Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Death of the Big Box

A radio report today said something like "as we are seeing the demise of the big box store across America, so too will we see the decline of the big box for education." They went on to talk about all the ways people can configure their own personal menu of educational experiences from private, subscription, on-line, intensive on-sites, etc. Is it decentralizing education or fragmenting it? There is something liberating in the populism of people hand-crafting their educational experiences and something also pretty disturbing. How many pastors would elect to take two semesters of head-pounding Greek and systematic theology? Yet these are foundational classes for all the "fun" ones later. I needed to be pushed (sometimes literally) to take the classes I did not want, but needed.
Is the same process at work in spiritual formation? Is there a decline in the "big box" method of spiritual formation? The big box of a church building at a set time and place with assigned teachers and preachers? Are all the alternative offerings basically good things? Or do they risk creating truncated Christians who gravitate to places and pastor that validate their opinions and make them feel good? The cultural dominance of the church in the culture is long-dead, and that's probably a pretty good thing because we in the clergy and institutional denominations have not done that good of a job stewarding our affluence. George Barna's recent post illustrates how American Christians are living a far more ala carte style of theology and belief than ever before. Where churches and denominations used to cohesively define and clarify belief, we have become a nation of belief-grazers who assemble a mash-mash of beliefs and preferences that are not always coherent or consistent, and we know that and don't really care.
The question I wonder about is who will shape faith?


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