Posts tagged generation
Enigma (part 4): Discovering the "Edge"
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
The word enigma means "a person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand."[1] This is a perfect description of post-modernism. A friend who is deeply involved in post-modern outreach recently told me that it may take more than 100 years before we can look back and make sense of it all. And this is why post-moderns are taking the church for a spin, no one understands them and if we cant understand them we cant connect with them.

However, the situation is not as bleak as some may paint it to be. Post-modernism, while presenting serious challenges to Christian evangelism, also has elements that make it one of the most attractive cultures to reach. Not only that, but I would like to propose that in many ways post-moderns themselves do not fully embrace their own philosophy and are in fact searching for something better. Allow me to elaborate on these two points.

Older generations always have a way of complaining about how newer generations are so much worse than they were. Just pop in on a conversation about the "kids these days" and you are likely to get inundated with an ocean of superiority complex. Those who take the "older generation" side complain about how kids no longer respect their adults like they used to, work hard for something, or are willing to sacrifice. To them this new generation is spoiled, has a misplaced sense of entitlement, and has no respect for the values and traditions of the elder generation. While this may be true in a general sense what the "older generationsists" fail to capture is that the newer generation, while lacking in some areas (such as the ones mentioned) far exceeds them in others. For example, newer generations are less critical, judgmental, rigid, closed minded, and intolerant than older generations. They are also more open minded and creative. Older generations were more culturally insensitive and prejudiced than the post-modern generation which sees everyone as equal and demands greater respect for different cultures and ethnicities. Post-moderns also crave authenticity and sincerity while the older generation was perfectly content with putting on a mask in order to impress the neighbors. So while post-modernism has negative elements it also contains numerous redemptive qualities that are more compatible with Christianity than the older generation ever had.[2]

So let's stop yapping about how terrible the younger generation is and realize that while they are worse in some areas they are also better in others. And the redemptive elements of post-moderns make them one of the most attractive cultures to reach. Post-moderns have the cultural advantage of being able to create the type of church people have dreamed of for generations. A church that values community above individuality, authenticity above reputation, acceptance above self-preservation, and relevance above dogma.

In reminder of my second point I would also like to propose that post-moderns do not fully embrace their own philosophy and are in fact searching for something better. This was clearly exemplified in the "Occupy Wall Street" (OWS) movement that began in 2011. The two aspects of post-modernism that frustrates Christian outreach attempts the most are 1) relativity: the rejection of absolute truth and, 2) the rejection of the metanarrative. How do you reach someone who denies the idea that there is an absolute truth in the universe? No matter what you say and how logical, rational, and defensible it may be at the end of the day you are dealing with someone who could care less for in their estimation, "what is true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me" - even if the propositions grossly contradict one another. And how do you reach someone who denies the existence of "a comprehensive explanation" of history, humanity or the universe (metanarrative) such as the Bible presents?

Before I answer those questions allow me to return to the OWS movement. "The main issues raised by Occupy Wall Street were social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the perceived undue influence of corporations on government—particularly from the financial services sector."[3] The movement swept across America as post-moderns took to the streets and cities with the slogan "[w]e are the 99%" which "refers to income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population."[4] So what does all this mean? First of all, it is a rejection of relativity. In order for the OWS movement to even begin there had to be a rejection of relativity. Truth must be absolute. And what was that truth? It was, in the minds of the protesters, the concept that 99% of the population was being held under the thumb of the wealthy 1%. That is an absolute claim, one that is built on data, evidence, historical research, and rational interpretations of present experience - the very aspects of truth that post-modern relativity attempts to deny. Secondly, it is an embrace of metanarrative. The narrative that inspired OWS was a grand tale of corporate greed, corrupt government, and a sense of destiny and power that led the participants to believe that they could take down the massive corporations and agencies that have led to social and economic inequality within the worlds greatest nation. Protesters endured the rage of elements, the brutality of law enforcement, and the bombardment of media for weeks on end in defense of a movement that was built on both absolute truth and metanarrative. They denied their own philosophy, not because they are unintelligent, but because they found an absolute truth and a metanarrative worth suffering for. Their current worldview and life experience was not satisfying enough to keep them quiet. They wanted something better and they were willing, unwittingly I'm sure, to deny the very foundations of their philosophy in order to secure that something better.

So what exactly am I saying? First of all, post-modern culture has many redemptive qualities that make them an attractive culture to reach. As a church we must focus on those redemptive qualities and make use of them to connect them to Jesus Christ. Secondly, scary as post-modernism may appear the vast majority of its believers would be willing to forsake it in the event that they discover an absolute truth and metanarrative that tugs at the core of their humanity. We must discover how to communicate to them the reality that Jesus is that absolute truth and that the God-story of scripture is that metanarrative. When we do we will have discovered an edge in connecting with this generation (more on this tomorrow). 

[1] Google Dictionary: "enigma"
[2] These observations are based on personal experience.
[4] ibid
Enigma (part 2): How To NOT Reach Post-Moderns
photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc
Post-modernism is old. Surprising as it may sound, its true. While I am not a post-modern historian I am aware that this worldview has existed and grown since around the period following World War II. That's over 60 years ago and yet the church is still trying to figure out how to reach them. Ask anyone involved in post-modern ministry and they will most likely tell you that no one knows how to reach them. They don't respond to logic, rational arguments, or dogmatic preaching. They could care less about your proof texts, apologetic's, or evidences. Truth is not absolute for them, hence if Adventism is true for you then that's fine, but if Islam is true for someone else then it is equally true. Any disagreement is seen as intolerance and any claim to have absolute truth is seen as narcissism. In a future post I am going to present some challenges to post-modernism's worldview that I believe can give us an edge when it comes to reaching them for Christ, but for the time being I would like to share what will single handedly keep us from ever connecting with them.

While not specifically dealing with post-modernism, Ellen White nevertheless captured the importance and need for new ways to reach emerging generations. In Gospel Workers page 468 she said, "The methods and means by which we reach certain ends are not always the same. The missionary must use reason and judgment. Changes for the better must be made..." (GW 468.3). Again, in her book Evangelism Ellen White noted that "New methods must be introduced. God’s people must awake to the necessities of the time in which they are living. God has men whom He will call into His service,—men who will not carry forward the work in the lifeless way in which it has been carried forward in the past.... (Ev 70.1). Whatever may have been your former practice, it is not necessary to repeat it again and again in the same way. God would have new and untried methods followed. Break in upon the people—surprise them (Ev 125.4). Let every worker in the Master’s vineyard, study, plan, devise methods, to reach the people where they are. We must do something out of the common course of things. We must arrest the attention" (Ev 122.4).

The message is clear, we cannot expect to reach this generation with the same methods we used to connect with the previous generation. New methods (not schemes or gimmicks) need to be devised. The way we do church and evangelism needs to be redefined in a way that connects with this generation while simultaneously holding on to the biblical beliefs that make us who we are. In a recent Facebook post I commented that "I always hear Christians whining about how we are not reaching the culture but when I look around I see us doing the same thing we've been doing for 50 years. So is the culture really that hard to reach? Or are we just slacking?" 

So there it is. How to NOT reach post-moderns: Keep doing the same thing we've been doing for the last 50 years and we are guaranteed to succeed (in other words: fail).