A postmodern primer - Emerging worldview challenges the church
February 21 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

A postmodern primer - Emerging worldview challenges the church | Friday, Feb. 21, 2003
  • Relationships - While modernism led to an increasingly individualistic society Postmoderns cherish community. Relationships are more important than rules, tolerance is preferred to exclusion and diversity is prized over uniformity. Teenagers and young adults, for example, are more likely to go out as a group of friends than as "single dates."
  • Process - The significance of relationships is felt in the way Postmoderns deal with tasks and issues that require planning or decision-making. While moderns are prone to think in linear terms with a premium on getting from "a" to "b" as quickly as possible, Postmoderns tend to be circular thinkers who want everyone to be heard, and who consider the process to be more important than the result. What moderns might consider to be wasted time, Postmoderns regard as essential.
  • Personal truth - Modern thinkers, depending heavily on reason and science, tend to see truth and reality as absolute - there is one truth, there is one reality. Postmoderns, however, perceive reality as more relative, conditioned by one's personal experience and situation in life. In her doctor of ministry thesis, Western Carolina University campus minister Wanda Kidd wrote, "Truth for Postmoderns is personal, a living force within their lives as opposed to a guiding principle for their lives."

    Trust in one's own perception of inner truth over external claims of abstract truth leads Postmoderns to have greater tolerance and respect for others' views in matters of lifestyle and religion. In postmodern thought, no one person, organization or church can claim to have a corner on the truth.

  • Deconstruction - Approaching truth without a capital "T" leads Postmoderns to question the various structures that modernity has built. Although the process is generally called "deconstruction," the focus is not on destruction, but on dissection. Postmoderns want to take things apart so they can look inside modernity's assumptions and institutions for what interests them. As Kidd noted, they are less interested in discovering something's foundation than in discerning the heart of the matter.

    The church and Postmoderns Churches that are thoroughly rooted in modernity face a number of challenges in relating to Postmoderns. Chad Hall, lead pastor for Connection Church in Hickory and team leader for the BSC's Innovative Church Team, suggested several strategies in written resources he provided to the Biblical Recorder.

  • Conversion as a process - Churches should recognize that, for Postmoderns, conversion is perceived more as a process than as a one-time event, Hall said. "The 'walk the aisle' tradition of marking conversion is only about 250 years old and is a very effective means of helping people commit to Jesus if they already know the story and simply need to signify their loyalty in public," he wrote. But "for postmodern people, conversion to faith in Jesus Christ will be a process consisting of a series of faith steps rather than one significant and obvious trip down the aisle. As process thinkers, Postmoderns are more likely to describe their faith-life as a journey with periods of rest followed by more movement. This means that ministers will need to discern when a person is 'on the move' spiritually and learn to coach pre-Christians and Christians alike forward in their journeys."
  • Trading traditions for tradition - Churches must learn to focus on what author Brian McLaren calls "tiger questions" instead of "field mouse questions," Hall said, trading traditional Christian distinctions for the authentic roots of Christian faith.

    "For most of American history we have lived in a nation of Christians," Hall wrote. "In this context, we drew distinctions between different brands of believers, and many followers identified more with their brand than with the church universal. Such thinking was a luxury that the postmodern world is snatching away. In a world that is highly global, extremely diverse and shrinking every day, the driving distinction will be between those who bow a knee to Jesus and those who do not. The challenge for Christians will be to tell the unique story of Jesus, not to defend our unique position on baptism, communion, worship style, or end-times."

  • Theological humility - Theologians of the modern era, influenced by science and rationalism, have developed elaborate and detailed systems of theology to answer spiritual questions, Hall said. We are learning, however, "that the scientific approach only works for some parts of life, and theology (what we believe about God) is not one of those parts."

    This leads to a difference in one's approach to spiritual issues. "The modern thinker was oftentimes brought to deeper faith by well-constructed answers," Hall wrote, while "the postmodern person is more likely to be drawn to God by questions - his own and those posed by others.

    "Ministers who want to be indigenous in our emerging context will learn to incorporate the phrase 'I don't know' into their conversations about God. Though we must hold firm to Jesus as the answer and the truth, many other aspects of God's nature and how the universe works are admittedly beyond us. The more comfortable we become admitting there is more we do not know about God than what we do know (though we might have some guesses), the more influence we will have with postmodern people."

    One aspect of humility is integrity, and influence with Postmoderns also grows from consistency in one's stated beliefs and personal practices. Harton pointed to polls showing that the lifestyles and beliefs of American Christians are little different from those of non-Christians.

    This inconsistency is not lost on Postmoderns, who value authenticity above authoritarian claims. "For the Postmodern," Kidd wrote, "the burden of truth lies not in how convincing one is but in how convicted one is. Truth cannot be a handed down tradition: it is a living passion."

  • A new apologetic - Christians must explore new patterns for communicating the gospel to Postmoderns, Hall said. "The way we seek to help others understand the story of Jesus (apologetics) is also changing as our world shifts," he wrote. "The most effective emerging churches are adept at new communication patterns that rely on a few basics such as offering mysteries in addition to answers, focusing on essentials rather than debating minutiae, and seeing Christianity as the fulfillment of other faiths rather than a wholesale replacement of competing religions."

    Both Hall and Harton note the similarity of this approach to the Apostle Paul's sermon on Mars Hill (Acts 17). Surrounded by people who followed competing philosophies and who worshiped a variety of deities, Paul acknowledged the Athenians' devotion to many gods, including an altar "to the unknown god." He then declared that Christ was the ultimate fulfillment of what they already sought.

    This kind of apologetic, Hall wrote, is "based on the belief that Jesus is already at work in every person's story - with the goal of the apologist/evangelist being to describe Jesus' activity so that the individual can recognize, accept, and become devoted to Jesus in a life-changing way."

    In a similar fashion, Kidd's thesis emphasizes the Christian's role of listening to others, learning of their journey, hearing their pain, perceiving how Jesus is already active in their lives, and then sharing one's personal experience with Christ.

    Brian McLaren, widely considered to be the foremost writer and practitioner of ministry in a postmodern matrix, begins The Church on the Other Side with these words:

    "If you have a new world, you need a new church. You have a new world."

    (Editor's note: Steve DeVane contributed to this story. Persons interested in learning more about this subject are invited to a seminar led by Brian McLaren at Ephesus Baptist Church in Raleigh on March 13. To register for "A New Kind of Christian: A Conference Exploring Spiritual Journeys for Emerging Churches," contact Tisha Allmond at [800] 395-5102, ext. 419, or by e-mail at tallmond@bscnc.org.)

  • Friday, Feb. 21, 2003

    A postmodern primer - Emerging worldview challenges the church

    By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

    While usage of the word "postmodern" increases, understanding of the term lags. Critics sometimes use it as a synonym for "liberal," while others apply it as a generational label. Some writers speak of postmodernism in philosophical terms, while others see it as a socio-cultural phenomenon, and others as an emerging historical period.

    It is somewhat ironic that a term used to describe an age of growing ambiguity should be so ambiguous itself. However, a growing number of academic studies, interpretive books and informed speakers are making it easier for Christians to understand the challenges posed by relating to Postmoderns.

    What is a "Postmodern"? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "postmodern" as referring to "any of several movements (as in art, architecture or literature) that are reactions against the philosophy and practices of modern movements and are typically marked by revival of traditional elements and techniques." But postmodernism as a worldview refers to something much broader.

    While the church is less interested in art and architecture than in behavior and thought patterns, the defining point is the same: postmodernity is a reaction to the perceived failures of modernity. It is not just a style, a cultural element, or an arcane philosophy. More than anything else, postmodernism is a mindset, a way of thinking about life and viewing the world.

    The beginning of the "modern" era is often traced to the Enlightenment period of the 18th century, a time characterized by the emergence of rationalism, science and industrialization. A growing reliance on technology and an over-riding belief that human knowledge can eventually solve any problem are characteristic elements of the "modern" mindset. Widespread trust in institutions, respect for authorities, and confidence in black-and-white answers are natural corollaries of modern thinking.

    But, the destructive downsides of technology and the limits of reason in comprehending spiritual things have led to an increasing disenchantment with modernity. "The wheels started falling off" the modern mindset in the early 20th century, Virginia-based consultant Mike Harton told participants at a Jan. 25 seminar in Lillington called "Disciplemaking for the New Century."

    Two world wars, the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have contributed to the growing disillusionment with modernity, he said: "The roots of postmodernity are found in what some perceive as the train wreck of modernity."

    Postmodernity, then, grows from dissatisfaction with modernity, a mood of discontent that is trans-generational. Younger adults are more likely to be comfortable with a postmodern worldview, but they are not alone. People of all ages - including many who were raised in thoroughly modern settings - may feel varying degrees of commonality with a postmodern approach to life's questions.

    What are characteristics of Postmoderns? Volumes have been written about postmodern distinctives, but a few things are of special interest to the church.

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    2/21/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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