Sunday, February 1, 2009

Minority Report

I find myself wondering how long the church is going to play in the fields of social theory. It seems that one has to have a degree in sociology to share the gospel effectively. I know it seems terribly out of fashion but I am unimpressed and unconvinced by those who belabor the importance of knowing our "postmodern" culture.

Don't misunderstand. We ought to know our times. But c'mon! We act as if we are the first generation of Christians to live at time when it is challenging to communicate the Gospel. The fact is, the experts cannot even agree about what postmodernism truly is. Meanwhile, I'm sure some smart guy is already crafting a term to describe the next generation. Then the cycle will begin again. Certain evangelical leaders will create the next cottage industry by having all the necessary insights to ensure we don't become irrelevant. And pastors like myself will buy the books, attend the lectures and hope we get it right.

In a recent article posted on Ref21 Carl Trueman offers a very helpful minority report on the current fascination of the church with cultural relevance.

Dr. Trueman writes:
As this postmodern ethos has bled into Christian theology, a similar theological disempowerment has become evident. What began as a healthy concern to contextualize theology led in many cases to theologies where the particulars of context (whether geographical, social, political, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation etc. etc.) effectively trumped the universal horizon of scripture. The perfect storm of anarchic postmodern philosophies, identity politics, hyperspecialisation and fragmentation of the theological discipline, fear of cultural irrelevance, and the eclectic mindset of the consumer have combined to create a situation where the particular rules, messiness is in, and the church is little more than a cacophony of competing voices (or, to use the trendy and pretentious terminology, `dissonant vocalities'). On every corner, huckster theologians who have made their careers out of creating this mess are selling you the problem as if it is the solution, and theology now abounds with Orwellian newspeak: chaos is order; contradiction is consistency; valueless trivia is vital truth. And the Christian culture vultures are at
the cutting-edge of this, with their focus on the particular and the peripheral rather than the universal and the central. Kids' stuff - teenflicks and sex and the internet - holds centre stage in so much Christian cultural conversation, perhaps a sign of the West's obsession with all things adolescent, perhaps a sign of the permanent adolescence of many of the interlocutors. And let's face it, no-one ever loses in today's evangelical market by backing the peripheral rather than the central, or by overestimating the triviality of the tastes of the Western Christian consumer. Is a
Christian bookstore going to make money selling a book on the Incarnation or on prayer, or one on Christian approaches to body image, or The Simpsons, or how to improve your sex life?
Read the entire article HERE.


Mike said...

Agree that postmodernism is hard to define...I think a better term to describe this generation is post-christian.

But I see no difference in trying to understand the mind of a post-christian mind than trying to understand the Mulism or Eastern mind if you were ministering in that part of the world...Certainly we believe the gospel is a universal message but to not understand the culture in which it is delivered I think is a disservice to the hearers. Think about language. Cambodians accept Jesus "into their throat" because this is where they believe the eternal soul exists. So we contextualize for the sake of understanding and no one seems to have a problem with that. I think this is also true of a post-christian generation.

I think the important question is is how can we contextualize to this generation without losing the centrality of the gospel message when much of the "contextualization" requires discussions around the nature of truth? This is what I find challenging...

Nicholas said...

John Bogle will be speaking at Tredyffrin Public Library this Thursday at 7:30 about his new book, "Enough." Perhaps this will allow you to get some interesting insights from an economic perspective?

Bogle is the founder of Vanguard. I think he'll present a very interesting overview on his life and views. He's 78 and had a heart transplant 12 years ago so we may not get a good chance to see him again.

Todd Pruitt said...


I agree that we need to understand our times.

I am skeptical however about many of the conclusions of those who seem to have made a cottage industry around "postmodernism." As I wrote in my post, it seems that you need to have a degree in sociology just to share the Gospel.

I am convinced the most effective way to bring the Gospel into the context of our hearers is through the means of relationship. One untrained by faithful witnessed armed with the Gospel and reaching out to a friend is far more effective than a panel of theorists. In that sense nothing really has changed in 2,000 years.

Mike said...

"...the most effective way to bring the Gospel into the context of our hearers is through the means of relationship" Amen, amen and amen....

Harley A. said...

I definitely agree with Mike’s point on our being more post-Christian and the point on contextualization. That’s why I love the ministry of Ravi Zacharias and his associates so much. He is such a master of contextualization and the gospel is never lost in translation. In fact, he makes the argument that the pluralism of America allows us to engage cultures without ever leaving our city – I struggle with embracing that, but I think he’s probably right.

Isn’t it interesting that Christ came into a time and place of political upheaval, religious pluralism, and multicultural exchange. And scripture calls that "at just the right time". I think it was probably very much like today, and we see in the apostles’ accounts cultural and philosophical struggles beginning to brew already.