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Postmodernism & the Modern Church (II)

Postmodernism & the ModernChurch (II)

How Should We Define and Describe Modern Evangelicalism?

D.A. Carson, Chuck Colson, Charles Dunahoo, Douglas Groothuis, Ken Myers, Nancy Pearcey, David Wells, myself, and a host of others have made very cogent cases for the fact that the modern Emergent Church is really nothing new under the sun. In fact, each in his or her own way has made the case that a lion's share of Postmodernism is warmed over German theological liberalism.

The return to votive candles, prayer labyrinths, contemplative prayer, a notion of unprecedented toleration with a view to crucial ethical questions such as male and female homosexuality, abortion, women's ordination, and gender and sexuality issues generally, and a vague conception of "creativity" in worship are really nothing new. We've seen all these before and now we seeing them again-this time in Power Point and multimedia presentations.

What is absolutely necessary is to strip away all of the accoutrements and get down to the kernel of why the both the mega-church as well as the Emergent (Emerging) Church actually believe they are offering anything new. More importantly, the question must be asked if what is passing in the mega-church as well as in the EmergentChurch is truly God-honoring, Christ-centered worship. Both churches have chosen to go their own ways in worship and, as often as not, have added to and taken away from essential elements in proper worship of the Lord.

This begs the question: Why did the mega-church want to explore new ways of worship then and why do Christian postmoderns want to explore the same path now? The answer is simple: they were and are convinced that Christianity is no longer relevant to its cultured despisers. They both have been duped into believing that if they are not "relevant" to the existing culture, Christianity will meet its demise. Again, I will discuss more on this fallacy in the course of these articles. Suffice it to say at this point that there have been many times in the history of the Christian Church when it appeared that Christianity would not survive, but went on, under God's providential care, to survive quite well, thank you.

Ken Myers, in his book All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes, speaks of three levels or tiers of culture: high, folk, and pop culture.[1] Each of these is rather self-explanatory. For our purposes we want to focus on pop culture and how postmodern concepts filter into society from high culture. Charles Dunahoo states, "Pop culture…is entertainment, a short-order mentality where content is not essential to the experience. It is a 'don't worry, be happy' culture. It is a culture that does not think about tradition or substance. Fun, entertainment, and nonsubstance characterize pop culture."[2]

Now here is something to think about: High culture (academia) is in a very large part responsible for this almost mindless, mind-numbing pop culture. How? In the late 1980s, Allan Bloom wrote a landmark book entitled The Closing of he American Mind.[3] Bloom began with the thesis that his University of Chicago students tacitly assumed that truth is relative. Bloom discovered however that the relativism that permeated the entire educational system was not an American home-grown notion, but actually stemmed from German philosophy. Wells comments, "This attitude, he argued, destroys the educational enterprise because if nothing is ultimately true then it is pointless for students to expend too much energy pondering the meaning of life now. These students say education as offering nothing more than some knowledge about other cultures and minority groups, and they coupled that with a saccharine moral code about everyone getting along with one another."[4]

If you recall anything much at all about the music of the 1960s and early 1970s, "smiling on your brother" and getting together to "love one another" were dominant themes. So the hippy generation sang, "I'm just a soul whose intentions are good. Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood!" I'm doing my best. Give me a break and cut me some slack!

Both then and now-in both modernism and postmodernism-the glaring omission is hardly ever the mention of sin. Some like JoelOsteen remind their congregations that they will not use the word from the pulpit while a number of EmergentChurch pastors/leaders follow the same tact. It is, of course, one thing to expect our pagan culture to reject any notion of sin, but it is quite another when the ChristianChurch follows suit. And both the mega-church as well as the ECM tribe like to downplay any mention of the "s" word because we now have two generations that have been raised on a steady diet of spiritual fluff and tawdry, vacuous spiritual "entertainment." Start talking about sin and they are out of there.


Pastor Ron Gleason, Ph.D.

Yorba Linda, CA

[1] KennethA.Myers, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1989), passim.

[2] Charles Dunahoo, Making Kingdom Disciples, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co., 2005), p. 131.

[3] AllanBloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students, (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1987).

[4] David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow'rs, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), p. 65.