Church Education Trust

Intro P.002

1.1 Dissertation Challenges.                                                                      

This dissertation will discuss the challenges of the post modern culture into which Saddleback Church was born.  The development of the Church Growth Movement, the growth of the Mega Church Movement and the subsequent emergence of Saddleback as a community church with international influence.

             Warren’s distinct spiritual experiences, doctrinal beliefs, five New Testament principles and a devised and suitable process, will also merit investigation. The significant use of the social sciences which influenced the life and ministry of the CGM, the MCM and Rick Warren’s ministry will be researched.

             The power of post modernity’s influence on the development of Saddleback’s ecclesiological and missiological beliefs will also be examined.  Finally a section on challenges, conclusions and concerns will offer an assessment of the Purpose Driven Church Movement and its potential impact not only for the present but also for the future developing church.

             While the USA is driven like the rest of the West by the power of post modernity and other cultural influences, it is into that environment that Rick Warren has been called by God to minister.  What are those post modern influences with which Warren had to cope with? 

1.2 The Church that post modernity built.  

              Saddleback’s development as a megachurch is seen as a consequence of a driving cultural influence which is recognised by the term “post-modernity”.The word “modern” could be used as a description for many different periods in world history and any definition of “modernity” must be seen in its context as it brings significance and societal changes, affecting the life and beliefs of any given people group.  

              The birth of the “Enlightenment” of the 18th century in Europe has had an evolutionary influence on modern American culture which is at the very heart of the decline and growth of the modern American church. Because of the complexity of cultural development and significant philosophical changes in nations’ ideologies, it is necessary to include a brief survey of modernity and post modernity indicating some of the challenges and changes that American culture has undergone.

1.3 Modernity, a living culture.                

              Modernity as a philosophical concept has given birth to the rise of nation states and the growth of tolerance, as political and social belief systems introduced “industrialisation”, “capitalism”, “socialism”, “discovery and colonization” of the non Western world.

             With it came representative democracy, the increasing role of science and technology in society, urbanization, literacy, the growth of the mass media with its tremendous potential to communicate ideas, the emergence of the social sciences, anthropology, romanticism, existentialism, naturalism and approaches to art and description.

             The development of post modern thought has greatly influenced geology, biology, politics and the social sciences. Modern Psychology found its birth place in modernism; it brought with it emancipation and then the disenfranchisement of religious thought and practice.

           “Rationalization” introduced the development of reasonable and logical systems of objectivity which were developed through theory and data; “secularisation” secured the loss of religious influence and belief in society, while “alienation” has achieved the isolation of the individual from meaningful systems such as family, work and religion. 

          “Commodity based” societies valued everything in terms of monetary gain. “De-contextualisation” removed social practices, beliefs and cultural objects from their local cultures of origin, while “individualism” placed pressures on people, as opposed to structures which cement families, church and other group dynamics. 

          “Nationalism” reflected the rise of modern nation states led by centralised government moving away from ethnic, tribal and family government; “urbanisation”, which is the movement of people, moved cultural centres and political influence to large and often totally impersonal cities.

         “Subjectivism” is the personal dynamic of evaluating truth and meaning as it relates to personal circumstances and practices.On the other hand, “objectivism” introduced the belief that truth can be established by information accessible to all, while “universalism” gave a global outlet to all new ideas and claims on society.

        “Reductionism”, on the other hand, was the belief that anything can be known by analysing the sum total of the whole and through a close inspection of all its relevant parts: mass society gathered together by the mass media, industrialisation formed and joined together by the production of and distribution of goods and services, democratization, a political system characterised by free elections, judiciaries, rule of law and the respect for basic human rights, and so the list goes on.

         Numerous attempts, particularly in the area of sociology, have been made to understand modernity and many terms have been coined to try and describe society, social life, or some other defining aspects of human relationships resulting from it; but “modernity” is an umbrella word describing changes to the world in terms of a developing universal cultural approach to life and relationships.

         Many of modernity’s inherent characteristics are included here, not for deep discussion but as a background to the development of the American Society, the Church Growth Movement, Mega Church Movement and Saddleback Church. It will be argued that modernity has had a significant influence on the development of these movements and the culture to which they belong.

       The power of modernity and its collective influences must never be underestimated; to do so is to totally misunderstand the world we live in and in so doing become as a church not only irrelevant but the instigator of the process of church decline itself. All of these philosophical reflections of core meanings of modernity are but a fraction of the sum total meaning of the term; many more meanings and characteristics could be added to the list.

[1] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism, London, Rider, 2004, 226.

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