One of the iconic films from my youth was a Stanley Kramer comedy called it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world. The title came to mind as I prepared to share at an urban missions conference in Montreal about the challenges and opportunities of living in a post-Christian society.
For today, the western world over, we find ourselves living in a post, post, post, post world. That is, post-Christian, post-modern, post-migrant and post-secular. And in central and eastern Europe, post-communist.
We all know post-Christians, people like Karl the banker from Frankfurt. Karl was raised Lutheran in a rural town, and attended catechism classes before being confirmed. Then at university Karl encountered ‘better explanations for life’, stopped believing ‘in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and God’ and set himself the goal to become a millionaire by the age of 35. And he’s close to realising his dream.
Most of us have Katrins in our lives too, post-modern twenty-somethings who never had any Christian upbringing, whose parents were baby-boomers or later, and who never bothered to follow the social convention of church attendance. Our Katrin lives in Prague, and grew up in one of the most secular countries in the world, despite its rich Christian heritage with national heroes like John Hus and Jan Amos Comenius. She works in a café and her ‘ambition’ is basically, well, to have fun.
Unlike Olga, from Kyiv, Katrin never knew what it was like to grow up in a communist society. The Velvet Revolution of the late eighties all happened a decade before she was born. For Olga, however, Marx was her schoolmaster, and a strict one at that. When communism collapsed, she joined the jubilant crowds, hoping for a better life for her two children with whom she had shared a small ninth-floor apartment since her alcoholic husband left her.
As time passed, Olga became disillusioned as she saw the same old faces clinging on to power behind new political party names, and a nouveau-riche elite driving their SUV’s with the same arrogance as the old party apparatchiks while the poor like herself struggled to make ends meet. Olga often found herself wistfully remembering the ‘good old days’ when the state promised to look after her from cradle to the grave. Where was her security now in post-communist times?
And of course, we’re all aware of the Mustaphas now living in our western cities–children of migrants from Muslim lands. Our Mustapha lives in Hamburg but has been confused about his identity. He has visited his parents’ homeland a few times but can’t identify with it like they still do. He doesn’t belong to that culture and doesn’t feel accepted there. He’s too European for his relatives but not European enough for the Europeans. So he has been unemployed for some time now and has begun to hang out with radicalised Muslim youth in his neighbourhood who do accept him.
And that’s basically Mustapha’s ambition–to be accepted.
Then there’s Diana, the esoteric healer and spiritual counsellor from Paris, in a land which has more spiritist healers than doctors, lawyers and priests combined. She happily rejected the secular, modernistic, rationalist option long ago as various life experiences convinced her of the reality of the spirit world.
In her community, Diana feels respected and useful as she helps her clients get in touch with their inner selves–or with departed love ones.
Most of these categories don’t fit easily into the standard missiology of ‘unreached people groups’. Yet these folk are the mission field under our noses. Each of them require specific approaches for which our average local church life doesn’t usually cater.
But standard missiology can help. As with an unreached tribe in New Guinea, incarnational mission requires engagement, learning about culture, language and beliefs, and seeking effective communication bridges.
And there’s the opportunity.
For each of these humans made in God’s image have heart-felt needs for love, meaning, acceptance, forgiveness and fulfilment.
Jesus offers all of the above. How can we communicate that? That’s the challenge in our post, post, post, post world.
Till next week,