Postmodern thought is here to stay   

PLAINVIEW - Modernism. Postmodernism. Somewhere in between. Most people may not know which category best describes their thought process. Some people don't care. Others feel that postmodernism is generational or just a fad and will soon pass.

Is it?

According to Wayland Baptist University Director of Church Services Micheal Summers, postmodern thought is here to stay.

Summers, who also teaches classes and serves as an intentional interim, offers seminars on postmodern thought and its effect on the church. He says much of what you see and hear is a reaction to postmodernism with a pro/con attitude - an attitude that we need to move away from.

"The reality is that it is here and it is not going away," Summers said. "It bothers me when I see a lot of writers dealing with postmodernism as just another fad or generational youth thing. It's not. It is a world view concept some philosophers believe will last 2,000-5,000 years, if not longer.

"The tab in human history is modernity, not postmodernism."

While an in-depth explanation of postmodern thought takes hours . "That's why I offer seminars," Summers says . it can be summed up by looking at a brick wall.

"Postmodernism is really looking at the structures that modernity built and saying that the bricks are not what matter," Summers said. "It's the mortar. The mortar allows you to place the bricks however you want to place them."    

In short, "postmoderns" focus more on building relationships and connections -- an ideal that directly affects how the church as an organization relates to the church as the body of Christ.

Summers, along with other pastors, scholars and theologians, predicts the 21 st century will see a return to the apostolic model of the church in which Christians focus on making disciples instead of converts.

"The church rolls are full of converts that we see in the pew week after week," Summers said. "To the postmodern mind, that is invalid. If it is something you believe with all your heart, mind, soul and spirit, then you have to demonstrate it through your life."

It's not enough for a postmodern thinker to read the bible or listen to a sermon and take what is said or read as absolute. Instead, the postmodern mind will only accept it if it is demonstrated.

"These younger generations who have been raised with all of this multiple input and diversity see non-Christian world religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam that are much more committed and demonstrate their faith daily in a visible way," Summers said. "They look at the Christianity that they grew up with and see nothing but people telling them not to do something then turning around and doing it.

"There is no huge difference in our divorce rates between those who claim to be churched and those who don't . in our teenage alcohol rates . in our teen pregnancy rates. We are not seeing a distinction of the lifestyle of those who profess to be Christians from those who don't.

"For the postmodern, that has invalidated the authenticity of the gospel."

Dr. Fred Meeks, chairperson of the Division of Religion and Philosophy who has been teaching at Wayland for nearly 20 years, said this type of thinking is also influencing the classroom.

"What we are finding, rather than talking about authorities and standards, people are far more concerned about personality issues," Meeks said. "They want to know how you feel about things. Sometimes, for students, where authority comes from is the person making these comments. Is he an authentic person? Is he perceived to be an authentic person?"

Meeks said the key to reaching these students is to open up personally, revealing your own weaknesses and thoughts.

"Coming across as a know-it-all with all the answers can cause problems," Meeks said. "But if you say, 'Look. This is my position and here is why I think this way. I respect your right to disagree.' It appears that students are more open to this mindset."

One trend making its way through churches now is the church growth movement, part of which focuses on building church numbers through various methods designed to appeal to those who are un-churched.

Chris Seay, pastor of Ecclesia church in Houston, has designed a worship service that allows people to participate in many ways, including painting images during the service or producing visual messages through video.

Seay has built his church by appealing to the "un-churched" with methods they understand.

"What I suggest is an honest conversation, engaging the culture that we live in and that will lead us ultimately in a search to find the truth," Seay said.

Summers says while some people may think of various church-growth models as falling into the postmodern category, many of them really don't fit postmodern thinking.

"Postmodernism doesn't define church growth by numbers or statistics," Summers said. "The church growth movement is purpose driven. It says you have a purpose and it can give you the steps: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

"Postmodernism is passion driven and there is only one step: Walk with God."

In his book Postmodern Pilgrims, Leonard Sweet describes the postmodern church with the acrostic EPIC: Experiential, Participatory, Image-driven and Connected. Postmodern thinkers use experiences, participation and images to build connections.

Summers said postmoderns use images as symbols. "What postmoderns are looking for is a symbolic image that means something."

He demonstrates this by using Playdough as an illustration of being clay in God's hands.

"If we allow ourselves to be in His hands, He can mold us and use us," Summers said.

With a bible full of references to being clay and being molded, Summers said it is an easy concept for a postmodern thinker to grasp. A postmodern sees the Playdough and knows that it is always malleable and changeable just as a postmodern Christian sees his relationship with God as ever-changing.

"They can understand it. They have to be willing for God to remake them and reform them for another task in their life," Summers said.

As it relates to the church, postmoderns are going to seek out a form or style of worship that best shapes their relationship with God. However, Dr. Meeks points out there are pitfalls to certain "cafeteria style - you offer something for everybody" forms of worship.

"The biggest criticism we have of user-friendly churches that do anything to get you to come is that they leave out the key things that Jesus required of all of his disciples - commitment and sacrifice," Meeks said.

Seay agrees, saying there are trends to offer bible studies that are "divorced from the church," offering worship apart from accountability.

"It's really a strange thing to get together with people and study scripture and read it and not have any sense of structure and accountability," Seay said. "That scares the heck out of me."

Seay said this approach becomes a "hyper-individualistic pursuit of faith."

"People are really saying it is just about getting my needs met and that is what much of the church-growth movement is founded on. They are saying faith is an inward journey of having our 'needs' met," Seay said, explaining that people need to realize many of their felt-needs aren't needs at all, but "wants."

"Our only real needs are to love God and love our neighbor, and these are outward things," Seay said.

Dr. Meeks says it is a challenge to maintain the integrity of basic theology while accommodating the changing environment.

"How do we find a way in this postmodern world to say to them, 'You want a meaningful relationship?'" Meeks asks. "What better place to offer that than a church built on the model of Koinonia with genuine fellowship!"