I can tell by the overwhelming number of comments to yesterday’s post that this is one of the favorite topics of my readers (there was one comment). Once we get through a day or so of definition, we’ll start looking at postmodernism in practice, and that will be a lot better. In fact, here’s an outline of how I hope to proceed:
- Definitions and concepts (yesterday and today)
- The developmental causes of modernism and postmodernism (tomorrow)
- Main themes of postmodernism (1 or 2 days)
- Ministry in a postmodern context (1 or 2 days)
In theory, we could finish this up this week. In practice, it will probably be mid next week before we finish.
Something that will help this conversation is if you can make your statements or ask your questions. I have a special commenting feature on this blog that allows us to have dialog within the comments, so it will be easier for us to communicate. Feel free ask as many questions as you like so that we can all understand better.
If this series is too mind-numbing for you, thank James Hofsiss for the questions that spawned it.
It is tough to talk about modernism without discussing the things that led up to it. I am determined to discuss that tomorrow, so I have to restrain myself. Tune in tomorrow to see the causes of the two philosophically systems we’ve been discussing.
Modernism developed in the late 1880s and remained unchallenged as a philosophical system until the 1970s when postmodernism first began to show itself. Even then, philosophy is something that is built into a person developmentally. For this reason, those who grow up modernist have a tendency to remain modernist throughout most of their lives. Those born since 1970 have had a mixture of modernist and postmodernist exposure, and will tend to gravitate toward one or the other. At any rate, modernism is still the predominant way of thinking at this time.
The main tenets of modernism include establishing order and providing
safety. Just about anything that lends itself to accomplishing these two goals can be categorized as modernist thinking. Modernist like things that are tangible and that can be measured. They don’t have much dealings with the paranormal or the questionably spiritual because the do not think in terms of the unseen. Modernism achieves order and safety through the establishment of rules and regulations. Rules, codes of conduct, laws, standard operating procedures, and the like are a result of modernist attempts at bringing things in line and ordering them. Interestingly, standing in line and lists are also a modernist tool.
Modernism must be praised for the things it has provided. The modern education system stands squarely on the shoulders of modernism, as does science, medicine, economics, and many others disciplines. These are all successful because they take that which is seen and observable and create rules for relating to it. There are methods and steps for eduction, and all of science is standardized by the scientific method (a specific set of steps used to evaluate and conduct experiments).
Modernism’s effect on the church is very evident. If you’ve ever seen someone bristle at doing something new, that’s the modernism talking. Newness endangers order and safety and must be questioned (we’ll talk more about this tomorrow). Ready examples of modernism in C of C history include predictable worship services (each congregation having its own, but typically a song sandwich with different elements of worship appearing at regular intervals), deacon/elder selections that focus on a checklist of qualifications rather than actually shepherding/servant abilities, and even our beloved "5 Steps To Salvation". Who else but a modernist would think to reduce the complexities of faith and grace into five simple steps that culminate in baptism. Along the same lines, why have we put so much emphasis on baptism throughout the years? Answer: because it is tangible. We can see it, touch it, and measure it. The other steps are in the questionably spiritual category, and modernists don’t really like to go there.
Modernism was and is an excellent philosophical system. The challenge to modernism came when people began to ask the question "why?". Why can’t we have instrumental worship, why must the women not participate actively in our worship services, why is baptism so important, why do we let unqualified men be leaders just because they match the checklist? In the modern era, there was a formula to explain all of these answers and societal norms to keep them from being asked all that often. The bigger challenge came in when those norms and formulas were no longer sufficient. That is when postmodernism really began to take off.
So, if postmodernism came from modernism, where did modernism come from? Interestingly, they both developed in response to changes and issues in society. That story will wait for tomorrow.