught that violence never leads to peace or justice. He said no such thing. And if nothing else, the freeing of the slaves and the peacefulness of Germany and Japan should teach us otherwise.
Yet these postmodern evangelicals love that type of Jesus. I understand the attraction. All those American versions of eastern religions get to be cooler. They get to capture the appearance of greater morality. They think that war and violence are horrible, not like you, you primitive retrograde Christian. Why, you must like war, or at least not really, really hate it as much as we do. The Emerging Church wants to be king of the hill in that discussion. And so Jesus must be made into the Original Gandhi. Rubbish. Christian pacifism is a high calling, and it might be asked of any of us. But it is not the only calling, and not the highest.