Though we commonly hear that North America and Western Europe are "post Christian" societies, from the missionary perspective, they have simply reverted to "pre Christian" status. These societies retain for now the amenities of a former Christian civilization such as indoor plumbing, other comfortable technologies and the remnants of personal freedom but have lost the Christian worldview that laid the foundation for these blessings in science and the "rule of law". Where outright paganism does not prevail, orthodox Christianity is in decline and acting increasingly erratic with historic churches losing virtually all connection to the apostolic faith. The culture itself is changing as well - literacy is no longer on the rise and up to 50% of the technically literate prefer not to learn by reading. Missionary writer and trainer H. Jackson Day puts it this way: "We are no longer dealing with an oral culture gathered around a flickering campfire. Now we are dealing with an oral culture gathered around a flickering computer screen." (From personal conversation. H. Jackson Day http://www.biblestorytelling.org/)
Stuck in the midst of the insanity, we have little perspective for classifying or addressing the problem. But this is where the missionary perspective is also helpful. Were the odd ducks we see today in the guise (for example) of "Gay Bishops" and "Transgendered ministers" popping up in a mission church, it would immediately be recognized not as "progressive Christianity" but as the age old problem of "syncretism". The solution would be clear if arduous: to re-lay the foundation of the church through teaching the Bible to the church again from Genesis to Revelation. (For more on syncretism, I suggest the following web link: http://www.goodseed.com/bwmA1.aspx)
If this "missionary critique" of the Western Church is correct, where are we do begin? Within the last generation, noted Presbyterian pastor Rev. Dr. D. James Kennedy created an evangelistic program called "Evangelism Explosion" that spread world wide. It's evangelistic presentation presumed a common cultural consensus on basic Biblical doctrines such as the definition of God, Man, and Heaven. As the West though has reverted to itspre -Christian status, asking someone "If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?" and "If God should ask 'Why should I let you into my heaven?' what would your response be?" may have the same result as asking the same questions in Farsi. Our listeners are more likely to believe they have evolved from a lower form of life and that there is no heaven to aspire to than to believe they were created in the image of theTriune God and will be held accountable for their image bearing.
Ken Ham's online book "Why Won't They Listen?" discusses the loss of cultural consensus at greater length (Available online: http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/wwtl/index.asp ). He concludes that we can no longer take for granted a common understanding of God, Man, Jesus, or Salvation. Instead, he advises us to start "at the beginning" with the doctrines of creation and fall. Reformation churches have always known that the presentation of the Good News is incomplete without first presenting the Law of God. Ham's analysis simply points out that we must return to our roots of declaring God's Law while also being required in our culture to remind people of the identity of the God about whom we speak... not one god among many but "God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth".
While this analysis is just now gaining popularity in the West, it's been rather common place thinking on what we called the "mission field" while glibly assuming we weren't a mission field per se. (It can be said to go back further to Luther himself, but we'll review that matter at another time.) Trevor McIlwain is perhaps best known for popularizing this understanding. As a young missionary in the Philippines he was sent to what was ostensibly a "Christian church" that was little more than a "Cargo Cult" with a Christian name - they had little knowledge of and actual reliance in daily life upon their alleged "faith". His attempts to rectify the situation were unsuccessful. Topical Bible studies left them dumbfounded. Pulling bible verses from throughout the Bible confused them and was easily manipulated by cults. At fist he felt the solution was "expository bible teaching". He only found that his hearers did not have sufficient background knowledge of the Old Testament to understand expositions of John's Gospel or Romans. Only when he taught the history of redemption from Creation to Christ did his hearers grow in Christ. (McIlwain's work is available as Adult and Children's Sunday School curricula at http://www.NTMBooks.com under "Firm Foundations".)
Next, I hope to discuss "Using Bible Stories in Evangelism and Catechesis" in more depth.