(Based on A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren; Chapter 2)
[BTW, I’m listening to The Suburbs in honor of Arcade Fire’s victory over the establishment last night (or, I’m in mourning of Arcade Fire’s now-inevitable becoming part of the establishment, depending on how cynical my mood is) as I am typing. So if this post begins to sound angst-ridden, sleep-deprived, or somewhat tortured, you know why.
Oh, I also presently live about 10 miles away from the town that I believe is much of the inspiration for the album—The Woodlands in Texas. I like playing the album when I drive through…esp. the song “Half Light II.”
Related reward waiting at the end of this post.
Okay, as you were.]
The sense that McLaren has, as well as many others, that a “new conversation” is necessary—that something has monumentally changed in our world that might actually present an opportunity to the church, although the church treats the world like it’s a threat—might illicit a number of questions/responses from those new to the idea.
Even though I’ve been in this “new conversation” for over six years now, I found myself “re-asking” myself many of these questions as I read A New Kind of Christianity (ANKC). Here are a few, for which I try to offer some responses as well:
Is “postmodernity” really such a monumental change? Isn’t the world always changing? It’s not so much that the world is changing, but that the world is changing so fast, and has such a broad impact. I don’t think this is a huge topic of debate.
The bigger question here is whether or not we are actually moving away from modernity…. or just into another form of modernity. I do think we are moving into something new, although we still very much live in a “modern” world.
It’s important to note, as McLaren does, that “postmodernity” doesn’t mean a complete rejection of all things modern (we can still find science, technology, and democracy valuable, for example [even though we may not consider these things as inherently good!])—in fact, we can never “go back” to the “pre-modern” days. However, I’d say that postmodernity allows us to be more accepting of the wisdom of the pre-modern ages, and to not automatically assume that modern is better than post-modern (Example: philosophers are today looking to reclaim Aristotle and his virtue ethics).
Why should Christianity embrace postmodernity? –Well, it’s not about “embracing” a “movement” or anything…. but the Christian faith needs to begin to dialogue with the culture, instead of running from it. If churches claim absolute truth, assurance, easy answers to complicated problems, and promote individualism, they are at risk of irrelevancy.
But it’s even more than just being heard or accepted….. the church needs to ask the questions that the postmodern world has made possible, because there’s something to these questions. Answering these questions (not just in opposition to them, but actually submitting our faith to the fire) might actually temper it and make it stronger [or are we afraid that the fire will burn it up? Is the issue that our faith is too weak to ask questions about it?].
Isn’t Christianity an established institution? Wouldn’t that make it antithetical to postmodern thought? Isn’t postmodernity inherently “anti-religion”? Again, I’d argue no. Christianity has become “institutionalized,” but that doesn’t make faith something that requires institution to survive. [It does, in an important sense, “require” community, which requires organization…but that’s another discussion.] In fact, my understanding is that it was the modern world is hostile to faith…. and that (esp. Protestant) Christianity in its contemporary forms developed in reaction to this threat… and in doing so became “modernized” themselves (they are focused on the individual, the “provable,” the transactional, the simplified, etc….). The postmodern world, on the other hand, is VERY interested in spirituality, even if “postmoderns” are suspicious of “religion” (particularly its ties to power).
But shouldn’t Christianity influence culture, and not the other way around? This is a difficult question to answer— and it’s the one that might be the most troubling for some Christians. The simple response is that the Christianity that we now possess is NOT a pure Christianity!…. It is, depending on your background, a modernized version of Christianity… and while that hasn’t been all bad, it has skewed our perception and has made faith untenable for many. Until you begin to see that, the idea that we should change something, or ask new questions, will be an impossible one to grasp.
The fact is, there is no “pure Christianity.” Such a thing is inaccessible (and perhaps not even desirable!). That’s part of what postmodernity has taught us. Everything is interpreted. That doesn’t mean we throw everything out the window— but it does mean we take a wider-angle lens at the world, and hold our beliefs with more humility and a genuine willingness to change if need be.
Ahh…. pure Christianity. Refreshingly nonexistent.
Isn’t all the “new Christianity” talk a little problematic? What makes us so special? The truth is, Christians were asking many of the same questions as McLaren and others about faith decades, and even centuries, ago. And the church has always had reform movements among the fold, usually along its fringes. We could argue that the Reformation wasn’t anything new either—John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, the Brethren of the Common Life in the Netherlands, Erasmus, the Franciscans, etc. etc. all made many of the same claims and issued many similar concerns as Martin Luther. Similarly, the social justice “movement,” the ecumenical “movement,” the missional church “movement,” “new monasticism,” etc. etc… have all been a part of the ebb and flow of question-asking and reform-making over the past century in the church—and today these “movements” are showing greater continuity and expression, flowing together into a wide, momentous stream that has begun to shape and captivate churches nationwide and worldwide.
So, no, we’re not special…. but if we fail to run with the ball that we’ve been passed, we’d be unfaithful.
[And now, your reward:]
click on the link:
a short film based on Arcade Fire’s song “The Suburbs,” directed by Spike Jonze.
from last year’s web concert… two of the best songs from their first album. Some profanity at the beginning.