Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The Christian of the Future

Back in 1971, author and theologian Karl Rahner stated, "The Christian of the future will be a mystic or nothing at all." 

That's a prophetic, thought-provoking phrase, but while Rahner was ahead of his time by a number of decades, I think he was right. We've been steeped in the modern world of the scientific method for over 500 years, which has altered the way we think about faith. In our modern world, we've prioritized information over formation.

Our worship gatherings have primarily become lecture- or teaching-based.
Our discipleship programs have been mostly oriented around study.
Our evangelism has mainly been apologetic in nature.
We've emphasized the head, while often neglecting the heart and the hands.
We've often chosen theological points over spiritual practice.

And while none of those things are inherently bad, we've, generally speaking, lost the centuries-old beauty of mysticism. A mystic is a person who seeks and, at some level, attains a direct experience within the mystery of God. A mystic is someone who is open to actual, spiritual encounter with the living God. A mystic is a curious listener who is on high-alert for the mysterious, profound, usually-ordinary, and often-unexpected presence of God in all of life.

So, I think Rahner is arguing that in a post-modern, post-Christian world where cultural Christianity is no longer a thing and average Americans no longer flood churches on Sunday mornings just because the doors are open, people will be decreasingly interested in Christianity unless they actually (both personally and communally) encounter and experience the presence of God on a regular basis.

Author Brian Zahnd says a similar thing by saying, "The faith of the future will be sustained by an experience, not an argument." In short, our faith must be tangible and real. It must be practiced, not just understood. It must be lived out, not just believed in. If it's not experienced and practiced, it simply won't last.

Which is why we've worked hard, at our church, to cultivate a posture of awareness. I'm convinced that God is always at our world in our lives and the world, if only we'll have eyes to see. So as we seek to grow in our faith, we must constantly strive for ways to experience the presence of God, rather that information to understand about God.

If Rahner and Zahnd are correct, however, this also has huge implication for how we can best connect with our world through evangelism and mission. Because if our post-Christian world is no longer interested in and will no longer be swayed by a rational argument for faith, then it's incumbent upon the church to both embody the presence of God for the world and to help the world recognize and experience God's presence. If Rahner and Zahnd are right, then in the post-modern world, you're simply not going to argue or debate people into faith.

And, again, I think they're right. I think the world has already shifted and that this process will only continue. The world is asking, whether they know it or not, "What good is faith and why does it even matter?" So the people of God must have honest, real life answers to those questions, so we can help the world understand that there are good, helpful, life-changing answers to those questions.

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