Church Education Trust

Intro P.003

1.4 Modernity’s evolutionary change, birthing Post Modernity.                     

The journey from modernity to post modernity is difficult to trace but in general globalisation and modernisation are the keys to the flow of its powerful influence. As societies began to realise that modernity had not become the modern day rational saviour, post modern thought introduced a new and world influencing philosophy bringing cohesion to world rational thought and subsequent relationships.

                Many of modernity’s principal concepts had to give way to the development of post modernity. One of the greatest driving principles of modernity was the idea that a totality and unity of meaning and purpose could be salvaged for the development of the world.  The idea that the world could be known, defined and understood through a process of rational and scientific enquiry had failed.                

                Post Modernity taught convincingly that this idealism was unrealistic, unworkable and unacceptable and because of its divisive nature modernism was seen to encourage intolerance and lack of respect for difference in others. Post Modernism loosened the dictatorial grip of modernism on societies by insisting that a variety of rationalities existed; the outcome was the belief that there were numerous and acceptable interpretations of truth and practice.

                  Os Guinness remarks:Where modernism was a manifesto of human self confidence and self congratulations, post modernism is a confession of modesty, if not despair. There is no truth, only truths. There is no grand reason, only reasons. There is no privileged civilisation (or culture, belief, norm and style); only a multiplicity of cultures, beliefs, norms and styles.

                  There is no universal justice; only interests and the competition of interests groups. There is no grand narrative of human progress; only countless stories where peopleand their cultures are now. There is no simple reality or any grand objectivity of universal, detached knowledge; only a ceaseless representation of everything in terms of everything else. [1]

               Post modernity is therefore the acceptance of all of the units making up the whole which cannot be seen or known, and all of those individual units making up the whole which cannot be known are in fact the sum total of reality.  

              While there is no universal agreement of definitions for post modernity, all of these facets of post modernity apply to the development of society in general. It is necessary to look at the relationship which the church has to post modernity, trying to understand the nature of the relationship one with the other and the context into which Saddleback was born.

1.5 The church and post modernity’s cultural influences: Friend or Foe?

                        American Christianity, like any other, must adjust itself contextually if it is to have a positive influence on its new and evolving culture.  There is tension and conflict mostly with particular non-Christian interpretations of post modernity within the church.

                       Over the past three hundred years problems driven by liberal, fundamentalist theology and historical divisions between church and science and social-scientific accounts of the nature of the world have caused great challenges and conflict, as the church tried to find its place in the modern world driven by non-theistic world views. 

                       Historically the last 40 years have seen challenges which arose reflecting the relationship of Christian theology and modern thought, and it is evident that in this short period of time the church had to come to terms with a post modern society’s rapidly changing understanding of itself and its world.                    

                       Sociologically the church always seems to be dealing with the negative effects of post modern phenomena, particularly in its battle with secularisation which leaves little place for religious belief to exist, but having said that, the American church is still numerically very strong and in general religiously vibrant.                     

                      The post modern problems were not just American problems; they were very much a Western problem.  As theologians grappled with the significance of modernity and post modernity Geffré and Jossua comment:Modernity and post modernity have become key words in a debate characteristic of the end of the century. (20th Century)

                      As could have been foreseen, this debate is of immediate relevance to the very destiny of Christianity in a contemporary world. What is at stake is no less than the future of Christianity in a society undergoing a change from modernity, a change described by the extremely problematic expression post modernity. The debate is not only historical or sociological; it is also specifically theological.[2]                      

                      If Geffré and Jossua are correct in their interpretation of the meeting of modernity and Christianity and subsequently the future of Christianity in society, then the church must deal with these issues by looking to reform itself, as it tries to be relevant in a post modern world.  The Church Growth Movement of the 20th century made a distinct and vital contribution to the debate and especially the relationship of church to culture.                  

                     Theological histories tend to accept modernity as a distinct era of Church history finding its beginnings somewhere around the enlightenment period.  There is a clear understanding within theological circles that modernity exists in tension or in conflict with Christianity but most assuredly they exist outside of each other.  It will be argued that Saddleback evolved an integrationist philosophy which seemed to allow for cohabitation of church and culture.

                  Theologians from various backgrounds have had much to say about the relationship of Modernity and Christianity. Pannenberg[3] suggests that the church must learn to deal theologically with “the cultural tendencies of Modernity”. Berkhof, [4] as he develops his systematic theology, looks at the longevity of the relationship between the gospel of Jesus Christ and the development of modern thought.

                 While he sees great inconsistencies with modern thought, he declines to accept the church’s position of refusing to engage with post modernity. Alister McGrath gives meaning to modernity by suggesting it is,a quite definite outlook, typical of much of western thought since the early eighteen century, which is characterised by a confidence in humanity’s ability to think for itself.[5]                   

                  McGrath was interested in historical investigation whereby he traced the impact that post modernity in the form of modern thought has had on Christian thought. This approach is necessary for the church to communicate in a post modern world with any real level of relevancy. The Roman Catholic theologian Kolesnyk rejected and even dammed modern thought, modern thinkers, modern movements and the various developments of modern society and modern times.[6]                    These comments may seem like the thoughts of a theologian of the 19th century but in fact they have been recorded in 2002.  Post modernity has in general been classified by theologians of the past as merely a new outlook, a way of thinking, new cultural tendencies but surely post modernity is much more than that.  

                        Many theologians see post modernity as something that Christianity must come to terms with, as opposed to seeing it only as some kind of irritant. Historically Geffré and Jossua suggest:The best known version of the relationship between Christianity and modernity is the view that they are mutually exclusive.

                        Western Christianity sought to be resolutely anti-modern where it felt that the enlightenment reason had undermined the authority of revelation and the tradition and where advent of democratic societies was a direct challenge to the hierarchical principle of the church as a society.[7]  

                 Whichever way one looks at post modernity, Christianity is considered in general to be a victim of it.  While critics of religion would argue that post modernity does not necessarily lead to the decline of the church in particular and religion in general, it certainly does not help it.  

                While theologians tend to present the same picture of post modernity in its relationship with Christianity, the social sciences paint a different picture simply because of the dominance of secularism in their thought forms.  The social sciences understand Christianity’s relationship to post modernity as an opposite world view.

               Could it be possible that the power of post modernity could be reversed in a nation in a generation, giving life and authority back to God and his word through the “new ground” of the Mega Church Movement? The Mega Church Movement which had faced the force of modernity with all its inherent challenges, found itself now grappling with its successor, post modernity. 

              Would that mean that compromise with its given culture would have to take place, so that the church would remain numerically strong?  If so, how much of the message of the gospel of Christ would be retained in any significant life changing way?

             The answers to these questions will help to identify the strength of the foundation upon which Saddleback builds.  Before the Mega Church Movement is examined, the Church Growth Movement will have to be exposed to critical analysis.  

             The CGM of the 21st century is progressively different from the days of its founder Dr. Donald McGavran[8] as he served the Indian Church as a missionary, but nevertheless the problems that exist in the life of the local 21st church need attention and a study must be done that demonstrates that these questions are being asked and relevant answers are being offered.            

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

[2] Geffré and Jossua,

[3] Wolfhart Pannerberg, Problemgeschicte der neueren evangelischen Theologie in       Deutschland, Vandenhoech und Ruprecht, 1997, 336.

[4] Hendrikus Berkhof, Two Hundred Years of Theology, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1998, 316.

[5] Alister McGrath, An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Oxford, Malden, Blackwell,1998, 388.

[6] Alexander Kolesnyk, Modernes Denken im Katholizismus, Brno, Marek, 2002, 48-97.

[7] Geffré and Jossua, Editorial : Towards a Theological interpretation of modernity, concilium 1992, vol.28, no.6,  p.451-453.

[8] Dr. Donald McGavran, Founder of the church growth movement, born 1897 in India to missionary parents. Served the church in India for 30 years before returning to America where in 1961 he founded the institute of Church Growth in Eugene, Oregon, later to be integrated into the Fuller theological Seminary.                                                                           


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