Deeds + Relationships + Images + Humility = postmodern
Postmodernism didn’t just happen overnight. It began in the middle of the 20th century in architecture, and then evolved into other sciences, literature, and eventually theology. Here’s a link that will help you get a more detailed overview of the movement as it applies to theology and the church. But a humble summary seems appropriate at this point.
The collapse of objective certainty, particularly with respect to science, has changed what we value. In an age when we thought that certainty could be achieved through scientific method, we were intrigued by study, evidence, words, theories, thesis statements and their support, anti-thesis etc. etc. Theologically, this kind of world loved charts, systems, propositional truths, proofs, and ‘evidence that demands a verdict’.
Recent generations however, have become disillusioned by all this. They’ve watched people declare words, and live consistently in utter contradiction to them. They’ve listened to pastors and theologians pompously declare when the world would end, and then sat and watched the sun rise and set on the predicted day of doom. They’ve seen the Christian West use God Words to justify slavery, holocausts, corporate greed, and degradation of the environment. They’ve listened to couples use God Words to promise faithfulness in their marriages, only to see those words evaporate as meaningless too.
A generation is coming into its own who are, understandably, weary of God Words, even suspicious of them. So when we use lots of words to motivate there are often questions in the minds and hearts of the hearers: 1) Does this person believe their own words? 2) Are they living by them? 3) Is there any way I can know, really know, whether or not they’re true? And “Yes” answers are hard to come by.
So if Words and Ideas can’t be ‘known’ substantially. What can be known? The answer in this age is simple: experience. You can’t prove (in the sense of absolute knowing) to me that Jesus rose from the dead. But you can prove that you care for me by spending time with me, listening to me, and entering into my life, making my joys and concerns your own. You can prove to me that you love the world, by loving people, and caring for the environment, and working for justice, and showing compassion to the downtrodden. And if you do these things in Jesus name, maybe, just maybe, then I’ll take the leap of faith and believe in Jesus.
That’s postmodernity in a nutshell. The more you try to prove it with words, the less I’ll listen. The more you simply share your life, generously and honestly, the more likely I’ll be to believe. It almost seems that, once we stop caring about producing fruit, and start caring about loving unconditionally, fruit will come. But fruit is the promise; NEVER, in a sense the goal. In the old movie, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” St. Francis is confronted by Bernardo at one critical moment. Francis is rebuilding a small chapel – brick by brick. He’s not doing much preaching. He’s just stacking bricks and caring for poor people. Bernardo says, “I can help you!” to which Francis replies: “Words Bernardo. Words. There was a time when I believed in words.” And then he turns back to his work – brick by brick. The work isn’t contrived. It has no agenda other than love. And the words, when he uses them, carry the weight of credibility because they’re backed by life.
This must be our way too, if the gospel, the real good news is to take root in our city. People have had their fill of words. What will we, together, do in His name to be the hands and feet of Jesus?
So what do you think? What are the dangers and opportunities inherent in the shift to postmodernism? Love to hear your thoughts. Don't worry...words are still important too, a point I'll be addressing soon.