n It is Discontinuous and Chaotic in Nature. Historically, change has usually been linear (you can trace its line of development), continuous (you can point to cause and effect, such that change was even predictably), evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and sporadic in its spread beyond its point of origin (it just took longer for things to be known). Change could thus be expected, anticipated, and even managed.
On the other hand, discontinuous change is disruptive, unanticipated, and challenges assumptions. That is, what we already know and can do is not very helpful in this scenario. Working harder with existing skills won’t cut it; new skills are needed for such an unpredictable environment. Bottom line, the world is becoming far more complex and chaotic every day.
n It is Postmodern in Content. The postmodern worldview is characterized by:
o A refusal to see change, and particularly technological change, as inherently good or as inevitable progress. The postmodern vision of the future is usually that of Terminator and The Matrix – technology and science gone rogue.
o A rejection of an overarching metanarrative or truth. Instead, truth is what you make it; it is a social and community construct. Rapid and discontinuous change only seems to confirm this as nothing appears to be lasting and absolute.
o Consequently, there is no such thing as an “ethic.” There are only personal values and a personal spirituality. Since there is no absolute truth, there is nothing upon which to build an absolute ethic. If reality and truth as a construct, then so are ethics and morality.
o Consumerism, which is materialism out of control.
o Fragmentation in a digital area. There is fragmentation of style, of music, of art, of tastes, of people, of attention spans, and in storytelling. At the same time, ambiguity, paradox, and even incongruity are part of the postmodern person’s cafeteria lifestyle. All is acceptable and all is in style.
n It is Global in Scope. A technologically flattened world in which distance is irrelevant means that change is global. What is taking place on the other side of the world right now is also happening everywhere right now. Digital accessibility and commentary make any event everyone’s event.
n It is Potentially Tribal in Outcome. Travel, the internet, multi-national corporations, and global markets mean that America is both changing the world and being changed by the world. That is, a flattened world, a globalized culture, and interdependent economies allow for and encourage the postmodern paradox of homogenization (one culture and one economy) and tribalism (niche marketing, emphasis on ethnic identity and pride). In some cases this can lead to violent protests and even violent revolutions by groups that feel threatened. So, do we embrace or resist change? Let’s try to think about this theologically:
1) Change is inevitable. Biblically and theologically speaking, change is essential and part of God’s creation. Creation involved change – from nothing, from the formless void, to a beautiful creation. Unlike many world views in which time is cyclical, inescapable, or meaningless, Biblical time is purposeful, forward moving, and climaxing in the fulfillment of God’s promises and plan.
2) Not all things change. First, God does not change. That does not mean He is a static, inactive, and completely unknowable God. He is, rather, relationally dynamic; that is, he is personal and lovingly and graciously interacts with his creation. To be certain, being a personal God does not mean He is the malleable God of Process Theology or the uncertain God of Open Theism. He does not change in His nature, His character, or His attributes.
Second, God’s truth does not change. As the world around us changes we may state His truth in various manners, we may express His truth in different ways, and we may live out His truth in ever changing contexts. But His truth does not change, and that includes truth about Himself and truth about ourselves.
Third, the human condition has not changed. From the fall of Adam and Eve, all humans who have every lived (save for Jesus) have been sinners by nature and by choice. No matter how good or how bad any individual person’s actions may be, all have fallen short of what God expects and demands, and the only solution is the salvific work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
3) Change, even chaotic change, can be good. Studies in chaos and complexity theory have shown that equilibrium leads to stagnation which leads to death. Change, and even moving to the edge of chaos, is what causes living systems to adapt, find new solutions, and improve. The disturbances caused by change and chaos can be, in fact, life savers. Remember how God brought radical change to Israel, often through her worst enemies.
4) The key, therefore, is how we evaluate change. Should we embrace it or resist it? We should ask the following questions:
a. Can we control it? The answer is “probably not.” I am not saying that God does not change people, systems, or structures. I am not saying the church should not stand up for justice and moral issues. Change can be brought about through persuasion, influence, and lives that reflect the salt and light of the gospel. What I am saying is that we cannot totally nor ultimately control change, either by causing it or preventing it. The world moves on, time marches forward, and life happens. We should allow for God’s control, His timing, and prayerfully act and respond according to the gospel, understanding that change happens only as the Holy Spirit moves in people’s lives individually, corporately, and structurally.
b. What is actually changing? As America changes rapidly and discontinuously, the church must clearly identify the changes worth confronting. How often are we expending energy simply resisting change that affects our sentimentality about life and culture and our preferences about the church rather than changes that destroy people’s lives?
c. How can and will God use change for His glory? As hard as it is, we need to work to see the biggest picture possible – God’s. What is He doing through these changes? What does He want to do in my individual life, in my church, and through believers in America and around the world? How are these changes moving us toward the fulfillment of His promises?
d. Can I embrace, or at least accept, this change without compromising the gospel? If not, it needs to be resisted. Now, I am not asking whether change is compromising my style of doing church, my preference of music, my particular political party, my preferred economics, or my most comfortable cultural mores and habits. It may be painful when these are challenged by change, but they are not the gospel.
Change is rarely comfortable. Our Sovereign God, however, rules over both the changeless and the changing. While we may need to confront and resist unbiblical change, I am convinced that more often than not God is waiting for us to seize the moment, “making the most of the time” (Col. 4:5b), to reach ever-changing America for Christ.
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