By Neil Earle
Speaking at Fuller Seminary’s Sacramento campus on December 1, 2011, Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright outlined ten trends that are shaping and will continue to reorder the world in which Christians have to live, preach and teach the Gospel. Here they are, with a few of my own sources added in:
Secularism versus Fundamentalism
Arrogant atheism is on the rise signaled by an ad that appeared on British buses recently, “There is probably no God so get on and enjoy your life.” Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Company are skilled at telling horror stories about the history of Christianity (Crusades, Inquisition) but the real enemy here is the sleepiness and apathy of Christian congregations.
The Rise of Islam
Every century seems to worry over it, from the Battle of Tours in 732 to the Crusades of 1095 to the 1600s with the attack on Vienna. We must see beyond media hype. Wright says that most Muslim citizens in the North Atlantic region simply want to live their lives in peace and offer their children a better future. But the extremes get all the attention.
Growing Rich/Poor Crises
Another issue with long roots. Reactions to the banking/business crisis of 2008 have provoked two reactions – the Tea Partiers and the Occupy Movement. At the core of all this is some fundamental truth tracing to Jesus’ statement about where the true riches in life really lie.
Rise of New Technologies
2011 saw governments overthrown in large measure by the power of people to organize on the social networks – twitter, tweet, iphones. While no-one wants to go back to the days of the old party-line telephone, all this adds a degree of instability into our already overhyped world.
Modern Outlook versus Postmodern
The Eifel Tower and Empire State Buildings were monuments to faith in the new technologies of the late 1800s. Gehry Center in Los Angeles is something else. It’s Ed Sullivan versus Oprah. Facts give way to feelings. No real truth anymore so your idea about Truth is just as good as anyone’s. This has an effect on how we view Scripture of course.
The Perpetual Middle East Crisis
The Bible gets dragged into this fragile tinder box constantly as in a recent New Yorker article maintaining that Christians believe that “the Bible claims Romans 11 predicts the return of the Jews to their land.” Here is how a mistaken teaching of evangelicalism’s super-conservative wing, implies Wright, has become hardened into a gross distortion of the Biblical reality that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).
Is the earth getting warmer or not? This is another debate that has led adepts to put forward arguments that convince their side only. No wonder Truth is seen as an arguable commodity. Some evangelicals are slowly waking up to their stewardship responsibilities as derived from Genesis 2:15.
One of the shrillest debates of all. All discussion here seems to lead to a minefield of division. Once again the Bible is enlisted on both sides of the debate. “Our division is a scandal” on many fronts Wright warns Christians.
The Crisis of Democracy
Paris Hilton is now almost as popular as the United States Congress. Fareed Zakaria warns that the outer trappings of democracy – elections, political parties – are a far cry from the reality. Yet, claims strategist R.J. Barnet, we insist on wanting emerging countries to shape up fast.
Bioethics – Cloning, Euthanasia, etc.
Once again the Bible is used as a “source” for both sides to kick around.
Faced with all this, Bishop Wright sees the usual 1950s obsession with “going to heaven” or “the Lord will solve everything” as a tragic cop-out by the churches. Salvation can no longer be seen as a personal utopia, says Wright. Christians are supposed to serve the One who moved history in a radically new direction by his conquest of Death and Sin. “Christians have to embody New Creation hope,” being New Creation people, living as healers in this world in the name of the One who has all power in heaven and earth. This gives us hope with which to tackle the problems we all face together – believers or agnostics. We all inhabit God’s good earth of which he has made us stewards.