Editor, Evangelical Channel at Patheos
The Christian Post
St. Mary's Catholic High School, Phoenix, AZ
What are the key elements of the institutional church to be preserved or rebuilt?
Barton Gingerich: I think we need to be rebuilding our catechesis. How can we effectually explain and pass on the faith while also helping immature Christians properly order their loves? We want our kids and new converts to unite with their Savior—to draw ever closer to Him throughout their lives. We have failed to do that by commercializing our faith, by watering away our faith in gimmicky entertainment, and by cordoning off our faith to Sundays and before sports games. We need to recapture the idea of clergymen and parents as catechists. Corporate worship should serve as the climax of what is already happening in the home, which is strengthening of faith, sanctification of life, and shared devotion. Instead of feeding off of baptized self-help books, Christian parents should be availing themselves of the true treasuries of the Church, which should be readily supplied by her ministers.
Simone Rizkallah: The Church exists to be the presence of Christ on earth. Pope Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est: "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." We must ask ourselves: Are our churches a place of encounter? Do our churches provide specific places of friendship, belonging or community? Are they schools of prayer? Do we know how to be in relationship with Christ? Or is the emphasis elsewhere?
Brandon Showalter: What needs to shift in the the institutional church is a pernicious mindset that relegates ministry to pastors and church leadership. The church is to equip saints for the work of ministry, not pay a pastor to do the ministry. In his 2013 book The Great Evangelical Recession John S. Dickerson highlights research from George Barna and Brad Waggoner that reveals that relatively few Christians share their faith regularly. They simply do not evangelize or believe that it is a responsibility of theirs. The truth is that every Christian is an ambassador of the Kingdom who can and should share their faith. He has given us his Spirit and the power of his name and the gospel is the best news in the world. It's a real shame so many keep it to themselves.
What particular benefit can Millennials (members of the generation currently in its 20s and 30s) be to the church?
Brandon Showalter: We Millennials cannot abide theological fluff and in light of rising cultural hostility to Christianity, we recognize that if we are going to follow Jesus it is indeed costly. And the truth is that there is no greater joy than knowing Him and we are willing to pay the price. We are also willing to do things differently to further the gospel, outside the conventional boxes, while maintaining strong commitments to orthodoxy. But if we want to win some, we must be winsome. People may not be interested as much in the Church but Jesus is the Desire of Nations. And I sincerely believe that many do want to know Jesus but they have never encountered him.
Simone Rizkallah: Millennials often get a bad reputation but we can learn a lot from them. By paying attention to them and offering friendship, we can begin to understand the cry of their hearts and understand this culture through their experience of it. I think it was Reinhold Niebuhr who said that "there's nothing more unreasonable than an answer to a question that hasn't been asked." It seems like Millennials may be the key to understanding the right questions so as to more effectively provide the right answers.
Barton Gingerich: Christian Millennials seem to realize that individualism has caused much loneliness, depression, and despair. I am hoping they can help keep congregations from embracing individualistic tendencies—to curb the excesses of the sovereign self. Ascesis could make a beneficial return to the Christian life. And, who knows? Maybe something even greater could be restored: maybe Christian Millennials, in rejecting the “spiritual-not-religious” trope of their peers, could help the Church to embrace religion as faith in the plural—as shared faith and life in Christ.
In the context of church decline (at least by numbers) and a weakening shared set of basic moral assumptions, how is the church to act in the political square in America?
Simone Rizkallah: This is a difficult question to answer because the Church's strength is primarily in influencing culture - not politics. The Church didn't convert the world to the Faith through politics but through culture. The pagans of the first century perceived a different humanity that the Christians lived and were struck by it. In the early Middle Ages it was the culture created and developed by the monasteries that changed the face of what was to become Europe. Now we have the added difficulty of a "Twitter" culture that seems increasingly incapable of exchanging simplistic political rhetoric for reasonable, nuanced, and calm communicating. Even in the public square I think Mother Theresa, one of the greatest forces of change in the last century, was right when she intuited "Do not wait for leaders, do it alone, person to person."
Brandon Showalter: The church should continue to form the consciences of people, teaching them to know and love the truth and to live out their convictions, bringing them to bear on their political philosophy no matter how fierce the opposition in the public square may be. Christ never promised it would be easy but he did promise to be with us even to the end of the age. So I'm all for fighting the good fight, being a voice for the voiceless and marginalized in the political sphere, and contending for the faith.
How is the church to relate to a culture where the idea of Christian moral conviction is dismissed as unloving or bigoted?
Barton Gingerich: Any call against indulgent selfishness and any denial of fleshly desire (ascesis) is going to be perceived as freakish in our society. The Gospel, the saving message about Jesus, when properly received by the Holy Ghost, transforms us so that we are no longer in conformation with this world. We might as well get used to it and stop being bitter or hesitant about the ostracism we receive for our commitment to the Gospel. Remember well the words of St. Paul: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
Brandon Showalter: One can't avoid a certain amount of that. Jesus himself was misunderstood and dismissed and said those who followed him would be hated. So the church must remain steady and hold fast to the truth and be willing to endure some scorn. But modeling healthy marriage and family life is going to speak volumes to a culture awash in relational dysfunction. We need to find ways to display the Christian faith as a lived one, that is, as a way of life.
Simone Rizkallah: Dostoevsky wrote in The Idiot that "Beauty will save the world." The starting point for evangelizing a culture to the true and the good is to start with the beautiful. Every human heart can relate to the experience of beauty. If we can start there and share there, perhaps we can journey on a path where "beauty" will at some point be recognized as a glimpse of Him who IS Beauty.
About the Contributors
Barton Gingerich is John Jay Institute research associate and a deacon at St. Jude's Anglican Church in Richmond, VA. He earned his Masters of Divinity at Reformed Episcopoal Seminar in Blue Bell, PA, and his BA in History from Patrick Henry College. Gingerich is also the managing editor for the Evangelical Channel at Patheos, which tries to represent the best in evangelical thought, to articulate the gospel in a multireligious marketplace of ideas, and to host the conversations that shape the future of the church.
Brandon M. Showalter is a staff reporter with The Christian Post in Washington, DC and a member of the inaugural class of the John Jay Institute. While he enjoys journalism, his favorite thing to do in life is to sing. A classically trained lyric tenor who has performed in front of the President of Mexico, the former Chairman of Federal Reserve, and several members of President Obama's Cabinet, he released his first album of original compositions, an EP titled Song of Psalms in 2014. Originally from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, he received his BA, cum laude, in International Studies and Spanish in 2007 from Bridgewater College of Virginia. In 2015 he graduated from a 3-year program at Bethel School of Ministry in Redding, California. In recent years Brandon has traveled to several countries including Brazil, Ukraine, Iceland, Guatemala, and South Korea to preach the gospel in a variety of contexts, both inside and outside the local church.
Simone Rizkallah, a 2010 MA Theology graduate of Christendom College, is the daughter of immigrants from the Armenian Diaspora of Cairo, Egypt. Her family initially left Armenia due to the Genocide of 1915 and then later left Cairo in the 1970s to avoid the growing persecution of Christians there. She was the first one born in the U.S. and studied marketing communion and drama in college before discovering that her passion for the Faith and her desire to know it better and to share it was a calling to teach theology and to evangelize. She currently teaches at St. Mary’s Catholic High School and leads the local chapter of the ecclesial movement of Communion and Liberation in Phoenix, Arizona. She participated in the Witherspoon Fellowship in Fall of 2004.