One of the most interesting and challenging books of the summer for me is Wesley Granberg-Michaelson’s Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century. Although Granberg-Michaelson writes for church leaders in North America, his view is the global church. And that is where both the interest and the challenge emerge for me!
In many ways, his analysis of Christianity in the United States is sobering. North American Christianity is in significant decline; however, Granberg-Michaelson offers ample evidence of significant growth in other parts of the world. Asia, Africa and Latin America are experiencing Christian expansion and development in amazing ways. Granberg-Michaelson notes that the center of our faith is neither the west nor the U.S. but rather in the global south. This shift away from Europe and North America may not have an immediate impact on the church you attend, but I suspect that most of us can already see evidence of the decline. Simply put, churches in the U.S. (generally speaking) are smaller, older and less influential.
In response, church leaders can wring their hands, or perhaps they might ask, as Granberg-Michaelson does, what God is doing in the world and what we need to change, renew, repent of or address to participate more fully in his work! The book offers more than I can review in this essay, so I will say more over the next couple of months. To begin, let me offer a few observations.
Granberg-Michaelson makes a convincing case that much of what passes for North American Christianity is based on a worldview in which the Christian faith engaged the world of the Enlightenment and emerged with the following assumptions:
- Individual rights matter more than community.
- Rational explanations are stronger than supernatural explanations.
- The material world is the world that matters for public conversations, scientific exploration and civic discourse. Completely separate from the material and observable reality, the spiritual world is private, personal and usually suspect!
These assumptions—so deeply woven into western thought—are not held by most people in the world, and in the places where Christianity is growing, these three assumptions are simply not in play. In other words, where Christianity is thriving:
- Community means more than individualism.
- God is alive and powerfully at work.
- The spiritual and material worlds are deeply connected.
This gives me pause as I consider what North American Christianity often emphasizes. Maybe it causes you to ponder as well! I’ll share more next month as we explore global resources for renewal.
Dr. Carson Reed is Vice President for Church Relations at Abilene Christian University and Executive Director of the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. He also serves as the Director for the Doctor of Ministry Program and holds the Frazer Endowed Chair for Church Enrichment in the Graduate School of Theology. Through the Siburt Institute, Carson does consulting work with congregations and church leaders across the country. His teaching and research centers on leadership, preaching, and issues surrounding faith and culture. Carson and his wife Vickie have been married for over 30 years and have four grown children.