Tony Finnerty was the President of the Kiwanis Club when I joined in 1974. He was the Altadena Postmaster (a role that no longer exists) and a very active and faithful member of Saint Elizabeth Catholic Church. Actually, he was the first observant Roman Catholic I had ever known well enough to have discussions about our beliefs. He was an Irish-Catholic traditionalist, and the changes occurring in his Church were tearing him apart.1 He was especially bothered that some of the Bible readings during the worship service were now being done in English! For him, Latin was the only language of worship. He may not have understood all the nuances of meaning of the Latin words, but the familiar and uplifting cadences spoke to his soul, and the English readings seemed like a worldly intrusion into a sacred experience.

In talking to Tony, I came to realize that I had an attachment to some familiar experiences during my early life in Church that I’d had to give up. The Bible was the center of our worship experience, and we all knew that The Bible was that black book containing the magical words of the King James Translation (usually in the Scofield Reference edition). I was taught to memorize key verses, and as an eight-year-old, I won contests for the number of favorite verses I could recite from memory. When modern Bible translations began to come out, they were supposed to give me a better understanding of the meaning of my favorite verses, but it was at the cost of all my memorization accomplishments. Tony Finnerty was trapped by his attachment to the Latin Bible; I was similarly ensnared by the King James translation.

Recently, these things came to my mind when I read an advertisement for a new workshop for Pastors, entitled Preaching Christ in a Post-Christian World.2 For just $299, I can become part of a cohort that will help me learn to deal with the challenge of preaching the gospel in a “post-Christian” society and culture. Ho hum; I’ve been doing that for the past fifty years.

You see, the term “post-Christian world” implies that there once was a “Christian world,” and that just isn’t so. What the promoters of the workshop ought to confess is that a certain expression of Christianized culture is falling apart, and they want to help me (for $299) find my tongue so I can speak sense to a new kind of audience.

Tony Finnerty thought he was going to have to deal with “post-Christian” Catholic worship, but it was really just “post-Latin,” and he began to enjoy sharing his faith with his grandkids. I felt as if I was going off to college with a “post-Christian” understanding of God, but it was actually only “post-King James Translation,” and it turned out to be “new and improved.”

The statistics on church attendance and involvement are increasingly bad, and getting worse year by year.3 But Millenials and Gen-Whatevers aren’t rejecting Christianity; they’re rejecting a certain brand of religious practice and culture that has seen its day — just like Latin and the King James translation. This traditional Christian package has gone past its sell-by date and is being thrown out.4

We all have memories of “the good old days,” and for those of us who grew up in church-going families, this applies to our memories of the first flickers of our personal faith. We believe that what worked for us way back then should work for our children and grandchildren today. But remember the line, “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” Our memories are usually sugar-coated. And we can’t ever fully recreate the situations of the past anyway. We have to accept the flow of change and adapt to it. Otherwise, no one will listen to our message.

In defending his radically new teachings, Jesus said:

“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are ruined, but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:16-17)

Jesus is clearly implying that the old clothes and the old wineskin need to be thrown away in order for his message to be understood by new generations.

– – Pastor George Van Alstine 

1 Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962, and during the next five years theologians hammered out more major changes in Catholic worship and practice than had occurred over the previous five hundred years, literally bringing the Roman Catholic Church into the Twentieth Century. These changes took a few years to affect practices in local American churches, and Tony was experiencing the shock waves of those changes. 

2 You can sign up at https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/cohort/preaching-christ-post-christian-april-2024-world/ But see me first; I offer better advice for $298.99. 

3 Both Gallup and Pew Research firms have been following this trend for four decades: https://religionnews.com/2022/09/13/fewer-than-half-of-americans-may-be-christian-by-2070-according-to-new-projections/

 4 I believe the current pandemic of scandals in large modern churches, often including grooming and clergy sex abuse, is additional evidence that the accepted model for successful growth in American Christianity is infected and fatally flawed.