Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

February 23, 2010

Can we be too post-modern?

   I've been struggling lately with the whole idea of being a "post-modern" Christian. What does it really mean to consider yourself post-modern anyway? I've read things on both sides that can be pretty crazy and people on opposite ends of the spectrum tend to be pretty emotionally charged in their view. My most recent church experiences are with churches that probably fit well into this category.  Over the past eight years of being a part of a church that I'd consider post-modern, I often asked myself if we were doing things differently for the sake of reaching the lost, or just to look different. 

   Then I read books like Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis.  I've read it personally, and my small group is going through it together right now.  I honestly love that book.  I'd heard a lot of people had issues with it, and after reading it, I can't really understand why.  The only reason I can think of is that they pick and choose quotes from the book to point out, "See, Rob Bell doesn't believe in ___________!"  The book is really well written and very easy to read.  Our group this week talked through the chapter called Dust.  The conversation revolved a lot around the idea that scripture was not written in a bubble.  Yes it was inspired by God, yes it contains timeless truths, but we can't simply ignore the fact that it was written to a specific people at a specific time in history. 

   Rob Bell is what I'd consider post-modern.  He is someone willing to ask questions that many people in the church have been afraid to ask.  I want to be willing to ask those questions myself, but many in the church think even asking the tough questions means we're doubting our faith, or that people like myself or people I've served alongside aren't fit to be leaders.  One of the things I love the most coming from post-modern or emerging thoughts is that the answers are not all top down.  It is more of a shared learning experience as we journey through the questions together.  I don't have all the answers, and I find it unrealistic that the Church has expected one hired person to have them all either.

   The fact is that society is changing and it is changing at a much faster pace than the church is willing to adjust.  Far too long, the church has set up shop and simply expected people to find their way into the building.  I think it's time we took church out of the "church" and into our workplaces, streets and homes.  I want to ask the tough questions and understand the surrounding context in which the Bible was written.  I want to wrestle through the tough questions with my friends at my side, and if we don't have a good answer or difinitive answer, I want to be okay with that.  I want to re-think why we meet on Sunday mornings, why we sing the songs we do, why we use the language we do, and see if we can do it better...and that doesn't mean I want to throw out tradition or history either! 

   Maybe I'm ranting a bit, but I just want to see something more effective for the Kingdom.  So my question for you...can we be too post-modern?  Is it possible that in our creative efforts to reach people outside the Church that we aren't trying to be creative, but rather working to just be different?  Is it wrong to ask tough questions that might shake the foundation of our faith a little bit?  What questions are you wrestling with?  What do you dream of the Church looking like in one year, five years or even ten years?  Post comments with your thoughts.

10 comments:

shellycoulter said...

Hmmm...

I've always thought of "post-modernism" as more of this overall way of thinking/living that all of society is experiencing to some extent. (embracing or rejecting)I guess churches/people can do creative things to encourage or reach out to others in a way they understand ---some of those ways will be great, others will suck. But isn't that how all organizations work. You try stuff out and see how it goes.

Just some of my thoughts.

I like Velvet Elvis too! :)

Jon Kelly said...

In a lot of conversations about the idea of post-modernism, the majority of people in my conversations first respond with "what's that?" I think on an unconscious level, everyone experiences it, but people don't recognize it. We also totally control how much we push towards and shift our mentality towards that way of thinking. That's a big reason we saw such a gap in the ideas of people like Matt, Tony and myself and the elders. We embrace it - they don't inherently reject it, but I don't think they want to embrace it like we do. Sort of...it's not wrong, but it's also not what I want.

I don't think it's just a given that people are for or against it. I think a lot of people within the church see people stretching their beliefs or boundaries as getting further from God rather than "post-modern."

I wish they'd see it as trying to find ways to reach the lost and stop looking down on those attempts because they look different. Thanks for the conversation. Maybe I should explore the idea of post-modernism in society rather than just the church?!

Whitney said...

Well, Jon, this one's a toughy for me. I believe that we in church settings need to be sensitive to creating the most conducive environments for hearing and receiving the gospel, and that we need to be open to change, or radical change, in some cases, to how we approach the whole format of church (I'm speaking more on an individual church-to-church basis) However, I at times get the impression from the Emergent movement, (and I just may not know enough about it) that this is the ONLY way to do church, and that we inevitably as a culture are heading on this path of post-modernism . . . so all the other churches aren't really doing a good job if they aren't 'post-modern' or 'emergent' in their approach to the gospel, or their way of doing things. I feel that a healthy church picture doesn't just include the demographic of our generation (which I know is severely lacking right now overall), but should include all ages. Obviously, we still have members in the body of Christ who are from the Greatest generation, and from the Babyboomer generation, and I feel that as a whole, the Emergent or Post-Modernist view is somewhat exclusive to these people, and how they might connect with God. We have a responsibility to take care of all of the sheep (not that I'm saying you don't!)

Also, I have no problems with wrestling with Scripture, and I think it's essential to a stronger, healthier walk with God. I would argue, however, that Velvet Elvis is a tough pill to swallow, because it appears his intention is to be "seeker friendly" if you will, but it misses the mark (in my opinion) on some key issues. He talks a lot about living a "Jesus-type" lifestyle, and treating others the way he did, and yet, he fails to mention that the crux of Christianity is based upon the work of Christ on the cross. Another issue for me (and I'm sure you've heard it before) is his denial, essentially, of the virgin birth. There are many things that could be said, but I think the biggest two are that I believe the Scripture provides ample clarity as to what the word 'virgin' meant, and I also feel that if you take away that small piece of Christ, it's going to be very easy to try and pick out what else you just can't reconcile logically. It's really a bold claim against the infallacy of Scripture. I have a strong feeling that Rob Bell is lacking faith in this area, and has tried to reconcile it through other means, instead of trusting what God says.

Anyway, probably way more than you wanted to hear, but, those are just my thoughts.

Whitney said...

I also wanted to add on the topic of Post-Modernism, that overall, I don't know that I necessarily agree with where it goes, but, I will say this. I really don't care what you do for church, or how you do church, as long as the integrity of Christ and His work on the cross is maintained, and as long as it's working, because, the whole point is to share and invite people to taste the beauty of relationship with Him and accept His gift of salvation from Hell. So if we as believers agree on that, than we should all be on the same team!

Jon Kelly said...

I love your thoughts Whitney and I'm glad you posted them!! I agree that the Church really needs to be multi-generational. Ultimately, if you gear everything towards one group, you're going to lose SO many others. I'm guessing most churches do so because of the difficulties in finding ways to reach such a varied group of people.

Not sure I agree on the Rob Bell thing. He does in fact make comments about the virgin birth, but reaffirms his belief in the literal virgin birth on the same page (or maybe the next). He brings up valid arguments though about the term virgin. You can look up the original word online (I think it's blueletterbible.com) and the word had four different meanings. It could have meant no intercourse, or first time intercourse, or a couple other things. He doesn't say it isn't true, but is pointing out that there are other possible meanings.

I admit that it is one of my favorite books. Just curious if you've read the book or just heard about those issues through friends/family/internet?

Whitney said...

I have read only snippets here and there, so it's fair to say that I may have some things out of context. But how do you deal with Matthew 1:18-24, for example, in light of what he said. One could argue forever about the fact that 'virgin' could have four meanings, but that's where God has given us a mind of rationality to look at Matthew 1:18-24, and come to the conclusion, that no matter what Rob Bell thinks about the word 'virgin', Joseph sure understood it to mean that Mary didn't have sex, and almost divorced her because he initially believed otherwise! Again, nothing within itself wrong about questioning the fundamental truths of doctrine, but he is trying to reach a demographic of people that maybe are just trying to figure the whole 'Jesus' thing out. Why shroud the virgin birth as some ambiguous non-essential if that's a fundamental core of who Jesus is? This could mislead people, and consequently, result in some choices to not follow (and by 'follow' I mean like John 3:16, Romans 3:23-26) Him because as I said before, you take away one piece, and the whole picture of Jesus and who He is, and why He came unravels. The scripture places a lot of responsibility on those who innaccurately present Scripture to others. So Rob Bell may not outrightly deny the virgin birth as we have commonly understood it, but I fear that the presentation of other ideas as 'possible' bears significantly heavy spiritual consequences for himself and for others who would choose to believe so.

Jon Kelly said...

Mostly because the word does have four meanings. We choose to assign what we believe based on what we think the word means. People at the time would have had options of what it meant.

It's really funny to really funny though because the whole point of that chapter is about having a faith where if one thing isn't true, then all of it isn't true. I'd highly recommend reading it. I have a spare copy if you want.

Whitney said...

I would love to have a copy. I will say one more thing though. I agree that things contextually may have been different back then than it is now for us. Yet, Ephesians 3:4-5 talks about how the mystery of Christ has now been revealed by the Holy Spirit. That means that, when it comes to the interpretation of the Scripture, the same Holy Spirit is in us was with them. I think it's kind of a stretch to say that there is a great possibility they didn't believe the same thing just because they lived soo long ago, and were culturally different from us. I would also point out that there were creeds including the miracle of the virgin birth as we now understand it, formed as early as the 2nd century AD. As formal proclomations of faith, I believe that the evidence leans in support of the idea that the Christians of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul's time , understood the virgin birth as we now do, because I think there is no strong evidence to suggest such a drastic ideology shift (the idea that Mary could have just been a young woman, or had 'first time intercourse' for example)and then all of a sudden reconcile into a united belief of absolutely no intercourse.

Whitney said...

I would love to have a copy. I will say one more thing though. I agree that things contextually may have been different back then than it is now for us. Yet, Ephesians 3:4-5 talks about how the mystery of Christ has now been revealed by the Holy Spirit. That means that, when it comes to the interpretation of the Scripture, the same Holy Spirit is in us was with them. I think it's kind of a stretch to say that there is a great possibility they didn't believe the same thing just because they lived soo long ago, and were culturally different from us. I would also point out that there were creeds including the miracle of the virgin birth as we now understand it, formed as early as the 2nd century AD. As formal proclomations of faith, I believe that the evidence leans in support of the idea that the Christians of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul's time , understood the virgin birth as we now do, because I think there is no strong evidence to suggest such a drastic ideology shift (the idea that Mary could have just been a young woman, or had 'first time intercourse' for example)and then all of a sudden reconcile into a united belief of absolutely no intercourse.

shellycoulter said...

Hmmm...

I've always thought of "post-modernism" as more of this overall way of thinking/living that all of society is experiencing to some extent. (embracing or rejecting)I guess churches/people can do creative things to encourage or reach out to others in a way they understand ---some of those ways will be great, others will suck. But isn't that how all organizations work. You try stuff out and see how it goes.

Just some of my thoughts.

I like Velvet Elvis too! :)