Many Christian denominations are struggling to stay current and relevant in today’s society. But the question arises: How much modernizing can be done while keeping tradition alive and core principles intact? Marva J. Dawn works to answer this question in her book, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture. She gets at practical issues such as updating song lyrics and modernizing instruments used in worship, or praying in the language of today rather than yesteryear. Questioning these elements often prompts heated debates, and causes large upsets amongst traditionalists. Perhaps because any choice in the matter is quickly disappearing as people continue disappearing from the pews. Though there is certainly resistance and dissent on how to tackle the issue, I think there is consensus that the church needs to find relevance with younger generations.
What I find curious is how New Age is so often criticized for its currency and attractiveness in today’s culture. Yet these are attributes Christian churches are now looking to exhibit, though with some definite differences. Dawn marks out this difference, that God’s people are to live ‘in’ the world, but not be ‘of’ the world (17). While New Age one the other hand is largely thought to take its shape from the culture it is situated in (modern / postmodern Western culture depending on your inclination). And this influence from the mainstream is what makes it meld so well with culture, not to mention its popularity. (For more on this see my article “A Secular New Age or A New Age Secularism”.) But by living ‘in’ the world while not being ‘of’ it, people can maintain divine virtues and resist false idols such as money without becoming hermits. New Ages tend to embrace the notion that the world and all beings are connected, which doesn’t much align with this ‘in’ / ‘of’ idea. That being said, New Agers are not on-board with many things in mainstream culture and as a general rule favor alternative paths. On the ‘in’ / ‘of’ notion, maybe New Agers and Christians have more in common than what meets the eye.
Perhaps the same can be said in other respects. Though New Age is characterized as eclectic, or dominated by passing fads rather than sound theology, Christians may be able to learn a thing or two about relevance and worshipping in harmony with the world beyond its doors. It would be far more effective to learn from a group rather than criticize, when they in fact have desirable characteristics. However, I believe this is easier said than done. When it comes to religion and spirituality, the lines are fine and the slopes slippery. But in dire times these challenges must be faced with discretion and an open mind.
Dawn, Marva J. Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture. Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1995.