Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Equippers as Environmentalists: Re-Imagining Leadership in Today’s Western Church Part V


Postmodernity

Originally uploaded by *Ivan*

If you are just starting this series, check out Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and this video.

Now let’s look at another major shift.

From Modernity to Postmodernity
As we examine the media shift, we can see its impact on the philosophical shift from modernity to postmodernity. Toulmin in Cosmopolis states that there were four distinct significant shifts in the 17th Century, that, collectively, exceeded what any single one of them could have produced itself to help shape modernity’s story. These four changes of mind were from oral to written, local to general, particular to universal, and timely to timeless (Toulman 1990:34).

Thus the idea of timeless, universal truth was in the making. And when the scientific method became central and autonomous reason supreme, the idea of “objective” universal truth was born. Those steeped in modernity’s story make the case that “one can only be said to know ‘truly’ if one knows objectively” (Smith 2006:43). Modernity’s focus on reason and objective universal truth contributed to the idea that conversion takes place when we give mental assent to certain doctrines. In modernity it is more important to debate about the truth than embody it. The typical approach to becoming part of a church steeped in modernism is to first believe the right things, then behave the right way, and then finally you can belong.

Modernity’s focus on autonomous reason and empirical evidence – that which can be measure and quantified – has resulted “in an unhealthy split between the public and the private realm, between facts and values, between science and religion” (Brownson in Hunsberger 1996:229). As a result, people influenced by modernity’s story often consider religion to be private and not public. But a faith that only addresses the forgiveness of sins through the death of Christ on the cross, without addressing systemic injustice, is an inadequate gospel that is often viewed as quite shallow and self-serving to those outside of the faith.

Postmodernity, in its critique of modernity, has deconstructed the myth of objectivity, in part with Derrida’s suggestion that the entire world is a text that needs to be interpreted (Smith 2006:54). For, as Smith says in Who’s Afraid of Postmodernity?, “To assert that our interpretation is not an interpretation but objectively true often translates into the worst kinds of imperial and colonial agendas, even within a pluralistic culture” (Smith 2006:51).

Yet postmodernity’s emphasis on deconstruction and language games to push its agendas, leads many in our culture to hold to a “vulgar relativism” and/or syncretism because exclusive truth claims are regarded as “treason against the human race” (Newbigin 1989: 155,156). We are therefore left in a pluralistic world with various stories, each vying to be the saving narrative. Some stories look to the state as savior; others hold promise in globalization, a new global village that transcends “nation-state-centered pathologies of modern politics” (Cavanaugh 2002:6). But most people seem to fall sway to a kind of relativism that “treats all moral convictions as if they were only notional commitments” (Hauerwas 1981:104) and thus they are unable to take a stand against real evil.

So must a church in a postmodern world give up truth and crown vulgar relativism as king? No, for Smith notes that scriptures “give us good reason to reject the very notion of objectivity, while at the same time affirming the reality of truth and knowledge” (Smith 2006:43). While some believe that absolute objective truth is what our culture needs, those who are sensitive to the postmodern milieu believe that what our culture needs is a church that believes the truth so absolutely that she actually lives it out (Fitch 2005:56).

Increasingly our culture is more influenced by postmodernity as opposed to modernity, yet many churches still seem to hold to many modern tacit assumptions. Environmentalists realize that the new way for people to become part of the church is by first belonging, then behaving, and finally believing, for the likelihood is that the postmodern condition will be with us for a while. As Walter Truett has said, “Many people fervently hope that postmodernism – whatever they mean by it – will go away. And a lot of them are going to get their wish: Styles will change, of course. Some of the intellectual movements that have landed at the top of the academic pecking order will be deposed… Postmodernisms will come and go, but postmodernity – the postmodern condition – will still be here. It is a major transition in human history, a time of rebuilding all the foundations of civilization, and the world is going to be occupied with it for a long time to come.” (Anderson 1995:7,8)

In the next post we will talk about the science shift, from Classic Science to New Systems Science.


11 Responses to Equippers as Environmentalists: Re-Imagining Leadership in Today’s Western Church Part V

  1. I have been reading this series of posts with great interest. Myself, at 44 years old I seem to be caught in between the modern and postmodern and struggle with many concepts of both camps or thought processes.
    The last paragraph of this post is what really grabbed me. The 3 B’s, (belong, behave, believe) and the order in which we think should be. How I was taught and how I believed have always conflicted.
    I look forward to reading the rest of the posts in this series J.R.

  2. jrwoodward says:

    Rob,

    I’m glad that you are enjoying this series and thanks for sharing your thoughts. Peace.

  3. steve ferguson says:

    Mr. Woodward,

    Thank you for opening this important discussion. Many of the churches that I have attended are stuck in the dilemma of trying to reconcile old testament law and freedom in Christ. This creates the schizophrenia of trying to honor and select from stipulations in Leviticus, etc. and the teachings of Christ Himself and Paul, who both said that we are no longer under the law, but freed from it by faith and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Obviously no one stands righteous by the law and therefore the necessity of the gift of the crucifixion as redemption and atonement.

    Recent scholarship concerning traditional misappropriated doctrine, such as tithing, has been met with rejection because it challenges the status quo, just as Christ Himself did.

    In this era, it is critical that we accept personal and institutional growth that reflects our willingness to dialog, as important to nurture, no matter the level of challenge to our customs. Careful scholarship from every denomination should be honored by a hearing and an honest review. Remember, God lives and his Word lives. Our viewpoints must take world cultures into account and our hearts and ears must remain open to receiving the messages that come from sincere Christians working for peace and reconciliation. For some time now the Church has looked more like a Pharisee fortress, than a representative of Christ’s love.

    It is more work to walk the committed walk of faith than it is to follow a set of rules patched together from old and new covenants. How did Christ speak to this problem in His own day?

    The new definition of environmentalist is right on the mark. It should be obvious from the current dissension between denominations and the harm done in the name of born again Christianity, that we are not on the proper path.

  4. PBR says:

    Thanks for writing that, it hits a chord with me. I agree completely that church in modern times became a split thing between the personal and public realm that allowed for all sorts of evil behind closed doors. As a child of the postmodern era and raised in amodern church, I want no part of it and have moved towards a more relativistic outlook on life. It has benefitted me in my interactions with people, but left me baseless personally. In that outlook there is no real truth because it can be dependant on so many things. Physics used to be so simple when things were deteministic, but now we know that by merely observing we can upset the system and change it. Even the only unchanging thing in the universe, the speed of light, said to be constant from any reference frame, has been theorized to not hold true at every time. Still my heart holds out hope that it can find an anchor, one thing to hold to as truth. I am still searching, but at times wonder if it can’t be found because this feeling is just programmed to be there in my head as it is for every human over the centuries. Necessity is the mother of invention, so maybe our gods are invented to quell our anxieties. To me, I would rather live with the anxiety than believe in a false God. So I wait for an authentic revelation.

  5. jrwoodward says:

    Steve,

    Thanks for your words and unfortunately it often does seem that “the church has looked more like a Pharisee fortress, than a representative of Christ’s love.”

    When it comes to walking a committed walk of faith, it seems to me we need to recover the scripture as narrative with the hermeneutic lens of love. As many have said before me, it is like if we found an old five act Shakespeare play, but only found the first four acts and the last chapter of the fifth act and pulled a group of actors to perform it, they would have to learn the first four acts and the last chapter of the fifth act so well, that the could improvise faithfully in the fifth act. We live in this situation. We have been given the first four acts and the last chapter of the fifth act, and now we are to follow Christ in our world faithfully by being so immersed the the large story that we live faithfully in this time.

    PBR,

    I’m glad to know that this hits a chord with you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your heart. That means a lot. I appreciate your willingness to live with anxiety rather than believing in a false God. For it is when we are willing to face anything to find what is real, that we will find what is real.

    If you liked this entry, you will like a paper I wrote in “My Writings” section. It is entitled “Is Conversion a Four-letter Word.” I would love for you to read it and then converse about it after you have finished. Just make a comment and let me know when you have a chance to read it. I would love to see what you think about the paper.

  6. steve ferguson says:

    Mr. Woodward,

    Thank you for your feedback. The great difficulty in my part of the country is that Churches seem unwilling to even dialog about the new covenant. Asking questions around theology is not encouraged. Though Catholic writers have been very influential over the past centuries, Protestant hard shell church Pastors seem unaware and certainly unwilling to read or consider their input. Just as in Protestant denominations, the Catholic Church has its doctrinal disagreements. All have been guilty of abhorrent and unloving behavior throughout history. Christian mystics continue to be largely ignored at a high cost to individual relationship. Mainstream Christianity has settled in on a conformity that doesn’t seem to stand up to actual scripture or the challenges of the life that Christ encouraged us to lead. The mystics have much to offer and encourage us to a more intimate relationship and experience with Him than most churches seem willing to allow. We need to foster more openness and discussion and let go of the levels of control so often a part of “membership”. Somehow we are still stuck in works and earning our salvation. Such attitudes by Church leadership shows lack of maturity and a need for self serving hierarchy. Spiritual Environmentalism should establish and insist upon an open dialog between the faiths.

  7. PBR says:

    JR,
    First I want to say thanks for providing this forum to seek answers to the big questions. Since moving on from Kairos in Sep. 07 to go grad school in Netherlands I have missed this type of relevant discussion.

    I read your paper (Is Conversion a four letter word?) and again it gets me thinking. I see my need for conversion, mainly because I can hardly stand to be in the space I currently occupy. I used to be content in my faith and was even admired by friends for how solid it could be. But this was because I didn’t make room for many questions to the objective truth of the gospel as you discussed. Two things helped to change that.

    The first was true exposure to other religions, beyond academic. My wife and I went to India on somewhat of a spiritual quest. We experienced jainism, bhuddism, sikhism, and various forms of hinduism, even Indian christianity. Getting to know the history of these religions, their practices and the people who practice them blew my mind. Holding to the idea of Christianity being the only true religion I was previously scared to go anywhere near these things because they were all “demonic”. But on this quest I allowed myself to see “inside the temple” so to speak and not just dismiss everything summarily. What I saw was good and bad: crippling, oppressive ritual and peace-filled, enlightening meditation. I was left with the age-old questions of how are these people any different from me, and what makes them fit for heaven or hell? Did God choose me to grow up in a Christian family instead of a Hindu one making my chances for heaven that much better? Only a narcissist could answer affirmative.

    The second thing that happened was that I read “Why Christianity must change or die” by bishop John Shelby Spong. Granted he is inflamitory, but I thought he made some excellent points. I began to see how Christianity was created just like any other mythology, some truth, some fiction, all for a purpose to give people guidance in an insecure world. The symbolism of Christianity is what he argued most. Why is God “up” there? and not inside the earth? the virgin birth? God incarnate? etc.

    That left me with too many questions. God was not the god that I had grown up with, and everything wasn’t so black and white as I had thought/rationalised before. But I have always been pragmatic so I thought none of that matters anyway, I will just act as I see fit. But the practice of that scared me. How could I trust myself to know what is good or right? Osama thinks he’s right. Will my inherent blindness lead me to “sin” on my path of personal morality. That’s why in my previous post I said that I need something new to base my life on. A new anchor point.

    After reading your paper I have some new insight. I think that religion is mostly symbolism. According to Jung its deep in our minds. I can’t at this point believe in an incarnation, a virgin birth, or a God that floats outside our universe. But maybe I don’t need to, because all I have to believe is that the symbol of Christ on the cross has the power to change lives. Whether there was a christ who died or not, the story connects with hearts and leads people to fulfilling lives. Maybe that’s enough. I think that any religion is an attempt to connect with something much deeper in ourselves that cannot be easily accessed. That is why the symbology is so pervasive and nearly universal among cultures. We are all searching to fill the “God-shaped hole”. I pray for the courage to continually seek it out.

  8. steve ferguson says:

    PBR,

    I too have been a spiritual adventurer after having been educated the first two years in a Methodist Christian college and later in mid sized four year schools. I became disillusioned during the Vietnam War when churches did not take a stand on sending their young men off to kill or be killed. I became part of the protest movement publishing an anti-war paper and helping to organize the “counter culture movement”.

    Fortunately my education during the mid 60s included open debates and discussions on the issues of the day as they related to faith and the Church. Our faculty members were very well prepared, coming from Duke, Yale, Emory, etc. They did not seemed threatened by our questions and Bible Courses were academically challenging and thorough. We had great Literature and Philosophy teachers who introduced us to Kant, Kierkegard, Camus, Tolstoy, Plato, Beat Poets, and a host of theological works. Seeing the inconsistencies of the church, I branched out and began to sincerely study Zen Buddhism. Reading the ancient teachers and learning to appreciate silence and stillness as a self discovery vehicle, now helps me to find my center and develop compassion for others in prayer.

    After some difficult personal life trials, I rediscovered Christianity via mystics DeCassade, Merton, Brother Lawrence, DeMolinos, etc. and other writers including Hannah Smith, Hannah Hunnard, Charles Filmore of Unity, Ernest Holmes and Joel Goldsmith. Bringing all these influences together has been a life’s work, but now I think I can align the enlightenment principle with the concept of being one with the Mind of Christ, at least intellectually.

    The natural universe and existing substance is not God, but is His ongoing demonstration of infinite creativity and complex ways and necessary interrelationships, held together by His love. Our constant attempts to remake God in our own image has limited our understanding and stifled our ability to be truly inspired by the Holy Spirit and the Creation; Holy Spirit being the internal motivation infusing mind, body and spirit that encourages us to grow in God by seeing ourselves clearly for who were are, including our “sins” and failures. He uses those too. The possibility of redemption through realizing the Atonement of Christ and being resurrected to begin anew, is a differentiating point between Christianity and some other “religions”. The re-birth takes place in us as God brings about teaching situations in our lives that brings us out of our old selves; not by what we do, but by what He alone does in us. Grace is this blessing as we learn to see and the veil is torn away. Rebirth is ongoing as demonstrated in God’s entire Creation, which includes us as individuals.

    As I continue to learn to allow God’s love to overcome my judgments of myself and others, I appreciate the existence of other spiritual walks where Grace and Love supersede and overcome law. Life in Universal Christ should manifest in joy, freedom, kindness, forgiveness, tolerance and charity for ALL of His children, whatever creed or color. That is the challenge and the goal. A fulfilling life is a life lived in community and generosity of spirit, even towards ourselves.

    Yes, there is much symbolism in most scripture, but that symbolism can become manifest reality as we gently surrender to His loving, but sometimes difficult refinement. The Psalms document this process for one of God’s best students.

    Coming into the Mind of Christ for me is a continuing process of surrender and peeling off layers of ego and human fleshly desire. When the time comes and as we are able, we will go through that narrow gate without the baggage we have insisted on strapping to ourselves, as we give our burdens over to Christ Himself as he has instructed us to do. Is this what loves the flower into blooming?

  9. bobby says:

    JR,

    I’m enjoying working my way through this kinda late. But I had a question toward the end there. You said:

    …the new way for people to become part of the church is by first belonging, then behaving, and finally believing…

    Just curious as I was reading that. Perhaps I’m nitpicking a bit, but wouldn’t we expect that people would believe before they behave in the post-modern context. It seems like expecting them to behave a certain way before coming to a point of belief is still expecting them to live by certain ‘objective truths’ before they’ve bought into the worldview itself.

    Or am I interpreting the term “behave” incorrectly somehow?

  10. jrwoodward says:

    Bobby,

    Thanks for your comments. Better late reading this than never. lol.

    When I talk about behave coming prior to belief, I am not saying that we have an expectation for people to “behave” a certain way before they believe, but that our approach to discipleship is calling those who are starting to belong to our community to join us in our rhythms of life and it is as they enter our rhythms of life (behave) they they will start to reflect more deeply about what they believe. Does that make sense?

    In other words, many people that I meet who are more in post(everything) context desire experience and so often they want to experience something before settling on their belief. That’s the flow I was attempting to describe.

  11. bobby says:

    By that definition I would say it works more for me. The concept of experiencing the rhythms of life, I like.

    I guess my confusion with it came from the usage earlier in the post. First you talked about modernity expecting people to “behave the right way” before they believe. That seems to have a very different nuance to it. So it seems like you are using a slightly different definition of the behave concept in the 2 spots which threw me off a little.

    In my head I still probably prefer the other way, but I understand where you’re comin from.

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