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Should Emergent Church Trade Modernity for Postmodernity?

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Often this charge has been hurled at the Emergent church: Emergents are trading modernity for postmodernity as the context into which it is choosing to be relevant. The problem then with this, such critics suggest, is that postmodernity is inherently nihilistic, relativistic and a context no one should hitch its boat to. Surprisingly, I don’t think I disagree with any of this.
Yet this has also been a charge leveled at the Great Giveaway (my book) as well as even the church I help shepherd, Life on the Vine Christian Community. Now, I can see how such an interpretation might be possible because the Great Giveaway overtly seeks to uncover the modernist assumptions of the evangelical church using the writings of postmodernity, and our church does for many people look and feel like many other emergent fellowships. Yet I believe what I am doing in the Great Giveaway is much more theologically robust than a simple contextualization, and what is happening at Life on the Vine is not near as sociologically naïve than a simple recontextualization to the meanings and values of postmodernity.

The Great Giveaway does deliberately deconstruct (not in a Derridian sense) evangelicalism’s indebtedness to modernist principles in its doctrine, life and practice. And I have tried to use some of best spokespersons for the critique of modernity, Enlightenment, democracy and capitalism to expose how much evangelicalism is built on the assumptions of modernity including McIntrye, Yoder (yes I think he is a subtle underminer of modernity), Hauerwas, Lindbeck, Milbank, as well as a smattering of Continental philosophers. I have done this for the purpose of showing the glaring weaknesses of our modernist assumptions about knowledge, life, and practice all the while the modernist consensus is disintegrating around us in N. America as it has already in Western Europe.

My solution in the Great Giveaway however has not been to accommodate ourselves to postmodernity! The solution of the Great Giveaway has been to reinvigorate an ecclesiology for our times. Like Hauerwas, like even Milbank and Pickstock on a different level, like John Howard Yoder and Lindbeck, the solution I have proposed is to ground our witness, and our life in the gathering of His people born of the Spirit to live the life we have been given in the death and resurrection of our Lord. I do not believe the further radicalization of modernity’s trajectory of self expressive autonomous individualism is the answer (read here George Barna’s Revolution). Neither do I believe we simply cast aside the critique of modernity as philosophically relativist or nihilistic (read Don Carson’s book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church). I believe the best response to postmodernity is the reinvigorization of communities of Christ as practicing the life we have been given before the watching world and into the world in terms of community, our justice, our hearing of the Word, our worship of the transcendent and mysterious God coming in Jesus Christ, our spiritual disciplines that form character in resistance to the consumerisms of our day.

So I offer a few challenges. A.) Can I ask people out there not to so easily slough off the critique of postmodernity towards modernity. It is real, it is powerful, it is big and unavoidable. If you havn’t read one of these authors, Alasdair McIntyre, Stanley Hauerwas, George Lindbeck, John Milbank, if you havn’t read one of these philosophers, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Foucault, Derrida, Levinas, Deleuze, Badiou, Ricouer or a sleu of others, then at least hold off judgement and read sertiously one or two authors of the grand critique of modernity that is well entrenched in today’s universities and intellectual leaders. B.) and to my emergent friends, I too believe modernity is crumbling despite what certain naysayers and apologists of modernity say. Let us use the opportunity of this great critique of modernity, not to defend and somehow make postmodernity better than modernity (which I don’t think by and large anyone in emergent is doing), let us use this time to recast a vision for what it means to be the church faithful among the nihilisims and fragmentations of the current cultural malaise.

Hope this post wasn’t too self-gratuitous.

For the furthernace of Christ’s Kingdom in these times,
David Fitch

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