Exploring Postmodernism

A few posts ago Peg asked if someone could explain to her what was meant by the “emerging” church.  I asked a lot of the same questions when I first discovered the wide world of blogging and kept running into a lot of theological talk I didn’t understand.  In spite of my limited understanding of the lingo, I kept asking and learned a lot of stuff from reading and discussing what was said on the blogs.  So keep researching and you will find what you need to know – and then some!

I guess over the last couple of years I have learned some stuff; the most valuable was the realization that there are some sound young Christian leaders out there working at being the “emerging” church in the communities where they live.  They take their faith seriously and have fun doing it. 

To my surprise, a few months ago the editor of the Covenant Messenger (our Canadian Covenant denominational publication) e-mailed me and asked me to do an article on Postmodernism.  I am not an expert so I didn’t write it from the perspective of a theological expert.  I am just me so I wrote it from the perspective of just me, a grandmother and quasi-scientist, who has decided to explore this new territory and is excited by what I have found.

So here is what I wrote.  You can keep reading here or on the Covenant Messenger site.

A few posts ago Peg asked if someone could explain to her what was meant by the “emerging” church.  I asked a lot of the same questions when I first discovered the wide world of blogging and kept running into a lot of theological talk I didn’t understand.  In spite of my limited understanding of the lingo, I kept asking and learned a lot of stuff from reading and discussing what was said on the blogs.  So keep researching and you will find what you need to know – and then some!

I guess over the last couple of years I have learned some stuff; the most valuable was the realization that there are some sound young Christian leaders out there working at being the “emerging” church in the communities where they live.  They take their faith seriously and have fun doing it. 

To my surprise, a few months ago the editor of the Covenant Messenger (our Canadian Covenant denominational publication) e-mailed me and asked me to do an article on Postmodernism.  I am not an expert so I didn’t write it from the perspective of a theological expert.  I am just me so I wrote it from the perspective of just me, a grandmother and quasi-scientist, who has decided to explore this new territory and is excited by what I have found.

So here is what I wrote.  You can keep reading here or on the Covenant Messenger site.

Exploring Postmodernism

  

When I was asked to write something on postmodernism, I was a bit shocked.  After all what do I, a grandmother, a person with a background in science not philosophy, really know about this stuff anyway.  As I tried to explain this, I received the answer, “You do not seem to be afraid of postmodernism.”  And that is right.  I am not afraid of it.  I see hope as the church begins to make the shift along the time line of culture into postmodernism; hope that there will be a strong community of faith standing around my grandchildren as they learn what it means to follow Jesus Christ in the world they will be part of.  I believe that Jesus Christ stays the same even as our cultures shift.

 

Imagine the church poised on a plateau at the edge of a canyon.  We have come through some beautiful country – beauty we appreciate, surroundings we have learned to love and understand.  Great people have taken the time to study the terrain and have developed systems to explain how and why things work.  If we do the right things, the results of our actions are predictable.  We think we have it pretty well cased and can’t imagine that God wants us to leave this good place. 

 

Now we have to consider the impact of this canyon opening up before us.  There are ways down into the deep gorge but they are not easy to find.  We are not even sure if we should go there.  We are inclined to stay in this good place but it seems as if everyone else in the world is heading towards this canyon. We will soon be left alone at the top. 

 

If we want to explore the canyon, see and experience its wonders, we have to go there.  Getting there is going to require a whole new approach.  We are going to have to find ways to make the transition from walking on smooth well planned streets to taking a hike in rugged uncharted terrain. 

 

I believe the church is in this kind of place right now.  Maybe we have been there for a while but were not brave enough to look over the edge of the canyon at the depths of the gorge.  We stayed safe and thus isolated ourselves from the changes affecting mainstream culture.  We followed a path that led us right up to this edge but instead of exploring the new territory, we declared it off limits.  It was different, unknown and could not be good.  We are standing – still in the modern era, looking at this postmodern canyon with modern eyes.  The organized church is still at the top looking down not sure how to get down there where all those unchurched people are.  One thing we can all be sure of is that they are not likely to climb back up to the top of the ridge where we are hanging out.

 

Initially I began to investigate this culture because of my children.  I wanted more than anything for them to know God.  If the church was irrelevant to them where would they find him?   I could see that there was a huge cultural gap between my generation and my children’s and I didn’t quite know how to handle that.  In my despair I began to explore what was out there.  I began to learn about an emerging church that was responding to this generation in settings that did not look much like the stereotypical church building with steeple and pews.   There were faithful vibrant churches attending to the needs of this generation.  I discovered a network of young passionate Christians; postmoderns bringing Christ to postmoderns.  

 

Postmodernism can be described in simple terms as the place we are on a journey along a cultural timeline.   Very simply, there were ancient times followed by medieval then modern and now postmodern.  The church journeys along this same timeline.  In some ways, the change to a postmodern culture can be understood as the beginning of the swing of a pendulum away from the rationalistic excesses of the modern age towards a more fluid culture.

 

The modern age had certain characteristics.  It was the age of reason, of science, the age of proof and rationality.  The church adapted to this. Christianity was systematized.  Proofs were developed supporting the intelligent choice of Christianity over atheism.  Christians were rational, reasonable people.  As systems of belief were developed by churches, so were statements of faith and sets of rules and principles for living. In some ways the church developed a bunker mentality; the world was out to prove us wrong, science was somehow diametrically opposed to faith, and if we were not careful, we would be assimilated by a wicked world. In many cases the faith we professed became boxed in by the modern culture and the church became rigid and legalistic.  We could believe all the right things with our heads but in many cases that was where faith ended – in the realm of rational thinking.  Putting into practice the radical teachings of Jesus and experiencing his power and love was occasionally less important than having the right set of beliefs. 

 

There are some common themes expressed in the writings of new young leaders in this postmodern church as postmodern thought meets evangelical faith.

 

Postmodern people are skeptical of claims to absolute truth yet they seek truth and honest answers.  They seek truth in the lives and experiences of those they see living out an authentic life.  The postmodern Christian needs to live a transparent honest life demonstrating Christ’s teachings to the person who seeks God.  Postmodern seekers of God may reject him if he is presented as a set of rules offered as a substitute for truth.

 

Postmodern people do not like the boundaries between people imposed by hierarchical systems.  In the church they want a more level playing ground. A postmodern church is less likely to use a sermon preached to a passive audience as a method of instruction. They want more interaction during teaching and recognize that much is learned in honest dialogue, in the exchange of ideas and in the recounting of our stories.  Postmodern people do not see leadership as equaling the exercise of power over others.  They want the voices of all gifted people, men and women of all races, to be heard as the voices of equals.  Leaders are sought who demonstrate transparent honest lives and a style of servanthood patterned after the life of Jesus.

 

The postmodern church plays down the divisions set up by denominational creedal statements.  A personal experience of the Spirit demonstrated by a life that conforms to the teachings of Christ will be accepted as a more valid expression of faith than adherence to a list of required beliefs set out by a governing body. “The fellowship of the believers” is an experience that is understood as valid and desirable. Thus young leaders may find they are less tied to one denomination, finding much in common with other groups. They recognize that it is the Spirit that joins the believers together – not a set of denominational rules or peripheral beliefs.  Postmodern believers are tolerant of differences. 

 

The postmodern church appreciates and currently adopts many ancient Christian practices.  Faith in a God who is beyond our knowing yet desires to have a relationship with us leads to acceptance of the mysterious. Drawing on ancient practices and liturgies, these believers attempt to create sacred spaces in order to experience God more fully.  Artistic expressions of faith are highly valued.  In fact art is seen as an expression of creativity endowed on a person as a manifestation of the spirit – we have been created by a God who excels in creation and, as such, many are gifted in creative expression as a reflection of the one who created us.

 

Conversion as a one time act that determines if a person is “saved” is another modern concept that fits better with completing proper requirements than into the postmodern one of developing a relationship with God.  Coming to faith is seen as taking place in more of the manner of a conversation – ongoing and deepening as the relationship grows – rather than a one time completed act.  Dramatic beginnings can occur but many people will quietly grow into faith; choosing at some point to be identified as a Christ follower as they are nurtured along by a community of faith.  The postmodern believer believes that the decision to follow Christ should be accompanied by a life which demonstrates the fruits of the spirit in acts of justice and love as well as in environmental care for the world and care for the less fortunate. 

 

I find that I have a great affinity for the changes being brought about by the postmodern church.  I think I have longed for many of these all my life.  The legalistic and exclusive stance of the modern church bothered me.  I knew that it was more than adherence to rules that made one a follower of Christ.  As I met other Christians recognizable by their faith, their love of God and the way they put Christ’s teachings into practice, my thinking began to change so that I could more easily accept a variety of expressions of behavior among fellow Christians.  I learned to adapt to the cultures I found myself within.

 

I am interested in the cultures of people who live in Africa, China, and Indonesia.  I can read about the people.  I can study their language.  But until I go and immerse myself in their culture, learning to love it like my own, I remain separate from it, a mere tourist

 

So it is in the postmodern world.  If the church wants to connect with the men and women of this culture we have to reach out and learn the language and customs.  That step would at least make us tourists.  They will know we have come to stay, to be a part of them, when they see us developing relationships with them because we love them.

 

We do stand at the brink of a great canyon.  The church has yet to decide if we will indeed go down and explore this new part of creation or just camp at the top.  Will we look over the brink of the canyon like tourists or will we care enough to get up and start navigating the path towards this new culture, sharing our lives with them? 

 

Do not be afraid to explore.  Jesus will be with you always even to the ends of the earth.

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0 responses to “Exploring Postmodernism

  1. “Christians were rational, reasonable people.”

    How long were you part of a traditional ‘modern’ church?

    LOL.

    According to your post I’ve been firmly postmodern in many aspects as a Christian, probably before some of the ‘young leaders’ were born, which I find slightly amusing.

  2. Linea

    Toni,

    I am part of a “modern” church. We are changing and I don’t know that I have been so rational as some people that I know. But in general, I think we as boomers, tend to have preconceived ideas of what behaviours need to be demonstrated by Christians – and a lot of them are simply cultural add ons, not central to our faith at all.

    So, I have had a hard time most of my life fitting in to some of the cutural expectations of the “modern” church. I am glad things are changing.

  3. Thanks for this Linea. In so many ways I have feel God leading us in our move South and I often wonder if it is for this opprtunity to explore what is happening out there. I am not sure I have your confidence in what changes are happeing and may not like what I find but I certainly want to know what is there.

  4. Finally had a chance to sit down and read your article. I REALLY enjoyed it. Very well written, with clear explanations, and great analogies. I like your “scientific”, less philosophical way stating of things. It helps me to see things with a different perspective. Good stuff!