Postmodernism 7 - The Postmodern Church


From Sunesis. Posted with permission. Read the series.

The quotation below is from (This site is currently down, with a promise that it will be revised and restarted January 1, 2013—yes, that’s the correct date; even the postmoderns struggle with maintaining relevance.)

There is a rising feeling among emerging church leaders and followers of Jesus, that in many modern contemporary churches, something has subtly gone astray in what we call “church” and what we call “Christianity.” Through time, church has become a place that you go to have your needs met, instead of being a called local community of God on a mission together. Through time, much of contemporary Christianity subtly has become more about inviting others into the subcultures of Christian music, language and church programs than about passionately inviting others into a radically alternative community and way of life as disciples of Jesus and Kingdom living. Sadly, we are now seeing the results of this. While many of us have been inside our church offices busy preparing our sermons and keeping on a fast-paced schedule in the ministries and internal affairs of our churches, something alarming is happening on the outside. A great transformation is happening in our own neighborhoods, schools, and colleges. What once was a Christian nation with a Judeo-Christian worldview, is fast becoming an unchurched post-Christian nation. Tom Clegg and Warren Bird in their book Lost In America claim that the unchurched population of the United States is now the largest mission field in the English-speaking world and fifth largest globally. There are many great churches ministering to modern-minded people, but we must be also be passionate about emerging generations who aren’t connecting with current forms of ministry and thinking. Yet, there are some exciting things developing and stirring. So many people are beginning to experience the same sort of unsettledness and beginning many positive and healthy conversations. More and more emerging leaders are re-seeking the Scriptures, studying the early church and church history and rethinking a lot of what we are doing. In our desire to engage the current culture and emerging generations, perhaps we need to spend time looking more to the values and ancient roots of our faith, instead of looking out primarily for what is “cutting edge,” the next “model” or the latest programs. Vintage Faith is simply looking at what was vintage Christianity. Going back to the beginning and looking at the teachings of Jesus with fresh eyes and hearts and minds. Carefully discerning what it is in our contemporary churches and ministry that perhaps has been shaped through modernity and evangelical subculture, rather than the actual teachings of Jesus and the Scriptures. We need to begin asking a lot of questions again. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. Too much is at stake not to.

As postmodern thought in general developed, it was adopted by church leaders who sought to incorporate postmodernism into a broad form of Christianity, what most of the early leaders called the “emerging” church. It was originally a Western European and North American movement (with some down-under participants). The postmoderns raised several concerns about the modern church and its lack of relationship to postmodern philosophy.

First, they were routinely opposed to orthodoxy’s doctrines and practices. Orthodoxy has a modern mindset; the concept of “orthodoxy” is that something is true and that which is not that something is false. This flies in the face of postmodern pluralism. The postmoderns were also suspicious of the market-driven mentality of the ultimate modern church—the megachurches—for these churches sought to attract the masses. Second, the postmoderns were concerned about the neglect of ancient Christian tradition and practices. Modernism desired all things modern; postmoderns use a mixture of ancient and contemporary elements in their churches—think Gregorian chants accompanied by a punk rock band. Third, many of the postmoderns are concerned with the lack of progress toward ecumenism among the moderns; they have dismissed the organized attempts at ecumenism and seek low level ecumenical connections. Fourth, it is suspicious of the missiology of the market-driven megachurches and institutionalized Christianity.

Since postmodernism rejects any absolutes, it is hard to nail down what postmoderns think and believe. There is no postmodern “orthodoxy.” There are, however, at least some similarities among them. First, there is a common language; this came about undoubtedly because of the technologically interconnectedness of the postmoderns. Some of the favored terms are Missional, Liquid/Aqua, Ancient/Future, Post-whatever, Community, Derrida, Liturgy, Global, Creed, Experience, Social Justice, Conversation, Spiritual, Ritual, Beauty, Art, Blog, Ooze, Journey, Discussion, Open, Random, Culture, Technology. Using the Internet, they all read each other’s blogs, and out of that came a similar language, complete with its own set of code words. In conjunction with this, the postmoderns are fluent in the new media. The postmodern churches communicate in blogs, online message boards, and wikis, and some even exist only in virtual format. There is not always a need to “attend” church; just show up online at the appropriate time.

Second, there is a creative expression in music and worship. The churches use a holistic worship expression. Everyone is supposed to be involved (no “lurkers”), and anything goes. Quality is unimportant, as long as the participants are authentic and transparent. Originally, the postmodern churches were small groups and sought to stay that way so that all could be engaged in the ministry. Now, however, numerous of the early emerging churches are the megachurches of the 21st century. Since there are no absolutes, however, it is perfectly legitimate for a postmodern church to change its positions and practices.

Third, there are no common doctrines or church order; common doctrine implies an “orthodoxy,” and thus there can be no common theology or church practice. Truth is whatever each church decides it to be. There are, however, a couple of key beliefs that are commonly held—ecumenism and social justice.

Fourth, the postmoderns desire organizational simplicity. There are routinely no boards. The pastors in the modern churches are CEO’s. The pastors in the postmodern churches are poets, prophets, or friends.

Fifth, the postmodern churches are mission-minded. Understand that this is not necessarily missions-minded. If there are no absolutes, then each church must establish its own purpose for existence. Thus each church must have a “mission” statement. In the next few posts in the series, we will focus attention on the characteristics of the postmodern churches.


Thankfully, “Post-Modern” Churches or “Emerging Churches” as Dr. Oats describes are only a blip on the radar screen within todays Western Christianity. As Dr. Choong-Chan-Rah pointed out in his book, “The Next Evangelicalism,” there are only around 200 of these churches in North America and Great Britain. He rightly pointed out the marketing saavy of this tiny little movement that somehow hood-winked large Christian book publishers to publish over 50 books on the emergent and emerging movement because they persuaded publishers that this was the next biggest fad in doing Church. Therefore, much of Christianity was fooled into thinking that the Emergent/Emerging movement was much larger than the tiny little group that it was and is. Furthermore, several of these churches have already died. Some of the churches highlighted in Bolger and Gibb’s “Emerging Churches,” (which became the standard reading for those desiring more post-modern or Emerging), no longer exist. Interesting that when churches stray from the gospel and the multiplying task of making disciples, growth doesn’t isn’t sustained over the long haul.

One reason I have a burden to get back to Jewish Roots is that originally, Judaism was a faith about the Book. So much nonsense occurs because many groups have gone to anything BUT the book. The Bible is used ritually in readings, but deep Bible study with some objective hermeneutics is out of vogue.

The OT is filled with rituals we can study, and some we can even occasionally duplicate in some manner (e.g., a Passover Seder). We need to exploit that to offer a Biblically literate alternative. Our faith goes back BEFORE Jesus, yet even many advanced Christians know little about that reality.

"The Midrash Detective"