Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Postmodernism - A Plague?



Because of a recommendation of a friend I have decided to dive into a book that has collected dust on my shelf for a while. It is one that was required in Seminary, so I bought it. I probably referenced it but I never truly read it. I have decided to take my time and digest this book now. It is Marva J. Dawn's A Royal "Waste of Time; The Splendor of Worshipping God and Being Church for the World.


I am not a fast reader (thus why I never read this book in seminary) so it will take me a while. It is not a quick read like Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows was. I have though already enjoyed some of her take on the current climate of the culture. This book was published in 1999 so a lot has changed in the world and this is a follow up book to her Reaching Out without Dumbing Down (which I have not read either). Dawn in the first chapters is laying the ground work of defining the current culture, postmodernism. Then she will be framing who the church can be Church in light of this culture.


What has intrigued me is the definition of postmodern and the way of thinking it exudes. I have heard this term tossed around quite a bit, especially at Duke while I was there. I understood that we live in a postmodern culture but never could put into words. Dawn does a good job doing that thus far in her book and I am beginning to see the walls of postmodernism that surrounds my current life and lifestyle.


In the 4th chapter she labels the movement to postmodernism. He uses three themes in each eras of thinking to prove her point. In the premodern world the culture flowed around the supernatural (theme A), authorities (theme B) and absolute (theme C) [p.41]. To sum up an example. In those times everyone believed in a god or gods (A) and those who were in charge of the knowledge were seen as authorities of the culture (B), which I take as prophets, priests and so forth. Then these "agents of truth" communicated with the people as the god(s) speaker and gave truth which was seen as absolutes (C).


When we got to the Enlightenment age science and reason started to change the cultures perspective on matters. The supernatural turned into the natural (A). The authorities were pushed away and individual autonomy (B) came to the forefront. This lead the culture away from absolutes and into the idea of everything being relative (C) [p.42]. This meant that religion wasn't seen as powerful any more. The wind was blown out of the sails of the Church because science would explain things and people could reason for themselves and God was becoming less important and needed.


Then we entered the postmodern age. In this age we decided that after debunking religion that science could be debunked too. Everything started to be up for grabs now. The natural world was attacked by deconstruction (A). This leaves people without any type of meaning in life. People trusting themselves, autonomy, turned into decentering (B). And the power of relative thinking transformed into repudiation of any Truth (C) [43-44]. Now people of Generation X and younger are whirling around without purpose and without claims to a universal story. They, rather WE, try to find purpose in what the culture tells us to find purpose in, consumerism, entertainment, and whatever else we can find that makes us feel good about our selves.


I have felt for a while now that this is all true. I remember getting into a conversation with my youth at my past appointment about the definition of the temptation. I defined it is as anything that leads us to do something wrong. The seniors in the group argued that temptation can be a good thing. One can be tempted to do something good. They gave me the example of they could be tempted to pray in school. I tried to convince them, unsuccessfully, that their example used the word temptation in the wrong context. I tried to show proof to them by showing them the definition in a dictionary, but then they came back with well that is how 'the man' wants us to define that word.


That Sunday's conversation has stuck with me for a while now and in light of Dawn's description of our evolution into postmodernity I can explain their thinking. In their education they have been taught to think in postmodern terms. It was good for them to question authorities like the dictionary because they don't necessary have everything right (A). The youth were happy to have this idea of decentering (B) in the middle of their lives. They didn't care they couldn't trust any one's ideas, their own or those of modern society (i.e. the creators of the dictionary). These ideas meshed into a horrible conversation that went no where. It ended up going to the parking lot where their parents backed their position. It was sad to see that a simple definition that, to all the youth leaders was true, was being knocked out and dragged through the mud because it was seen as "from the man", which is the idea in (C).

While Dawn is starting to place names to my struggles at that youth fellowship night and some of the other battles in my own mind and soul, it will be interesting to see how she says we can transform worship into a place where the Church can offer answers to A, B, and C.

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