Thursday, February 1, 2007

Caught in the Middle

Part of doing any kind of ministry is to understand the culture you are ministering to. As a youth worker, I have been interested in familiarizing myself with the emergence of postmodernism in America: the reality is, the students I teach are growing up in a very different cultural environment than I did just fifteen years ago.

There is a growing movement, calling themselves ‘emergent’ or ‘the emerging church’ that is seeking to evaluate the changing culture, and examine how ‘church’ as we currently know it will relate and function in a postmodern world. Concepts such as absolute truth, identity, personal experience, and spirituality are being held up to the light and examined on all sides.

The emergent church describes itself as in pursuit of a conversation, not a theology; and though I don’t necessarily agree with all the answers, I appreciate the questions they are asking. I am currently reading a book, handed me by a fellow youth pastor, called “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church”, by D.A. Carson. I loved this quote, as I found it an interesting summary of some of the differences between modernism and postmodernism:

Modernism is often pictured as pursuing truth, absolutism, linear thinking, rationalism, certainty, the cerebral as opposed to the affective – which in turn breeds arrogance, inflexibility, a lust to be right, the desire to control. Postmodernism, by contrast, recognizes how much of what we “know” is shaped by the culture in which we live, is controlled by emotions and aesthetics and heritage, and in fact can only be intelligently held as part of a common tradition, without overbearing claims to being true or right.

Modernism tries to find unquestioned foundations on which to build the edifice of knowledge and then proceeds with methodological rigor; postmodernism denies that such foundations exist (it is “antifoundational”) and insists that we come to “know” things in many ways, not a few of them lacking in rigor.

Modernism is hard-edged and, in the domain of religion, focuses on truth versus error, right belief, confessionalism; postmodernism is gentle and, in the domain of religion, focuses on relationships, love, shared tradition, integrity in discussion.
I really see myself in this passage as one of the ‘moderns’. I love the black and white, truth is truth, take it or leave it. But I see people around me, my age and younger, (especially those who did not grow up in the church) really resonating with the postmodern view. I see hunger for a spiritual experience, not just knowledge. And while yes, knowledge and truth are important, didn’t Jesus come to Earth so that we could have a relationship with God? This stuff challenges me, moves me from thinking about the importance of memorizing scripture to the necessity of living it. After all, what I know is not the sum of who I am.

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