The Postmodern Opportunity for the Church; If We are Brave Enough to Take It!

by | Feb 21, 2022

Let us begin by defining the term postmodernity. Clearly, as the word suggests, it is ‘after modernity’ and so its definition is a contrast to what came before. So, before we can see what postmodernity is, we must see clearly what modernity is. It should be said, definitions of these terms are disputed and the suggestion that modernity ‘was a thing of the past’ will be disputed by many. To make my thesis, let me give you my understanding of modernity.

The modern world is the fruit of the enlightenment, the haphazard and spasmodic rationalisation of society, the encroachment of a unifying state, and the emergence of a new way of ordering life. This modern life was to be framed with the meta-narrative of the national story in which we citizens, whilst enjoying our rights, were to perform our duties to the state. This was the foci of our best efforts and the altar upon which we were to lay down our sacrifice. The scientist, in his overhauls, would serve as the new priest who would be appealed to (whether he liked it or not – and he mostly did not) as the arbiter of truth and technological advancement was to be pursued for the promise of material gain. This is, of course, somewhat of characterisation, but I do not think an unfair one and a more academic study will chime well with my sketch of modernity.

So, what then is postmodernity? It is a move away from the individual soul framing their life within the matrix of the national story. Rather, it is an existential journey of the individual to some goal often chosen and framed by them. This move to the self is being codified in our culture in the way we act and behave. In the west, we try to honour each person’s story, respecting their goals and culture. It has also uncoupled people from the rationalisation and scientific arbiter; assumptions of the enlightenment.

We can see clearly that some who are drawn to acts of public service such as police, soldiers, politicians, and high ranking civil servants are still working within a modernist framework, even whilst they pass, enforce, and defend policies that work to a postmodern cultural milieu. The most extreme version of this new culture is obvious within the LGBTQA movement in which the self is a god, and can even contradict observable reality; and because they are a god, laws will enforce self-pronouncements contrary to observable science. We also see this in the rise of the flat earthers and conspiracy theorists who pronounce insider knowledge (though being very much on the outside) about the ‘real agenda’ of governments over the recent Covid pandemic.

However, this culture presents us with an opportunity. As the instinct of the postmodern man is to be open to greater meaning to life than simply rationalised scientific commentary, they are also more open to hearing out Christians with whom they will readily admit – if asked – that they do not know much about. They are more open to asking the big questions along the lines of metaphysics. Furthermore, and this is the big one since they are very much more in tune with their own self, they are much more looking for an identity – as none has been given to them by our increasingly postmodern culture. How could it? After all, it assumes you fashion your own identity (hence the goth – and the emergence of legions of communities of interest).

Into this fray, a strong Church could reap a harvest, but it would have to know itself, inside and out. It would need to know the ‘why’ regarding what it does, and ‘what’ it believes. It would need to have a depth of spirituality that goes deeper than simply intellectual consent. It would have to have a clear sense of itself politically, economically, and socially; able to express its beliefs, not just in words, but in customs, in dress, in the use of language, in its political activism, in its festivals, in its values and ethical conduct, and the retelling of its own history. We need to take the ‘journey of the self’ and collectivise it so that it becomes an ‘our journey’ not ‘my journey.’ A journey in which we can invite others to join.

We Christians should do this forcefully and with energy, rediscovering and salvaging what can be salvaged and reclaimed from medieval Christianity; and apply it in new ways and in new contexts today! We must claim a heritage. When, and not if, there is push back, as surely the modern man will revile us, we must defend our identity as Christians with its culture, beliefs, and values; arguing for the space of our cultural norms, and traditions. A confident Christianity will reap a harvest in this modern world and there are things we can do to make this confidence a real strength:

We must contend for how the history of the Christian movement is told. If we do not tell our story, others will tell it for us. How we frame the past impacts our actions in the present. We should consolidate geographically so that we become the majority population in a constituency or region (literally moving closer to one another). Such a move will give us strength in numbers and weight in the local social fabric. We should pool our youth programs, to give them a sense of belonging and strength. We should envision what a Christian society would like and work towards it; as activists, actively working with other Christians to establish a society that increasingly looks like it has been discipled by Jesus, the Christ. We should learn apologetics and polemics. We need to be serious about defending our community and its people in every way it needs to be defended politically, legally, socially, economically, intellectually, and physically.

Naturally, for such a shift in thinking we need to rediscover a narrative we have long since lost as Christians – that we are, as a matter of indisputable fact, the people of GOD; a holy nation, a royal priesthood. Our identity as Christians is formed by what the apostolic teaching says about us, not what others say about us! This also requires that we stop thinking of Church as something we ‘belong to’ or ‘go to,’ but rather that the Church is something we are! We need to stop treating ‘going to church’ as being a part of a Sunday club in which we make friends and build networks, or as a means to express civic rituals like weddings and baptism, and memorial services; or worse, as an NGO stepping in to provide a food bank. We need to stop fighting about really minor stuff, baptising children for instance, or how you make the sign of the cross or use modern or classical hymns. Those kinds of arguments are just objectively childish.

We need to save our energies to fight the real battles for those who are suffering for the name of Christ both here and abroad, for our right to observe a sabbath, for our understanding of the marriage and the family, to end abortion, to make divorce a difficult thing in a context of trying to restore marriages and preserve families. Those are just the outward-facing social ones. I haven’t even touched on the battle against personal sin and the preservation of the communal peace and solidarity of the people of GOD – when egos, pride, and injuries begin to be at play.

Church! We have a genuine opportunity before us; a chink has opened up the front of our enemies’ ranks. The modernist project has buckled! Let us rally once more and charge again into the fray – with new confidence!