Debates in the church community over post-modernism and how churches are adapting to or not adapting to a post-modern era have caused churches to miss something far more important, according to a prominent media consultant to faith-based organizations.
"Rather than uniting to impact a post-modern culture, we're spending most of our time in-fighting about what post-modernism is, who's too post-modern, and who's not post-modern enough," said Phil Cooke of Cooke Pictures, in Church Business magazine.
In the culture today, too many people claim to be Christians, Cooke stated. Yet they are indistinguishable from non-believers. Cooke attributes that to there being too many pastors today who don't take education seriously and have serious doctrinal errors.
"Our evangelism is handicapped if we don't believe the right things about who God is, and what exactly being a Christian means," he said.
A recent Barna Group study found 38 percent of American adults label themselves evangelical, but only 19 percent of them actually meet the criteria for an evangelical, based on the research group's definition.
The lifestyles of born-again Christians are not much different from the rest of the world, another Barna study had revealed. Other studies have indicated a prevalent problem of Christians, including clergy, viewing pornography. And divorce among Christians is said to be as high as that of non-Christians – 50 percent.
"What you believe becomes irrelevant if you don't act on your Christian convictions," said Cooke in the magazine. "Pastor Rick Warren says that we've moved from a religion of creeds, to a religion of deeds."
Warren, megapastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., often preaches that the Church has had its legs and arms amputated and all that's left is "a big mouth."
The post-modern mind, however, responds to seeing believers live out their faith, Cooke stressed.
"The massive influx of churches offering assistance to the victims of Hurricane Katrina made a far more positive impact on the culture than years of preaching against abortions, homosexual marriage or euthanasia," he stated.
Not only must churches teach the right doctrine, but they must also live out their faith in the public square. "The key is balance," said Cooke.
But with churches largely fixated on debating post-modernism, Cooke says "we miss something far more important – that we've shifted to a post-Christian society."
The issue is not a post-modern culture, but a post-Christian culture. Today, most people do not understand the evangelical or "churchy" language, according to Cooke; they don't recognize the Bible as authoritative; and Christians have lost touch with how they are perceived by the culture.
"All of this causes non-believers to simply dismiss us as out of touch – or worse, nuts," he noted. "...while we're busy having an in-house argument about post-modernism, the culture has already passed us by."
Cooke reminds churches that the post-modern debate is "an in-house issue" that should not distract from mission. Churches need to speak in a language that people in a post-Christian culture can understand.
"To make an impact, we must take the time and effort to understand, relate to, and love the very people who might think we're crazy."