Here's a brief introduction for my book, The Feast, coming out September 1, 2009 from Leafwood Publishers.
In 1871, the city of Chicago suffered a devastating fire. By the end of the destruction, almost two-thirds of the city proper had been destroyed. Likely a case of an urban myth run wild, early reports pointed to a poor Irish woman as the one responsible. A poor, immigrant Catholic (the perfect criminal in the political milieu of late nineteenth century Chicago), Catherine O’Leary was the first reported perpetrator. The Chicago Tribune reporter who “leaked” this information would later retract.Several theories now remain regarding the person responsible for the great fire. Yet, the most interesting element to me regarding the story is the reason the city burned down in the first place. Before Chicago became the “windy” city, it was known as the wooden city for its streets, buildings, factories, and homes were primarily made of a substance that could be destroyed in an instant. Chicago was made of wood and it would soon learn the fallacy of constructing an entire community/existence upon a fragile source.
This is a great metaphor for our cultural situation regarding Christianity and the Church. Made of wood (science= God), our western religious cities are slowly burning. Architects from all over the world are now coming to this city to a) diagnose the cause of the fire (i.e. the failures of modernity) and b) create new possibilities and paradigms within our given context.This is not to say that the “wooden city” was evil, bankrupt, or false. Rather, it is to recognize the limitations as well as the possibilities now for the future.
According to Christian scholar, Alister McGrath, almost two-thirds of all Christians lived in the West in 1900. And now, only one-third were still recognized as “Western” by 2000. In the last fifty years, Christianity shifted to the far corners of the world: China, South America, and Africa. Scholars now note there are more Anglicans in Africa, for instance, than in all of Great Britain. In fact, it seems there are more Christians living in China and Africa then in the United States—a statistic unimaginable even fifty years ago.
My own religious tribe, Churches of Christ from the American Restoration Movement, has been slowly declining the last three decades in the United States. Besides two major segments of Protestant faith—Pentecostal and Independent/Community—most of Western Christianity is in the midst of a season of stagnation or severe decline.
In virtually every part of America (including the Bible Belt), Christianity is dying a slow death. Out of these ashes exists the opportunity to continue to dream about God’s activity and the potential for the story of Jesus to receive a fresh hearing.
Part autobiography, social justice manifesto, historical reflection, treatise on grace, journal from the urban/suburban world, and narrative reading of Jesus’ life—The Feast is a book seeking to bridge the world of reflection and practice. The chasm of belief and practice (a product of the Enlightenment and its quest for facts and objective truth) is evident even in many of today’s “post” modern writings. The Feast is one attempt to do reflection and practice in a harmonious dance.
See Philip Jenkins outstanding trilogy on the emerging shape of global Christianity: The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (New York: Oxford Press, 2006); The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford Press, 2007); and God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis (New York: Oxford Press, 2007). Also, Brian D. McLaren’s Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007) is one of the more constructive blue-prints per the church’s local and global mission in our pluralistic society