“What was that guy talking about?” the young man asked his friend, as they sat down in front of me and the bus pulled away from the University of British Columbia.
“I don’t know, he was trying to give us a brochure on something spiritual. I think he said he was a Mormon or something.” “What’s a Mormon?” asked his friend sincerely.
“I’m not sure. It’s like a Christian or a Buddhist. You should just Google it.”
Welcome to post-Christendom Vancouver. Western Canada is a patchwork of cultures and religious expression. As a missiologist I’m keenly aware of how the Christendom of my Manitoba childhood no longer exists. That was a time on the Canadian prairies where everyone in my public school was “something,” whether that be Ukrainian Orthodox, Anglican, Mennonite or some other Euro-stock franchise of Christianity. While secularity has permeated all of Western Canada, the impact has been particularly strong over the mountains here in British Columbia. In The Secular Northwest, historian Tina Block declares that according to census data, “no religion” is now the number one religion in the region. Block’s historical survey of faith in British Columbia and Washington State found that, “Northwest secularity is most evident in the region’s strikingly low levels of involvement in, and attachment to, formal or organized religion.”
Angus Reid’s latest polling on religion in Canada confirms that B.C. is home to the highest proportion of “non-believers” at just over one-quarter (27 percent). As a result, Christian witness requires a particular approach in the land of the “nones and dones,” or, as Stuart Macdonald and Brian Clarke describe it in Leaving Christianity, the “de-churched and non-churched.”
Christian witness in the land of lattes and Lululemon requires a missional framework for engaging a culture that no longer responds only to the pastoral and teaching offices of Ephesians 4. In our common Reformed tradition, John Calvin continues to play a key role in our Christian witness. However, when we read Calvin’s commentaries on Ephesians 4 he argues that while the Bible names five offices for Christian leadership, apostles, prophets and evangelists were not meant to be perpetual. Beyond the early church, Calvin believed that only pastors (shepherds) and teachers were required for the government of the church. And yet Calvin notes that “in those cases where religion has fallen into decay” evangelists must be raised up to restore the pure doctrine of the church. I like to suggest that day has come in western Canada.
What is required increasingly in the secular West is a recovery of the apostolic establishment of new witnessing communities, the prophetic utterances of God through his Word to a people who have forgotten who and whose they are, and evangelists to restoke with gospel glory the imaginations of people who now are reduced to having to Google God. God is weaving together a beautiful tapestry of different ethnic backgrounds here on the west coast from original Indigenous cultures through Euro-stock settler traditions to an increasingly strong Asian presence. In the midst of this beautiful mosaic of people and place, there is need for a gentle and persuasive witness for the Three-in-One God who made the lofty mountain grandeur, sparkling ocean waves and every living thing in between.
Yes, you can stay at home (or ride the bus) and Google God, but Christian community remains a relational space, like our Triune God himself, where people can encounter grace, receive forgiveness, and participate in God’s on-going mission of worship and witness that is actively healing the nations until the Kingdom comes.