What determine who will come together in our conversations about church and God? I spent most of last week at the assembly of the Northern Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church (a much more positive experience than I expected, I must add), and we made quite a lot about different generations. They invited about 60 theological students which sat all over the place, and the facilitator stressed that we should listen to everyone. I tookpart in a dialog between me and my one collegue, where we talked about the changes which are happening in society, and stressed that the changes is much more complicated than people generally would like to know, and I linked this to generational differences as well.

But upon reading Attie’s critique on this generational thing, I realised that this is not what I really meant. I myself live in the illusion that a younger generation will neccesarily portray this single vision on the future of church. Reality is that I find more and more that what bind people together is not generational identity. So, here is a few things that I believe run deeper than generations, which will bind people over different generations, or drive people apart, even when from the same generation:

Top-down or Bottom-up theology: From what vantage point do you do theology? Is it theology from the perspective of the powerful, or the powerless? Most trained theologians come from the world of the powerful, from the societies with money, power, with a loud voice, and obviously most do theology from the perspective of this group (the most extreme example being prosperity theology). Some come from a society of powerless, those without money or a voice, and attempt theology from the perspective of this group, and some, although from the first group, attempt to do theology as far as possible from the perspective of this group. Those who attempt to do theology from the bottom-up, and those who do theology top-down, believing that this is the only possible way, might have a struggle to find each other, even if from the same generation.

Those who get it: In The New Christians Tony Jones tell the story of the emergence of emergent in America. Brad Cecil did a presentation on worldviews (find it here), and this basically divided the group into those who “got it”, and those who didn’t. What’s it? Do you get it that our worldview is changing? Some believe it is, others don’t. Some believe this change run very deep, other see it simply as a new way of communicating, or what have you. I don’t mean this arrogantly, as if some ain’t able to understand it, simply want to point out that not everybody like the idea of a change in our worldview. But OK, since most people are by now convinced that something is changing, maybe Doug Pagitt’s three categories of emerging ministry will help us here. First, those who do ministry to postmoderns, I believe will be isolating themselves more and more, since they will be attempting to evangelize or minister to the the third group, maybe even the second. Second, those who do ministry with postmoderns, will be like my Ethics professor who would admit that he ain’t a postmodern, but who listen to those who have made a more natural transition into a differing worldview (may I add that I have a lot more respect for those who admit that they ain’t postmodern, but are open to listen, than towards those who clearly don’t get it, but attempt to make as if they do). And then lastly, those who do ministry as postmoderns… I’m sure you can figure this part out for yourself. So, although this might sound similar to generational differences, it’s not, you’ll find all three these groups in both Gen X and Y, only time will tell how future generations will look.

Denominational differences I believe will become less and less of a determining factor. Many of the very influential conversational partners in my life I don’t even have any idea what denomination they are from, or what theological education they had. What I know it that we agree that we should attempt to do theology bottum-up, and that we have a gutt feel that we might be doing ministry as postmoderns. Many of the books I read I find myself differing on many dogmatic assumptions, and even find myself to be from differing generations, but when we agree on some of the above-mentioned, we tend to find each other.

What other factors would be more important than generation?

I’ve been thinking about writing on postmodernity for quite some time now. Two years back when I started blogging, I decided never to use the word postmodern, because I felt the meaning has become hollow with popularity, with everybody just using it however they want to, same with modernity. Rather, I decided to use alternative words which would better describe what I wanted to say, such as rationalism.

Well, it’s two years down the line, and I still feel quite the same. But the fact is, I still believe that a paradigm shift has happened, and is now working it’s way through every level of society, and this we need to talk about. Many call this postmodernism, and there seem to be a lot of good reasons for using this term.

Personally I become more and more convinced that the origin of this change in worldview should be traced to two things, first being Einstein’s theory of relativity, which helped us to see that time is not fixed, but relative to speed, and opened up doors to the obvious next step that then maybe many other things is relative to the point of vision. The second is the disillusionment with the optimism of man and the optimistic view of rationalism after especially the second world war. If Germany was capable of this kind of atrocities, and if rationalism wasn’t able to notice this kind of evil, then something must be extremely wrong!

This disillusionment is leading to the search for a new worldview. But now the problem is, what will it look like? Many are realizing that something is wrong, and many others have possible solutions for the way ahead. But should every possible answer to the disillusionment be considered postmodern? And if not, who is to judge? In short: Which changes to our worldview, which answers to our disillusionment, will provide a possible way ahead, and which will simply lead to a dead end?

We’ve seen the rise in Pentacostal and Charismatic expressions of faith in the same time that this disillusionment kicked in, does this make is a way forward? I don’t know. What about the rise of fundamentalism that increase as the last decade or so continue? Does this make it a good response to this disillusionment?  When should we talk about postmodern? Which maybe just bring me back to my point of two years ago… shouldn’t we maybe use more descriptive words when talking about either modernism and postmodernism?

Ever since I started blogging, and even before that, I’ve tried steering as clear as possible from the term “postmodern” (or post-modern). It’s a minefield when you go out there. When I use the word I try keeping to a very general definition. I found Fritjof Capra’s A Web of Life to be one of the best definitions, although he doesn’t ever give a definition, but simply describe changes in science over the past couple of decades.

But sometimes, in ground-level conversations, we tend to be more prescriptive about postmodernism than descriptive. What I mean is that we spend more time telling people how they should think when postmodern than listening to how they think now that they are part of a postmodern generation. This typically comes out when people state, explicitly or implicitly, that postmodern is necessarily “good” and modern “bad”, and that on top of that, postmodern is what “I am”, and modern what those I differ with are.

We then hear things like all truth is relative (something which I think I agree with, wrote about it here), or that we should make room for different opinions (another thing I’m very fond of), and then try to force this into our own lives in unnatural ways. Two examples:

  • I joined a discussion a few days ago, and took some friends along. In the car on the way back, I started asking about their experiences (another thing I like to do at times), and onssaid that the problems with the discussions is that there isn’t really discussion going on. Everyone would just say what they think, and even differ, and then leave it to that.
  • I am currently attending a “seminar” by Roger Greenaway, an expert on reviewing. I’ve been using his model and some of his tools for reviewing for nearly three years now, and can tell amazing stories about how this has helped me. But currently I’m not that impressed with the experience I’m having. I’m not sure if it’s his fault, or the group’s, but somehow the conversation tend to get into the “let’s just get every opinion on the table and let it be”, or the “let’s get something nice to say about everyone, whether they deserve it or not” category the whole time.

This seem to be very nice, and very “postmodern”, but I think we are missing the point here. We could, for example, gain a lot from Roger’s work when using a word like “holistic” to describe postmodernism; Roger could then help us to not only listen to the logical argument going on, but also to the experiences people are having, which would help us get a more holistic view of what happened, or what is happening. Or what if we rather used a word like “relational”: I’ve written some time ago:

Truth is also relational, in relation with each other, in conversation with each other, seeing each others opinions, looking through each others lenses (as far as that might be possible), we arrive at answers.

When in conversation, differing is OK! Even arguing is OK. What’s not OK is saying that my way and my way alone may be correct. What’s not OK is saying that the logical argument I’m using must be correct because it’s logical. The physical sciences have shown over and over again that what seemed logical at one stage change when new information, or perspectives, get put on the table. So if differing, or even arguing, can help you to see things through the others eyes, through the eyes of another gender, generation, race, culture, or whatever else there might be, then maybe we need the differing, maybe we need to point out to people if there is a difference in how we see things. Not necessarily to be able to win the case, but rather to continue our search for truth and meaning relationally, rather then individually, or by only listening to certain “power” figures (whether intellectual, political, religious, or whatever might be found).

Do sharpen my thoughts on this if I’m missing the point myself…