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Monday, May 22, 2006

The Evils of Modernism?

Even though I use them all the time, I hate post titles that end with a question mark. I guess that's what I get for having a blog that is about asking questions...

My last post, "Adapt, Adopt, Reject," was an outline of a paper that some friends and I came up with. I've had a couple of good responses. I got a few "let me chew on it and get back to you" messages, and I'm sure many of you are still trying to swallow the idea that I would have friends to work with at all.

I'm really interested in looking at Christianity from this perspective: What would our faith look like without the influence of modernism? The more I thought through the paper's outline, the harder it was for me to come up with any modern contributions that we should adopt outright. It's strange to think about, because we interpret everything through the modern worldview. I'm no historian, but I think we could learn a lot about being followers of Jesus in postmodernity by looking at the pre-modern expressions of Christianity.

In his book, Ancient Future Faith, Robert E. Webber gives a helpful outline of "Paradigms Of Church History." He breaks down church history into these worldviews (paradigms):

  • Classical Christianity (100-600)
  • Medieval Era (600-1500)
  • Renaissance/Reformation (1500-1750)
  • Modernism (1750-1980)
  • Postmodernism (1980- )

As the church moved from one worldview to another, I imagine that there were many Christian leaders that warned against the dangers of the coming worldview. For example, during the rise of the modern worldview, there were probably plenty of godly folks saying things like "Buyeth not into modernism..." or something like that. What would they warn people against? Elevation of logic/human reason? Too great a focus on the individual? The limitations of linear thought?

But here we are, on the tail end of modernism, and the only expression of Christianity that we see is heavily influenced by the modern worldview. We read it into history and revelation. Our understanding of God is a modern one. We study systematic theology, we're used to hearing propositional exposition of the scriptures. We feel this huge need to nail down the specific time and date of our salvation. We use mass-market evangelism. We look for ways to measure our holiness. This is the modern church.

In an online audio chat with Derek Webb, Donald Miller talked about how Jesus gave many different answers to people who asked Him "What must I do to be saved." But modern Christians only have one answer to that question. Why is that?

I don't think that the modern worldview is bad. But I'm certainly weary of anyone who asserts that it is the "Christian" one. I'm interested in discovering and recognizing the influence my worldview has on my faith.


Anonymous said...

Another Interesting book may be "the Millenium Matrix"
it talks of the same issues


Anonymous said...

Hello! I stumbled upon your blog and I don't even remember how, but I'm really enjoying it!

One thing that my friends and I have been discussing is the reactionary nature of postmodernism--how the entire philosophy, right now, seems to be a rejection of modernist thinking, without offering a new concrete paradigm for reinterpreting reality. Metanarratives in general are doubted as a rule of postmodernism, and I'm just wondering if postmodernism is really the next "big thing" in philosophy, or if we're more going to nod nicely and think to ourselves, "Ok, now what metaphysical framework can we build up to replace modernism?" As you outline in the Adapt, Adopt, Reject post, Christianity is not completely compatable with modernism. But, as you stated, figuring out the right philosophy will not lead us to a relationship with God.

Even my philosophy friends can't explain exaclty what postmodernism wants to give us to replace modernism. Reject modernism, accept... what? Accept the rejection of modernism? That's only one-half a philosophical revolution. I think humanity is too bent on devotion to someone, something, anything, to let go of one paradigm without flailing around in pursuit of another, and what if we pursue postmodernity's skepticism and lack of certainty? I'm afraid this is heading down the road of empiricism straight towards solipsism, and that's frightening for someone who believes Christian living in general revolves around relationships.

I don't know a single person who, when the assumptions behind their thinking are laid out in plain language, will still defend modernism. So what are we deciding to believe, instead?
I find postmodernism very valuable, and it's certainly a nice answer to modernism, but I'd like to know how it informs my practical daily living. Thoughts?


stepchild said...

Thanks for the comment, Cara.
I know what you mean about postmodernism being a reaction. I think it's reasonable that an emerging worldview would initially have to define itself by what it's not. Especially when:

-the "Powers the Be" (those in leadership, those with money) are totally entrenched in the old paradigm. In other words, unless I can be clear about how I am different than say, a traditional missionary, I will be treated like one, and compared to one. The leadership doesn't yet have a catagory to put me in that would allow me to relate to them in a healthy way.


-when those with the new worldview are stuck using the vocabulary of the old to talk about it. Emergent. Missional. Post-whatever. All of these are "new" words that postmodern believers are trying to introduce in order to have some sort of meaningful conversation. Trouble is, though, that the moderns keep hijacking the words...

I agree, though, that unless the worldview can begin to define iteslf in a positive way (what it is vs. what it isn't), it's pretty useless. But I think there's hope for believers with a postemedern worldview. Guys like Donald Miller, Derek Webb, Chris Seay, and Steve McCoy are not very modern, but they're pretty clear on what they're about. Relationships. Authenticity. Acceptance. Unfortunately, what they're about gets labeled "Social Gospel," "Liberalism," and "Relativism" by the moderns. Even so, we've moved from "modern believers trying to make Christianity relevant to postmoderns" to "postmodern believers trying to make Christianuty relevant to themselves."

I think postmodernism doesn't want to replace modernism. Maybe we don't need a new concrete paradigm for reinterpreting reality. I think postmoderns just want to move beyond the existing one. That's why I'm writing about this stuff lately. To see where we end up if we explore the cultural expression of our faith from a different perspective.

knnuki said...

We're in a transition time between two worlds/worldviews. The old is entrenched, fully-formed (and still working well in many cases). The new thing is simply called postmodernism because we don't know what else to call it and it's the next thing after modern thought. It's not fully formed and doesn't provide many "models" (a modern notion!) to convince people of its merits. This is inevitable in the dynamics of change/transition. I'm comfortable with a worldview that doesn't have everything firmly nailed down, but many christians are not (and I don't blame them, usually).

We're flexing. What will be, is not yet. It will have been the same during other times of great upheaval. Think of the reformation, during the time of the introduction of modern thought!

GuyMuse said...

What happened to modernism? IMHO it moved south! I may be wrong, but my own observation is that modernism is much more the predominant philosophy here in Latinamerica than in the Western North which appears to be much more postmodern in thinking.

Modernism is thoroughly entrenched in LA church life and is one of the key issues LA M's have to deal with in our passion for reaching Spanish-speaking peoples for Christ. I may have missed something, but do you have a link for the material that you refer to in your post? I for one would be interested in reading up more on this issue.

stepchild said...

Guy, the outline to the not-yet-existant paper, "Adopt, Adapt, Reject" is my previous post. If I ever get around to actually writing it, I'll post it here.

I'm not familiar with your cultural context, but I've seen Latin Americans come to Western Europe and really struggle. It's usually for the same reasons that modern Americans struggle, so I bet you're right about modernism moving south.

Usually, when we talk about modernism/postmodernism, we kind of imply that they are opposites. But a lot of the postmodern worldview actually includes modernism, if that makes any sense.

Thanks for your thoughts.