Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Our Predicament

I began my interest in this topic a couple of years ago, when I became interested in the phenomenon of Burning Man. I wrote a series of posts about it, including the perspective of one Evangelical pastor that has been to that festival several times. The final post in the series was to be my own reactions to BM in light of my own understaning of Chrsitianity. Well, I started following ideas about modern culture, postmodernity, the emerging church, and well, here we are. In many ways, the whole direction of this blog is a follow on to those posts -- an attempt to understand the current predicament we are in when trying to minister to others.

In my opinion, one of the realities that a minister must face is that we continue to live in a time of fundamental change and uncertainty. During much of the 20th Century, we experienced the consequences of the gradual collapse of “modernity” – the ideas and structures born of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution that are the foundation of the way we have all lived, at least here in the Western or European cultural world. Our “postmodern” predicament is that we seem to have no general replacements or successors for these ideas, with the result that we seem to be in a kind of “waiting room” between eras. We aren’t sure we know where we are going, but we do know we are going there faster and faster – and we do not trust those who offer directions.

Vocabulary is one problem when assessing this situation. The word “postmodern” has taken on many meanings, ranging from literary criticism to architecture to philosophy. The reaction of some to our current predicament, our uncertainty, is to say that there is not and has never been any certainty, only opinion and the attempt to impose these opinions on others by various means. The proper subject of philosophy or artistic criticism is no longer an examination of ultimate truth or beauty, but only of how we use language, and reuse images and symbols. This is an overly simplistic, but not entirely inaccurate way of describing the ideas of some of the best known “postmodern” theorists, such as Lyotard , Derrida and Foucault . We need to carefully distinguish between:

  • their assessment of the current state of our society, which can be uniquely insightful, and
  • their prescriptions for dealing with the challenges that our changing society presents us, which are often completely inconsistent with Christian experience and belief.
To use a medical analogy, while their diagnosis may be correct, we may not trust the treatment they prescribe. What we should concentrate on is not postmodernism, whether in music, art, or critical theory, but postmodernity, the predicament of living in a modern world in the middle of becoming something else.

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