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I was asked this last week about Barna’s new book Revolution. I confess that by-and-large I don’t read Christian books. Barna’s book is no exception. So while I couldn’t comment on the content of the book, I did comment on the title, Revolution.
Let’s define the word. Revolution is a “forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system.” For those who hail from the third or two thirds world, the word revolution has the sound of bullets flying.
Today almost everything is considered a revolution. Blogging isn’t just a personal web based journal. It is a revolution. The emerging church is more than a media creation and more than code for next generation western christianity. It is a revolution. The house church is not just a small gathering in homes. It is a revolt against the program driven, megalomaniac, corporate, institutional church. It is revolution. But these are hardly “revolution” in the proper sense.
There is a secondary sense in which “revolution” is understood as “a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it.” But essentially revolution is about the transfer of power. Historian Jacques Barzun defines revolution as “the violent transfer of power and property in the name of an idea.” [From Dawn to Decadence]. Futurist Alvin Toffler tells us that “real revolutions replace institutions as well as technologies. And they do more: they break down and reorganize what social psychologists call the role structure of society.” [Revolutionary Wealth].
People died in the Religious revolution ignited by Luther. The blood of royalty ran in the streets during the monarchical versus individual revolutions of the 16th and 17th centuries. Human beings were slaughtered en masse during the social and collectivist revolutions of the 20th century.
In contrast, speaking recently at a conference sponsored by the International Mentoring Network called HUMANA 2.0, Erwin McManus stated that what is being experienced today in the western church is not a revolution but a disillusion.
The major revolution of the first order in the world today is that of Fundamentalist Muslims seeking to forcibly transfer power from western institutions into the hands of the Mullahs. Whether or not that revolution will succeed is yet to be seen. The major revolution of the second order in the world today is the wide reaching effects of the world as we transition from an information-based knowledge society into an interconnected bio-electronic society. The questions will change from, “Who should have nuclear weapons?” to “Who should be able to genetically enhance their children?” This is not a revolution within the church. This is a revolution that is driven and dominated by technology let loose upon the whole of the world. The church and every other organizational structure in the world is being taken for a tumble like a surfer being pushed along the bottom underneath a very, very powerful wave.
For those of you who are so enthused, by all means use the word “revolution” to describe what’s happening in the church today. But recognize that any revolution happening in the church today is not new. The Christ Revolution has often been characterized by blood flowing in the streets. At the conception of the Christ revolution, there was an attempt to forcibly seize power. That attempt failed. For those of us who now follow him, revolution has an upside down meaning. Our manner of changing the world does not entail deceitful propaganda and forceful imposition of ideas. Instead, we proclaim and invite. We do not try to arrest power and seize control. We give our lives in service to humanity as a way of anticipating and participating in the coming kingdom. Revolution? Yes, but it is not the revolution of the emerging church neither is it the revolution of the conservative fundamentalist faction of the church. We don’t instigate a revolution. We participate in the Christ mission to make the world right. The revolution is that of Jesus Christ as he engages a world and culture in the midst of massive revolutionary change.
See you in the mystic.