There are many reports that the churches of Europe are empty and church participation in America is dwindling as well. Besides the tough economic climate, I believe the growth of secularism and the discoveries of modern science have favored human rationality over faith in the God of the Bible. This post-modern movement is generating a new crop of atheists or what I call “reborn gentiles.”
This is a good thing! Why?
It will force religion to dig deeper into God’s revealed wisdom so that theology can interface with science and human reasoning. In fact, a theology that will turn heads must be able to augment science with new insights into formulating breakthrough theories of causal process and a deeper understanding of the laws of the universe.
Scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg has offered the world just such a potent new approach. He even states that this new theology will gain its main growth from gentiles and those who have rejected traditional forms of organized religion.
So these times should offer sweet pickings for a New Church founded on Swedenborg’s visionary insights. Such a church exists.
Having been brought up Catholic, then leaving the church, I certainly had obtained “reborn gentile” status when I was finally introduced to Swedenborg’s amazing ideas. I am living proof of Swedenborg’s prediction.
Unfortunately, this new church, armed with a treasure house of potent new material, hasn’t yet caught the world’s imagination. Having spent a quarter century in the advertising and marketing field I think I know why. They offer high quality steak but don’t know how to make it sizzle. In biblical terms, they have yet to figure out how to put their new wine into new bottles.
They have “packaged” their potent belief system into a somewhat generic protestant-style church—an old bottle. Should a newcomer visit a Swedenborgian church, in most cases, he or she will not be able to immediately perceive a notable difference, or, as they say in the Ad biz, a unique selling point. And even if the visitor happens to hear and recognize something new in the minister’s sermon, the congregation will often fall back into worldly banter after the service. What is a visitor supposed to take away from such an un-colorful and indistinct encounter that makes them want to come back? All churches can provide hugs and smiling, helpful people—nothing new there.
Being an author (with an advertising background) I know that a consumer in a bookstore takes about eight seconds making the decision to purchase or not to purchase a particular book. So lots of thought goes into putting a “wow factor” on the front and back covers of the book. A potential buyer wants to know immediately (especially these days) whether the book offers them something of value—that is noticeably different from other books on the shelf.
So, too, a church—especially one that is blessed with explosive and paradigm-changing ideas like Swedenborg’s. But meaningful growth isn’t happening.
I suspect that the Swedenborgian Church fears coming off as “too weird” or as a “cult” and worries about being accepted. It doesn’t have to look weird—it just has to be intellectually riveting! The answer to its potential growth comes from knowing how to win over the minds of the “reborn gentiles” and those in the secular movement. This will require bold new literature, innovative media, discussions with the scientific community and even designing sections of the physical church to deliver a new experience for worshippers and visitors.
Heaven forbid if some writer happens to convince people about the freshness and relevance of Swedenborg’s contributions to the world of human ideas and the church bearing his name fails to viscerally reflect a similar uniqueness and “sizzle.”