We often hear about a post-Christian America and what that means for the church today. I think we can get bogged down in definitions, and at times even struggle for a way to explain it. Sometimes a graphic or image can help make things more clear. For describing the situation, I really like what Tim Keller says in his book Center Church. In that book he uses the concepts of seasons to explain where we are today. Here are the seasons and what they mean in the relationship of culture and church.
Winter describes a church that is not only in a hostile relationship to a pre-Christian culture but is gaining little traction; is seeing little distinctive, vital Christian life and community; and is seeing no evangelistic fruit. In many cultures today, the church is embattled and spiritually weak.
Spring is a situation in which the church is embattled, even persecuted by a pre-Christian culture, but it is growing (e.g. as in China).
Summer is what Niebuhr described as an “allied church,” where the church is highly regarded by the public and where we find so many Christians in the center of cultural production that Christians feel at home in the culture.
Autumn is where we find ourselves in the West today, becoming increasingly marginalized in a post-Christian culture and looking for new ways to both strengthen our distinctiveness and reach out winsomely.
According to Keller we are in the Autumn period in the West, though various regions can be a different levels within a season, or perhaps in another season. Keller’s point in the book is that we can use different methods of engagement depending on the season. According to Keller it would seem the Relevance and Countercultural positions (the other two are Two Kingdoms and Transformationist) would be the best for an Autumn period. Of course, one may have theological or other objections to these two positions. Regardless of where one lands on what position to use, I think that Keller’s imagery is a good one, and a great starting place to think about how the church responds to a culture that is “increasingly marginalized.”