Anything to do with society and culture can get very complicated very quickly. With big words and sweeping philosophical statements that perhaps don’t mean a lot to those in the real world. In reality, it is just us trying to understand ourselves as we try to understand the world. If we are to be effective in evangelising and discipling a generation we must understand how they think and what conditions they have grown up in. Not to become OF the world or just IN it but IN it with an UNDERSTANDING of it. That’s what makes us effective. This is not to change our message to fit the culture but be educated enough to understand how to communicate the same message to today’s world.
So what is ‘Postmodernism’? I think Postmodernity is characterised by its strong link to Modernism. Its very name is not something new but simply defined by what it has come after. Post-Modern or After Modernism. It is not a new way of thinking but rather a rebellion of a previous way of viewing the world. Modernism, heavily linked to things like the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, focused on concrete physical evidence. What could be measured accurately, tested or scientifically proven. Even art became about the most accurate likeness of our reality. On a larger scale, however, it believed in an explanation that would provide solutions for all problems.
Postmodernism started to form around the 1960’s. It was founded on a critical, even skeptical, approach to our modern understanding of the world and challenged the established beliefs. At its heart it rejects the notion of an explanation providing all the answers. It refuses statements that are valid or true for all groups of people. It would suggest that truth is personal and relative to each individual. The problem with relative truth is that in Postmodernism anyone who claims to have THE truth, like Jesus is the only way to Heaven, must be intolerant of others beliefs. It also requires someone to be wrong, not something that is possible if all truth is founded through our personal understanding and experience of the world. It relies heavily on experience and would generally dismiss any kind of higher or external law, standard or deity. Belief is no longer connected with truth but simply opinion or feeling. It is my own interpretation of reality that is true for me.
You may be thinking this doesn’t sound very hopeful but I would disagree. I believe a post-modern world not only needs, but is more ready to hear about Jesus. We must, however, know how to reach it.
The understanding of our culture is of upmost importance if we are to influence it for the Kingdom. The most successful overseas missionaries would spend years understanding the culture they wished to bring the gospel message to. There’s no difference with mission at home. Same commission, same call, same Kingdom, same King. However, rather than understanding inland China in the late 1900’s we are hoping to understand Britain’s young people in the 21st century. The need for sensitivity, understanding, listening and adaption are the same. The practice, very different…
How this all lands will be different depending on age, region, upbringing and demographic of your area. Something impossible to sum up in a short resource. There are however some aspects of Postmodernism (PM) that, if understood, can be used for reaching those we desire to see walk with the Lord.
Firstly, though, I would encourage you to become a brilliant listener. If all things are now relative to an individual we must take the time to understand how ‘they’ (the person in font of you) view the world. One characteristic of PM is that it makes you think about what you believe. You are less likely to find people regurgitating an answer they don’t really believe, just because they think it is the correct answer. If we take the time to listen we can begin to understand what they truly believe. Often time they are just hungry to believe in something. This gospel of ours is always counter-cultural in some respect. It must be hard to find a purpose (one thing most young people long for) in a world where there is nothing to fight for but just subjective realities. We offer, security and a cause. The greatest cause on earth, being part of the call to tell the world they matter and there’s a creator that gave everything to get to know them.
That being said we must be careful how much we claim to know what is true. If we do not acknowledge the things we do not know we are in danger of losing the respect of the people we long to serve. Or worse, set them on a course that leads to nothing but disappointment. While we build our lives on the truth of who God is and what He has done for us we do not have all the answers. Nor is our theological viewpoint true. We all have elements of the truth but not everything. This is a fine line to walk but I believe that accepting this will unlock peoples hearts. The foundations of our faith are the same, Jesus is the only way to God. But our expressions of that differ greatly. Therefore a PM understanding that my truth is not your truth does make some sense… Because your view of Jesus is not my view of Jesus. He is the same man but the way we have come to know him or our preference or need has determined what part of his character we are drawn to. Therefore we are not trying to teach someone about our understanding of Jesus but to introduce them to the Jesus THEY need.
Discipleship can bring about a rounded view of Jesus but he never had a problem being the man that someone who was lost needed him to be. He was perhaps less accommodating to the religious leaders.
Finally PM has great value for experience. While walking with God requires more than experiences to be sustainable, it is not a bad place to start. If there is a generation looking for an experience, we have a God who loves to meet with his people. We can grow in maturity to become steadfast in our faith but we must not despise the beginnings. It is encounters with the living God which truly changes us, let’s not be afraid of that. The gospels are full of people who were desperate to just ‘get to Jesus’ or ‘touch his robe’. We should be too.
REFLECTION & LEARNING
If you are interested there are loads of books and articles on the internet about society, philosophy and culture but the heart of reaching a Postmodern world is listening. Something Jesus did beautifully. He always understood his audience. He very rarely told them what to think but rather challenged them on how to think. Our truth is not a set of beliefs, it is a person. Jesus.
Listen. Share. Listen. Love.
Just get involved. Ask the young people you’re working with what they think. It may take a while for them to trust you but if you can show that you genuinely care, they’ll begin to open up. They might see things very differently to you, that’s okay.
-The Christ we Share, CMS resource. Great for looking at how different cultures portray the same Jesus. http://cms-shop.org.uk/p/8788919/the-christ-we-share.html
-Google “Postmodernism” – plenty of articles and definitions. Find more specific influences on Arts, Culture, Business, Science.
-Postmodernism and the uniqueness of Christ, Marcus Honeysett – Probably the best and simplest synopsis of Postmodernism with links to how it impacts Christians. Great piece. http://www.bethinking.org/jesus/postmodernism-and-the-uniqueness-of-christ
-Gospels – Read how Jesus interacted with people, told stories, listened and related.
Peter is passionate about seeing the church equipped to engage with culture and society on every level. He desires to see that new technology and social media are used effectively to change the world, advance the kingdom of Heaven and represent Jesus well in all we do. All this with the goal of seeing people encounter Jesus and learn to live in the freedom of their identity in Him. He is married to Ellen and is currently enjoying ABBA on vinyl.