Abductive Columns

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Slice of History in the Emergent Conversation

A couple years ago Kevin Miller’s keyboard flamed with the article Nomo Pomo [read the article]; A Postmodern Rant. For fun I thought I would dust off the archives and resurrect the conversation that filled Christianity Today’s mailbox.

In response to that article, Mike Stidham, Stephen Shields, Caroline Wong and myself wrote the following response.

At the heart of postmodernism is deconstruction-of institutions, ideologies, traditions, patterns of behavior and speech-which is based on a distrust and suspicion. So in an attempt to engage postmodern culture our church tasked the deconstruction ministry team and had them take out some walls to expand the sanctuary area. Soon after the youth minister adopted an abductive approach to growing his youth group. You have to admit it sounds so much nicer than "sheep stealing" … uh what's that? It means what? I'm sorry, never mind. Let's move on.

The article by Kevin Miller titled Nomo Pomo was, to a degree, an over-reaction. No doubt we need to learn, but there are some of us who are way too ready to toss out the baby and the bathwater. As an alternative we have chosen a simple deconstruct of Kevin's almost profound article.

Admittedly, there is much in this article we agree with. He acknowledged that PPMs (Proponents of Postmodernism) have made some important points with their narrative themes, their emphasis on mystery and transcendence. He goes on to say that " … the same New Testament that gives us the elliptical parables gives us the straightforward exposition of Peter in Acts 2 and the dense argumentation of Paul in Romans 9-11, not to mention the name-by-name genealogies of Matthew and the linear history of Acts. Let us recapture indirection but not canonize it."

Cool. But Kevin, are you saying that all PPMs are advocating an exclusive use of right-brain-speak! Most all of us, moderns and postmoderns alike, have neurons firing bi-laterally. So don't be surprised when pomos say the detective work that comes with mystery activates the left-side-brain just as much as it does the modern's mind.

Miller almost made a profound statement when he said that the "postmodern movie-makers will be our bards, but the modernist gene-splicers will be our wizards."

Regrettably this is a type of forced dichotomy. The arts can be relativized, science (especially technology) not necessarily so. The doctor doing brain surgery doesn't have the luxury of saying, "It's all relative," and then proceed to noodle around with open-heart techniques. We don't find it hypocritical to view one area as proper for deconstruction and another area not viable. Accusing Pomos of being hypocritical when it comes to technology is just as forced a construct as when moderns are accused of "foundationalism" for insisting on inerrancy.

And maybe Kevin Miller overlooked the fact that there are a good number of Pomo scientists and mathematicians working in western culture. Here are some of the differences we have noted between Pomo and modern scientists/mathematicians-

Pomos don't believe science will solve all our problems.

Pomos don't believe that science will answer all our questions.

Pomos know the rules their fields operate in are not sacrosanct and so they are willing to consider truly 'heretical' science ideas as fantasy or make-belief just for the fun of it.

So, Kevin let's not act as if pomo people lack scientific understanding or logic or that they have to put on a modern cap in order to function in these arenas.
And while we're at it, let's be up front and admit that there is an enormous difference between what the Pomo Christians are saying and what the Pomos are saying (we paint with a broad brush here). Postmodernism says we can't know absolute truth but we can know the truth of our culture/community. Postmodern Christians know there is a meta-narrative and absolute truth (God).

Jesus calls every generation to incarnate their culture. Moderns were seeker sensitive. Pomos are E.P.I.C. (Our world is being altered as we transition from rational to Experiential, from representative to Participative, from word-based to Image-based, and from individual to Connected. In other words, it's E.P.I.C.) The "soon-to-fade" traditional modern church continues to meet the needs of many; likewise, the post office continues to run even though we've got e mail. What the emerging church is doing is e mail, and the established church is running the postal routes.

If we had two separate cultures operating independent of each other things might be simpler. Yet, in the same community exist both Pomo and modern. The Pomo minister, in the attempt to be incarnational, must encounter and engage the "balding, befuddled" modern just as the old school pastor must likewise learn to engage the latte-addicted, multi-pierced Pomo.

Romans 12:4-5 reminds us we are "members one of another." Pomo and modern are going to have to learn to work as co-belligerents for the sake of the call, not as competitors.
Chris Seay wrote his response [here]


At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Chris Armstrong said...

While dusting off old interactions with postmodernism from Christianity Today (by my friend Kevin Miller), I thought you might be interested in a new contribution. Yes, well, ummm . . . it's mine: http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/newsletter/2005/sep29.html

I'd love to have your reactions to this one.

Chris Armstrong (senior editor, Christian History & Biography)


Post a Comment

<< Home