The Front Page

Welcome to the Front Page, the digital cover of the Wayne Press.  Here we will share with you things that can't be captured in our newsletter--videos, music, color photographs--as well as articles that reflect on faith and life.  

 

Old Church, New Church

Our culture is thrashing about between two worldviews at the moment: the modern and post-modern. The church has barreled into this conflict as well, knee deep in the hoopla of it.  

Modernism is that wonderful lie, that has driven our culture for generations now, that we can get things done, that progress can be achieved: we can build better schools; we can end hunger; if we improve our technology, we can end the need for back-breaking work and the work on the end of back-breaking need; and, in the church, it manifests as a belief that if we’ll only be the hands of God, then the kingdom can be ushered in. In attitude, modernism has a big hug and hurrah for humanity—the kind of unabashed optimism that makes teenagers everywhere squirm. It’s the worldview that has given us the pre-eminence of science, the demythologization of scripture, and the scourge of homiletics: the three point sermon. It’s responsible for such unqualified successes as vaccines, social consciousness, modern democracy and feminism. Not too shabby really. Sadly, it has also given us Social Darwinism, nuclear weaponry, the holocaust, and a wicked mind-body split that sabotages our dreams of wholeness. 

Post-modernism, on the other hand, is that wonderful lie that modernism has become irrelevant. It’s characterized by the suspicion that progress is an illusion, that science has failed us, that people can not be bettered by knowledge alone, and, I’m sad to report, by some really unfortunate art. Consequently, post-moderns trade in science for mysticism, results for process, institutions for relationships, things mass-produced for things organic; and in our work, effectiveness for relevance.  This cultural shift has let loose a river of creative energy and has delivered us such wonders as a recovery of ritual and story-telling, a zealous commitment to community making, liberation theologies, high-touch technologies, and a new-found respect for understanding how our contexts influence every part of us. On the downside, postmodernism has also delivered us into the hands of myspace, emo rock, and young adults who don’t vote. So, it’s not a cure all, is it? 

The question the church has before it now is how we navigate between these worldviews. Shaped in the last few centuries of modernism, the church is thoroughly entrenched in its preferences. Our Book of Order, for instance, is a modernist’s playground (less so than it used to be!). My father smiles when he reads it. Our worship is decent, in order, and chock-full of recourse if someone should get out of hand. Our outreach is rarely organized and implemented by the ones we help, thereby assuring it of some paternalistic impulse, some forced-fit goodness.  

Post-modern Christianity is coming though. Stopping it would be like endeavoring to spin the earth in the opposite direction or getting Texas to read the evidence about the death penalty—lost causes both.  (I'm a Texan.  I can say that.)  What are we to do when the process of making a decision takes precedence over the decision itself? Does Robert’s Rules have a chapter on that? What happens when our orderly worship is turned over to disciples who crave a sensory experience of God? People who fill sanctuaries with heavy incenses, with stations of the cross, and potter’s wheels? What happens when outreach is imagined by a pastor and a homeless man together? Can he be on a committee if he’s not a member? Where do we send his newsletter every month?

I fear the inexorable clash will cause us to take up sides. In the process, we’ll confuse the gospel with the matrix that carries it. The important thing to remember is: we’re family.  And often, the post-modern who’s swimming in the waters of scripture is the daughter of the modernist who taught her the basic strokes, who could also have taught her about the chemical make-up of the water and the geography of the lake. We’re tied together in the church by bloodlines, whether genetic or spiritual. When someone has taught you bible stories or shuttled you home from a party as a teenager after you made some unfortunate choices or held your hand when your father died, then it’s hard not to love that person, no matter how differently they experience God than you. (Ironically, it’s often the pastor, the one not rooted in the particular locality, the one also who is expected to know what’s what, that is the problem.)  

What I seek—as a post-modern pastor in love with modernist parishioners—is a mutuality that bears the weight of moving from one paradigm to the next, a way of loving each other through. This demands an awareness from the moderns that most young people are born into a culture of thought that seeks to discredit univocal thinking, and that if the church responds with rigidity to this phenomena, then the life-giving gospel, the love that transforms us, might get lost in the cultural matrix that has carried it to today. 

From the post-moderns, this mutuality demands patience, and an awareness that our critiques of the church often sound to moderns like “All that time, when you were teaching and worshipping and healing and casseroling and sending money and studying, you were just a bunch of fools really, mistaking church for God. You should have been like us.” 

What I seek is a way forward for the church. I haven’t found it yet, but I’m certain when I do, the way will be paved with the sort of love that parents and children—whether the genetic or spiritual type—have for each other.

Thoughts?

--Casey

Posted by Casey Thompson at 12:20 PM
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