Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

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.


At 9/11/05 13:23, Anonymous lee said...

another link about postmodernism that i thought was really informative from a philosophical perspective: characterizing a fogbank.

from my perspective i feel like one of the greatest dangers of postmodern thinking on our theology is that it seems to develop into a 'lazy scepticism'. if truth is such a nebulous entity then why bother looking for it? particularly when it is much easier to continue on with the set of truths you currently have.

note that this is of course simply the opposite side of the slope where we have found ourselves today with fundamentalists. they are so convinced that they have already found absolute truth in all matters that they no longer need to question. (i love the fact that 'question' has at it's root the word 'quest' - it brings to mind frodo and samwise journeying deep into mordor).

i think at this transition point into post-modern thinking is where we can see alot of strangeness. for example, the kansas school board redefined science - a bold postmodern move , but yet chosen to reaffirm an unexamined 'truth'. (and one which incidentally permits teaching the gospel of the flying spaghetti monster.) do their actions speak louder than their words?

or as a user over on metafilter put it in response to the school board decision, "I'm sure this decision is going to turn a lot of people into Christians."

At 9/11/05 15:07, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

Thanks Lee - you bring up some very good points. What we need to consider, so often, are the slippery slopes on both sides of the ridge as we continue to quest. We can be thoughtless in our dogmatism, or thoughtless in our despair that nothing is knowable. Either way, we're thoughtless. Thus, we need both truth and humility. Post Modernism is a movement towards epistimological humility. But we need to be careful not to abandon truth in the process!

At 11/11/05 23:19, Blogger kelly said...

The longer I am on this journey as a Christian the more I realize that it is important to live my life authentically in line with the words that I proclaim. I am conscious of the Christian speak and pat answers often used to comfort others when it is not known what else to say. What used to seem so black and white to me as a new Christian isn't quite so crystal clear as I experience more of life's trials. I have gone through times when my faith has been shaken by the Christians in my life whose walk didn't match their talk. I have found myself questioning God and wondering why He allowed certain things to happen. I can feel how postmodernism has affected my thinking in both good and bad ways.

Yet, it is so dangerous for me to base my actions strictly on my feelings or experiences of the moment. It is important for me to recognize and be aware of sin's influence on all of us as human beings walking this earth. There is one Truth and it is only when I am in daily relationship with Christ, reading and meditating on His Word, that my thoughts and actions more closely align with God's will for my life.

I struggle with what seems to be a movement away from the authority of the Bible. Even in discussions with some Christian friends there is a lack of belief in the inerrancy of God's Word. Without a belief in the infallibility of God's Word, there is no anchor and everything becomes relative based on one's emotions and experiences.

At 13/11/05 06:03, Blogger Dan said...

The world is screaming for something authentic and real. My heart is burdened for The Body of Christ to be transparent and authentic to this world. This means losing the "Christianese" and speaking in real terms. This means admitting your struggles with sin, but confession God's faithfulness to help you through. The world has the perception that Christians are members of a moral-country-club that only acknowledge their own. I pray that we will reach beyond our Sunday mornings, bible studies, small groups and other church functions to invest ourselves in a life in need of Christ.

Thank you for this post, I'm passing this on…


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