Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

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


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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.

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