Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Together towards Life in the Context of Liquid Modernity: Mission and Evangelism in the Age of Secularization

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Together towards Life in the Context of Liquid Modernity: Mission and Evangelism in the Age of Secularization

Article excerpt


Among the "changed landscapes" identified by the new World Council of Churches mission affirmation Together towards Life is the rapidly advancing secularisation evident in the Western world. Growing numbers of people live for goals that are entirely immanent, with apparently no transcendent reference to their lives at all. This presents a new missionary frontier for Christian faith, as Hsslie Newbigin prophetically suggested in the 1980s. Since then, the frontier has strengthened, as disillusionment with Christianity has grown and modernity has taken an ever more liquid form. It has also widened as globalisation has taken the free market and its values to almost every part of the world. Together towards Life poses this question: How can we proclaim God's love and justice to a generation living in an individualised, secularised and materialised world? It answers this question first by taking a pneumatological approach to understanding mission and thus talking the language of people immersed in the culture of "liquid modernity" who struggle to connect with heavily institutional religion but yearn for a viable spirituality. It goes on to stress the transformative character of mission, particularly in regard to economic justice and ecological responsibility. It takes a radical direction with its emphasis on the marginalised as agents of mission and the communal nature of Christian witness. In a context of plurality, it fosters an open and adventurous approach, making the "other" a partner in, not an "object" of, mission. At the same time, it calls for bold proclamation of the good news of Christ to meet the personal existential crisis that is a common feature of the late modern world. In these ways, Together towards Life strikes notes that resonate in the context of liquid modernity while also making a call to conversion and transformation. It offers, in short, "challenging relevance."


A new frontier

When the World Council of Churches adopted its new affirmation on mission and evangelism, Together towards Life (TTL), in 2012, included in the subtitle was a reference to "changing landscapes." (1) This is a phrase that has resonance at many levels and in many contexts. People everywhere are conscious of the speed of change in our time, which takes effect in a great many different ways. The purpose of this article is to consider the new affirmation in light of the great change in Western culture often described in shorthand as "secularization."

Evidence abounds of a recession of Christian faith in the West. With minor local variations, there is an unmistakable trend: church attendance is in decline, numbers of baptisms are reducing, numbers of church weddings are reducing, numbers of church funerals are reducing. It has become perfectly possible to live one's life in western Europe without participation in, or even much awareness of, the Christian faith. The sharp decline in religious identity and participation is evidenced by innumerable surveys. The results of the 2011 Scottish Census, for example, show that those identifying themselves as "Church of Scotland" fell from 42 percent in 2001 to 32 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, those identifying themselves as "no religion" rose from 28 percent in 2001 to 37 percent in 2011. (2) How can we account for such changes?

Philosopher Charles Taylor suggests that we have moved

   ... from a condition in 1500 in which it was hard not to believe in
   God, to our present situation just after 2000, where this has
   become quite easy for many. A way of putting our present condition
   is to say that many people are happy living for goals which are
   purely immanent; they live in a way that takes no account of the
   transcendent. (3)

Despite centuries of Christian influence on its culture, language, literature, architecture, politics and values, the great majority of western Europeans are opting to live with a frame of reference in which Christian faith has practically no place. …

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