The Effects of Postmodernism: Overcoming the Challenges of an Un-churched Society, Part 3
Solving the postmodern problem will not be accomplished in one singular mission or movement, but a unification of multiple missions and movements seeking to return to a society with a faith and a reverence for truth that was held by pre-modern generations. However, we cannot simply return to a pre-modernesque faith as if nothing happened between then and now. In order to adequately provide a solution to this problem, the church must address both the globalization issue, and the issue of the self.
Utilization of Resources
The first issue, the effects of globalization, is one that is not to be “beaten.” To overcome this trend, the church must take the attitude, “If you can’t be them, join them.” The technological growth and interconnectivity of the globalized society has become stapled into our lives. It is not the technology itself that is causing the problem, but the information and ideas that the technology transmits. However, the best way to counter this mass transfer of information is to utilize it. Christians must use this interconnected world to share the gospel. Social networking websites like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Twitter are being used to reach billions of people throughout the world. Churches are broadcasting services and sermons on itunes podcasts. Pastors post mini-sermons and lessons on blogs. Christians discuss personal issues with one another and reach out to others on Internet discussion boards. Online seminaries allow students to study theology without ever leaving their home. Resources such as these technologies must be utilized in order to reach the postmodern generation that is already using these resources to flood their minds with postmodern philosophy.
The second issue to address is the church itself. In explaining the decline of Christianity in Europe, Ian Markham explains how “the centre of Christianity has moved from Canterbury to Abuja (the capital of Nigeria) and elsewhere in the two-thirds developing world.” While this could be a great testament to the spread of Christianity to the corners of the world, Markham is pointing out the same decline in Christianity in Europe that is taking place in the United States and the rest of the developed world. To address this problem, the church must first look inward. The church must ask itself the question, “Are we addressing the problems of the postmodern self?” The postmodern generations require the church to find new approaches to a much more subjective society. When Beaudoin was discussing the mission of the church in today’s society, he was referencing the church’s approach to young adults; and rightfully so. Just over half of Americans born before 1946 regularly attend church, compared to 41% born between 1946 and 1964, 34% born between 1965 and 1976, and just 29% born between 1977 and 1994. The church will be instrumental in fighting the relativistic, subjective worldview of today’s generation. One of the most vital issues facing the church is what it allows its congregation to think about the self. Beaudoin stated,
“The church will serve young adults as no other institution in the United States when it skills young adults to undertake practices of self-examination, to archive their own relationships to the technologies of power in their life, to take up critical distance from these technologies of power and reestablish technologies of self that will help them resist. This means the church will have to confront its own technologies of power that attempt to control subjectivity through a certain moralizing, a certain pietism, control of access to sacraments, demand of confession, misuse of power relationships in the community, undialectical acceptance of secular theories of selfhood, or any other controlling, dominative effects of the church’s otherwise necessary attempts to make interventions in the subjectivity of young adults. There is no other institution in our culture that can perform this liberating service in the struggle against the fascisms of our inner life in the way that the church can.”
Beaudoin makes it evident that the church should be instrumental in solving the postmodern problem, but cannot do so without addressing the postmodern self.
The church is not just responsible for addressing the problems of the postmodern self within the church. Since the Great Commission of Matthew 28 commands Christians to make disciples of all nations, the issue of the self will have to be addressed outside the church as well. The problems of the postmodern self and a society that does not believe truth exists has complicated this problem, however, the door has not been closed. Postmodern thought has opened a window of opportunity to reach a world that has shut out Christianity for centuries. Some would even argue that the movement away from modernity and the renewed analysis of truth has cleared the way for God to make a comeback. The church must take advantage of this opportunity. So how do Christians take advantage of this opportunity when postmoderns do not believe truth can be known? John 3:19-21 says,
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Christians must use new methods so that those living in the dark may see the light, and this must be done outside the church. If the un-churched could be reached from within the church, they would not be called the un-churched. Christians must take their light outside the church to those living in the dark. If the un-churched are unwilling to look for truth, the truth must be placed where they cannot ignore it.
An example of this type of outreach is the emerging movement of the postmodern missional church. The emerging movement has sought to do three things to reach the postmodern generation: 1) the emerging movement has sought to contextualize the gospel in order to meet this generation’s demand for cultural relevance; 2) the emerging movement holds that orthodoxy is void without an evident orthopraxy; 3) a movement from “church and mission” to “missional church.” To quote Eleonora Scott, “mission is not something we do but is who we are meant to be.” So, how can we contextualize the gospel without compromising God’s truth? How can we practice orthopraxy in a way that the un-churched will desire orthodoxy? How do we make the shift to a missional church? Alvin Reid offers a way to reach the un-churched that offers a model example of the self as described by Wells, avoids the control denounced by Beaudoin, and addresses each of the three goals of the emerging movement as described by Scott: servant evangelism.
According to Reid, servant evangelism is simply “a combination of intentional, personal witness with intentional acts of kindness.” Reid described simple acts like passing out quarters at laundromats, hosting free car washes, free light bulb and soda giveaways, and free cleaning services. Albeit, this may seem rather simplistic, servant evangelism is really not limited to a single set of ideas or actions for reaching the un-churched. It is an all-encompassing movement that includes using orthopraxy to engage the un-churched, in order to draw their attention. It moves believers to be witnesses while effectively sharing the “timeless gospel.” By following Jesus’ example of love and kindness, Christians can penetrate the postmodern minds of the un-churched and exemplify a life unknown to most of today’s generation. Reid describes the servant evangelist as “intentionally evangelistic,” genuinely caring for others, using personal testimony to evangelize, using and never underestimating the power of prayer. It is these types of movements that will be required to reach the un-churched and solve the postmodern problem.
The postmodern worldview has changed the demand of Christian discipleship. The movement away modern thought has extended an invitation to Christianity to reassert itself into an un-churched society. As a part of our call to proclaim God’s truth, Christians must find new ways to accept the postmodern invitation. However, these new ways must not come at the expense of truth and authenticity, which is invaluable to Christian credibility. We must utilize the resources that globalization and the information revolution have bestowed upon us. As Wells points out, “in no culture of the world are there privileged understandings of Scripture, for the Word of God belongs to all of the people of God.” We have been charged with imparting God’s truth to all, and the technological advances and interconnectivity of a globalized society allows us the opportunity to do so. By addressing the self within the church, and through movements like the missional church and servant evangelism, Christians can penetrate the once hardline absolutisms of modern thought and display real truth by the work of the Spirit.
1 Anthony Balcomb, “Re-enchanting a Disenchanted Universe – Post Modern Projects in Theologies of Space,” Religion and Theology 16 no. 1 (2009): 79.
2 Ian Markham, “Trends and Directions in Contemporary Theology: Anglican Theology” The Expository Times 122 no. 5 (2011): 212.
3 Rainer , Thom. “Shattering Myths About the Unchurched.” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 5 no. 1 (2001): 46-58.
4 Tom Beaudoin, “I Was Imprisoned by Subjectivity and You Visited Me,” 341.
5 Ibid., 361.
6 Edith Wyschogrod and John Caputo, “Postmodernism and the Desire for God: An E-Mail Exchange,” Cross Currents 48 no. 3 (1998): 294.
7 Scott, Eleonora. “A Theological Critique of the Emerging, Postmodern Missional Church/movement.” Evangelical Review of Theology 34 no. 4 (2010): 335.
8 Ibid., 346.
9 Alvin Reid, “Reaching a Postmodern World through Servant Evangelism,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 05 no. 1 (2001): 60-61.
10 Ibid., 61.
12 Ibid., 68.
13 David Wells, “Christian Discipleship in a Postmodern World,” 24.
14 Ibid., 31.