This second issue of IRM on mission in postmodern contexts, or the relation between gospel and culture in secularized societies, should be studied together with the previous (January 2003) issue, which contains not only a first selection of papers and case studies presented at the Breklum consultation in June 2002, but also the important reports of the groups' discussions. The present issue carries most of the other contributions to the consultation, as well as some papers received by the Review, and which can contribute to the debate (1).
Let me begin by asking whether Turangawaewae is part of the mission strategy of your church. It should be. Read the paper which summarizes the results of Alan Jamieson's study in Aotearoa New Zealand of Christians who left their Pentecostal, charismatic or evangelical churches (in his text, EPC churches) after years of faithful participation and involvement. Portraits of ecclesiastical realities in postmodern or secular societies often show people leaving the so-called mainline churches. Usually, there is a presupposition that this does not happen in the more "convinced" communities. Alan Jamieson's research challenges such a simplistic view. He discovered that most people who left their EPC church continued their faith journey, but in "churchless" surroundings. Whatever their personal stories, most of these very committed persons expressed an urgent need for a Turangawaewae, a Maori term for a place of belonging. In other words, these people sought a safe space, which would be a place to share, and in which to be validated and to stand. Alan Jamieson summarizes the relevance and functions of what he calls the flexible "post-church groups" formed by such church leavers under five categories. It is worth reading those pages and comparing them with the characteristics of postmodern faith attitudes as presented in the report of group 2 in the January issue.
Missiological studies on the relation between the gospel and secular or postmodern contexts owe much to the dynamism of the networks that in North America and the UK took up the challenges raised by the late Bishop Lesslie Newbigin. Whereas papers from the British scene appeared in the January IRM, this issue begins with a summary presentation on the work of "The Gospel and our Culture Network" (GOCN) in North America written by its coordinator, Professor George Hunsberger. In addition to Hunsberger's general overview, Mark Branson shows in a documented case study how an apparently irrelevant small American Methodist church became a lively missional community. Branson's paper is not meant as the model to be followed throughout the world. It proves, however, that this GOCN network of theologians and missiologists developed theory and practice in parallel. Chris Erdman was inspired by the debates at Breklum to share his thoughts and experiences on mission in such a context, in parallel to an interpretation of a major passage from the prophet Jeremiah.
The church situation in Sweden is, of course, very different from that in the USA. Hilda Lind shares the challenge which the majority Lutheran church in Sweden faces in a society that, in recent decades, has moved rapidly in the direction of what one can call postmodernity. Parallel to that, the church experienced recently a major change of status; the Church of Sweden is no longer a state church. Lind's paper reflects how both developments affect the church's understanding of mission.
With regard to a social or cultural understanding of recent developments, the Breklum papers and debates showed how fluid is our perception of reality. The progressive disappearance of the structural and, hopefully soon, also the ideological aspects of Christendom seem evident, but it is not easy to define clearly the new shape and role of religion in societies modelled by modernity and its latest developments. It is not even clear whether we should even speak of …