Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Post-Modernism Defined

Even the experts can't agree on a definition of Post-Modernism. It's a vague and shifting topic, that eats at your core like undetected cancer. At least it's eaten at mine for the last four plus years and I still struggle to put it into words, but here's an attempt. What follows are three psuedo definitions of what I believe will be the second biggest turning point in human history... the first of which was the act of God wrapping himself within the mortal coil.

Please note that I offer these only as springboards for others who may be struggling to grasp the concept of Post-Modernism. They are by no means intended to be absolute definitions... besides one of them is more poetry than definition. Here they are! Kent

Post-Modernism is... a term used to describe the transition from the modern era into a yet to be named time-period of human history. It is marked by the tearing down of absolute truth claims and a hunger for human experiences. It is the place where we find ourselves today in our North American culture. In and of itself, it is neither good nor evil, it simply is what it is. We should not be afraid of it, nor should we embrace it. Instead, we as followers of Christ should become increasingly diligent in learning to understand the post-modern mind, so that someway, somehow the Spirit of God will use us to reach post-moderns that Christ went to the cross and died for.

Post-Modernism is... an unbelievable opportunity for followers of Christ to live their faith in the streets, not hidden in some sanctuary, not veiled with airs of "holiness", but authentic, truth-driven, experiential faith that is marked and known by Christ's own summary of the gospel... to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind... and to simply, yet passionately, love your neighbor as yourself.

Post-Modernism is...
a seismic shift in cultural ideology
a sizable shifting of values

a lack of pursuing virtues
a lack of "virtues" to pursue

a moral degeneration
a generation without morale

a looking forward to where we've never been
a forgetting from where we've come

an absolute lack of absolutes
a defiance to be defied

a purposelessness to behold
a yearning for more of nothing

a belief in ourselves over God
a look in the mirror seeing emptiness

a forgetting of where the soul resides
a forgery of the spirit

a longing for authenticity
a cringing at the superficial

a dose of experience
a lethal injection of "experiences"

a self-gratifying worldview
a self-grandizing whirlpool

a dominance of ego
a dormant orthodoxy

a relative outlook on life
a life of relatively no introspection

a nonsensical twist of faith
a non-stick gospel in a non-prophet world

a simple life gone haywire
a heinous sinful gonorrhea of the soul

an opportunity like none before
a privilege like none ever seen

a belief in taking chances
a chance to live your beliefs

a seizing of the moment
a monumental need for truth serum

an occasion to be Christ
an occasional glimpse of Christ your neighbors will watch

an invitation to love those who hate you
a proposal to dance with "sinners"

a heart transplant - yours for Christ's
a transubstantiation of the mind

a hope where none should grow
a growth of spirit in a stagnant soul

a juncture for the pewsitter
a purpose beyond the program

a freedom for the faithful
a faith for the fearful

a connection for faith in the world around it
a contortion of the world from the faith within it

a predicament to ponder
an uncertainty to ascertain

a turning point in the history of the Church
a crossroads of how you'll live your faith


Anonymous said...

> Do you think there are Christian people in my age group who have a
> natural, innate ability to understand post-moderns? Do you think
> there are men of my age group whom God has provided with natural
> instincts which enable them to minister to post-moderns without having
> to define post-modernism? Do you think it is possible that an older
> pastor might actually discover that the reason he has never "fit in"
> with the established church is that he has been a post-modern ever
> since the 1970s?
> Do you catch my drift? I am struggling with something. I feel
> like I was born "out of time". While so many of my colleagues seem to
> be struggling with trying to define post-modernism I am struggling
> with another question: Why am I not struggling with post-modernism?
> (If that sentence doesn't prove I am a post-modern, I don't know what
> will!)
> I'm not trying to say that the church need not struggle with
> definitions. Nor am I trying to say that we don't have to take a
> serious look at ministering to post-moderns. We must. I admire your
> thinking and the clarity of thought which is so obvious in your
> writing. I ask you, Kent, personally, what you think of my opening
> questions. I don't mean them to be simply rhetorical.
> Forgive me in advance for sounding like an old fart. I can't help
> it. I remember vividly living through the Jesus Movement in the 60s
> in Southern California. We were real radicals. (Tongue in cheek.)
> But seriously, we wanted to upset the entire evangelical
> establishment. We began to oppose seminary education, denominations,
> church buildings, established churches, etc. We just wanted to meet
> in living rooms and parks and beaches and study the Bible and sing
> songs. Wow! Why does the emerging church of post-modern America
> sound so familiar to me?
> The problem is, we all became the establishment! The church
> didn't crumble leaving Christendom to a bunch of long-haired, barefoot
> beachboys who studied the Bible. Churches continued to build
> buildings and denominations survived our onslaught. Is it simply time
> for the radicals to rise up again?
> I loved the piece you wrote on your "next church". My heart
> resonates with it. But I wonder, why do I want a building? Is it
> only because I can't picture doing church without some kind of
> building? What do you think? Maybe I'm just a wannabe post-modern?
> Talk to me, brother. I'm curious!
> Dave

Kent C. Williamson said...

I would believe that there are definitely people of all generations with a "natural, innate ability to understand post-moderns." This I would consider to be a gift, perhaps falling under the gift of discernment... and of course like all gifts, once you realize you have it, you become responsible for using it wisely.

I would also believe that people can effectively reach post-moderns without having to define the concept of post-modernism or post-modernity. But with all things, if we can define them, we can speak of them more effectively. We don't need to know what takes place when we turn on a light in order to use it effectively, but if we understand the process that the switch controls current to the light bulb, which causes the filament to burn, then when we flip the switch and the light doesn't come on, we are better able to track down the possible problems (bad switch, unplugged, no power, bad wiring, no bulb, burned-out bulb, etc.)

Many of us have never "fit in" to the established church, even though we've been a part of it for many years (and in your case, Dave, have even pastored.) And many of us consider ourselves to be "post-moderns", BUT if we don't define "post-moderns" then how do we know if we are one or not???? Some would say that PM's don't believe in absolutes, so by that definition I would say that I am not a PM, because I believe in absolute truth and that we as humans can glimpse it even amidst the clutter and trouble of life. At the same time, if we define PMism as an "era" that followed the modern era, then by that definition we all are PM's.

I think your right in that the Jesus movement was probably the first steps toward this thing called the "emerging church". (On the side... I sure wish the "emerging church" would simply show up for the dance. Why are we calling ourselves the "emerging church"??? It sounds as though we're creating an excuse for ourselves NOT showing up quite yet... you see, we're still emerging, give us time...) Back to the Jesus movement... how do we NOT become the establishment? What lessons can you teach us from your experiences in the 60's to keep us from buying into the methods imposed by the institutional church?

On to buildings... they're not bad. I don't know how we can actually do church without some kind of building or gathering place, but at the same time we shouldn't require them and we shouldn't exalt a church with a building and a gym and a parking lot over a congregation without any of these.

All for now,


Anonymous said...

When you look back at the Jesus Movement and the results of it you see that the establishment against which we rebelled never ceased to exist. That is why we have "traditional churches". If we had been "successful" there would not be traditional churches, only "contemporary" churches. The "emerging" church almost sounds like some alien being coming out of the chests of the modern and contemporary churches. What seemed to happen back in the day was that the Jesus Movement people aimed as far out as they could and demanded that the church come to where they aimed. What actually happened was that some of the church moved out as far as they could and the Jesus Movement people came to meet them. What resulted was the Calvary Chapel movement and others like it. The changes over the years have seemed to work that way. The radical thinkers aim as far out as they can and then accept whatever ground they are able to gain. THAT is how we became the establishment! Some felt satisfied with the gain and stayed there.
Postmodernity is different. WE are INSIDE the church and we are asking the question, "How will the church minister to young believers and reach unbelievers who have postmodern characteristics?" This is the question the traditional church failed to ask in the 60s. They told us we had to conform to what they had established as the norm for Christians. This we were unwilling to do and the church wars began. Hopefully, thinking and praying people will realize that the only way to reach the unreached around us and the only way for the church to survived the next few decades is to understand our postmodern culture and our friends in it! WE are the ones asking the questions this time! WE, the people INSIDE the church, are finally saying, "Hey, we need to change! Do you want to come along? If so, great! If not, see ya! We have work to do!"

Dave Moorhead

Ron Goetz said...

It's significant how often buildings come up in the discussion of post-modernism. I was convinced of the superiority of house churches long before I before I bought Howard Snyder's "The Problem of Wineskins."

I think the multiple references to house churches in the New Testament more than confirm that element of normativity (Rom. 16:5; Phm.2; Col.4:15; I Cor. 16:19).

Christians are the temple of God, according to the Bible. We are a dwelling place of God. Over and over in the Greek Scriptures we are told that we, Christian people, are the new temple of God. We are told this, flat out in various contexts with various applications: 1) in an exhortation to holiness, 2) in a rebuke of divisions and a description of ministry, 3) in a description of our union with the apostles, the prophets, Christ, and with Christians of all ethnicities, 4) again describing our essential likeness to Christ, and finally 5) as a promise to those who overcome kosmos.

"We are the temple of God," II Cor 6:16.

"The whole building" "a holy temple" "a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" Eph 2:19-22

"Living stones" "a spiritual house" (I Pet 2:4-5)

"Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple." (I Cor 3:10-17)

The ekklesia as the Temple of God is a major N.T. metaphor.

In terms of doing ministry, I am convinced that the living room of your own home is the best place to do ministry. The warmth and intimacy of the living room is superior for personal ministry and for the hands-on equipping of the saints for ministry. There is more empowerment and freedom in the Spirit in that small gathering than in an auditorium of even just 300, let alone 3,000.

In terms of outreach the house church is superior. It is easier to invite someone to one's own home than to a structure that is alien to them. It is easier to engage in cross-cultural outreach in house churches. It is also cross-culturally effective in missions.

Koinonia of all kinds is always more likely to occur in a living room than in a sanctuary of any size.

I believe that defense of traditional church buildings basically fall into two categories. The first set of defenses are based on efficiency. The second set of defenses are based on safeguarding the message.

Set One: You can minister to more people with a sanctuary, with Sunday school classrooms. You have more visibility with a church plant. Etc.

Set Two: Who's going to ensure that correct doctrine is being taught? Where's the accountability in that decentralized situation you're describing?

The presupposition of both of these defenses for church buildings is that the communication of information, correct doctrine, is the primary task of the Christian church, and the Christian pastor.

First, having as many people in attendance as possible, and second, controlling the conduit of communication. In a sacramentalist setting, control would actually consist of the major means of grace.

Ultimately: CONTROL issues. Human control.

Task Number One for apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers is . . . to equip believers for the work of ministry.

Information, even good preaching, does not equip people for ministry. The main thing they see modelled by way of ministry is preaching. Is our goal a pulpit in every living room? In every office cubicle? I think not.

Our energies as disciples of Jesus are to be invested in other human, living people, living stones in a living temple.

There's a lot wrong with church buildings. And there's a big difference between a sanctuary and a living room in terms of fitness for our actual ministry tasks.

If it's not either/or but is both/and, then we just need a few how-to books written by some successful mega-church pastors.

I wonder why Jesus didn't just start a mega-synagogue?

R in Missouri said...

I have been out side American Christianity looking in try to find God for many years. Work street ministries and mission field during that time.
I am now seeing churches implode around me and the people rushing to rebuild, firm up, and repaint the old dead religion.
What I have not found is the how to enter into this new fellowship with other believers. Most have accepted it is what it is, or just walked away. I personally go and sit in church and hope and pray.

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