3. The Challenge of Discipleship in our Culture: The Unblessed Life

This week is the most complex of the chapters until we reach the very end. Next week, we begin to ask and answer the question, “How would Jesus respond and have us respond in this context?”

Christians proclaim Jesus is, “The Way, The Truth, and the Life.” For those who believe, the declaration seems obvious. Nevertheless, for many non-Christians in our society, the words are meaningless. There is no one way of life. Everyone simply chooses a lifestyle that pleases them. There is no universal truth. There is only the perspectives of various people, groups, and disciplines. There is no inherent goodness or beauty. There is only one kind of life, what the ancients called, “Bios.” There is no moral or spiritual life not reducible to biology. Jesus is not “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” because no one can be anything more than their own, way, truth and life.

The decline of Christian faith parallels the decline of the modern world and the emergence of a post-modern, post-Christian age. [1] Christians have been slow to apprehend the dramatic shifts in the culture—a culture Christian faith helped to create and sustain, and which Christians generally assume will continue to be receptive to their religious vision. This is untrue. As a retired professor observed, “We were slow to discern that the culture is not our friend.” [2] In particular, the church has been slow to recognize a new dominant world view that is replacing a Christian world view as the primary way in which people structure reality.

This new world view might be summarized in the following way:

We are alone in the physical universe, which constitutes the only reality. In this universe, there is no embedded notion of truth, beauty or goodness. These concepts are matters of personal choice. We humans must, therefore, create our own meaning and lives by acts of personal choice. All attempts to force such ideas upon others are a form of coercion by which one group forces its will upon others. Personal pleasure attained by the acquisition of personal experiences and things that can provide desired experiences are the means by which humans create their lives. [3]

Sociologists remind us that all people live in cultures characterized by “plausibility structures” that define what is reasonable and sensible and what is not. The world view of modern society has created a “crisis of credibility” within which Christian beliefs, values, and morals no longer make sense to many people, and especially the youngest, best educated, and most successful members of the cultural elite. [4] the new plausibility structure assumes that any kind of universal, transcendent truth is impossible.

Basic Features of Our New Cultural Reality

There are basic features of this new cultural reality that impact discipleship and disciple-making in important ways, and which make our culture increasingly hostile to the message of the gospel. Here are a few of the most important:

My Truth is Only True for Me

Nothing is more common than to hear people voice the opinion that “all truth is relative.” [5]  In our culture, when applied to faith and morals “true” means “true for me,” as opposed to “true” in the sense of accurately rendering external reality independent of my ideas about it. In this kind of society, it is difficult to make persuasive unpopular or counter-cultural truth claims, and especially religious claims, such as the claim that “Jesus is Lord.” Such claims are dismissed as silly. A popular way of expressing this aspect of postmodernity is, “You have your truth; I have mine.”

In our culture, truth claims are often seen as nothing more than an attempt by the person making the claim for power or control over another person or group. While it is positive to understand that all expressions of truth inevitably involve the social condition and bias of the claimant, this positive aspect is often overwhelmed by a negative inference that there is no objective moral or other reality outside of isolated individuals, who ought to be able to live, think, and act as they see fit.

The Christian story has a powerful response to the nihilistic vision of radical postmodernism. The foundation of the postmodern critique of religion lies in its view that all truth claims involve a bid for power. The claim that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and should be followed by all people is seen as nothing but a claim for power over the lives of people.  Christian faith and the Biblical narrative are, however, exempt from this critique. The fundamental insight of Christian faith is that God is a person characterized by self-giving, self-sacrificing love (1 John 4:8). God in Christ forsakes all power and privilege for the sake of the human race and gives God’s self in an act of sacrificial love. (Philippians 2:5-11). Far from being a bid for power, Christian faith at its best is a bid for love. While Christians often not do not live up to this ideal, the Biblical story speaks of forsaking power in love for the sake of the world.

I Alone Make All My Choices

Contemporary society is hostile to any form of tradition, authority, and historic communal norms that might burden an individual’s “free choice.” [6] The bias of the modern age against authority and tradition is reflected in the radical individualism that permeates Western culture. The good life involves the ability to do “whatever I want to do so long as I do not hurt anyone else.” In such a culture, the idea that individual desires and goals may need to be sacrificed for the good of parents, children, city, state, or nation seems quaint and out of date. In recent years, this radical individualism has moved from being the province of a narrow elite to being an underlying assumption of the vast majority of people. For most people today, traditional sources of authority, such as parents, pastors, business and political leaders, as well as the authority of such intellectual works like the Bible, are either lost or greatly undermined.

Nowhere is the narcissistic individualism of contemporary society more evident than in the decline of marriage and family. When the primary goal of human life becomes self-fulfillment, the kind of self-sacrifice required to maintain strong marriages and families is inevitably absent. In the early 1960s, a convenient fiction was born, holding that even where a marriage had already produced children, divorce was preferable to lovelessness and constant strife. The alternative of learning to love the other out of duty and creating a home of peacefulness was not deemed a rational alternative. The result has been what is sometimes called an “epidemic” of divorce, weak families, a decline in standards of living, and children with deep, unhealed spiritual wounds. [7]

If it Feels Good, I Should Do It

Without question, the dominant moral philosophy of the early twenty-first century America is a kind of hedonism. [8] The idea that the good life is synonymous with a life of personal pleasure is part of the everyday environment within which most people live. This hedonism surrounds and permeates our culture. The idea that pleasure, and especially physical pleasure, sits at the center of the good life bombards people on television, in movies, and in the music to which they listen.

A subtle form of hedonism is often found among Christians. Many people who would never affirm their commitment to a life lived for personal pleasure engage in activities that are indistinguishable from the activities of non-Christians. Often, Christians have affairs, drink heavily, use recreational drugs, collect pleasurable experiences, are financially greedy, and engage in other hedonistic activities no less frequently than non-Christians. Despite what Christians, including church leaders, may say about the meaning of religious faith, a silent internal, secular worldview impacts everything from the family budget, to the cars they drive, to the time spent on hobbies, to personal fitness and grooming, to their actual commitment to other people. [9]

 What is Right is What I Feel  is Right for Me

The radical individualism and moral hedonism of our culture combines with the modern awareness of cultural differences in fundamental belief systems to create a form of radical moral and spiritual relativism that characterizes the moral and religious beliefs and behavior of many people. [10]  Often, people do not so much personally reject traditional moral standards as they disregard their application to themselves or other persons who do not see them as personally “right for them.” This way of thinking puts Christian leaders, whose teaching and preaching inevitably involves moral issues, in a dilemma. Christians must either speak in ways that are unpopular and live with the resulting rejection or conform the teachings of the Scriptures and Church to contemporary moral norms. Many choose the latter course.

During one of my advanced degree programs, I saw the fundamental irrationality of this modern way of thinking dramatically demonstrated in a conversation among theological students. During a class, the notion of radical moral relativism was advanced by the leader. After class, a group continued the discussion. Finally, I asked the major proponent of the moral relativistic position, “Do you mean that there is no moral difference between a tribe of pigmies that engage in human sacrifice and Christian morals?” Before the person thought, he immediately answered, “Yes.” The entire class went quiet as a large group of people confronted the implications of what they had been taught in their undergraduate and graduate programs.

I am Responsible for My Life Story

Scholars tell us that human beings are by nature narrative thinkers.[11] We instinctively place our lives within the context of a story, in which we are a main character. In most previous societies, there was a kind of over-arching story that allowed people to construct a narrative in which their life made sense and had meaning and purpose. Old Testament stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Esau, and the patriarchs, Moses, Deborah, Joshua, and the exilic generation, Gideon and the Judges, Saul, David, Abigail, Bathsheba, and Solomon, and the decline of David’s kingdom, and its fall provided for ancient Israel a meaningful story around which human life could be structured and meaning found. [12]  Christians have traditionally believed that the story of God’s relationship with humanity as rendered in the Jewish and Christian Bibles (the Old and New Testaments), and especially the life, death and resurrect on of Jesus, and the writings of the New Testament authors provide an overarching story that gives a context and guidance to human life. This is precisely meta-narrative postmodern thinking rejects. [13]

A basic challenge for contemporary Christians in sharing the Christian story is that we live in a “world that has lost its story.” [14] Our culture is characterized by rejection of any “meta-narrative” (or overarching story) that seeks to give meaning and direction to human life. Not only do contemporary people not believe the Christian story, they often do not believe there is any meaningful story around which to order their lives. The result is an inability of people to form their lives and make decisions in light of the biblical or any other story, except that which they create for themselves. The Christian narrative has been replaced by the secular narrative discussed above.

Modern society has been unable to sustain and renew its intellectual, moral and spiritual foundations in light of the challenges it has faced both intellectually and practically, with the result that it has largely collapsed into radical individualism and moral and spiritual relativism. [15] The result is cultural decline and disintegration. In basic ways, the cultural ruins we see around us is evidence that the Christian story is truer than the secular story that has increasingly replaced it.

The False Gospel of “Entertainmentism”

Into the emptiness created by the loss of a meaningful story has entered the entertainment industry, which provides endless narratives to replace the Biblical story. This industry is central to the lives of modern people. Unfortunately, the entertainment industry is shallow, simplistic, adolescently romantic, obsessed with sex, and often violent. As a result, it is normally unrealistic in the stories it tells in television, movies, music, and other forms. Often, its communication techniques make consciously irrational appeals to emotions. Sex and violence are the vehicles of choice in this emotional appeal. The end result is a culture saturated with the values of the entertainment media is one with a deep and abiding lack of interest in truth and a romantic avoidance of reality. One author describes it in the following manner:

For all practical purposes, the U.S. today is a 24-hour, TV entertainment society. Everything in contemporary America is an entertainment, from sporting event to big business, politics, certainly religion, and even academia. If it isn’t fun, cute, or packaged in ten-second sound bite, then forget it. If it can’t be presented with a smiling, cheerful, sexy face, then it ain’t worth attending to. We’re all spectators in a grand entertainment society. [16]

Recently, my wife and I have been watching a television show that exemplifies the problems with the contemporary entertainment industry. The story line we have been following concerns of a group of young people who are able to travel backwards in time. [17] Two different groups are attempting to manipulate and control the direction of human history. Roughly speaking, one group is portrayed as “the bad guys” and the other as “the good guys.” The good guys kill just as many people and act as irrationally as the bad guys, except that they are trying to protect human freedom. The bad guys are trying to control the future for their own political and economic interest. The bad guys are mere caricatures of the people the media industry dislikes.

The show is saturated by human self-assertion and ethical chaos. The characters struggle with the idea that there might be a higher power who controls the future, but of course there isn’t one active in their plot line, and so they must struggle to create a meaningful future all on their own. They have to make choices. Deep in the problems with show is what Walter Wink calls, “the myth of redemptive violence,” – the notion that violence can be redemptive if only the “good guys” defeat the “bad guys.” (It’s not redemptive for the bad guys kill the good guys.) [18] The result is a constant replay of a shallow, relativistic, philosophy the writers where probably taught in High School and College. In addition, because the show takes the watcher back into history, occasionally the watcher is treated to a shallow, cartoon version of history, sometimes distorted.

A society dominated by entertainment reduces complex problems to sound bites and catchy lyrics. It reduces basic moral and spiritual dilemmas of the human race to a simplistic one-hour drama. It allows people to view sex and violence without consequences. The news depictions of our politics have become similarly shallow. If complex problems are often oversimplified by politicians, the media has largely lost interest in educating the public in the facts, which are often complex and difficult to understand, finding it easier to give opinion pieces and distorted coverage of current events. Complex problems, like the national debt cannot receive proper attention. They are too complex and solutions would require self-denial in a culture addicted to self and selfish consumption.

This culture of oversimplification impacts discipleship, because of the pressure to communicate the Scripture and the content of the confessional standards in simple, even simplistic, ways. Furthermore, the way in which worship services and other church programs are conceived and presented must increasingly take notice of the way in which the entertainment industry structures reality and the acquisition of new information and ideas. None of this is necessarily helpful to those who wish to communicate historic Christian faith.

 The One Who Dies with the Most Toys Wins

When persons from less developed nations visit Europe and North America, they immediately notice the vast array of goods and services available to those who live in these cultures. (Often, they bring with them a list of items it is difficult or expensive to acquire back home to purchase for friends and loved ones.) America and Europe have become shopping paradises.

With the passing of the World War II generation, most Americans cannot remember a time not characterized by relative prosperity. Recessions aside, the standard of living enjoyed by most Americans today far surpasses that of their grandparents. The impact of consumerism upon the culture is important, deep, and pervasive. A culture without meaning and purpose is likely to find endless consumerism attractive and distracting. People too easily come to believe (consciously or unconsciously) that “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.”

The economies of Europe and North America have evolved from struggling to meet basic human needs to providing a growing supply of goods and services to an affluent consumer market. Marketing has moved from a means by which people with basic needs find products to meet those needs to the creation of needs in ever increasing, narrow product niches. The definition of the “good life” is increasingly dominated by the feeling that “good” and “abundant” are identical concepts.

The consumer culture is a challenge to the gospel, the Church, and leaders. Many members of local congregations have difficulty resisting consumerism; however, church leaders and their families are not exempt from the disease I call “consumeritis.”[19]  Consumerism assumes human happiness can be purchased, that the acquisition of things will bring happiness, and that the experience of ownership and possession is redemptive. Few people explicitly articulate this faith, but many people practice it. The bumper sticker that reads, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” is truer for more people than they want to admit, including many who would never admit that things constitute the primary focus of their lives.

Advertising and the media constantly communicate the idea that new cars, new hair sprays, and new soft drinks can bring happiness and fulfillment to the one who acquires them. A kind of disconnect often exists between the gospel that is preached and the life that is lived, making authentic spirituality hard to achieve and maintain in a local congregation. Alternatively, some congregations have adopted a consumer-oriented approach to ministry that is not fully faithful to the Gospel. This situation is especially true in those denominations that sit at the center of American culture.

Materialism: There is Nothing Beyond the Physical World.

Sitting beneath the superficiality of a consumer culture is the reality of a materialistic culture, a culture that assumes that the material world is primary, and physical goods and services are redemptive. Deep in the modern and postmodern psyche is the notion that the physical universe is the only and ultimate reality. In this way of thinking, all that exists are material things and the forces that act upon them. [20]

God is considered not to exist or to be a part of the only and ultimate reality, the physical universe. Pantheism (the belief that everything is God) is one religious response to a materialistic worldview. A more common practical reaction is a movement of religion to the human psyche, where it is viewed either negatively as a neurosis or positively as a principle of self-transcendence and wholeness. New age and other similar forms of popular religion often emerge from this kind of thinking. In any case, such a religious foundation is powerless against the overwhelming materialism of the culture.

Among churches, an overt attempt to find a place within a fundamentally materialistic worldview is common. In liberal circles, this accommodation is evident in its theological accommodation to a materialistic and anti-supernatural worldview. In evangelical circles, the accommodation often emerges in a different form, such as an uncritical adoption of psychotherapeutic techniques and notions. In conservative churches there is often a wholesale philosophical rejection of modernity, coupled with an uncritical acceptance of this means, methods, and goals. [21] In both cases, discipleship has been hampered by the false world view accepted by groups.

Our “Postmodern” Context

Our social context is often referred to as “Postmodern.” The term “Postmodern” is both deceiving and not always helpful. [22] All the name connotes is that we live “after” the Modern Era. In fact, many characteristics of what is commonly called “postmodern” seem to indicate only the end-phase of the Modern Era. [23] Nevertheless, emerging and challenging realities captured under the rubric of “postmodernity” profoundly impact Christians and discipleship.

In ways, the culture we inhabit often involves a partial return to paganism. Unlike the ancient world, our cultural paganism is a “religionless paganism.” [24] In such a culture, discipleship must be lived out by disciples in the West without the social supports common in preceding generations. American society, in particular, has shifted from one in which Protestantism, especially mainline Protestantism, represents a societal religious and moral consensus to one in which many cultural elites are often openly hostile to Christian faith and morals. [25]

A culture characterized by consumerism, radical individualism, hedonism, and “entertainmentism” is a challenging culture in which to proclaim the gospel and form and sustain Christian community. I have experienced many conversations, particularly with older pastors, where the following statement was made. “It is no longer fun to be a pastor.” In noting the reactions of Third World observers to American cultural religion, Eugene Peterson makes and observation that, at least partially explains this sentiment:

What they notice mostly is the greed, the silliness, the narcissism. They appreciate the size and prosperity of our churches, the energy and the technology, but they wonder at the conspicuous absence of the cross, the phobic avoidance of suffering, the puzzling indifference to community and relationships of intimacy. [26]

Early twenty-first century America, characterized by consumerism, materialism, hedonism, and “entertainmentism” is deeply at odds with the gospel and a form of life based on the Christian narrative. The resulting cultural patterns constitute a form of life deeply at odds with values that stand at the core of Christian faith and with the kind of life the gospel narrative encourage Christians to lead. As hostility toward the Christian meta-narrative has grown more intense in recent years, a tendency for the biblical story to be ignored or even suppressed developed in schools, colleges, universities, and the like. A corollary of this development is a decrease in the number of people outside and inside the Church who have a basic familiarity with the Biblical narrative. This decrease, in turn, makes communication of the gospel more difficult as many people simply do not have the kind of familiarity with the Christian story that permits them to understand and respond to the gospel. Furthermore, many inside the Church have either forgotten the story of the Bible or never knew it. [27] At the same time, secular society has developed a kind of lifestyle that is deeply at odds with many facets of historic Christianity.

Fortunately, Christian faith has a response to the critique of postmodernism. Christianity was not founded by a conqueror in a bid for power. The story of the gospel is the story of a God who forsakes perfection and power, endures suffering on behalf of humanity, dies a terrible death, all to reach into human history with the unimaginable self-giving love of God. At our best, Christians do not believe in a kind of religious imperialism by which every human being is compelled to believe in Christ. Instead, Christians fundamentally believe that, by reaching out in love and service to others and sharing the truth of God, people will without compulsion respond by the power of the Holy Spirit to the call of God to live lives of wisdom and love.

Christians who minister within the European and North American context in this cultural era have a unique challenge. Our ministry is to take people where they are found, caught in damaging cultural patterns, and shepherd them into a new way, the way of Christ. The sum total of the challenges posed by Western culture is the need to minister amid a deep and abiding sense that the way of Christ and the way of this world are radically different. The need is to develop the kind of character than can build and sustain Christian community in the face of the cultural challenges Christians face. Merely repeating past truisms will not do. Faith divorced from a distinctive way of life will not do. Cheap grace dispensed for sins few people either acknowledge as sin or believe are sins will not do. Only the truth embodied in love will do. Until then, we will be trapped in a crisis of discipleship.

Copyright 2019, G, Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] A good deal of this chapter is based on research done for my Doctor of Ministry Degree. A more heavily footnoted version of this chapter can be found in G. Christopher Scruggs, Practices and Characteristics for Pastors Renewing Mainline Congregations: Studies from the Presbytery of Memphis (Unpublished Dissertation, Accepted March 25, 2005).

[2] Nelson, C. Ellis. Private conversation (14 March 1994).

[3] Allen, Diogenes. Christian Belief in a Postmodern World: The Full Wealth of Conviction (Louisville, KY: Westminster, 1989), 1

[4] Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. (New York, NY: Anchor, 1967), 151; see also. Berger, Peter L. Rumor of Angels (New York, NY: Anchor, 1970).

[5] Bloom, Allan. The Closing of the American Mind (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1987), 25. Professor Bloom points out what has been my experience both as a student in the late 20th Century and a teacher. The younger American generations have been indoctrinated into a world view in which “truth” means “true for me.

[6] Trueblood, E. J. The Dawn of the Postmodern Era (New York, NY: Philosophical Library, 1954), 19.

[7] This radical individualism is increasingly felt in the Church. The notion of an authoritative text read as part of a tradition is difficult to sustain in a postmodern environment. Church leaders are confronted each and every day with persons for whom the notion of authority, and perhaps especially the notion of pastoral authority, have little or no meaning. The result for church leaders is an intense pressure to succumb to such views or constantly minister in an environment in which church leaders can do little more than support persons. Furthermore, church leaders are not immune from such radical individualism in their own lives.

[8] “Hedonism” is an ancient Greek moral theory that the ethical life can be reduced to seeking pleasure or happiness and the avoidance of pain or unhappiness. It was founded by a pupil of Socrates, and its name comes from the Greek word for pleasure. This idea has been important in religious and moral thinkers since Greek times, and profoundly impacts some forms of both Pragmatism and Utilitarianism.

[9] The pleasure-seeking aspect of modern and emerging postmodern culture is especially evident in the way in which sexuality both dominates secular politics and the Church’s agenda and distorts the Church’s life mission. Recent headlines involving the incidence of child molestation by Roman Catholic priests, the continuing divisions in mainline churches over homosexuality, and highly publicized heterosexual clergy misconduct are but examples of the way in which the hedonism of modern culture invades the Church. Addiction to pornography, a challenge in many cultures, is made much more pervasive by its easy availability on the Internet. In such a culture, the idea that self-denial and suffering are part of the good life is at odds with the form of life that surrounds people.

[10] Allen, Diogenes. Christian Belief in a Postmodern World: The Full Wealth of Conviction (Louisville, KY: Westminster, 1989), 9.

[11] See, Hauerwas, Stanley and Jones, L. Gregory, eds. Why Narrative? Readings in Narrative Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1989).

[12] In ancient Greece, the story of the Iliad with its exaltation of the heroism of Achilles and Hector formed the consciousness of people. Within the great story of the Iliad, kings, warriors, men, women, servants, and the like all found examples of where they could go right in life and how they could go wrong. See, Alister McIntyre, After Virtue 2nd Ed. (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 1983), whose analysis I have shortened but largely followed.

[13] This aspect of postmodernity is especially troubling. Human beings seem to naturally seek to understand their lives as a story, and to place themselves in some way within that story as a character. The loss of narrative inevitably means the loss of place. It means the loss of identity, meaning and purpose, as it becomes less possible to find a coherent place in the events of daily life.

[14] Jenson, Robert W. “How the World Lost Its Story.” First Things Oct. 1993: 19-24.

[15] Postmodern thinkers have abandoned any hope that any core symbolic world or meta-narrative can provide a unified vision and narrative structure for human life. [15] Unsurprisingly, the result has been cultural decline and growing social chaos. One pressing need in ministering to post-modern people is to recover the notion of the Bible as providing a non-violent narrative which provides meaning and purpose as well as ultimate justification for a free and open society. Grenz, Stanley J. A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 42-43. Interestingly, the Postmodernists do propose a metanarrative of their own, one that denies the possibility of unified spiritual and moral vision for human life. See also, After Virtue, previously cited.

[16] Mitroff, Ian I., and Warren Bennis. The Unreality Industry: The Deliberate Manufacturing of Falsehood and What It Is Doing to Our Lives (New York, NY: Oxford, 1989), 16.

[17]  Timeless, NBC New York (October 3, 2016-December 20, 2018). Timeless is an action drama in the science fiction genre.

[18] Wink, Walter, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press), 13-31. Wink has written extensively on the powers and principalities and the way in which a misunderstanding of them can warp Christian thought ad action. In my view Wink is too captive to his own left-wing ideology, and thereby weakens his case. We are all inclined to be controlled by the powers and principalities, not just one group of people.

[19] “Consumeritus” is a term I coined for the ‘consumer’ orientation of our economy and the way in which it encourages people to find meaning in acquiring things. The “itis” indicates that Consumeritus is actually a disease of the soul.

[20] One of the clearest indications that the modern world cannot continue is that this belief in material objects and forces is completely contrary to our most sophisticated understanding of the universe in which we live. The ultimate nature of material reality seems not to be material. It can be described as disturbances in fields or even as information, but whatever the ultimate reality is, it is not material. Our intellectual leaders, politicians, business people, and religious leaders have hardly begun to accommodate the relativistic, relational, information-centered view of the world favored by contemporary quantum physics and increasingly other disciplines as well.

[21] Nowhere is the impact of materialism more evident than in arguments over human sexuality. Whether the debate is over marital fidelity or alternative forms of sexual expression, the argument used often involves some form of an argument that “people are born this way.” At the root of the widespread acceptance of this argument is a materialistic notion of reality in which religious faith may give subjective support to persons but is unable to change ultimate reality. On the other hand, among conservative Christians, there is often little difference between how they in fact live and the life-style evident in the culture as a whole.

[22] The term postmodernity is used in a variety of ways by various authors. In general, the term postmodern is used to describe both a philosophical movement and an emerging cultural reality. The postmodern intellectual period is generally thought to have begun with the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and his powerful indictment of both Christianity and Enlightenment optimism concerning human reason. Culturally, the postmodern period is generally thought to have begun to emerge after the First World War, which engendered a tremendous alienation from Western Culture among European intellectual elites. Both the philosophical and cultural aspects of postmodernism are very complex. This study does not presume to provide a comprehensive analysis of postmodern thought. It sought to give a pastoral analysis sufficient for a study of transformational leadership in the contemporary church. Worth noting, however, is that I believe that postmodernism is “here to stay” as a cultural phenomenon, and pastors must minister within postmodern America and to people who are consciously or unconsciously affected by its theory and cultural artifacts. As a cultural reality and as a philosophical movement, postmodernism has aspects that are both positive and negative for the Church and for Christians who witness to Christ under its conditions.

[23] See note 4 above.

[24] This “religionless paganism” is sometimes referred to as neo paganism. Just as postmodernity refers to something after modernity, neo paganism refers to a new form of paganism. The actual content varies because it is a kind of eclectic collection of beliefs that people choose to adopt. What defines them as pagan is the fundamentally manipulative nature of the beliefs, which is to say that the “divine” is put at the heart of human striving. From a Christian standpoint, neo-paganism is both superstitious and idolizing.

[25] The emergence of “new age” ideas clearly often involve a kind of religion, and even supernatural forces, so the emerging culture is not void of spiritual ideas. When I use the term pagan, I mean a kind of return to the pre-Christian notions of society and morals.

[26] Peterson, Eugene. Under the Unpredictable Plant. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 37

[27] A common experience of pastors and other Christian leaders is the pervasive lack of familiarity with the biblical narrative even among Christians. The emergence of the Internet, which many people thought would be a great help in alleviating this problem has significantly helped the problem. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for a long-term commitment to study the Bible in some detail. Obviously, some passages are more important than others, and some sections clearer than others. Many of the programs that gave churches and Christian organizations a vehicle for deep discipleship in the past the longer seem to work in the postmodern context.

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