Now we can view such a film as straightforward comedy - that is laugh with the film and at ourselves as religious people who believe what, within the film's narrative world, is a lie. But we can also muse on these two challenges: whether or not (1) we might in actuality be believing a lie; and (2) the film tunes into Western culture at this time. That is, the film expresses what many Westerners believe deep within their hearts: all religion is a lie, there is no God or gods, the reality of this world is all there is to reality. We could describe the first challenge as philosophical and the second challenge as missiological.
I will by-pass the first challenge here and reflect a little on the second challenge. My connecting the film with the deep heart of Western culture is made because I have been in a conversation or two or been reading a note or two recently about the staggering lack of belief and surplus of ignorance about Christianity. Here, for instance, is Geoff Robson, TSCF staff worker at Canterbury University, writing about a conversation with a student friend, which reveals the depth of biblical illiteracy in Kiwiland:
" "Andrew" is from a completely unchurched background. He started coming along to Christian Union's lunchtime Bible talks early in 2014. He was fascinated by what he heard, but still had mnay questions, so we started to meet up semi-regularly during the year to get to know each other and discuss what he was hearing from the Bible. Near the end of the year we met up ... We chatted about plans for the summer. When I casually mentioned that I really look forward to Christmas as a celebration of Jesus' birth, he gave me a puzzled look. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Christmas - Jesus' birthday," I repeated, being a bit slow to grasp what he hadn't understood. He blurted out with genuine surprise, "Wait - Christmas is Jesus' birthday?!" [Canvas, TSCF Quarterly Magazine, Issue 77, Autumn 2016]
Geoff goes on to write that he meets students who have never even heard of Jesus.
Another aspect of the conversations I have been in goes like this (according to a respected colleague, about my age and ordained slightly longer than me): we have moved on from a period when we focused on "church growth". That turned out to be more about attracting Christians from other churches to our church than about evangelism. Now there are fewer Christians looking for a better church than the one they are in. For the church to grow, even to maintain current numbers of worshippers, it has to connect with the community around it in a different way than the methodology of church growth. It is tough. And we are not sure how to make the connections.
So, what are your thoughts? In a Western world either ignorant of Jesus or immune to belief in God because convinced there is no God, what does it mean to preach the gospel? What is the gospel for such a world?
Finally, and likely I will take up this question in a post or three in the next month or so, is the church generally in these islands, let alone ACANZP in particular grasping the challenge we face?
We could die, and it could be in less than 50 years.
We are in Acts 17. The toughest part of the otherwise triumphant story of the expansion of the Jesus' movement from Jerusalem to Rome. Athens didn't want to know about the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Neither, it seems, does Aotearoa.