Just before her death in 2006 Jane Jacobs, the Canadian social critic and writer, published a book entitled Dark Age Ahead. In brief, Jacobs argued that with the radical social changes being experienced in the West a catastrophic loss of wisdom which has guided Western culture has also been taking place, especially as that wisdom becomes disengaged from the past and exhilarated by the new, endless world of info/entertainment. For Jacobs, this scenario has similarities with the loss of wisdom that occurred after the fall of the Roman Empire.
In addition to Jacob's concerns, we could probably also add the following: our destructive use of the earth’s resources, our global irresponsibilities to those living in poverty, and our ongoing lust for war and violence. The list is endless.I may be off the mark, but I have a feeling this dystopian vision of a dark age ahead is not a popular one. I am not sure it is a welcome message in many churches. And yet, as theologian and missiologist Charles Fensham of Knox College in Toronto has also suggested, this kind of message of a dark age ahead may be necessary to shake the churches in North America out of their self-satisfied consumeristic slumbers. There is a great need to rethink the mission of the church in this rapidly changing context. Certainly, the emergent and missional church movements are attempts to respond to these challenges. The new monasticism is also an attempt to come to grips with the loss of wisdom in the wider church and culture. As Dorothy said to Toto: "We are not in Kansas anymore."
After reading through Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue a few weeks ago, a book that also speaks of a coming dark age, the problems facing Western culture are indeed daunting: we do not seem to have a way to address the deep moral and spiritual and social crises facing us. There is a need for local forms of community that can preserve and express the wisdom of the ages. There is a need, as MacIntyre states at the end of his book, for a Saint Benedict.How we may go about such a task, I feel, is surely one of the challenges with which we must wrestle in ministry; it is a task that will come with different responses and solutions, to be sure. However, as we discern what kind of age is ahead of us, I pray we all will discover the great need to foster an imagination that roots mission in the loving embrace of the triune God, whose mission is already calling us to mend and care for God’s own. That's a place, I pray, we all can begin; it's a place closer to us than we might think.