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.
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_Wall_Street
[4] ibid