Friday, December 12, 2003

Post-modernity Gasping for Last Breath

Chuck Colson wrote a recent article in Christianity Today called The Postmodern Crackup.

Here are the last two paragraphs:

... just as there seem to be encouraging signs in the culture, there are also signs that the church is dumbing down, moving from a Word-driven message to an image- and emotion-driven message (note how many Christian radio stations have recently converted from talk and preaching to all music).

It would be the supreme irony—and a terrible tragedy—if we found ourselves slipping into postmodernity just when the broader culture has figured out it's a dead end.

Brian McLaren has written an open letter back to Chuck Colson.

I haven't thoroughly read McLaren's response (it is 8 to 10 times longer than Colson's article), but I have skimmed it, which is entirely inadequate. But here are a couple paragraphs near the end:

Years ago, a colleague of yours was asked about postmodern thought. He replied that it should be opposed at all costs. When asked why, he replied, “Because it destroys our apologetic.” I thought about him, then, and you, now, the same way: “Thank God he’s over 55. He can afford to think the postmodern culture can be opposed. He can afford to stick with the status quo apologetic.” But for those of us who are either younger or more engaged with the true issues of postmodernity (in which sense was I using the word true in the previous clause?), we can’t afford that luxury.

The postmodern culture is the world in which many of us live and work and minister, sharing the good news and following the good ways of Jesus Christ. The old modern apologetic simply doesn’t work for us, or our children, or their friends. It’s not just that it doesn’t work: I’m not just being pragmatic. The modern apologetic doesn’t even address the questions that are being raised. So for us, the hard questions raised by real, thoughtful postmodern people (not the cartoon caricatures you present in this column) require good answers, and those answers require better, deeper, more careful, less simplistic thinking than you provided in your column, or in your other writings I have read on this subject, as good as they are in many other ways.

You may find a thousand flaws in my thinking, Chuck, but I hope you’ll give these matters a second thought, and I hope you’ll pray for me and others rather than portraying all “postmoderns” as cartoons, because with all our flaws, at least we’re trying to deal with a world you apparently don’t understand and hope is just going to crack up and go away. If it doesn’t crack up and go away, you’ll be glad some of us took it more seriously and engaged it more thoughtfully for the sake of the gospel.

This issue concerns me deeply. I am somewhat afraid that an uncrossable chasm is going to appear between me and some of my colleagues. Colson has just painted away the work of Brian McLaren and Len Sweet with an easy stroke of his pen. Because the culture is moving back to understanding morality, Colson can only figure that it is because the culture has realized he is right. I don't think so.

I don't want to be cold about this. And I don't want to be overconfident. A lot is at stake, including many ministry relationships that I hold dear. This is going to require some processing.

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