Noted German theologian Jürgen Moltmann highlights three historical transitions we are currently experiencing: 1) theology’s transition from the denominational to the ecumenical age; 2) the church’s transition from the Eurocentric age (including North America) to the age of humanity as a whole; and 3) the cultural transition from the age of the mechanisms (science and technological exploitations) to the age of the ecological worldwide community. Allow me to break this down and share what I believe he is saying and areas we should be aware of –
First, I agree with Dr. Moltmann that theology as a whole is not nearly as interested in delineating doctrinal and denominational differences to the point of alienating the various ecclesiastical and religious groups that people are a part of, which has been the model in the past. We must determine to listen and dialogue, learn and teach, and either agree or agree to disagree respectfully with each other in a mutual, loving spirit of reciprocity. In my previous post I discussed how recently two Mormon missionaries came to my door. The dialogue between us was engaging and respectful, but in the end, theologically, I wasn’t moved and I don’t believe they were as well.
However at an impasse theological distinctions and discussions can tend to be, this should not disparage the emerging conversations that are occurring among Evangelical theologians and Mormon theologians, and Christian and Islamic theologians, for example. There are many profound theological issues I adamantly disagree with when it comes to Calvinism, for example, but one of my dearest friends, Ron, is a Calvinist. I am clergy in the Church of the Nazarene, and I very much appreciate the “media via” (middle way) of our Wesleyan theology that doesn’t throw the baby out with the bath water on either side of the theological spectrum – Catholicism/Orthodox on the one end, and the Protestant Reformed tradition on the other.
That being said, the one possible exception to this that we are currently seeing are the ecclesiastical divisions regarding issues of human sexuality, gay marriage, and non celibate gay clergy, etc. as the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the United Methodist Church, is set to split over these matters as other church bodies have already split or will in the future.
Second, I wholeheartedly agree that the church is transitioning from a Eurocentric emphasis to reflect a more global diversity of believers. In my own denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, we currently have six General Superintendents who oversee the entire denomination. Three of them are Caucasian (one is also a woman), one is from Cape Verde off the coast of Northwest Africa, one is from Guatemala, South America, and the other is from Mozambique in Southern Africa. Pope Francis is the first Pope from South America, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This beautiful diversity is more than welcome and should be fully embraced. As the old Sunday School song goes that we used to sing – “Red, brown, yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Just today I ordered a theology book by Anglican Dr. David Zac Niringiye of Uganda, and last month I received my copy of the book “Arabic Christian Theology: A Contemporary Global Evangelical Perspective.” These are just a couple of examples of how over the last decade or so the North American Church is becoming more theological enriched by the voices, experiences, and viewpoints from our brothers and sisters around the world.
That being said, in my denomination, I’ve pastored two churches over the course of twenty two years and in that time I have had six, white males as District Superintendents (or bishops).
Finally, the cultural transition from the age of the mechanisms (science and technology) to the age of ecological cognizance is in large part due to advances in science and technology. In other words, our age of globalization would not be possible without the progress made in industry, automation, etc. And yet I believe a case could be made that some of these same advances are contributing to ecological disruptions we are currently experiencing.
There are those who blame Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s environmental policies and anti-environment rhetoric that helped contribute to the excessive fires in the Amazon rainforest which destroyed about 17.5 million acres in 2019 and the resulting carbon monoxide emissions into the atmosphere. It is estimated that hundreds of plant, animal and insect species are lost every year due to deforestation.
Australia is currently reeling from devastating brushfires due to one of the worst droughts in decades in which 17.9 million acres have burned across Australia’s six states, dozens of people have died, and millions of animals dead or displaced. The Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, who has been criticized for minimizing the impact of the climate crisis in Australia, has recently said, “We want to reduce emissions and do the best job we possibly can and get better and better and better at it,” in a commitment to reduce carbon emissions.
Beginning the first of this year, the state of Oregon, where I currently live, has banned all plastic bags at grocery stores as a response to reduce non-renewable resources and its impact on the environment.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Earth is incredibly resilient. And yet the resiliency of our magnificent planet which every single human being shares and calls “home” does not absolve us from creation care in as much as we are able, and it seems that this deep ecological concern is a rallying cry that is uniting people from all over the world.
I do believe we are living in an age of historic transition. Change is not always easy. May God give us the adaptability we need while maintaining our Christian witness to the world.