Monday, 7 May 2007

Where shall we go tomorrow?

The world we live in in Britain and Ireland today is rapidly becoming post-post-modern. By that I mean that we're leaving postmodernism behind; the idea that 'there's no such thing as absolute truth' and 'all ideas are equally valid and to be tolerated' has been lived out, expressed, thrashed over and ultimately, found wanting. People are beginning to realise that not all ideas are equal, that not everything is OK. As homophobia and racism in particular grab headlines, society seems to be turning back to definite truths and looking for moral certainty again.

The question is, how should the church respond to this? Christianity and postmodernism were never comfortable bedfellows; should we be glad that postmodernism seems to be on its way out?

I think we need to be careful. It seems to me that ultimate truths are being rediscovered - people have realised that they do, after all, believe that certain ideas are right and others are wrong. The lines between good and bad are being re-drawn. The very real risk is, though, that the church, and religion in general, seems to be finding itself on the wrong side of the line - alongside homophobia, sexism and violence. People know that they don't need religion in order to be good; in addition, they are now suspicious of big establishments and of authority. Writers like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have launched full-on assaults on religion, describing it as 'evil', and although they have supplied little convincing evidence of this, it seems to be becoming accepted.

In light of this, where should the church go? What should we be doing to continue to be 'salt and light' in a world which is becoming more and more hostile? How should we, as Christians, live in this new society?

For some time now, we've heard a lot of talk about 'church in a postmodern world', and various movements have sprung up to try to bridge the increased gap between the church and popular culture. The church hasn't really moved with this though, as far as I can see, and to be honest, by the time it gets behind it, we could well have seen the end of the postmodern society anyway. In fact, I genuinely fear for what postmodernism may do to our churches. We cannot have 'postmodern Christians'. Before postmodernism, there was modernism; this was not compatible with Christianity either, but many Christians unthinkingly embraced it - and ultimately, it robbed much of the Western church of its integrity and uniqueness, as people bought into consumerism and materialism. 'Holy living' all but disappeared, to be replaced with either a pious, self-righteous pride or a bland blending in with the culture.

If we lost integrity to modernism, postmodernism has the potential to rob us of our truth. I've seen some attempts at reaching a postmodern audience with Christian truth, and it seems that the core beliefs of Christianity have been stripped out. The gospel presented is a kind of 'look what Jesus can do for you' message - an individualistic, 'here's what you get out of it' version of Christianity which contains some Biblical truths, but presents no real call to radical discipleship.

In his book 'The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience', Ron Sider gives statistics which show how few Christians (in the US at least) are living in ways which are different from those who are not Christians. It is unsurprising that the church, and Christianity, has little respect in the eyes of many people outside itself. In addition, the opening of creationist museums and arks and so on by certain members of the more fundamentalist churches does little to show that Christians are people who think things through and come to reasoned conclusions.

I believe that it is vital that we recapture both holy living (and integrity) and Biblical truth. We need to humble ourselves and remember what we're about. We need to live with authenticity and genuine love for one another. We need to bring our faith to bear on every aspect of our lives. We need to make sure that we oppose what is genuinely bad, and not merely what we superficially see as bad, and that we support and promote what is good and just. We need to remind ourselves of great Christian truths; we need to support those who seek to explore those more deeply and to teach them to the rest of us.

Furthermore, we need to enjoy life in all its fulness... not settling for the second-best of material comfort and success. We need to live as we are commanded, not as we please; enjoy the good things that are given to us, and seek to pass those on to others within our communities and beyond. We must question and explore the world around us.

Then, I believe, the church can stop playing catchup with the world we can begin to see Christians changing the world for the better again.

1 comment:

zoomtard said...

I am not sure if we are even into post-modernism yet, nevermind post-post-modernism! :)

In fact, I sometimes doubt if post-modernism really can exist outside the English and Philosophy department. I think society is moving into an era of ultra-modernism, the Enlightenment project taken to its logical conclusion.

In that, I think the new era is friendlier to the Gospel than the older one, regardless of the name you put on it. It is still hostile, I suspect though.

But post-modernism (ultra-modernism, p-p modernism...) is not against the idea of objective truth. It is simply (or complexly!) skeptical in the extreme of human truth regimes that claim to lay hold to it. I think this serves the Biblical Christian well because it will create new space for us to revel in the story of the Gospel. We might have to work harder though cos students won't be interested in our easily-put-together talks about why to trust the Bible. They'll be much more concerned with the plot of the text...

Thanks for letting me waffle!