Postmodernity in Our Neighborhoods

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Once upon a time, I stumbled upon an immersive, science-fictiony, interactive, art installation in an abandoned strip mall called "Otherworld." What appeared to be an unassuming storefront was actually a little-known secret of labyrinth-like rooms filled with neon colors, flashing lights, an array of textures, and subjects that ranged from cute and amusing to strange and disturbing.

I spent hours wandering around the rooms, mesmerized by all the things to see, touch, and hear. The rules in this place were completely different from the rules in the "outside world." Reality was reconstructed and things that would usually be impossible became possible (How did the lighting in one room make everything in it black-and-white, including my husband's neon green shoes?). Unlike other art museums, this one was designed for its visitors to interact with it. We could touch and manipulate and explore.

The craziest part was that Otherworld was right in my own neighborhood, biking distance from my house, and I had no idea such a place even existed.

After working my way through the entire exhibit, I sat down in the front foyer, exhausted. My brain was overloaded. All of my senses were overstimulated. I promptly went home and took a two-hour nap. I think I'm still recovering.

For the American Church, postmodernity tends to feel a lot like this art installation in Columbus, Ohio. Postmodernity is a strange way of viewing the world. It challenges the boundaries of our perceptions of reality and comes with its own set of rules that are contrary to those of modernity. Because of its rejection of much of modern thought, understanding postmodernity can be jarring, confusing, and perhaps even frustrating. We wander around the exhibit, trying to figure out what we're experiencing and what these "rules" are. We can end up lost.

But we as the Church need to start learning how to navigate postmodernity's strange terrain, because it's already making an appearance in our neighborhoods.

We just might not realize it yet.

Unfortunately, postmodernity has often been perceived by the American Church as the bogeyman. We're often resistant to this new way of thinking because we see it as a threat to Christianity. Like all ways of perceiving the world, modernity included, there are certainly some hazards and pitfalls about postmodernity that we need to navigate with care. We need to be diligent in critiquing all philosophies that are contrary to the mind of Christ (Colossians 2:8).

Yet, I think that the real reason why postmodernity seems so threatening to some churches is because they are so thoroughly modern.

I would like to propose that although postmodernity may be the enemy of modernity, it can potentially be an ally of the Christian faith.

But only if we are willing to listen, learn, and understand.

The American businessman and writer Max De Pree said that “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” Over the next few posts, I'll be defining the new "reality" of postmodernity. Drawing from the philosophical thought of people who are WAY smarter than me, I'll be sharing some basic tools to help us navigate postmodernity's rules. This series on postmodernity will consist of the following five posts:

  1. Postmodernity in Our Neighborhoods
  2. Postmodernity 101 - Modernism vs. Postmodernism
  3. Postmodernity 102 - Deconstructionism
  4. Postmodernity 103 - Prove Your Trustworthiness
  5. Postmodernity 104 - The Power of Story

I hope that you find these resources helpful as we seek to know and love the neighborhoods where we live and serve. For God's sake, let's think.

For further reading:

  • Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be by J. Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh
  • Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? by James K.A. Smith
  • The End of Apologetics by Myron Penner (VERY heavy read - I also recommend this interview)
  • The Sermon Without End by Ronald Allen and Wesley Allen

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