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Introduction

This past week I took up Julie Clawson’s challenge and wrote up eight questions that I would love to ask the North American church of fifty years from now. I entered my questions in some sort of contest which IVP was having and while I did not win it today I still think my queries deserve posting and perhaps some discussion.

Here are the first four questions:

Dear North American Church of 2062:

As I write these words I am nearly sixty-four years old. I write, therefore to a church fifty years hence which I will not see: 113 is just too old for anybody in this life. (If I am this stiff now, I figure I wouldn’t be able to move at all by your time!)

As I write, I am filled with curiosity, with questions about you; about what you are like. I really wish I could know because I am convinced that you are the way the church is going to be for a long, long time.

My questions:

1) Do you still know who Phyllis Tickle is? Granted, many in my time still do not but I wonder if she has, over time, emerged from the weeds of too many words. It was Phyllis who told us how special and important we are, how critical our time really is. She showed us how every 500 years or so the whole community of faith, at least in the western world, had undergone, at the end of a period of confusion and chaos, a great renewal, a period of redefinition, rediscovery and massive growth. Ms. Tickle told us that after our incredible splintering, institutionally, doctrinally, practically and in just about every other way in the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we were the people who would rediscover a new sense of God’s authority, a new spirituality, a common vision, a common practice, a clear voice and a way forward which might last for half a thousand years. And by your time that new way of being Christian should be pretty much “soup.” So, do you remember Phyllis, I hope?

2) Did you figure out that heaven is near? Deism taught our leaders for several centuries that heaven was a distant place and that God, whoever he/she/it might be, had created but had long ago forgotten all about us. Our philosophers declared that “supernatural things do not happen because they cannot happen” and even most of those of us who proclaimed Jesus the savior, believed it. And as it says of Jesus, when he visited his home town of Nazareth, almost no power could break through from heaven because of overwhelming unbelief. Have you broken through the old lie? And if you have, are you practicing the gifts of the Spirit again, with confidence? Are you healing again with a wise but everyday practiced peace about it all? Are you seeking and receiving knowledge? Are you leaning on your close-by savior and actually practicing again the ancient discipline of guidance?

3) Have you listened again to the whole, long, glorious story of God which you have in the Bible? Back in our day we had to turn the Old Testament characters into types of Christ or other allegories to get anything out of their stories. Do you still do that? Or have you learned to see how the God of do-overs kept on keeping on and used ancient, broken hypocrites, saved by grace, again and again, to bring his story through the centuries to its great crisis and culmination in messiah Jesus? And have you taken confidence from that long story, that God can use you Christian broken hypocrites, saved by grace, even more fully now because king Jesus reigns in actual power in not-far-off heaven? We did not. We usually acted like Martha at the tomb of Lazarus; we were glad to believe Jesus for later, for some other, safer time. Have you begun to realize you right now have the high ground and have you begun to act like it?

4) Have you rediscovered that God is redeeming all creation, with your help? Long ago, we somehow got off of the earthy, lusty, heaven-on-earthly purpose of God, the creator and redeemer of all flesh, the one who became flesh. We got off into a weird, dualistic idea that God actually hates the pleasures he created and is really quite squeamish about sex! Along with that nonsense, pretty early, we started imagining God no-longer cared for the creation he had once called good and that Jesus had really died to take us all to heaven, forever. We forgot the point of redemption in the long story and that once God makes and blesses something, God never gives up on it! We not only forgot how to read the story of God; we forgot the meaning of the prayer Jesus had taught us! Oh, sure! We kept on praying that we might bring the kingdom of God to the earth, the very will of God to earth, and spread the hallowed name of God, all over the earth! We kept right on praying that prayer, day after day, week after week… But it was just aural wallpaper. (Maybe we thought it was a metaphor for going to heaven!) We forgot that causing whole nations to become disciplined in the ways of God is the job we had actually been commissioned to do. As Paul once taught the Corinthians, we nobodies had been long before chosen by God to bring to nothing the oppressive, imperial ways of doing things (which reduce everything to what is bought or sold), by the way we lived. We were just beginning to understand; have you re-discovered your calling to change the world?

Afterword

Anyone want to discuss one question or another?

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