This page is dedicated to my ongoing writing of a draft of what I have come to discover of the emerging church movement through my research. As the name of the page suggests, this is by no means a polished, finished paper, and much like anything else on this site, it is very open to criticism and questions if something doesn’t make sense. I’m not quite sure why it changes font in the middle, but I’ll try to get that fixed. This is, for the most part, my paper, it obviously needs to be reworked, but I don’t intend on adding too terribly much to it. I believe its just short of 2,500 words.
Since the mid 20th century, the idea of postmodernism has been discussed and written about at great length. However, it was not until the 1990’s did the idea of postmodernism first get tied to religion. Until then, postmodernism was referenced solely to trends in art and literature. Postmodernism’s stance, to question and rethink ideologies and ideas, was now introduced to theology, specifically Christianity. With its opening into Christianity, a new Christian movement formed, the emerging church movement. The idea of postmodernism has a profound effect on this movement, and through the expansion of both the emerging church movement as well as postmodernism with its relation to religion and Christianity, this paper will examine the significance of postmodernism within the movement.
The emerging church movement has only recently found its way over to the United States. The movement originally started in the United Kingdom with the new generation of young adults who were fed up with the way Christianity was being practiced within the churches. They felt that Christianity had fallen out of sync with the new generation of adults and wanted to change and do something about it. As this movement has crossed the sea to the United States, it has taken the same ideals that was founded when the movement was first born.
This movement claims that it does not attempt to change any part of Christianity, every ideal, tradition, and practice is congruent throughout this movement. It only tries to switch the focus from the traditions and practices that have been so important to Christianity for the last thousand years, to something that the younger generation can relate to and can believe in. The same traditions they were forced to go through as children with their parents are the same traditions that they are trying to change.
Many of the traditions and practices for the most part remain the same within the emerging church movement. The focus of the ministry, however, is not. The movement puts much more focus on the life of Jesus, on what he did in his life and how he did it. The movement feels that his life was a representation of how society should live, with the golden rule, the idea Jesus stressed the most, was the most important: love thy neighbor. Jesus proclaimed that through love, everyone could be saved. The followers of this movement believe in this idea.
The second main theme in this movement is the idea of the church itself as a physical place. For many emerging churches in the United States, they do not even have a physical church to practice. They use existing social gathering places in within the community as their worship centers. Some of them go so far as to meet at the local watering hole. This is important to the movement because they are making church become a part of the community again, it is no longer separate and distinct. One of the most important ideas within this movement is that church has only become a place you go once a week. This movement wants to integrate the church into the community so that it is no longer a separate entity of the community, but a very connected piece to it.
The most crucial part of the movement in respect to evolving Christianity is the idea that the present world is living in a postmodern society. The idea of postmodernism for the emerging church movement provides it with the substance needed to make a change within Christianity. It is crucial to this movement, and to the understanding of this movement, to fully comprehend what postmodernism means in society and how it provides this movement with the substance it does to make this change within Christianity.
Postmodernism is a term that has been written about and thoroughly discussed since the mid 1900s. In the eyes of the emerging church movement, the definition of postmodernism is, “(quote from article)”. (expand on the quote)
The idea of postmodernism is far more vast than just the definition provided above with respect towards the movement and it is very important to understand what it truly is and what it says about the society that this movement is being built upon. Lee Spinks discussed the idea of postmodernism and said, “The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself… that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable”(Spinks #). In this discussion of postmodernism, one could argue that it speaks directly to the idea of religion because of the idea of presenting that, which cannot be presented. However, it is not speaking towards religion in any sense at all. Instead, this quote is simply saying that postmodernism is taking what is found within the modern society, that which cannot be explained, or presented, and attempting to expand those ideas, not because it wants to understand more about it, but because it wants to create a stronger sense of what cannot be explained.
When dealing with the idea of postmodernism, it is also important to understand the type of society that applies to this idea. This does not mean that discussion of the ideals and values of the nature of the society, as that will come through the discussion of the definition of postmodernism, but what it is to live in a postmodern society. Ihab Hassan best describes the type of society to expect through the idea of postmodernism as, “postmodernism (the cultural phenomenon) applies to affluent, high-tech, consumer, media-driven societies…” (Hassan #). In this sense, today’s society can most assuredly be considered postmodern. In today’s society, TV and internet rule the information stream of our society. Anyone can find out anything about everything via the internet. People are able to be much more informed on every issue then can search on the internet or watch on some television show. Today’s society is the most media-driven society, in large part to the advancements in technology, which can be described as “high-tech,” that the world has ever seen, and each following society will be greater than the last. Through this discussion of the type of society that can be discussed as postmodern, it is hard to argue against the idea of our society being one of postmodernism.
Postmodernism, to many who discuss it, see it simply as another period within the history of society. They see it as something that defines what our society is right now and when eventually fade when we no longer fit that definition. However, it is very important, because of the definition of postmodernism, to not just view it as a period in the history of society. Hassan also discusses this concept in saying, “More importantly, postmodernism cannot serve simply as a period, as a temporal, chronological, or diachronic construct; it must also function as a theoretical, phenomenological, or synchronic category” (Hassan #). Here Hassan expands on the thought that postmodernism cannot be dealt with as some moment along the timeline of our society that describes the ideas of society, postmodernism must function as something more than that. It must function as a theoretical category, changing the ideas and thoughts within the idea of theory. It must also function as an expansion on the study of phenomena and philosophy. Hassan is trying to stress through this discussion that postmodernism is not only a period in society or time, it is an idea that should be applied to many other ideas and thoughts because of its nature and presence in those areas.
This idea of postmodernism in today’s society, as it was discussed earlier, should also be applied to things other than just as a period in our society’s history. The institution of religion is a significant idea within our current society and has been for quite some time. With the expansion of postmodernism into religion, one can see that the stance of postmodernism on society, but also on religion has the potential to disrupt the traditions and history of religion, ideals and values that have been set in place for thousands of years. Clayton Crockett speaks of this issue in saying, “If postmodernism is viewed as a threat, then it can be tremendously threatening to traditional theology” (Crockett #). If religion is to take a defensive stance on postmodernism, denying that it can or will have any effect on its institution then postmodernism will most certainly threaten the ideals and traditions of that religion. To deny the idea that postmodernism will have an effect on religion is to deny progression of society. Religion, specifically Christian religion, has been very comfortable retracting itself from progressing society and functioning in a bubble where time and advancements does not transform its ideals.
If religion can take a positive stance on postmodernism and be open to the questioning of its ideals and traditions, then it can experience a cleansing and an opening to new ideas. This is overwhelming true for Christianity. Crockett again speaks of religions encounter with postmodernism thinking, “From the standpoint of theology, postmodernism can appear as a brutal storm sweeping away meaning and value, or it can be viewed as a cleansing and purifying rain, or even both at once” (Crockett #). If Christianity refuses to take in the idea of postmodernism, it will most certainly feel like it is destroying its ideals and values. The postmodernist thinking is one that, if not taken in and acknowledged, will sweep away the essence of Christianity just by its definition. Postmodernist thinking is one that questions and searches for understanding. If Christianity does not accept this, then by its rejection, it will be swept away and questioned in a negative view. Postmodernists will ask why it cannot accept their thinking, why they can’t be open to change, and this will certainly alienate Christianity from the current society, slowing cutting off its life support.
However, Christianity can open itself up to this new thinking and accept the questioning of its ideals and traditions, using this to rediscover what it is to be Christian in the 21st century. The emerging church movement is the physical representation of Christians opening themselves up to postmodernist thinking. Within this movement, postmodernism is the driving force. Christian ideals and traditions and questioned, they are criticized and asked of their importance. As Crockett stated earlier, postmodernist thinking can be a cleansing and purifying rain, and to the followers of the emerging church movement, that is exactly what they are trying to accomplish. The movement is not trying to reform Christianity, but it is trying to reorganize it, making it relevant in today’s society.
As I said earlier, this new Christian movement, entitled the emerging church movement, is trying to reorganize Christianity in a way that makes it more applicable and relevant to today’s society. It attempts to do this through its stance on postmodernism and what they believe it does for Christianity. In their understanding of postmodernism, it questions why Christianity, in their idea, is so focused on the past and not turning to face the present. John Macquarie suggests something much the same when speaking of traditional Christianity in saying that they are, “Engaged in the quest for the historical jesus… they are looking for an empiricial foundation for their faith, but a good postmodernist does not need such a foundation” (Macquarie #). To this movement, traditional Christianity is looking to the past for their understanding of the present, they are trying to focus too much attention on what happened over 2000 years ago. For this movement, being good postmodernists, they do not need to understand what happened historically over 2000 years ago. To them, the ideals and values of what happened is all that is needed. Now this statement may seem, to some, to contradict what postmodernism is, questioning the ideals that were set, however this movement argues that those values and ideals are the very foundation of Christianity and cannot be questioned because without them, there is no Christian faith.
It is curious that this movement claims to be postmodernist but yet they claim that the core values of Christianity cannot be questioned simply because they are what Christianity was founded upon. The nature of postmodernism is to question the core beliefs of institutions, and religion is no exception. It appears that this movement is making the claim of having complete postmodernist thinking for the sake of appeasing to the current society, and is implementing postmodernism to a certain extent, but falling terribly short where it is most crucial. With respect to the current society, the strides made within this movement on Christianity are significant and sufficient. However, in regards to true postmodernism, their refusal to question the very foundation of their religion stops them short of succeeding in becoming postmodern.
This movement has the potential to evolve Christianity fully beyond its current stagnant state, but because of its refusal to question the core of Christianity, it has failed to do so. It has implemented postmodernism into Christianity in such a way as to make it appear that they have evolved it into the 21st century with a postmodern society. Unfortunately, all they have succeeded in doing is giving the impression of complete change to a society willing to accept what they have done. Nothing terrible significant has come from this movement in regards to the state of Christianity, they have simply rearranged the chairs on the Titanic. Christianity appears to be a vastly different religion through the implementation of this movement, but in truth, its foundation has not been affected. This movement has accomplished what it set out to do, make Christianity more relevant to today’s society. It has failed to capitalize on the potential it had to reform the Christian faith. In the words of Clayton Crockett, “…an encounter with postmodern thinking can be healthy in a transformative way, but only if what occurs is an actual encounter rather than a naïve appropriation or a superstitious disavowal” (Crockett #). This movement had the opportunity to fully encounter postmodern thinking, but it took what it wanted from postmodernism and reorganized Christianity just enough to make it relevant in today’s society.
The emerging church movement was able to implement postmodernism into Christianity in such a way to transform and reorganize it to make it relevant and applicable in today’s society. The movement accomplished what it set out to do, but it had the capability of fully transforming Christianity through its use of postmodernism. Postmodernism is certainly present with Christianity through this movement, however the Christian faith is not truly postmodern. It has allowed postmodern thinking to penetrate only certain areas of its faith, not allowing it to fully take hold for fear of what might come about. It is the fear of the unknown, fear of change that has stunted postmodernism within Christianity.