Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Postmodernity and the church


According to John Piper, at the very moment that the church was born, apologetics was born. As the tongues of fire fell, and the Holy Spirit filled the fledgling church and strange tongues filled the upper room, the need to interpret and relate what was occurring to those watching was birthed. Peter, emboldened under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit began to preach. This need to interpret or rather forth tell what is occurring in Gods world is still vital, particularly as we find the church increasingly marginalized as a source of information.

As a large component of the author’s community project involved the use of new technology in a church context, an examination of the impact of technology on the church was deemed appropriate. In our modern society technology and culture are inseparable and so some examination of culture was deemed appropriate also.

This essay will examine the necessity of the Church to utilise new and relevant techniques to minister to people. But first we must begin by looking at this essay’s presuppositions.
Secondly we must examine the need for a stability and Biblical maturity in our approach.

Thirdly we examine the very real need for flexibility in terms of communication practice. We examine briefly the effect of the postmodern on technology and the thinking society.

We conclude by offering some closing questions, to encourage thought on the issues raised and suggest further inquiry.

While much emphasis is placed upon sound doctrinal training and evangelical Biblical hermeneutics at Bible colleges around the world, there remains a great need for practical ministry training. Ministers cease to be effective when they become staid and trite, using the same method and arguments to cajole the congregation into action.

One of the core values of the CRC movement (to which I subscribe), is a commitment to contemporary ministry. This commitment is summed as follows;

“We believe that our churches should be creative and culturally relevant while
remaining doctrinally pure.
We show this by:
§ Ensuring that we
prayerfully and wisely adapt and change our worship modes, outreach methods and
organisational processes.
§ Continually monitoring that we maintain our
Biblical beliefs and Biblical principles as we effectively relate to our
constantly changing society.”[1]

While the basic message of the good news about Jesus has not changed the world around us has. This treasure has been placed within a context, us. (2 Cor 4:7) We have a mandate and an authority to reach people where they are. Paul stated that to reach the Greeks he became a Greek, and to reach the Romans he would become Roman.

I've been thinking about 'spirituality' and new age a lot recently. There seems
to be quite a lot of new age interest in our village. There's the 'David Andrew
Sanctuary', which meets every Sunday evening in the village hall. I'm not really
sure what they do but it seems to include some clairvoyance, mediumship and
other stuff. Then there are the weekly classes in clairvoyance, readings, et al
at one of the chalet parks here and there are also occasional clairvoyance
evenings as, for instance, a fundraiser for the playgroup.

could see all this as an evil perversion (and in some ways I must admit that I
do) but Paul's approach in Athens seems more authentic and missional ("I see you
are in every way very religious" he said after being shocked at the number of
idols). So I prefer to think of new age stuff as an attempt to walk the same
journey as I am walking; as a sign of a longing for meaning and an apprehension
of the divine.

The really sad thing is that they do not see the
church as having a role to play in their journey. In part it's because we do not
speak their language (and I don't just mean words; we don't use their symbols or
rituals). In part it's because we don't listen or try to get alongside.”[2]

The need for a stable spirituality

The key issue here is the disconnect between church and the man in the street. If what we have is true for us in our gut, deep down it has to change us. Our outer man will naturally conform to what we know and believe in our inner man to be true. We have to make the unchanging truth of the gospel attractive to those around us, and to do so without compromising its life changing power and person.

In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul writes;

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to
win as many as possible.
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.
To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not
under the law), so as to win those under the law.
To those not having the
law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law
but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.
To the
weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that
by all possible means I might save some.”

While we may be forgiven for thinking these questions may be new issues for the church to deal with, even a cursory glance at church history shows us that how to relate in a different culture was a concern for the growing early church too.

The early priests in England found ways of engaging the pagan believers by replacing existing pagan places of worship with churches, rather than establishing churches elsewhere.

As we live in a postmodern paradigm its vital that we understand the…
The Impact of Postmodernism

One of the most interesting features of post modernity is also one it’s most ironic. At the core of the postmodern paradigm is the essential "I", the subjective I of Renee Descartes' "Cogito ergo sum” or I think therefore I am. Identity is one of the key concerns of post moderns. The irony comes in when we look at where we receive our identity messages from in the postmodern world. We see we are no closer to getting a clear picture.

Dr Ted Turneau points out that in dealing with the sheer volume of messages in our media mad world, we seldom stop to consider the very implications that the messages are mediated. Perhaps 80 percent of the information we receive is tainted by commercial interest. It is not unbiased, and is predominantly destabilising to identity to encourage consumption.Semiologists such as Umberto Eco have pointed to a second characteristic which makes postmodern identity so unstable. The postmodern paradigm tends toward identification with the Quixotic. We are more at home with objects and icons of the past. We understand the codes and meaning structures of past generations better than we do our own codes and meanings. Like the term postmodern we are defined not by what we are but by what we are not. The author commends to your reading Eco's Travels in Hyper-reality. To this add a propensity to think with ones feelings and we find a recipe for creative anachronism and the odd emoticon.

Media Saturation

The postmodern world is a media world, it is image driven, image rich, and sensually hungry. As we have just seen the codes and code structures used today tend toward the iconic, and the quixotic.

In the same way that a fish would be the worst thing to ask to describe water because it is surrounded by it the whole time, so we seem to be the worst at describing what characterises postmodern identity. It becomes confused in the retroactive images collected by our past lives. We seem to live in an unreal world where 1950 style theme diners are juxtaposed with media outlets where every possible future is for sale.It is believed that this is one of the reasons why Foucault chose to examine humanity through the lens of the institution. In this area humanity is some what reduced to its bare essentials; it’s the contemplative in his cell, where there are clear, albeit complex power relationships.Postmodernism is fundamentally skeptical of any traditional authority base. This is a key concern for the church which is seen as increasingly marginalized and out of touch. Social agenda’s and social issues have stolen the limelight away from spiritual areas. Character development has become the new holiness.

According to Turneau the difficult postmodern philosophy will have to answer ultimately is that relativity implies relation and therefore there must be based on some objective truth. In other words, where do I speak from? Where do I launch my rebellion against the established order from? By default, the emerging church movement, which has much in common with the postmoderns, will have to answer the same questions.
Discourses: The way forward?
It is believed that Foucault's concept of discourses provide perhaps the most promising opportunity for engagement, and to gain fresh insight, particularly when discussed as counterpoints to traditional approaches, due to discourses fluidity, but with the implication of a more stable base.

Conversational aspects of the postmoderns have been picked up by the emerging church, as this quote from emerging village illustrates;

“I felt this podcast and the entire idea of a “mainline emergent conference” was
wonderful. Mainline theologians have so much experience with the many questions
that are being asked in the emergent conversation. It seems like a waste to
ignore them. Mainliners are so far ahead in terms of talking theologically, even
if they are so far behind the Evangelicals in embracing post-modern culture. The
two starting points of emergence can each help one another. I also think it is
very beneficial for the Emergent folks to be introduced to people like Marcus
Borg who was also mentioned in the podcast.
When progressive theology
finally combines with progressive church culture there will be a huge
reformation and an explosion of growth in the conversation. This will be the the
point where Diana’s “3rd dimension” takes off.”[3]

Closing Suggestions

Perhaps one of the most arresting thoughts to emerge in the debate over new technology is what some pastor’s see as the need to “bring the gospel to life”. At face value we can see the point that they are making, but when we examine this thinking further we are shocked to see that at its root lies a belief that the gospel is somehow irrelevant and dead and needs to have the machinations of the modern marketing machine to prop it up. We are encouraged by the scriptures to discover treasures of many kinds both old and new.
And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." Mat 13:52

I think that it would be appropriate here to mention Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s response in a similar context:

“Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion. Turn it loose and it will defend itself!”[4]
[1] CRC strategic planning document 2005
[2] Electronic resource Accessed 11/1/2005
[3]Electronic source 1/2/2008 2:21 PM
[4] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, with thanks to Reverend Dr Ken Chant

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