April 10, 2008
Live from Shift: The Perfect Storm
Brian McLaren helps us navigate the deluge of postmodernity.
The second day of the conference began with Brian McLaren's breakout session, "Onramp to the Postmodern Conversation." This was designed to help newcomers to the issue understand the shift that is happening in the culture. He compared this change to a hurricane that assaulted Honduras a number of years ago. 100 inches of rain fell in one week. The country was devastated. When the rain stopped the landscape of the country had been changed.
In one case, a bridge that had spanned a river was now on dry land. The river's course had completely shifted. To the bridge's credit it was still standing; it was very well built, but it was totally useless. This, says McLaren, is what the modern church is facing. The modern church was very well built and designed for stability, but the ground is shifting and it's no longer as effective.
A similar storm is hitting the world today. Brian covered western history in about fifteen minutes, revealing paradigm shifts that have occurred in the past - including the one that gave us modernity about 500 years ago.
We are experiencing another prefect storm today, says McLaren.
In the last century there have been unprecedented changes in communication, technology, transportation, and economics that has shifted how people think. And once again, Christianity needs to recognize how it has linked itself to an old world view and be prepared to make the shift as well. McLaren was mindful to say that the bible is not the problem, but the modern boundaries or "bands" that we've constrained it with.
Following the presentation he gave a generous amount of time to questions. This is where his pastoral sensitivity and pragmatism came through.
A 61 year-old gentlemen who works for Evangelism Explosion asked, "How do we keep current? Things are changing so fast."
Brian's answer - there are two big shifts every organization must recognize. First, that their current method isn't working. And second, that even the new method they develop won't work forever either. That's hard for modern institutions that value stasis.
A young pastor from west Texas shared his struggle with defining postmodernism for others in this church. He said it's really hard to talk with his senior pastor about these ideas. He asked Brian for his advice.
McLaren admitted that the word "postmodernism" is becoming problematic. Many people automatically associate it with evil, relativism, or some other heresy. He suggested avoiding the term. Instead, we ought to approach leaders in our churches from a place of humility rather than solutions. Let's talk about the problem together. Help them see the challenge you're facing with younger people. "If you rush at people with a solution before they feel the problem you'll have trouble," he said.
One inquisitor, an Anglican priest from Canada, said that his church has embraced many of these postmodern/post-Christian ideas for decades. But now they're not only wrestling with issue of homosexuality but also the resurrection and the deity of Christ. He wanted to know, what are the guards the boundaries to ensure that his conversation doesn't go outside of orthodoxy.
Brian said that the polarities his church is witnessing is the "residue of modernity." In modernity there were two ways of being Christian - the fundamentalist way and the liberal way. But both of these came from a modern world view, they just landed on different conclusions. When we see churches fighting between liberals and conservatives, that's a church still locked in modernity. McLaren says that in a postmodern paradigm he's finding liberal Christians who are open to the idea of miracles again, and fundamental Christians who are rethinking the way they read the bible.
Toward the end of the session, Brian talked about the challenges of taking a church in this new direction and the conflicts that can arise. He said we've got to remain focused on those who need a relationship with Christ. "It's heartbreaking to see Christians fighting and arguing with Christians about all of this stuff," he said. "The fighting is driving people away from Christ."
Rather than fighting with church leaders to make changes, Brian suggested finding more creative ways to live out the mission to reach people for Christ. He said, "If you wait for your religious organization to give you permission to do the things you know have to happen, then you'll never be faithful." If the kind of people you are called to reach won't be welcomed into your church then invite them in to your home, he said. This doesn't mean leaving the church, but for some people it might mean "getting out your resume."
That made me think - how much energy do we pour into helping our established institutional churches make the shift? Are we, in a sense, casting pearls before swine? And should more of us be working outside the boundaries of the institutions that pay our salaries in order to faithfully engage what Christ is calling us to?