One of my favorite required listening appointments of the week on the iPod is the Homebrewed Christianity podcast. Their guest on last week’s program was radio host and church planter (Solomon’s Porch) Doug Pagitt, who spoke about his recent book, Church in the Inventive Age.
Listen to Mr. Pagitt, religious liberals. Listen well. He has answers for the bizarre paradox of twenty-first century church that leaves people of faith such as myself scratching our heads in wonder: Why do fundamentalist, dogmatic churches that insist on a static world view and an unchanging, uncompromising version of their religious truth have no problem adapting to the forms and trends of modern culture such as contemporary music, media, social networking, video and the web, while at the same time churches with forward thinking theology and a progressive world view based on the realities of science seem to be stuck culturally in the past in forms of ritual, architecture, music and organization?
Pagitt’s answer – church is dealing with a profound cultural shift, an earthquake of foundational proportions ripping the underlying assumptions out from beneath the feet of both the congregational parish and the life of the non-denominational box church. Both the megachurch and the mainline will never be the same again. Both may very well be slowly on their way out. What’s up?
Pagitt identifies four cultural periods as a historical backdrop against which to view the American Church. First is the Agrarian Age, then the Industrial Age, followed by the Information Age and finally the period we are just entering, the Inventive Age.
The American Church was born in the Agrarian Age. This is the Church of our liberal, congregational ancestors, the Puritans. Everything was based on a parish church and parish was and is a geographic reference. Denominations were inventions of the Industrial Age with its emphasis on order, being able to make reproducible copies and efficiency. The megachurch is a product of the Information Age. It is the church of an age of television, shopping malls, shopping online, getting your music in one generation from a record, a CD, and an mp3. Content remains the same but delivery method changes. The medium is no longer the message. Now we are entering the Inventive Age and Marshal McLuhan may have been correct after all, the medium is the message – in fact the medium itself is an essential core value.
“The Inventive Age is one in which inclusion, participation, collaboration, and beauty are essential values” (p. 30).
So, what happens to church now, in the Inventive Age? Pagitt says church has three choices. The church can be for the age, with the age or AS the age (p 76).
Many liberal congregations are for and with the age – which is why they have such a hard time losing the organ music. To be for the Inventive Age is to welcome “the other”, learn a new (theological or technical) language, embrace what it does well and lend its expertise to the journey forward. To be with the Inventive Age is to try and engage a cohort that a congregation doesn’t already engage, such as young parents, or like the UUA the supreme struggle for racial diversity. To be AS the Inventive Age, however, means to be entrepreneurial to the core in a sense, to be willing to be constantly evolving, future focused, lateral, non-hierarchical, open source, permission granting, to borrow from the forms and traditions of the past but to hold no bondage to them. This is where many liberal congregations have a difficult time moving into the new age. Many liberal congregations are constructed at their core to function in a society that no longer exists. New wineskins for new wine time.
Pagitt even suggests that church as we know it may cease to exist and will take on new forms that bear little resemblance to the old parish model.
Try a homebrew, you’ll like it.