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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In the Wed night discussion group this week, as the study guide helped us define what a church is, we got sidetracked on what people expect of a church.

The purpose of the study is to help us get past the idea that “church” is a building.  That’s the place where the church meets.  It’s not a denomination or state-sponsored national religion, although some call their brand of Christianity “The Church”.  Instead, church, according to the study guide, is both universal and particular.  It is universal in that the church is the sum of all believers in Jesus as savior (Jesus being the head of the church).  It is particular in the sense of being a gathering of believers in a particular place (“the church at Ephesus’).

The point of denominational differences is how a particular group of individuals express their faith.   Do they stand or do they kneel?  Do they speak in Latin or Greek or Spanish or Tongues?  Do they sing or chant?  Is is a capella (without accompaniment), with a 5-rank pipe organ, with an old piano, a rock band or some two-stringed native instrument?

What got us off track was how we are seen by outsiders, especially those younger than us, those who are teenagers.  The teacher reminded us that many of today’s teens – the post-modern “Millennials” – aren’t turning away from faith, but toward it.  They want to know what is true.  In a world where everything is temporary marketing hype, many want to give themselves over to something bigger than themselves.  The faith of the Bible offers that kind of challenge.

The problem comes when they compare what they read in the Bible with what they see in many of the churches.  Jesus says to give it all away, and the TV church wants it all for themselves, not to feed the poor but to build a bigger building.  Jesus says to love the unloved, but our blogs (and often our sermons) shout at one another with mean and hateful speech.

A healthy church is always looking at itself, checking to make sure what it does matches what it says.  As you evaluate what kind of church you say you are, compare  that with what kind your neighbors think you are.  It might be time to adjust how you do what you do.