[A review I wrote a couple years ago on Goodreads but which I ran across again and still like.]
James Jordan is always a worthwhile read, but I was not expecting this Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future to be what it is. This book is perhaps one of the most important books for the 21st century Church that I've read, with probably only The Benedict Option (and the two are very different) being comparable in sheer usefulness for Christian reflection on the current time.
The book begins with an intriguing claim:
We are approaching a vast change in human history. Several large historical trends are coming to a point of change at the present time, and this provides a tremendous opportunity for Christians to lay the foundations for the culture and civilization of the next several thousand years. In this essay I want to summarize why this is so.
Of course, lots of social commentators and theologues and other types would agree that something unique is going down in the world today and that it will have large-scale ramifications for quite some time. But not so many speak positively of "tremendous opportunity" or think there is some specific way that Christians can seek to prepare the world for the next few millennia.
James Jordan is different on this point because he believes that he knows something special about history: its basic pattern. This is because of his theological commitment to the idea that God providentially works history into patterns and types, each stage different but similar to what came before. His study of Scripture leads him to believe that he understands the basic gist of these patterns, and that knowing helps us understand what we must do as the Church to lay a solid foundation for the years and centuries to come.
I will not seek here to explain the whole of Jordan's schema for history or defend specific points. Rather, I want to highlight the creatively biblical and plausible nature of it all. Jordan writes as someone who has truly given over his soul to the study of Scripture, and you can see that in his reflections on its narrative patterns.
To Jordan, history basically has three kinds of ages corresponding to the Triune God: there is an age of the Father, an age of the Son, and an age of the Spirit, and these three occur in cycles. An age of the Father is an age for laying foundations, writing the future, and creating new starts. It is associated with the tribal form of society, with the days of the patriarchs and the early church. An age of the Son is a time of brotherhood (for the Son is the Elder Brother of men), of human relations. It is associated with the bonding of tribes into kingdoms or states, and with stronger institutions. Finally, an age of the Spirit is age of bonding and matchmaking, as the Spirit is God the Matchmaker. This kind of age is associated with internationalism, cosmopolitanism, trade and travel, and the formation of all kinds of human bonds. Thus it is associated with the days of empires (Persia, Rome, etc.) and modern globalism.
How Jordan defends and explains all this is mostly beside the point that I found most helpful. He characterizes our modern age as a time of transition, the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one. We are passing from an age of the Spirit slowly into an age of the Father as globalism and cosmopolitanism break down into neo-tribalism. People may not live in the literal tribes of the Bronze Age anymore, but more and more they form smaller tribal identities, whether based on race or sexuality or politics, in which they seek community as their national and international identities fall apart. This seems to me an accurate assessment.
What I found most helpful in the whole book is Jordan's prescription for the Church in such a time. The Church is called to be the true tribe, the good tribe which is protected by God's law from the evils tribalism tends to generate. The best part of tribal cultures is that they center around local community, shared festivity, the common table, and the common song. Jordan argues that the Church today must be proactive in becoming the model tribe, forming by Her close community, intimate love feasts, and cheerful signing of hymns and Psalms (especially Psalms) a healthy kind of Christian community on which the foundations of the coming ages of civilization may be built. If we do this, true worship will flourish and the seeds will be laid for a fruitful tree of Christian culture in the centuries to come. So the Gospel should come to people wandering broken in this neo-tribal age as this:
You are living in isolation, loneliness, despair, chaos, and bondage. But there is a New World! There is a New Creation! There is a New Kingdom! You can leave behind your old horrible life and come into the warmth of the Church. You can join us at the table and sing the psalms with us. You can come under the oversight of our elders, and be part of a new family.
This is the key, and I think the great genius of the book. He elaborates later:
The Church is the true form of the tribe. To meet this situation, the Church needs to put the communion table back where it belongs, in a place where the chairs or pews enable people to sit enthroned around it. No more going forward and kneeling at a rail! No more “assembly lines” of people walking past the elders down front! We need to gather at a table for a real meal-like event.
Second, the Church needs to recover enthusiastic singing. In this regard, the charismatic movement has been a preliminary, groping response to the felt-needs of lonely people. The charismatic type of church responds to the needs of people to feel drawn together and lifted up around God. This sensation of being gathered, along with enthusiastic music and festivity, meets the “tribal” needs of the human being.
Third, the Church needs to recover a sense of place. Protestant churches are ideological; we drive past twenty churches to get to the one we agree with. This cannot change overnight, of course, but more and more churches need to reach out into the communities right around them and become centers for the lonely and lost in their midst. In this way we shall gradually recover the “parish” concept of the Church, which is localistic and “tribal.”
Amen and amen.