21 Challenges Facing the 21st Century Church

21 Challenges Facing the 21st Century Church

The following 21 challenges are in no particular order and are by no means exhaustive, and they are largely (but not exclusively) reflective of an American evangelical context. I also should note that each of them represents not only a challenge but also an opportunity. The church has historically thrived when she is tested rather than comfortable.

Terrence Malick's IMAX Evensong

Terrence Malick's IMAX Evensong

If you're lucky enough to live in one of the few places where Terrence Malick's Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience is playing, do yourself a favor and go see it. Take your kids, your church small group, your fellow lovers of cinema and nature and awe-inspiring beauty. The 45-minute film (a 90-minute, non-IMAX version is set to release in 2017) is a perfect example of the sort of liturgical cinema Malick has mastered

Batman, Dickens, and Resurrection

The impulse toward resurrection is grand motif of human existence: it's the arc of all creation and everyone within it, groaning and aching for the dawn of better days, when all is put to rights and evil is subdued. The hope of resurrection is the thing Sydney Carton takes refuge in before his own death in A Tale of Two Cities, as he rests in the truth of John 11:25-26:"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."


In Prometheus, Scott's vision of the relationship between Creator and created is one of spite and hostility. In the Christian narrative, God is a benevolent creator who takes on the form of his creation so he can rescue and redeem those he created in his image. In Prometheus, the "gods" also seem to have created man in their image, and yet they despise humanity and want to destroy it. Incarnation for the purposes of redemption is re-imagined as infection for the purposes of eradication.

The Divine Guide in Terrence Malick’s "Tree of Life"

The Divine Guide in Terrence Malick’s "Tree of Life"

Among the many questions prompted by a close viewing of this finale sequence—and indeed, the whole film—is the identity and meaning of the mystery woman seen with Jessica Chastain’s older and younger self in the “Amen” sequence. She shows up in part (usually just her hands) and in full on a number of occasions throughout the film--especially at the beginning of Jack’s life and in the film’s final fifteen minutes.

Here's Hoping

I want to challenge myself, and my fellow Christians struggling with cynicism, to take in that aroma and let it fill the homes in which the we live, the workplaces in which we work, and the endeavors we pursue. Let it cause us to be galvanized and inspired to act, to work, to not give up or despair, even when the world seems so foreign, distant, and hellbent on chaos.

Welcome, Pope!

No, I am not a Catholic. But I am terribly excited that the Pope is visiting my country! I was glued to the T.V. this afternoon as Pope Benedict XVI stepped off the papal plane (“Shepherd One”) at Andrew’s Air force Base, setting foot in the U.S. for the first time since he assumed the papacy three years ago. The Pope was immediately greeted by President and Mrs. Bush (and Jenna, of all people), who awkwardly shook Benedict’s hand and followed him through an extensive receiving line. One wonders what eloquent small talk Dubya had up his sleeve with which to amuse the Holy Father…

In any case, I’m sure the Pope and Bush will have some interesting things to talk about during their extended visits over the next couple days. Benedict has criticized the decision to go to war in Iraq, though he reportedly does not want any swift drawdown of troops (for fear of the humanitarian repercussions… especially for Iraqi Christians). There will also undoubtedly be some discussion of immigration (after all, as Bush has said, Catholicism is the religion of the “newly arrived”), as well as the many issues upon which Bush and Benedict agree (pro-life issues, anti-relativism, etc).

I’m also interested to see how the Pope responds to the gaping wound of the American Catholic church: priest sex scandals. Before his plane even landed in America, Benedict was speaking about this issue to reporters, saying, "It's difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betrayed in this way their mission to give healing, to give the love of God to these children. We are deeply ashamed, and we will do what is possible that this cannot happen in the future."

One hopes that the Pope will be able to bring a new perspective and energy to the church in this country, galvanizing his flock to fortify the church for the 21st century. So far the Pope has not been able to reinvigorate the dying church in Europe, but perhaps—Lord willing—he can be more successful here.

It’s nice to be able to speak of the Pope in these terms—as an ally and role model in the faith. So often Protestants (and particularly those of the fundamentalist bent) view the Pope as either a cute anomaly in a funny costume, or a dangerous heretic leading many pagans (re: Catholics) astray. But even as I don’t necessarily agree with all his beliefs or venerate him as the supreme arbiter of Christian doctrine and truth (that is, the voice of God on Earth), I definitely respect him a deeply Godly man—someone who exemplifies, more than almost anyone in the public eye, what it means to devote one’s life to following Christ.

Amid the ongoing Catholic-Protestant disputes, we often lose sight of the fact that, in the end, both sides are followers of Christ. The historical events of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection gave rise to a thing called “the church,” a people called “Christians.” This is the rock upon which all else has been built. Theology has since shaped our various conceptions of how we are to live as Christians, but we can all agree on the core of what Christ means for the world: salvation.

I don’t want to make light of the differences—and there are some significant ones—between Protestant and Catholic theology (and between various Protestant denominations, for that matter). I just want to make a point that what the worldwide church (i.e. the 2.2 billion who claim Christ as savior) needs now is unity—a common cause and passion to respond to the world’s contemporary challenges with grace and love.

If the Pope’s visit to America results in 100,000 people converting to Catholicism (or re-discovering it), I’m not going to complain that those are 100,000 who might have become Presbyterians or Baptists. Rather, I will rejoice that here are 100,000 more potential saints to join the ranks of a worldwide, very-much-alive movement that--thanks be to God--shows no signs of fading into irrelevance anytime soon.