The following is the beginning of a series in which scholars address wide-ranging topics about the church. Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago.
“What will historians 10,000 years from now say that the church was up to in our day?”
This is the kind of question historians sometimes get, even though they know that no historian has anything to say until there is a past, since their specialty is exclusively the past. Still, it is fun to play games like this because the answers we give provide perspective on “what we are up to” today. What are we up to today?
Let me try to surprise you by saying that not everything that we are up to today is a betrayal of the mission of the church and of the Gospel itself. It is fashionable to be cynical about what and how we are doing, but a plaque on my wall says “No Whining.” No one is stirred or called to action by whining. So let’s note right off that some good things come out of “what we are up to today” with – obligatory reference which I gladly insert – “under the Holy Spirit.” Quoting a British historian, I explain that I am an historian because I find everything so odd, and I want to learn how it got that way.
There are roughly 2.3 billion people called Christian in a world of six-plus billion people. They got to be here because some Christians were called to live out their lives in response to God’s mandates and promises as they hear them. You would think that after several centuries of secular confusions and onslaughts before 2012, there would be few non-secularist people left. Franz Kafka’s word to anyone should resonate among Christians: “In the fight between you and the world, back the world.” Still, despite odds, believers tell stories about faith and for faith, to encourage action and to act.