I may get into trouble for this, but I want to make a couple of constructive critical points about this quotation from the missiologist Alan Hirsch, posted by communitaseuropa on Instagram.
Communitas is a US-based church-planting organisation that I’ve been involved with for years, as a sort of unofficial theologian in residence. It used to be called Christian Associates. I love the people and fully support the goals and methods.
I also have a lot of respect for Alan Hirsch. I credit him with rescuing us from our wanderings in the post-modern, post-evangelical, emerging church wilderness and pointing us in the direction of credible missional renewal.
So I don’t want to offend anyone.
Besides, there are parts of the quote that I like a lot. I like the words “Our job is to plant the story” and the words “in ways that make sense”.
In many ways I think we would do better to talk about planting a story than planting churches. Without a viable narrative churches are empty, useless things.
And certainly, we can’t assume that it all makes sense in the way that they used to.
But the whole thing sounds to me like a motto for the church in the US rather than for the church in Europe.
If you talk about planting the story of Jesus, it presupposes a cultural familiarity with the context.
If you highlight the need to reach the next generation, that sounds like an institutional church wondering why young people aren’t interested any more.
It all suggests the rather complacent view that Jesus just needs to be marketed better to kids.
That may or may not be a realistic strategy in America, but I don’t think it’s going to work for those folk in London—or their counterparts in Stockholm or Amsterdam or Paris or Berlin or Madrid or Rome.
So it’s the “of Jesus” and “to a generation” bits that I think need changing.
First, the “story of Jesus” needs a context.
On the one hand, Europe has left behind the culture that made Jesus a legitimate and meaningful religious figure. The era of the church is behind us.
On the other, modern biblical studies is making it abundantly clear that there is no story of Jesus apart from the story of Israel, and there is no story of Israel apart from the story of the creator God who made all things and, most importantly, who chose a people for his own possession.
So the missional task here is to plant a story about the creator God in an aggressively secular, post-Christian culture, which may make a big difference to how we tell the story of Jesus.
Secondly, this is not just about communicating better to the next generation. It is about coming to terms with the collapse of the Christian worldview. In biblical terms, we are at the end of an age, and a new world is rapidly gaining ascendancy.
I think that the quote, which admittedly has been taken out of context, underestimates the seriousness of the problem when applied to Europe.
This is going to require a fundamental overhaul, a radical rethinking of how the biblical narrative works for us, not a remarketing of the story of Jesus.