FUTURE FAITH – TEN CHALLENGES RESHAPING CHRISTIANITY
FORTRESS PRESS, 2018
261 PAGES (PAPERBACK)
The Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson has dedicated his adult life to understanding how the church relates to a Western culture that appears less and less interested in the gospel and its core values. Granberg-Michaelson is in a true sense both a global citizen and follower of Jesus. With the publication of Future Faith – Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century, he has written a sequel to his 2013 book From Times Square to Timbuktu, which called the church to understand the dramatic increase of Christians in the global South and the consequent recentering of the church from the northern hemisphere, particularly the United States and Europe, to Africa, Asia and Central America.
From this single observation, Granberg-Michaelson offers to the church in the West a list of 10 challenges from our neighbors near and far. Indeed, at the heart of this new book is the acknowledgement that just as the American church spent the 19th century going into the world for Christ and his gospel, the world through significant immigrations has now moved into our neighborhoods, often sharing the good news with us in new and life-changing ways.
RETURNING TO ORIGINS
At the time of the Reformation, it was often observed that the church should return to its origins – an idea caught up in the Latin phrase “ad fontes,” which is loosely translated “back to the springs, the sources, the fonts of our life.” Granberg-Michaelson has suggested that it is now time for those of us in the West to turn to the remarkable gifts and insights of the new church being born in the global South. What lessons can we learn? In what ways is the Spirit of God teaching and forming us with the witness of those still wet with the baptismal waters?
The single most important reason for the absence of the next generation in our churches is their rejection of intolerant and judgmental congregations.
The book is clear that the future of the church is found in congregations that reflect the great diversity of the world. Granberg-Michaelson observes that congregations on the average are six times less diverse than the school populations in the communities they serve. Nevertheless the number of multiethnic churches in the United States has grown from 7 percent to almost 14 percent in the past decade. Our children and grandchildren, having been educated in diverse educational settings, will no longer abide segregated communities of faith. This has led Granberg-Michaelson to claim that the single most important reason for the absence of the next generation in our churches is their rejection of intolerant and judgmental congregations.
At the heart of this book is an encouragement that the Western church learn from the global South the importance of community over individualism and the dynamic unity of spirit and matter as a gift from God. It is at this point that Granberg-Michaelson is the most eloquent as he describes the sacredness of the world God has created and given to us.
The book is also a primer for many of us to learn about the evolution of a global ecumenical community that includes the two largest Christian populations often ignored or excluded – the Roman Catholic Church and the Pentecostal churches. The author observes that an ecumenical and global perspective is an inspiration to de-Americanize the gospel, moving us away from American exceptionalism and nationalism. It is important, he says, to confess that God has loved the world and that the American church is part of the whole rather than the center of the narrative.
I offer one suggestion: While I certainly wouldn’t suggest that any of the 10 challenges be deleted, it seems to me that an 11th challenge is the relationship of the church to those of other faiths and no faith. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, never to see them as objects of our mission but always as subjects of our care. How can the church faithfully witness to the uniqueness of the Christ who loves and leads us and at the same time affirm that God’s Spirit freely roams the world inspiring people of every place, tribe, faith and tongue? The challenge placed before us by the generations often missing from our pews is, How does the Christian church humbly understand its role among many faiths as well as among those who have given up seeking?
I highly commend to you this remarkable book, offered as a love letter to the church at a crucial time in our life and in the life of the world. It is a book that will nurture your faith in a God who casts out all fear and inspires the church to see through new eyes so it can thrive into a new age.
Gregg A. Mast is retired president of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Brunswick, New Jersey.