Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

The Seventh Age and the Second Fall

One of the more intriguing observations about the flow of history surfaced in an important essay written just after the Second World War that I was introduced to while studying at Oxford. It was written by a historian named Christopher Dawson. 

In it, he makes the case that there have been six identifiable “ages” in relation to the Christian church and faith, each lasting for three or four centuries, and each following a similar course.

He argued that each of these ages began, and then ended, in crisis. The heart of each crisis was the same: intense attack by new enemies, within and without the church, which in turn demanded new spiritual determination and drive. Without this determination and drive, the Church would have lost the day. 

Dawson accounted for six such ages at the time of his writing. I believe we are now living at the start of another. We are at the end of an age, and stand at the beginning of another. 

A “seventh” age.

But what is going to mark this seventh age?

What are the trends, the patterns, the movements, and most of all, what is the crisis from within and without that we should pay attention to?

There is much to choose from.

From within the Christian movement itself, there is the expansion of Christianity southward in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that can only be called explosive. And with it, the new challenge of the globalization of Christianity. Philip Jenkins argues that by the year 2050 only one Christian in five will be a non-Latino white person, and the center of gravity of the Christian world will have shifted firmly to the Southern Hemisphere.

The challenges this will bring are enormous, including the relationship between the western and the non-western church, which has not always been an easy one.

Another significant challenge is the continued rise of Islam, and whether Islam will modernize peacefully. Or whether we will continue to have what Samuel Huntington called the clash of civilizations which has so defined our world since 9/11. In other words, will it be the model of, say, Indonesia, or that of ISIS?

Of equal global importance is what will lead China once Marxism falls. Will it be authoritarianism, a national socialism, a type of Buddhism, or the powerful surfacing of the underground Christian church?   

Another major crisis to be reckoned with on a different front is the radical redefinition of the most foundational institution within creation itself - marriage and family. No longer is family defined as a male husband and a female wife, much less children.

Male with male, female with female, children with surrogates, multiple parents, polygamy, polyamorous unions; it’s a new day where the very idea of “family” is being redefined.

But even beyond family is the challenge brought to the very idea of what it means to be human. I have long told my graduate students that the doctrine of humanity is, by far, the most pressing doctrine of our day in regard to culture. It is the area of Christian thought that is most challenged by the world in which we live, and the one where we have the least to draw from historically.

Find a reflection from Origen or Athanasius, Luther or Melanchthon, Barth or Brunner, that speaks to stem-cell research, human cloning, or transsexualism. 

You can’t.

As the first five centuries hammered out Christology, and later generations tackled everything from the Holy Spirit to revelation, ours may be the day that is forced to examine the doctrine of humanity in ways that serve the church for years to come.

But the most profound cultural challenge is the one that encompasses all of these and more.

It is the context of culture itself. Here is the great crisis of the 7th age:

There has been a second fall

The first fall led to God’s expulsion of human beings from the Garden of Eden. 

The second fall was when we returned the favor. 

In our world, most people lead their lives without any sense of needing to look to a higher power, to something outside of themselves. Leaders of science and commerce, education and politics, have ceased operating with any reference to a transcendent truth, much less a God. 

This is a new and profound break with the history of Western thought and culture. Even among those times and places that might be termed “pagan,” true secularity in this sense has been unknown. Because whether it was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or the gods of Greece and Rome, there were gods! Something outside of themselves that they looked to. It would have been alien to anyone’s thinking to begin, and end, with themselves alone in terms of truth and morality. 

No more.

The second fall changed all of that, and now shapes the world in which we live. 

And it is in that deeply fallen world that we now live.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Adapted from the opening address of the 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Click here to purchase mp3s of this and other #CCConference2015 addresses.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

The Men of Issachar

I have long been intrigued by an obscure passage in the Old Testament Scriptures, almost a throwaway comment, about a group of men within the people of Israel.

They were known as the men of Issachar.

We don’t know much about them. Issachar himself was the fifth son of Jacob and Leah, and the ninth son overall for the patriarch. The name itself seems to derive from the joining of the Hebrew word for “man” and the Hebrew word for “wages,” thus a “hired man” or “hired worker.” 

He had four sons, and went with his father into Egypt, where he died and was buried. Afterward, his descendants formed one of the tribes of Israel. By the end of the wanderings of Israel through the Sinai desert, they numbered over 60,000 fighting men. 

When the Promised Land was apportioned, the men of Issachar received sixteen cities and their adjoining villages. Moses referred to them as a “strong ass” situated in a beautiful land.

It was a compliment.

They were quick to follow one of their own, the great female judge Deborah, into battle to break the stronghold the Canaanites held over their lives. A minor judge, Tola, was also among their number, as were two kings - Baasha and his son, Elah. 

When Solomon established the twelve administrative districts of Israel, Issachar’s territory became one of those independent provinces. In the book of Revelation, the tribe of Issachar is again mentioned where 12,000 were sealed.

But what is most evident is that by the time of David, then numbering nearly 90,000, they were known supremely for their wisdom. It was even noted in the Talmud that the wisest members of the Sanhedrin came from the men of Issachar. 

But here’s what intrigues me.

It was the nature of their wisdom.

In the first book of Chronicles, we read these words:

“From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders...All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take” (I Chronicles 12:32, NLT). 

Does that grab you at all?

They knew the “signs of the times” and how best to live in light of them. To me, that is a powerful and important combination. 

First, we need to know the signs of the times. To know the signs of the times is more than headlines and tweets;

...it is knowing what is significant among the happenings of our world – events and movements, trends and ideologies, currents and worldviews. 

It’s knowing what is shaping us, forming us, molding us.

It’s knowing that as human beings, we are now alive at a given moment in time; an era that is full of significance, positioned uniquely in the wider story of the world as the world moves toward the final chapter.

But that’s not all. 

The men of Issachar didn’t simply know those signs, but knew how to then live in light of them. They had a sense of what to think, how to act and the manner in which to respond…the role their lives had to play in light of the moment in which they lived.

Knowing the signs of the times, and how then to live, has to be the most pressing challenge facing any life. Because here’s the full extent of the Issachar question:

What is:

...the nature of the world in which I am living?

...the challenge(s) of my generation?

...the status of the epic struggle between good and evil, right and wrong?

…the direction this culture is headed?

…the nature of the world’s great crisis?

And then from that, a second question:

How should I then live? How do I live a life of meaning, consequence, impact and influence for the cause of Christ?

And most of all, how should the church take its place in the vanguard of cultural engagement and missional force.

Do you see the challenge of the men of Issachar?

To know the signs of the times, and how to then live?

You should.

Now more than ever.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Adapted from the opening address of the 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Click here to purchase mp3s of this and other #CCConference2015 addresses.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

The Future of Religion

One of the more provocative reports on the future of world religion, 2010-2050, was recently released by the Pew Forum. Six years in the making, and encompassing data from 234 countries and territories, it is a landmark piece of research. 

Based largely on population growth projections, it revealed how rapidly the religious profile of the world is changing. The précis of the report is nearly twenty pages in length, the full report much longer (245 pages), so here are a few headlines:

*The rumors of religion’s death have been exaggerated. Almost every major world religion (except Buddhism) will rise in numbers.

*The fastest growing world religion will be Islam.

*Despite Islam’s growth, Christianity will still be the world’s largest faith by 2050, but only barely. However, by 2070-2100, Islam will gain the numerical edge.

*Islam and Christianity, combined, will represent 6 out of every 10 human beings on the planet.

*In the United States, Christianity will retain its majority but decline, and Muslims will grow to surpass Jews as the second largest non-Christian American religion.

*The “rise of the nones” will continue in the West, but not on the wider global front, where the lack of religious affiliation will actually decline.

There is much more that could be reported – fewer countries will have Christian majorities, the explosion of Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa – but the gist of the report is clear.

The race for the world’s soul is between the cross and the crescent.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050,” Pew Research Center, released Thursday, April 2, 2015, read online.

Daniel Burke, “The world's fastest-growing religion is ...,” CNN, Friday, April 3, 2015, read online.

Razive Akkoc, “Mapped: What the world's religious landscape will look like in 2050,” The Telegraph, April 8, 2015, view online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

The Monday after Easter (2015)

*Editor’s Note: This blog was first published in 2012. Every year it receives so much positive feedback that we feel it is worthwhile to offer it again.

This is a blog with a very specific audience. I know it may exclude some of you, but it may be healthy for you to eavesdrop.

This is for all the church planters and their volunteers on post-Easter Monday, struggling to make it from week-to-week, as well as the leaders and members of established churches which are anything but “mega” – well below the 200 threshold in terms of average attendance.

I don’t know how Easter Sunday went for you, but I have a hunch. 

It was bigger than normal, but less than breakthrough. It was good, but not great. Your attendance was large, but not staggering; worth being happy about, but not writing home about. You are grateful to God, but now that Easter is over, there’s a bit of a letdown. You wanted so much more.

It was, in the end, a typical Easter Sunday.

And you are normal.

When you lead a church, you can't help but dream, and dream big. I think that’s one of the marks of a leader. But for most, it’s not long before the dream comes face to face with reality.

When I planted Meck, I just knew the mailer I sent out (we started churches with mailers in those days) would break every record of response, and that we would be a church in the hundreds, if not already approaching a thousand, in a matter of weeks or months.

Willow Creek, eat our dust. Saddleback? Come to our conference.

The reality was starting in a Hilton hotel in the midst of a tropical storm with 112 dripping wet people, and by the third weekend – through the strength of my preaching – cutting that sucker in half to a mere 56.

Actually, not even 56, because our total attendance was 56. This means there were fifteen or twenty kids, so maybe thirty or so people actually sitting in the auditorium. 

(As a good church planter, I think we also counted people who walked slowly past the hotel ballroom doors in the hallway.)

Yes, we’ve grown over the years. 

But that’s the point. 

It’s taken years.

It usually does.

I know the soup of the day is rapid growth, but please don’t benchmark yourself against that. It’s not typical. It’s not even (usually) healthy. So stop playing that dark, awful game called comparison. It’s sick and terribly toxic. 

Really, stop it.

I don’t care who you are, there will always be someone bigger or faster-growing, so why torment yourself? Or worse, fall prey to the sins of envy and competition, as if you are benchmarked against other churches?

(Rumor has it the true “competition” is a deeply fallen secular culture that is held in the grip of the evil one. Just rumor, mind you.)

The truth is that on the front end, every church is a field of dreams. After a few months, or a year or two, it's morphed from a field of dreams to a field to be worked, and your field may not turn out as much fruit – much less as fast – as you had hoped.

That’s okay.

You can rest assured that it probably has little to do with your commitment, your faith, your spirituality, your call, or God’s love for you. 

I know it’s frustrating. We’ve got a lot of the world in us, and thus look to worldly marks of success and affirmation.

But what matters is whether you are being faithful, not whether you are being successful. You’re not in this for human affirmation, but a “well done” from God at the end.

Did you preach the gospel yesterday?

Then “well done.”

Did you and your team do the best you could with what you had?

Then “well done.”

Did you and your church invite your unchurched friends to attend?

Then “well done.”

Did you pray on the front-end, have faith, and trust?

Then “well done.”

Ignore the megachurches that tweet, blog and boast about their thousands in attendance.

Yep, even mine.

It’s not that we don’t matter. We do, and we’re very proud of the hard work of our volunteers and the lives we have the privilege of changing. There’s a place for us.

It’s just that you matter, too.

And you may need to remember that.

And perhaps most of all on the Monday after Easter.

James Emery White

 

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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