Positive and Negative Impact of Postmodernism on Christianity

PLAINVIEW— Christianity has entered the era of ‘Postmodernism’ and many scholars are studying the changing thoughts and practices of postmodern Christians that are distinctive of the earlier Christians. Scholars at Wayland Baptist University observed the impact of postmodernism as well as the danger that the postmoderns are imposing on Christianity.

Micheal Summers, who offers seminars on postmodernism and its effect on the church said postmoderns focus on building relationships and connections, an ideal that directly affects how the church as an organization relates to the church as the body of Christ.

He added, "Postmodernism is really looking at the structures that modernity built and saying that the bricks are not what matter. It's the mortar … (that) allows you to place the bricks however you want to place them.”

Summers, director of church services at Wayland, noted that some people view postmodernism as a generational peculiarity or passing fad but he said he believes postmodernism is a permanent concept.

"The reality is that it is here and it is not going away," he said. "It is a worldview concept some philosophers believe will last 2,000-5,000 years, if not longer. The tab in human history is modernity, not postmodernism."

Summers agrees with pastors, scholars and theologians who predict the 21st century will see a return to the "apostolic" model of the church, in which Christians focus on discipleship, following the life of Christ.

"The church rolls are full of converts that we see in the pew week after week," Summers says. "To the postmodern mind, that is invalid. If it is something you believe with all your heart, mind, soul and spirit, then you have to demonstrate it through your life."

The postmoderns only accept demonstrated faith, he explained. For them, simply reading the Bible and listening to a sermon is not enough.

"These younger generations who have been raised with all of this multiple input and diversity see non-Christian world religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam that are much more committed and demonstrate their faith daily in a visible way," Summers said. "They look at the Christianity that they grew up with and see nothing but people telling them not to do something, then turning around and doing it.

"There is no huge difference in our divorce rates between those who claim to be churched and those who don't, … in our teenage alcohol rates, … in our teen pregnancy rates. We are not seeing a distinction of the lifestyle of those who profess to be Christians from those who don't.

"For the postmodern, that has invalidated the authenticity of the gospel."

Fred Meeks, chairperson of Wayland University's religion and philosophy division, observes this type of thinking also influences the students.

"Rather than talking about authorities and standards, people are far more concerned about personality issues," Meeks pointed out, "They want to know how you feel about things. Sometimes, for students, where authority comes from is the person making these comments. Is he an authentic person? Is he perceived to be an authentic person?"

Meeks believe the best way to approach these students is by opening up personally, revealing your own weaknesses and thoughts.

"Coming across as a know-it-all with all the answers can cause problems. But if you say: 'Look. This is my position and here is why I think this way. I respect your right to disagree.' It appears that students are more open to this mindset."

However many popular church-growth models don't fit postmodern thinking, Summers noted.

"Postmodernism doesn't define church growth by numbers or statistics," he said. "The church-growth movement is purpose-driven. It says you have a purpose, and it can give you the steps: 1-2-3-4-5. Postmodernism is passion-driven, and there is only one step: Walk with God."

According to Summers, postmodern thinkers use images as symbols and give more weight to experiences, participation and images to build connections. He said, "What postmoderns are looking for is a symbolic image that means something."

When it comes to choosing a church, postmoderns will search for a church that best fits them in terms of shaping relationship with God.

However many scholars see the postmoderns’ way of choosing church as problematic saying that it doesn’t help Christians learn about commitment and sacrifice which are the two integral parts of Jesus’ teaching.

"The biggest criticism we have of user-friendly churches that do anything to get you to come is that they leave out the key things that Jesus required of all of his disciples —commitment and sacrifice," Meeks said.

Meeks added that it is a challenge to maintain the integrity of basic theology while accommodating the changing environment.

"How do we find a way in this postmodern world to say to them, 'You want a meaningful relationship?'" Meeks asked. "What better place to offer that than a church built on the model of Koinonia, with genuine fellowship."

Chris Seay, pastor of the postmodern Ecclesia church in Houston, agreed on what Meeks pointed out. He thinks it is rather dangerous to offer Bible studies that are "divorced from the church" and give worship apart from accountability.

"It's really a strange thing to get together with people and study Scripture and read it and not have any sense of structure and accountability," Seay said. "That scares the heck out of me."

Calling such approach a “hyper-individualistic pursuit of faith,” Seay said, "People are really saying: 'It is just about getting my needs met.' And that is what much of the church-growth movement is founded on. They are saying faith is an inward journey of having our 'needs' met."

People need to realize many of their felt needs aren't needs at all, but "wants," Seay insisted. "Our only real needs are to love God and love our neighbor, and these are outward things."