If you were to read up on the postmodern movement in the evangelical church world right now, you would discover a vehement distaste of Modernism and what I have called the “Pragmatic Church.” Postmodern, or Emergent, pastors and leaders talk a lot about how the Church Growth movement in general sold out to the reigning cultural paradigm of Modernism. As a result, they say, we must separate ourselves from the consumer church culture and recognize the postmodern tide around us.
There is nothing wrong in recognizing and describing the postmodern world around us, but many in the Emergent movement have gone a little over the edge and are consciously becoming postmodern themselves. It is not uncommon to hear that someone is planting a “postmodern church.”
Of all the pitfalls inherent in postmodernism, one that seems to not be noticed is the philosophical heritage Emergent churches and Church Growth churches share. That common ancestry is found in the tenants of pragmatism. In an ironic twist of cultural fate, pragmatism is a key component of the Church Growth movement, and is a subset of postmodernism. In short, pragmatism teaches that if something works, it is true. Or from the other side of the equation, the value of truth is wrapped up in whether something works. This philosophy is easy to see in the Church Growth movement; size equals success. In the Emergent church movement, it is a little more sly than that.
Pragmatism is a part of the philosophical tradition that holds to a heavy-duty skepticism concerning Truth. The skepticism is so deep that contemporary pragmatists deny not only metaphysical truth, but the possibility of talking about metaphysical truth in any meaningful way (see Richard Rorty and the recently departed Derrida whom too many Emergent writers have held in high esteem). In my adventures in reading Emergent authors and bloggers, there is an unnerving similarity to this level of skepticism. So much so, that some of them even question the heretical moniker of people like Arius.
In addition, there is a general move away from the shared tradition of inerrancy and theological authority. You might be hard pressed to find an evangelical, emergent pastor who flat-out denies the role of scriptural tradition, but too many of them are ready to think so far “out of the box” that they have entered a whole other box altogether.
Here is my prediction about Postmodern Christianity: Because it is based on a worldview that is so vacuous and dangerously skeptical, it will disappear as a major evangelical movement within a generation. There is no doubt there will be plenty of postmodern churches around for a long time, but they will cease to be the intriguing and influential movement they are now. If a house is built on the sand…