Friday, March 26, 2004

I’ve been reading in the last couple of weeks a lot about the “emerging church” or “postmodern church.” It’s a pretty interesting idea. I’ll try to summarize what I’ve read – but don’t hold me responsible if I mess it up. Postmodernism came out of Europe after World War II, primarily as a response to the excesses of modernity. One of the major ideas is that we should reject absolutist belief systems. Nazism was a belief system taken to an absolutist extreme. I think one of the major philosophical recognitions that came out of postmodernism is the realization that the “truth” might not be as obvious as we think it is.

Some postmodernists have gone as far as to say that there is no absolute TRUTH. There’s my truth and your truth, and they probably aren’t the same, but that’s ok. Others have said (particularly in respect to Christianity) that “the truth is out there,” but that it is very arrogant for any human to assume that they can know it absolutely. For example, there may be an absolute truth about God. But if you believe that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and infinite, can any human being ever comprehend the absolute, complete truth about God? I think many postmodernists would say probably not.

So there’s a movement out there to create “postmodern” churches. And these aren’t (for the most part) crazy, bleeding heart, commie-sympathizing, United Methodists. Most of them are evangelical protestants and fairly conservative theologically. And they are out there creating new churches, writing books, and blogging. A lot of these churches are very focused on evangelism through mission and service work, committed to creating ethnically diverse communities, and driven by 20/30-something gen-x’ers. In a lot of ways, I think it’s really exciting. A lot of the “thinkers” behind the movement reject biblical literalism (as a relic of modernity), are deeply interested in traditional spiritual practices, and committed to creating inclusive religious communities. What’s wrong with that?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what they’re trying to do. What I wonder is if we really need more institutions? Are more churches the answer? Is the reason for declining membership in the UMC because we’re too “modern?” I’ve checked out some of these “postmodern” churches on the web and my impression isn’t that flattering. First, you read their statement of faith (or creed, or whatever they happen to call it) and most of them are biblical literalists. So what’s the difference between these churches and your regular fundamentalist, evangelical mega-church? It looks like the music is louder, the lights are lower (with candles, even!), and the website is slicker (Check one out in Hillsboro here). I’m sure they’re not all like that, but it makes me skeptical about the phenomenon.

Are the churches we have really incapable of speaking to our generation? I sure hope not. I’ll deal with this question in an upcoming blog. I’ve been thinking about what the point of church is, and why is the Methodist church worth fighting for. I’ll get to it soon.

A couple of last thoughts on postmodern churches: One of the other ideas I’ve read is that in the emerging church, there needs to be more room for ordinary people to “do” theology. I’m not really sure what’s stopping people now, but I like the idea that my uniformed, uneducated, arm-chair theology might be validated precisely because I’m uniformed and theologically uneducated! If you want to read more, check out Emergent Village. It is one of the hubs of the movement. Also check out Brian McLaren – he’s a minister in Washington D.C. and one of the most prominent postmodern church advocates. Finally, check out the following blogs of people who are also interested in the postmodern church: Jay Voorhees, Hugo Schwyzer, The Ooze, Doug Pagitt, and Maggi Dawn. There are more, but these are usually pretty interesting.



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