Embracing the Possibilities in Postmodernism

By Mark A. Taylor

Frankly, I’d have been happier not to know so much about postmodernism. A year or so ago, I chose to reprint in CHRISTIAN STANDARD an article by Chuck Colson proclaiming the death of postmodernism. With a sigh of relief, I assured myself Colson must be right: postmodernism was passing; soon everything would return to “normal,” and we could get back to life and church the way we’d always known them.

But then I read Dan Kimball’s book, The Emerging Church , and Stuart Burke’s, Making Sense of Church , and I began to believe otherwise.

As Kimball makes clear in the excerpt reprinted this week, postmodernism is not a fad nor a matter of taste like fashion trends or music preferences. And, most important of all, it’s not a mind set limited to just one generation. Postmodernism is a cultural shift in the way many people view all of life.

“Whether or not you realize it, you live in a postmodern world,” Burke adds. Things cannot go back “to the way they were thirty years ago.”

Christian leaders of my generation may condemn postmodernism because it celebrates plurality and do it yourself spirituality. They may fear postmodernism because it questions the structures and systems at the heart of all their experience. But the pleas of many postmodern Christians should encourage us.

Leaf through Burke’s troubling, inspiring book, comprised largely of reprinted posts from his Web site theOOZE.com , and you’ll discover the passion of believers seeking faith without pretense.

Here we find Christians challenging us “to followership,” and servanthood instead of corporate leadership models so often adopted by the church.

Here we hear pleas for worship that portrays “a balanced view of God. Not just cheerleader songs and hailing Jesus as the answer, but also expressions of frustration, struggle, and confession.”

Here we wince at critiques of “people sitting in church services, year after year, getting absolutely nothing from the experience and yet somehow thinking this is OK. We never experience God in his awesome fullness.”

We nod in uncomfortable agreement with one writer who said, “It’s far easier to sell Jesus than to actually know him.”

If postmodernism can lead me closer to Jesus, I need not fear it. If postmodernism can prod me to know God and not just know about him, I should be glad. And if postmodernism requires fresh approaches to a generation that won’t be evangelized via familiar methods, I must learn the new.

To those ends we dedicate this issue and those for the next two weeks. Burke claims in his book that “every major sphere of life has evolved to become postmodern—movies, literature, art, architecture, business, politics. Everything, that is, except ‘The Church.’” It’s time to explore why and how that should change.

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