Churches today, especially those who claim the title “emergent”, are grappling with the concept that the modern era of thought might have passed, and that we are in a post-modern era.

http://www.opensourcetheology.net/node/788 adresses the need to understand our culture in our evangelism, but also questions whether simple binary distinctions can be made.  Indeed, it asks the question whether there is a single definition of post-modernity that makes universal sense. All that is clear is that the age of modernity – that science and rational behavior can make all things right and good – has been found false.

Some have suggested a return to pre-modern blind faith.  More suggest there is no thing that can be absolute, and truth cannot be described outside its reference to the individual.  (“If it is true for you then it is truth to you.”)  Indeed, if there is a single watchword for postmodernity, it is in the premacy of the individual defining what is true.

The caveat is stated clearly by R.R. Reno (The Ruins of the Church: Sustaining Faith in an age of Diminished Christianity, p8), saying “Sloth and cowardice…, not pride, now dominate our culture.”   He says they keep us from seeing a need to have firm definitions of what is and is not true.  “Both slink away from the urgency of conviction.  Both fear the sharp edge of demand and expectation. Both have a vested interest in cynicism, irony and outward conformity.”

Rather than taking the gift given by post-modernity to define truth in our own eyes, most people will instead take the easy way out and accept someone else’s definition of truth, so long as it doesn’t cost them too much.

But post-modernity is already showing some weaknesses.  The consequences of modernity run amok are all around us:  failing economy, shallow relationships, and impermanent careers.  Even the post-modern seeming tolerance of  every kind of truth often runs afoul of the intolerance of any truth, even if ardently stated as an individual truth allowed by the postmodern ethos.

So what does this mean to the struggling church, trying to redefine itself to be relevant to its culture?

First, we need to quote scriptual authority in Bible terms, echoing the words of Jesus:  “you have heard it said…but I say to you…”  Steve Cornell reminds us to preach intrinsic truths that can resonate in the psyche of today’s listeners.

The second is similar.  We know that citing character traits not actively pursued will fall on deaf ears.  In response to the post, “bobcmu76” reminds us that “when the church tries to be church it fails.  Church needs to do church.”  If there is no perceived absolute truth, what is done in response to what is said makes an even bigger impact on the target audience.  When you do “even to the least of these,” you do it with authority.

Which leads to the third conclusion.    More than simple believism, our culture seems willing to accept what is demonstrated as truth, so long as it doesn’t take too much introspection.  For a generation presented with too many alternate interpretations of truth, being able to clearly articulate one based on experience (instead of guessing about what ought to be true) will go a long way toward convincing the world of our Gospel message.

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Jason Clark’s recent blog introduced the term “Deep Church” to me, but it’s exactly where I am (I think).
Deep Church is a response to the same factors that created the Emergent Church movement, but with a different result.  He says it is a reaction to the two poles of “abandonment” and “reconstruction”

The one pole – abandonment – says “the forms of church should be abandoned. Church as we know it is axiomatic to all our problems of church, church is bankrupt and we need to be post-church with our new forms church.”  These are that estimated 20% of the population that says they are active in their Christian faith, but only attend a defined gathering (“church”) when forced to.

Reconstruction, the other pole in Clark’s dichotomy, seeks “to find/define the correct/authentic model/mode of emerging church.”  They recognize that, in general, the church is “in dire need of moving beyond, with new forms of church needing to be found.”