Three separate yet distinct streams appear to be converging into what could become the perfect, Kingdom conditions for a gospel movement. These streams are the shifting tide from secularism to secularity within North America, an increasing distaste for politicized religion, and an invisible bug that is proving to be more powerful than Wall Street, geo-political powers, or our fascination with ecclesiastical supremacy.
Let’s briefly analyze these three streams individually.
The Rise of Secularity
The concept of being ‘secular’ has deep roots emerging from the ascent of rationalism, and secularity can be seen as the principal influence over the ensuing centuries of our shared history. Secularism, with the added ‘ism’, describes a belief system devoted to the creation of a society dedicated to a religious neutrality.
It refers to all public spaces being emptied of God.
Sociologists of the latter half of the 20th century predicted a day that would be free from the archaic constraints of religion, which would soon give rise to an almost universal atheism.
But the aspirations of secularism never transpired. Even the most ardent secularists failed to account for the stubborn persistence of faithful Christ-followers or for the influence of an immigrating diaspora clutching devotedly to their imported religious customs.
Instead, in its place, stood a new reality—secularity. As Charles Taylor explained, secularity is “…a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others….”1 Pluralism is now the competitive soil in which secularism must compete for followers.
And so, in secularity, we now find ourselves in a religious climate that is much more akin to a polytheistic first-century culture in which the church was born, rather than the 16th-century culture and the corresponding Reformation of Christendom that we tend to use as our exclusive theological reference point.
Secularity is the cultural conditions where all belief systems must prove their case. Pragmatism is today’s apologetic. Truth in secularity is less concerned with a theoretical superiority of a theological system than it is with the practical implications of belief.
In this climate, every belief system must ‘sing for its supper’ in order to gain followers. And this places Christianity—legitimate faith-filled, Jesus-following Christianity, at an astonishing advantage.
Disassociation with political religion
Since 2016, the detachment of the general population to evangelicalism has increased in both numbers and emotional ranker. Politically-infused, religious messaging in America has created a cultural and spiritual dissonance that can be felt and measured both domestically and far beyond our borders.
In Canada, for example, Evangelicals have maintained 12-14 percent of the Canadian population since WW2. However, according to recent polling sponsored by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, that number has now plummeted beneath 6 percent in self-reporting.2 In the United States, the fastest-growing religious category are those who self-select ‘none.’
Within the “nones,” the subgroup named “Nothing in Particular” are increasing at an alarming rate.3 Through several ecclesiastical factors, which include needless political attachments, the relational gap between a potential mission force and awaiting mission field appears to be ever-widening.
But it is not all bad news. There is a second stream that gives good reason for hope. This stream relates to both a changing mission force and a spiritually unattached mission field.
First, within the mission force there appears to be a principled splintering among conservative evangelicals. The ethical divide is between a more culturally syncretistic form that is energized to usher in biblical norms through external public pressure, and a form that is working for a more subversive, grassroots approach to Kingdom revelation.
This latter group, comprised mainly of younger voices, reject the ‘reclaiming Christendom’ tactics often associated with evangelicalism. Instead, they aim efforts toward a seditious Kingdom coup d’état—one lost sheep at a time. Because of this divergence, these disciple-makers are strategically positioned to speak with credibility to the new mission field.
So, this new mission field, influenced both by the first stream of secularity, and the second—a disassociation with its perception of a partisan evangelicalism, are neither religiously-attached, nor spiritually-disinterested. Although they may have rejected the category of ‘evangelical’, they often value Kingdom things. By appealing to their deep desire for authentic community and their impulse toward altruism, gospel ready churches are connecting Kingdom seekers with their rightful King all across North America. This is a stream worth noting because it is the church’s future.
The New Plague
How many of us, listing our new year’s resolutions a couple of months back, thought to include, “be a blessing to my neighborhood in the midst of a global pandemic?” None. And yet, here we are—smack in the middle of a history-defining event that few saw coming. COVID-19 now rolls off our tongues as easy as baseball (remember that?) or apple pie. And, just like the plagues of old, a deep sense of fear and insecurity has gripped the globe. And for good reason.
But Christ-followers remind themselves that although everything that we have known and depended upon seems wholly insecure, none of it has caught their King unaware. Nor has the emerging culture of secularity where friends, neighbors, and colleagues are on a quest for a belief system that makes their lives whole.
Our King saw that coming, too. Nor has the growing disenchantment with murkier forms of religion to which many of us have grown far too accustomed being replaced with a growing appetite for Kingdom values.
I think our King saw this, too.
And now these three streams converge into one historically powerful moment. An invisible virus has brought geo-political powers, giants of commerce and industry, and ecclesiastical superpowers to their knees. The world’s operating system of strength is now neutered by something imperceptible.
Now is the moment for weakness.
As friends and neighbors and colleagues struggle in quiet dread, weakness courageously moves in. Ordinary faith-filled men, women, and children sacrificially serving in the strength of Christ for the glory of their King. And like the plagues of old, Jesus is recognized in their midst. A gospel movement emerging from weakness.
It’s like Someone saw this coming.
1 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age
2 Evangelicals and (Non)Religion in Canada Today, by Rick Hiemstra, Director of Research, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Presented in Montreal on Oct. 24, 2019.
3 I previously examined why the “Nothing in Particulars” might be the most gospel ready grouping here.