Thursday, April 02, 2009

Postmodernism and Emerging Christianity. Part 1

The April edition of “Christianity” magazine has article on Emerging church (Another article contains an interview with Brian McLaren de-facto leader of the emerging movement, which I’ll look at in Part 2)

The article is by American emerging church theologian Scot McKnight. He lists five themes that characterize the emerging movement

1. Prophetic Language: Provocative use of hyperbole and exaggeration in order to provoke an engagement with an issue. McKnight claims this usage has Biblical authority.

Comment: Yes. Common language is an informal system that is a product of the fuzzy logic of that reactive and highly motivated association machine we call the human mind. It is clear then, that language is not merely a tool for couching formal propositional systems and/or a medium for the transmission and passive imbibing of information. Language is a cognitive toolbox that doesn’t just contain tools for measuring, recording, and transmission, but also for prompting motivated reactions.

2. Postmodern: McKnight says “Postmodernity cannot be reduced to the denial of truth. Indeed, it is the collapse of inherited metanarratives (overarching explanations of life) like those of science and Marxism. Why have they collapsed? Because of the impossibility of getting outside their assumptions”

Comment: Yes. The aficionados of certain metanaratives may effectively impose a cognitive hegemony by either failing to recognize or consciously opposing “meta-metanarratives”; they feel ill at ease if their metanarrative is scrutinized by a higher level meta-metanarrative and will either ignore it (mostly) or if they are of stenner stuff will try to annex it into their own narrative.

3. Praxis-Oriented: In search for authenticity of worship and fellowship, emerging churches have tried to move away from the pulpit centred churches of the traditional evangelicals and the huge worship platforms of the charismatic personality cults. In their experimental search for new expressive forms of worship emerging Christians have started raiding the past for its liturgical, meditative and ritualistic worship elements.

Comment: I’m not a bells and smells man myself but this emerging reaction is a healthy challenge to the implicit and unconscious assumptions of traditional EPC Christians (EPC = evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic) who need to start seeing their movement in an historical perspective.

4. Post-evangelical: McKnight says: “The emerging movement is a protest against much of evangelicalism as currently practiced… the church must always be reforming itself”. But “The vast majority of emerging Christians are evangelical theologically”. “God didn’t reveal a systematic theology but a storied narrative…” “..the emerging church loves ideas and theology. It just doesn’t have an airtight system or statement of faith”

Comment: McKnight has taken the words right out of my mouth. But I would like to add that in my limited experience a large number of emerging church Christians are disillusioned charismatics.

5. Political: McKnight says: “In the US they [Emerging Christians] are Democrats. And that spells “post” for conservative-evangelical-politics-as-usual”. “I lean left in politics” “…centralizing government for social justice is what I think government should do”.

Comment: Yes, that can’t be bad (if he is talking about accountable central government.) But McKnight warns against the adoption of the social gospel at the expense of the spiritual gospel.

Final Comments: On balance I don’t find McKnight’s views untoward. McKnight says “What attracts me is [emerging church’s] soft postmodernism (or critical realism)” Yes. Although the anti-foundationalism of extreme postmodernism leads to a confused relativism, soft postmodernism acknowledges that the logic of life is far more fuzzy and problematic than many a toy-town theorist allows. Soft-postmodernism is self humbling and that can’t be bad.

Summing up McKnight says “All in all it is unlikely that the emerging movement will disappear anytime soon. If I were a prophet, I’d say that it will influence most of evangelicalism in its chastened epistemology (if it hasn’t already)…” I would like to think that McKnight is right about the influence toward a chastened epistemology, but frankly I haven’t seen much sign of this amongst unself-critical EPC Christians; the latter are still by and large living in spiritual cloud cuckoo land. Like many an atheist materialist they seldom venture beyond the bars of their epistemological play pens and ignore large chunks of challenging experience and narrative. And not only that; sometimes their cultures explicitly prohibit an engagement with the outside world.

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