Years ago, it was said that postmodernism would take hold of the church in a big way especially in the United States by eschewing the foundation of Truth, as we understand it as Christians, and creating a sort of fragmented chaos of sorts in Christianity as a result which would then trickle into various facets of life and the world around in time. However, today, in the Academy (short form for academic institutions of higher learning, i.e. seminaries/divinity schools/universities) there is an active consciousness in regards to postmodernity and efforts have been taken in light of prior forewarnings to remedy the potential problems a postmodern culture faces. These have come in the form, in evangelical schools and through scholars, of subscribing to a set of values or beliefs, and by a variety of publications and lectures.
Likewise, the church (and when I use the term I refer specifically to evangelical Christianity on the whole and no one individual local manifestation) has preached by way of the pulpit the dangers of postmodernity and sought to battle the potential dangers by strengthening the structure of churches through going back to church discipline and returning to doctrine.
However, in light of the efforts of both the Academy and the Church at battling the dangers of postmodernity, I believe the potential dangers of postmodernity have rather become endemic to both in a very real way.
Now, seminaries used to not exist, and by not exist I mean that they were unnecessary because the academic content and instruction in the Bible was through the local church and in the home, jointly. Seminaries were not meant to keep churches from instructing Christians in the Bible or from families discipling children, however, eventually churches began to rely solely on seminaries to train Christians in the Bible and families began looking to churches to disciple their children. The problem is, many churches had relegated discipleship to information download as opposed to helping Christians to live out the Gospel in all of life and showing what it means to do so.
Naturally, if discipleship had become information download, than what better means of information download than seminary. If someone presents a genuine interest in growing in the things of God, then perhaps they are called to serve in vocational ministry? The issue here lies in the implication which is those who do not show an extraordinary interest in the Bible are not called to serve in vocational ministry and then, do not really need to be discipled since discipleship has become a specialized program. The result is discipleship has been largely lost in many churches. Granted, there are remnants of programs that have been in place to promote discipleship, however, they are not seen as a means of grace and growing in knowledge of God through His Word and learning how to share that knowledge with others while killing sin and walking in holiness. They are viewed as ends in themselves and connections to a bygone era.
Many churches have realized this and tried to combat this with small groups or community groups, however, the effects of this are being felt in multiple generations of believers who have been in a church building and a family, but have not experienced discipleship. In addition to this, you have evangelical Christians continuing to form nondenominational churches with the basis being an anathema, oddly enough, to the fragmentation of the Church through denominationalism. However, the reality is that these nondenominational churches cannot for whatever reason subscribe to a set of beliefs anymore that others hold and that they once did as well. So, they’ve flown the coop in hopes of creating something better while not affirming denominations because of the divisions simultaneously creating more divisions.
Then, to further muddy the waters, you have a number of evangelicals across the board who have begun to give credence to a number of moral and theological stances that they never would have before. The surface excuse is that culture seems to affirm some things and in order to better appeal to culture we ought to show leniency on some issues as well. So, gay marriage was once wrong, and now is becoming more and more affirmed by evangelicals. Hell was once real and believed as the Bible states, but more are denying it’s existence as well as punishment on the whole in favor of a more loving reality, perhaps a reality closer to a John Lennon-esque peace and love as much of the worldly culture boasts. Ultimately, a number of evangelicals have begun to question and discard pieces of Scripture, and reality is although many would not go so far as to say is this… they have stopped being evangelicals and become something quite different.
Some might object to my statement and ask, “Well, what constitutes an evangelical?,” and that is precisely my point. Postmodernity has crept into churches even with great preaching figures preaching it’s dangers and attempts to safeguard. Why else would the majority of Christian literature today feel such a need to redefine such common understandings like the church, the Gospel, Jesus, etc.?
I know, I haven’t entirely proven my point just yet, but there’s more. The Church is still tied in a way to the Academy. It used to be that those in churches who have grown in their faith and matured and have shown to be leaders in those churches and gifted particularly for ministry with certain spiritual gifts would then be recommended for seminary and enter seminary with the purpose of going into some facet of ministry such as pastoral or missionary. However, today, people go to seminary not really knowing why they are there to begin with. Perhaps someone noticed they seemed to ask a question about the Bible and they thought they had an extraordinary desire for biblical knowledge, so they recommended them for seminary. This has happened to many, and as a result you have a great number of people going to seminary who cannot say why they are there to begin with except that it seems that seminary has become the place where it is safe to ask questions about God and the Bible and to further understand who you are as a human being and possibly gather, if you are so fortunate, what it is you would like to do with your life. Now, evangelical seminaries have been on-guard against liberalism and some postmodern dangers which they have used strict confessions of faith and scholarly writings to make known the dangers and affirm biblical faith in God.
However, postmodernity, not unlike it has been said in the movie Jurassic Park “nature finds a way,” has crept into the Academy as well. With desires for knowledge outweighing a desire to grow deeper in Christ and to better serve the church, many have had difficulty holding to the teaching of scholars in evangelical tradition and have gone anywhere else they could to feed their hunger for knowledge. Some have gone to secular philosophy while others have gone to other religions entirely. Yet, some have gone to different church traditions, perhaps the majority, have gone from one tradition to the next in order to better understand where they personally “fit.” A similar version to this exists in many churches today as well and is known as “church shopping” or “church hopping,” not sure which is proper.
(This post is part 1 of 2, for Part 2 you may click here. Also, I just want to clarify that my goal is not to create an atmosphere of fear-mongering here, there’s enough of that in the world and especially the blog world. I do hope to cause us to think more critically about why we no longer seem to hold to some things and how this has affected the Academy and the Church, that’s all.)