Monday, March 10, 2003

What is a post-modern church? What does it look like? What does it contain? Any thoughts, comments or perspectives, I believe, could create a fruitful, informing discussion

Thom Fredericks

I'll start with what a pomo church is not. A pomo church is not just a great use of audio/visual stuff, a creative power point presentation, a hip band, low lights and candles w/ some gimmicky rituals. I'm not against any of those things, but this is many times just a superficial cultural accommodation to MTV or GenX. Having a genx service in not necessarily postmodern. after all, many young people are ditching the evangelical church (and it infatuation with being relevant) and are going to high church with all their ancient ritual. so that's my opening forey...i'll try to think of something constructive soon,

geoff h

I say we call it Squizzy... Forget pomo language, it's too problematic. We need to be squizzy about how we practice our faith. Of course I'm open to other suggestions. Flueberdink anyone?

Dave Carlson


squizzy is too catchy. it should be something like the name of God
you can't say. so we'll call it "pblpblpldbldpldbpdb!" and when
people ask how to say it we'll just say "oh we can't say that it's
too holy" or something. ;-)

peace lucas

i hate to bring this up, but i can say pblpblpldbldpldbpdb.


LOL!!! You're absolutely right. My advertising background sneaks in once again. I'd try to step outside myself again and come up with something else but I fear my psyche will slip again and reveal some other little community I've been a part of. I like your idea of just not saying anything. Why don't we all shut up for a while and just go about the business of being Christlike. And when cornered for an answer we just say "oh we can't say that it's too holy".


Being Christlike. Yea, yea that is the bottom line. BUT instead of saying anything at all how about we just shrug our shoulders? :)

Thom Fredericks

OK, I repent for saying pomo or postmodern too many times. maybe we can ask, "what does a church look like that is trying to be faithful in the postmodern context/culture?" but that is too wordy, so just at Thom asked,
"what is a post-modern church?"
geoff h

No...No...wait...wait...I've got it. How about we just make the "locking the lips" action like turning a key and then throwing it away. Then we could let them know that they need to go look for the key to unlock the answer. Challenging.

Thom Fredericks


I liked this question: "what does a church look like that is trying to be faithful in the postmodern context/culture?" That is closer to what I think the focus should be. Although, I am still not convinced that being "imitators of Christ" would, or should, look any different than in any other era.

Thom Fredericks

Uprooted Family,

It is interesting that we are engaging in an issue of language / linguistics and nomenclature. If anything, the pomo shifts have shown us that language is often much more fluid, porous, and obtuse in its ability to capture meaning. In many ways, missionaries and anthologists have shown us how localized language really is and how easy it is to assume you understand what someone means based on the idea that words contain their meaning. One of the key elements of a pomo church I believe is a real visceral dialogue on a local level about the language of the holy. The import and power of language comes from a communal sense of agreement regarding meaning and knowing. Christians have assumed that truth to someone in Asia is the same as truth to someone in Seattle. Or even more contained, that truth to someone in Berkeley is the same as truth to someone in Boise.
The idea that truth is ultimately objective, floating out there in space only waiting for someone to discover it via the throwing off of prejudice and tradition is what the postmodern church calls into question. As silly as the squizzilies can get, that conundrum of meaning drives us to see dialogue as sacred and community as vital for meaning & truth to go beyond personal ruminations. Why am I not surprised Carlson introduced us to the SQUIZZLIES????


Does this mean we have to talk to one another? I'd be okay with that as long as we code our communications. After all, aren't we living in exile? Why not develop a secret language much like prisoners do or the way slaves communicated with each other throughout the oppression of slavery. How do you think Moderate Muslims feel about Osama Bin Laden running around co-opting their faith language. Why should we let others in on our territory? I say we squizzy our lives together and live boostanfully knowing that that thing we can't say is reigning aardopopitly.


Sounds like Gnosticism is raising its head again.

Thom Fredericks

In some ways you are responding to the church's attempt to bring relevance to its message. In one sense, the holy will always be "un" relevant. Modernist attempts to make sure "everyone gets it" often dumb down the holy till it is much like therapeutic language. Josh McDowel's Evidence that Demands a Verdict is one of these attempts to make accessible the holy such that anyone who is reasonable and intelligent will understand that he is a sinner and merely repent as an act of objective, reasoned behavior modification.

There needs to be a re centering of the mysterious. Awe and fear of God are ideas that for the modernist just make God to inaccessible and frightening Well??????? Who do you want to worship? Jerry Falwell's older more gentler brother or a God who is called a HOLY FIRE?


I had forgotten to share this with you all in the recent flurry of list-activity
regarding "defining post-modernity". This quote is taken from a recent talk by
D.S. Long in which he addresses this issue. He may have said something quite
the same when he was at up/rooted, but it is instructive none-the-less.

"But why? What are values? I tell my students: “Don’t have values. Used cars
have values. People should never have values.” Values are a very bad thing to
have because primarily our moral life is understood in terms of preferences, as
if they are choices we have made rather than gifts we have inherited. Values
are posited by human will, because that is all we have left at the end of

Nietzsche recognized this and he identified this problem as the “will to
power,” or as “nihilism.” And I am one of those person who believes that the
modern era ends in nihilism. Nihilism is not merely the negation of everything
that came prior, although it includes that negation. In that sense many people
when they use the term “post-modernity” they misunderstand what it is. Post-
modernity is not this age that comes after the modern. Because there is a sense
in which the end of modernity never comes to an end. The end of modernity is
an endless end of repetition that you can’t get out of because the end of
modernity is that progress becomes our fate. New and improved is simply
something we have to embrace.

The new and improved, it always almost arrives but never quite gets here
which requires the negation of everything that has come before as old, as
obsolescent. The end of modernity is like the skip at the end of what we used
to call an LP, it plays itself over and over and over again. And that is why
post-modernity can’t just be the next stage that overcomes the modern. That
won’t work, that is just one more modern strategy. It is something else."

M. Leary
Bindery Supervisor/Book Artist
Rolfing Memorial Library

nice work, and what is a "book artist"?

i totally agree with this understanding of modernity as always looking for the next new thing (the cool, hip), so most of the post-modern conversation is just that, looking for the next new thing (which usually is retro-, from the past). That's why I said that most so-called postmodern churches are really just modern, b/c they are only looking for something new (but of course they say that they want to minister to genx or something like that, which is certainly a good motivation, it just backfires.)

at the january up/rooted gathering Stephen Long said that post modernity helps us to rightly name modernity (which refers to what Bunker was saying about language), but is unable to move beyond it.
so what does that mean for the church? you guys figure it out.

geoff h

It is interesting to note that we know what a postmodern church is not yet we are not certain, in any specificity, what it is. I think one would also have to say that a church could posses all of the below mentioned practices and still be within the realm of a postmodern church. To say that these are "just a superficial cultural accommodation to MTV or GenX." doesn't seem to address much. The "church" should never BE the building or the technology within no matter how many of these gimmicks one may posses. The church should not also BE the high road of minimalism and art. The church is ìthe bride of Christî and we should live as a bride should live waiting for her groom, in purity!

Young people are always looking for something new. Many young people a generation ago (generation being used loosely) fled the traditional churches for those of the evangelical format. Worship preferences may change but God does not and I am not certain as to how the truth of Christ would change either.

I do not know if I agree to this idea of a post-modern church as much as I think followers of Christ living, in purity and grace, should learn how to be followers of Christ is a postmodern society, which doesnít exist throughout the world.

Ancient rituals. I have heard this mentioned several times in the past regarding the postmodern church and I would like to know - what are the desired ancient rituals and their significance?

Thanks for the dialogue. It is quite interesting.

Thom Fredericks

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously!


"At the january up/rooted gathering Stephen Long said that post modernity
helps us to rightly name modernity (which refers to what Bunker was saying
about language), but is unable to move beyond it. so what does that mean
for the church? you guys figure it out."

I like this statement a lot. This in some sense make post-modernity a heuristic
device wouldn't it? A descriptive way of describing who we are and why rather than a prescriptive means of framing who we are and why properly.

In this light: why do we have to figure this out? What exactly is there to figure out? That is where I keep hitting a brick wall, I simply don't know what the "right" question to ask is.

But I do know what the "necessary" questions for the local church. They simply are like this:
1. This brother has a drinking problem, how can I help him?
2. How can I be a better preacher?
3. This sister is sick, how can we help her?
4. How should we worship?
5. How can we be involved with evangelism?

All very basic practical questions. All questions that have their answers in the
wisdom of scripture and the experience of other leaders. Now here is my question: is the question of post-modernity one of these basic practical questions, or is it something else? Do we make this issue more complicated then it actually is. How fundamental is this question to the life of our local church? From one perspective it is not fundamental at all.

For Long it is one of these practical questions. His answer to your question Geoff is simply the whole communitarian/Amish thing. And he would answer the question: "What does this mean for the church?" By saying: "It means we have to embody a Christian ethic, not a modernist one because these two things have become identical in modern ecclesiology."

It seems that for others, like Lindbeck for example, this question is not simply
practical, it is paradigmatical. This to me seems to be stepping over some
theological boundary.

(p.s. a "Book Artist" is one who treats the creation of books and literary material as one of the Fine Arts rather than what is known as the "Shop Arts" (woodworking, leathercraft, etc...) It is a growing national movement that actually has a lot of leaders in Chicago.

M. Leary
Bindery Supervisor/Book Artist
Rolfing Memorial Library

Who do you want to worship? Jerry Falwell's older more gentler brother or a God who is called a HOLY FIRE?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I wish I'd said that.

Get squizzy!

Thom Fredericks wrote:

Being Christlike. Yea, yea that is the bottom line. BUT instead of saying anything at all how about we just shrug our shoulders?

yes, i think being christlike is the goal, and that too often we focus on other things. We strain out the nats of epistemplogy, language, and the culturally chiche, but forget the weightier things like justice, righteousness, and faithfulness.

I liked this question: "what does a church look like that is trying to be faithful in the postmodern context/culture?" That is closer to what I think the focus should be. Although, I am still not convinced that being "imitators of Christ" would, or should, look any different than in any other era.

i agree and disagree. Being imitators of Christ might be similar to other era, and i would say that with some of the pomo corrective to modern Christian, we again are more able to pursue that imitation. (this would be a holistic expression of the gospel and the kingdom of God, an embodied spirituality rather than congitive, and an embracing of diversity) but i disagree because each era has its own strengths and weaknesses, and while there is an eternal Gospel, each era response to that gospel is temporal, fallible (we call this Christianty). As on African theologian said, "the gospel is timeless, but Christiantiy is always a beggar."

Ancient rituals. I have heard this mentioned several times in the past regarding the postmodern church and I would like to know - what are the desired ancient rituals and their significance?

would some else please comment on ritual and their significance?


perhaps when trying to understand what a postmodern church would look
like we are actually asking the wrong question by emphasizing what it
would LOOK like. i would hope that one way this postmodern movement
would reshape the church is to move away from the question being what
should it LOOK like, or what should the worship style or worship
format or structure of the church be. instead i hope we ask what
should the church BE, what will it feel like, who will be invited and
included, what will we do together. then the appearance is secondary
and really of little importance. let's get down to the basics. what
is church?

here i think we have to pause because we have more problematic
language. both the words postmodern and church are pretty loaded. i
don't think we can have such a thing. church is just the english
translation of ekklesia right? if i remember correctly ekklesia
means something quite different from the connotations of church...
getting greek dictionary... ah yes... all of the meanings and uses
seem to involve gathering, assembling or meeting... except the
meaning as in the universal church. so i think the body of Christ
that will hopefully manifest in a postmodern world will be manifest
in many different ways and gatherings, different buildings, different
music, different style. what i think our task and the question
really is is what are the values that should shape the church? for
example... no matter what the church looks like some things are
essential... maybe... like worship and discipleship and fellowship.
what about those things is necessary for a community of faith, for a
gathering of christians, an ekklesia?

maybe everybody already said this because i didn't read all the posts
again.... more to come...

peace lucas


I may have misunderstood your assertion that the church should focus less on what it looks like so bear with me here as I am attempting to address an issue you may have not even desired to be addressed.

We must look like something. That has been the dark underbelly if you will of some of the Enlightenment's tendency to allow faith to be disembodied. However, with that being said, what we look like will not be universally shared as one common symbol system. Local enclaves will "look"different and should. The attempt to find one monolithic ubiquitous "look" is indeed a fruitless search. If you are responding to the over attention to form, aesthetic, and style over against lifestyle, character & virtue, I am with you on that.

i'm giving up posting before i read through all the posts first. ok
so you guys are on the same wavelength.

as far as the question of if postmodernism even matters.... i think
it doesn't matter as long as you don't interact with people or live
in the world. it only matters as much as you have contact with it.
i think churches without "postmodern" thinking kids in it do them a
disservice by reinforcing their modern tendencies and then send them
off to college to have their foundations destroyed.

postmodernism seems to create a multitude of paradoxes which fits
with my understanding of christianity. we recognize through
postmodernism that things are not either/or that things are rather
fluid so in our commuities we may have people who are thoroughly
postmodern, people who are thoroughly modern and many who are
somewhere in between.

some have said we must create separate postmodern churches because we
can't coexist with moderns. i have a lot of trouble with that
thought. and i don't know that it's even possible to create some
purely "postmodern" community. i think it's just a different way of
being the church. trying to create more intentional community
without the barriers of hierarchy and structure for example. i'm not
real comfortable labeling churches postmodern even... once you do
that it seems they probably cease being postmodern. we can't look
for the same categories to define how we do church that modernism
did. i hope it will be more vague... less emphasis on styles and
superficial things and more emphasis on values.

for example... we really value community and sharing our lives
together and are intentional about the way we creat an ekklesia to
make that happen. that doesn't define a whole range of things that
maybe modern people would be uncomfortable with, but i think it
defines the church better than some sort of institutional hierarchy
or structure or style or worship format or trend or "new thing" as
has been said.

i will ponder this further and perhaps have some list of things i
envision as being important or essential to what ekklesia means
(postmodern or otherwise).

peace lucas

i think what i just posted clarified a little better. still
pondering though what these values are that define ekklesia apart
from form and structure.

peace lucas

While pondering you might want to consider the narrative implications of "ekklesia apart from form and structure." I look forward to your thoughts on this.


colorless but not odorless

Thom Fredericks

ok david,

bear with me on this because i'm just thinking out loud. this should
be much mroe rooted in scripture, but right now i'm going with my
head and heart. what i mean by ekklesia apart from frm and structure
is a gathering of christians or people apart from the institutional
trappings and superficial religious church-y things (not that these
things won't be part of it jsut that they won't define it). so
here's my definition of ekklesia (you guys can add or subtract to
them as you see fit and maybe we'll reach some sort of helpful

1. authentic community- this would mean that the members are
intentional about the community being inclusive and welcoming. that
people share their lives and not just their sundays with each other.

2. discipleship- the people in this community get together
periodically to continue to try and figure this faith thing out.
various methods could apply but the main thing is that they get
together to struggle through living out faith in the real world and
in their own lives.

3. worship- there is a time set aside to encounter God. nuff said.

4. food- i think food should be central. it's really what has kept
people from being totally isolated from each other anyway. actually
i don't have anymore right now and i think food always brings people
together so why not?

i'm reading "the spirit of the disciplines" by dallas willard right
now and i keep coming back to the disciplines as being much mor
eimportant and uplifted as a means of living out our faith. i was
never taught, encouraged or mentored in living out spiritual
disciplines in my life. the closest thing was the 30 minute quiet
time and i'm finding that a totally inadequate way of looking at
spiritual disciplines and spiritual growth.

peace lucas

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