Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Postmodern Church/Christian Idolatry

When God gave the Ten Commandments, the second was about not making idols. When we get to places like 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul commends the believers for turning to God from idols. God made it clear in the OT, and the apostles upheld the teaching, that idolatry was wrong in all its forms. Have you ever asked the question, “Why didn’t God just say something like, ‘Don’t make idols of those false gods. Instead, make idols of Me, the true God.’”? In other words, why didn’t God tell His people in the middle of very idolatrous cultures to simply be Monotheistic Idolaters, or Christian Idolaters?

It is because there are parts of culture which cannot be redeemed. We cannot take some things from the surrounding culture, add the adjective “Christian,” and be OK. If the Thessalonians had become “Christian Idolaters,” they would have been more idolaters than Christians. The right way for them to be different from the surrounding culture was not to be idolaters in a Christian way, but to not be idolaters at all.

So what now? Obviously it is a difficult and complex task to look at our culture in that way, but it is a requirement. Pastors are fond of saying that Christianity is not easy-most of them have probably not meant that the faith is intellectually difficult. But it is.

As one offering on my part for what falls into the category of “unredeemable cultural bit,” I offer postmodernism. When one understands what postmodernism really means, I think they will come to the conclusion that postmodernism and the church are diametrically opposed on all important matters. (I have written quite a bit on this in this blog, and will unquestionably write more.) If a church or a person were to become “Postmodern Christians” they are either not actually postmodern, or they are not Christian at all. I know it is popular to be a “Postmodern Church,” but popularity has very little to do with truth or goodness.


Steve said...

Hi Phil-

I look forward to reading more about your views on this. From what I've read concerning Postmodern Christianity and such, I wonder if they are defining postmodern the same way you or other philosophers do.

Some seem to see it as a different mindset that we are seeing in the culture at large. People are now more image oriented rather than word oriented, movies over books, that sort of thing. Also, technology allows regular joes to have authority where in the past that kind of authority was reserved for academics and such (i.e. blogging).

Just some thoughts. I prefer the term "native", which Len Sweet uses, when describing someone who is comfortable with the changing culture and new mindset (especially in regards to technology).

Do these observations have any basis at all?

Phil Steiger said...

Steve-I think that is exactly right. I am positive that most intend “postmodern” to connote a general cultural shift in certain directions, and the possible response by the church.

I think what I am working through is that, in my opinion, postmodernism is in fact a harmful cultural shift. What most church-watchers and authors pay attention to are the surface aspects and effects relative to the substantive causes. When a postmodern shows up to a church which is deliberately trying to be postmodern, they feel comfortable with the surface issues, but has the church (unintentionally) made them comfortable with the underlying issues as well? Are they not only comfortable with the physical atmosphere of the sanctuary, but with their own ethical and metaphysical relativism? If so, all the church has succeeded in doing is becoming postmodern in substance and actuality and not just postmodern on the surface.

I think you are right that “native” captures the cultural shift issues better. But having read quite a bit of McLaren, Sweet, and others, I still wonder if they are too postmodern in actuality for the good of the church.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Steve said...

Hey Phil-

Thanks for your thoughts as well. I have read McLaren's "A New Kind of Christian" and "More Ready Than You Realize." Both of these books resounated with me though "New Kind of Christian" made me uncomfortable at points. What are some of your thoughts on McLaren and his thinking?

Phil Steiger said...

Steve-Sorry the response has taken so long. I have not read those books of McLaren’s, but I have read “Church on the Other Side” and I was frustrated through most of it. I agree with his basic premise that the church needs to understand the current cultural shifts and find a way to meet people where they are. I disagree with what seems to me to be a fairly uncritical acquiescence to the fatal flaws of postmodernism. I have not read “A New Kind of Christian” because I have read too many reviews of it. Those who love it seemed too postmodern themselves, and those who disliked it did so because it neglected too many of the core values of the Faith.

As one specific example, as far as I can tell, when McLaren invokes a notion like “mystery,” he is invoking practical relativism. He might disagree, but I can’t find a reason in what I have read to believe otherwise.

At the very end of “Church on the Other Side” he makes the silly statement that there will be people who disagree with his views, and that their disagreement simply proves that we live in a postmodern world where we all live with that kind of dissonance. It is that kind of statement which leads me to believe that his acceptance of the postmodern views on metaethcial, metaphysical, and religious relativism are probably deeper that even he might know. I disagreed with his views not because I have a “different voice” or was influenced by a “diverse culture” from his, but because I had good reasons for rejecting his theses.