We had a great first day of class yesterday in Transforming Contemporary Culture. I'm really excited about the students -- about half are new, the other half seasoned Fuller students. They were really engaged for the first day. I'll post more as I learn more about them.
I introduced the history of our particular class, originally title 'Mission in Contemporary Culture'. I traced it back to Lesslie Newbigin and the early 1980s Britain. It was at that time that Newbigin suggested that the West was a mission field and, several years later, Wilbert Shenk went to work with him in the early 1990s. Wilbert Shenk was hired by Fuller in 1995 to begin teaching 'Mission in the West' as well as Mission History.
What was so unusual about this move was that mission reflection was always done for/to the non-West, primarily using tools from anthropology. But what if culture was taken seriously, in the West, just as missionaries took it seriously in the non-West. What if we trained ordinary Christians with cultural tools, so they could facilitate indigenous expressions of church in the West?
The move to understand culture is consistent with the founder of our school, Donald McGavran. He stated again and again that a person should not have to change cultures to find God. The incarnation came to us, in ways people could understand, i.e. Jesus spoke and dressed within the everyday life and culture of first-century palestine. If we want to be like Jesus, we need to do the same in the cultures of the West.
So, Wilbert Shenk started MP520, Mission in Contemporary Culture, and instead of studying tribals, we studied modernity, postmodernity, christendom, postchristendom, politics, economics, health, sport, consumerism, and the list goes on. We studied what a missional witness might look at within these aspects of culture, as ones who live inside these rubrics. How do we point to the kingdom as insiders, as residents who are never quite at home in this world?
Taking this class in 1998 turned me upside down. I had never heard of the idea of a mission in the West. I became Shenk's TA in the late 90s and started a PhD with him at that time. During 2004, we brainstormed where to take the class once he retired. Now I'm teaching it for the second year and I am so passionate about the material. I believe it provides essential tools for the huge transition (fifty years or so) the Western church is making from Christendom to Missional. I'm lovin it!