Monday, February 12, 2007

Deconstructing Postmodern Discipleship - Characteristics Part 2

Deconstructing Postmodern Discipleship - Characteristics
The Rise of Experientialism

This one is probably the most interesting to me. The appropriation of sensory experience to the individual carries as much weight in defining personal existence as the scientific method. The deluge of sources available to people today has flattened the world back out. Think about this. I am 30 years old. In my lifetime I have witnessed the computer move from filling out an entire room to that same computer capability being carried around in my pocket. I am sitting at a computer that would fit in my lap that is more powerful than the ones that put men on the moon. While I had to convince my mom to let me have a phone in my room, today's kids are fighting to get their text message rights back. I can log on to the internet 24/7 and meet someone around the other side of the world and communicate. I can send a picture that I took with my cell phone around the world in a flash. The connectedness of this world has allowed the younger generations to experience a broad spectrum of ideas, beliefs, and faiths. Many of these things would never have intersected their culture/world before the technological advances of today's society.

As previously discussed here, the blind faith in man's ability to progress culture through rational thought led to a great disillusionment amongst the young. This disillusionment found fertile soil in an arts movement labeled postmodernism. To boil it down to a point in a time, when Hiroshima experienced the horrors of a nuclear attack, the young members of the world's culture saw the disastrous consequences of man's ability to reason left unchecked by experiential wisdom. The nuclear attack on Japan didn't just end a war, it also ended an innocence long favored by the youth of the day. The backlash is still being dealt with.

The Rise of Modern Scientific Rationalism
In the previous characteristic we discussed the infamous arrival of the pinnacle of modernist rationalism in Rene Descartes known as "I think therefore I am." The next guy that solidified the impact of rationalism is Immanuel Kant. Kant believed heartily that one ought to live an orderly life because God created an orderly world. He actually divided man's cognitive world into the phenomenon and noumenon. Phenomena is the world as we experience it, or how our rational mind explains and understands something. The noumena is that same sensed, or rationally experienced, thing independent of the sensory experience. It is the "thing in itself." It is the real object of human congnitive understanding independent of the experience. For Kant, the noumena is unknowable by us. By placing God in the noumena Kant created the possibility of a creeping agnosticism seen ultimately in the works of Friedrich Neitzche and Charles Darwin. Kant made God unknowable to mankind's highly developed skills of reason. Seems ironic. I am reminded of the scene from Jurassic Park where the scienctist points out that God created dinosaurs, God destroyed the dinosaurs, God created man, man destroyed God, and then man created dinosaurs. Kant basically elevated modernity's belief that if it cannot be verified by scientific reason it does not exist, or can't be known anyway so why care. Enter all sorts of things. Why do you think the Jesus Seminar can decide 2000 years later what Jesus actually said? Why do you think Rudolf Bultmann had no problem applying the term demytholigization to our theological vocabulary? (note that Bultmann's critical time of scholarship develops in the middle of the planting and sprouting of the movement we know call postmodernism) The rise of a focus on the individual's ability to reason, and an inability to know God for real, created a decline in several key virtues of society. In this time we find declines in personal morality, responsibility to community, and a sense of purpose and commitment. It is exactly this declined that has led to the quasi-revolt (I would actually like to coin the term "reevaluation") by the postmoderns. Modernity turned God theoretical to the world. God became what we make Him to be. He can be manipulated and redefined multiple times. He is no longer trasncendent and supreme. He is only a creation of our own mind, whose purpose is to satisfy our doubts, our fears, and lack of understanding. As Karl Marx pointed out, God became a crutch to the weak minded.

The Conversational Response of Postmodernism
The loss of innocence caused by the ending of WWII and magnified by Vietnam created a vacuum in which the fledging movement soon to be known as postmodernism would find fertile soil, take root, and sprout. Suddenly, man's ability to think and reason was not as attractive anymore. Individualistic reason allowed mankind to find personal justitification for their actions. The world lost its belief that there is something out there beyond us. In response, the postmoderns elevated experiential knowledge as a legitimate source of truth. They became interested in the conversation. The plus side to this is that they begin to seek out classical doctrine and belief, much of which had been shunned by moderns. They discovered newfound freedom in a relational model of Christianity. They turned from a self-centered focus to a focus on social causes and campaigns. They seek to make the world a better place because they were there, instead of expecting the world to make them a better place because they are there. The drawbacks are found in an increased appropriation of foreign doctrines and belief systems. The fine line between cultural relevance and cultrually influenced is often crossed or missed all together. Truth can sometimes fluctuate with the latest book read or podcast heard.

A postmodern discipleship must learn to capture the core value of experiential learning in order to spur spiritual growth among the younger generations. They aren't seeking another program to be a part. They are seeking a mission to change the world. They are far more interested in a significant life rather than a merely successful life. The postmodern will regularly join you in community assistance projects well before he/she joins you in faith. They want to see your faith lived out in your life and ensure it is not just another telemarketing scheme to get their money. They will walk side by side with you in an effort to clean up the city, but won't stand with you in faith until they know your faith makes a difference in you personally. Quite frankly, they have to see Jesus in you, before they will ever see Jesus in themselves.

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