There is a postmodern theology. Although the term ‘postmodern’ might be overused, it still mean something. Modernity has passed. Not all elements of modernism has left us, just as not all of Medieval left Enlightenment Europe, or tribal/traditional culture left the developed Asian countries of today. Yet, postmodernity has arrived. Whenever the overarching, over-confident meta-narrative of the Enlightenment project is in doubt, modernism fades and postmodernity arises. It is in politics, society and arts. There is a certain ‘postmodern’ culture which defines its own meanings and symbols. The very reactions towards the failed Enlightenment confidence, coupled with a world dominated by free-market capitalism, allows an ultra utilitarianistic and narcissistic culture to emerge. This culture only sees individuals. Blinded to the need to submit to governments and authorities, partly due to market forces and self-interest, this generation of postmoderns are also pragmatic – ”meaning’ means very little to them apart from what meant to be of their own interest. There is no need for a universal truth or value.
How does this affect theology in the 21st century? It is certain that systematic theology will suffer (it has) as it is suited more for a modernist mindset than a postmodern one. Yet the more crucial question is how can we theologise if the modern category is faulty? This is not new. The discovery of various cultures worldwide and the missionary encounter with them have confirmed that the Western categories or methods of theologising is limited. Western Christianity, it was discovered, was modernist, especially when compared to the various contextual theologies in the Third World.
Mission theology, informed by the Liberation Theology and other contextual theologies, should take prominent role in theologising in the 21st century. If the modern project was Western, postmoderns represent a multitude of cultures and peoples. If theology was at a time (from Enlightenment to the 20th century), a Western and systematic exercise, today it shall be a ‘postmodern’ exercise for Global Christianity. Thus, mission theologians equipped with the skills of contextualisation and training in classical theology, history, biblical studies and practical ministries, must set the pace for this age. To the postmodern, a proper exegesis of a biblical text means very little unless it means something to him or her. An all encompassing, structural, and theoretical, and authoritative tone suited to the big meta-narrative claim has given way to the cry for meaning of the particulars and individuals. It will take a missionary of the 21st century whom can decipher cultures to communicate with them. Just as the residues of modernity still linger around, and their values not to be undermined, a postmodern way of doing theology does not deny the classical and modern ways of doing theology. Yet it takes the bull by its horns by asking relevant questions about this age, while reinventing and evolving itself to be relevant to the present era.
p.s. There is no denial of a core – or a constant in context of Christianity. Just how this core can be discovered and discerned is a continuous debate. Suggested readings:
In my further research into the subject of ‘inculturation’, I have found that ‘proclamation’ plays a key role in the whole process. I have also found the following, which I think is useful for Protestants (especially Evangelicals) in their attempt to re-examine their attitude towards evangelism.
20. The Church in Asia is all the more eager for the task of proclamation knowing that “through the working of the Spirit, there already exists in individuals and peoples an expectation, even if an unconscious one, of knowing the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death”. This insistence on proclamation is prompted not by sectarian impulse nor the spirit of proselytism nor any sense of superiority. The Church evangelizes in obedience to Christ’s command, in the knowledge that every person has the right to hear the Good News of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ. To bear witness to Jesus Christ is the supreme service which the Church can offer to the peoples of Asia, for it responds to their profound longing for the Absolute, and it unveils the truths and values which will ensure their integral human development.
Deeply aware of the complexity of so many different situations in Asia, and “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), the Church proclaims the Good News with loving respect and esteem for her listeners. Proclamation which respects the rights of consciences does not violate freedom, since faith always demands a free response on the part of the individual. Respect, however, does not eliminate the need for the explicit proclamation of the Gospel in its fullness. Especially in the context of the rich array of cultures and religions in Asia it must be pointed out that “neither respect and esteem for these religions nor the complexity of the questions raised are an invitation to the Church to withhold from these non-Christians the proclamation of Jesus Christ”.
Phan wrote a very good summary of the above, combining also the thoughts of John Paul II from the Ecclesia in Asia:
Among the many activities of the church‘s mission there must no doubt be proclamation. There was a rumor that at the Asian Synod, which met in Rome 19 April-14 May 1998, there was a fear that in Asia “dialogue” had replaced or at least overshadowed “proclamation,” Perhaps for this reason, in his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Asia, the pope reafﬁrms not only the necessity but also the “primacy” of proclamation: “There can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord. The Second Vatican Council and the magisterium since then, responding to a certain confusion about the true nature of the church’s mission, have repeatedly stressed the primacy of the proclamation of Jesus Christ in all evangelizing work” (EA, no. 19).
What is meant by “proclamation” here? If past missionary practices are any guide, we tend to take it to mean verbal announcement of the good news. written and/or oral, Protestants mostly by means of the Bible. and Catholics mostly by means of the catechism, The emphasis is laid on the verbal communication of a message or a doctrine, and the preferred if not exclusive means are words. The main content of the proclamation is the truth that Jesus is “the only Savior,” “the one mediator between God and mankind” (RM, no. 5).
Though this is admittedly the common meaning of proclamation, it is most interesting that John Paul II, in Ecclesia in Asia, where he reaffirms both the necessity and primacy of proclamation. nowhere emphasizes the exclusive use of words or doctrinal formulas to convey the message that Jesus is the only savior for all humankind. On the contrary, he says that “the presentation of Jesus Christ as the only Savior needs to follow a pedagogy that will introduce people step by step to the full appropriation of the mystery. Clearly, the initial evangelization of non-Christians and the continuing proclamation of Jesus to believers will have to be different in their approach” (EA, no. 20). As examples of these approaches. the pope mentions stories. parables, symbols, personal contact. and inculturation (see EA, nos. 20»22). More important. he also mentions “Christian life as proclamation.” a life marked by “prayer, fasting and various forms of asceticism . . . renunciation, detachment, humility, simplicity and silence” (EA, no. 23). No less important is John Paul lI‘s remark that in Asia “people are more persuaded by holiness of life than by intellectual argument” (EA, no. 42). Furthermore, the pope notes that in many places in Asia where explicit proclamation is forbidden and religious freedom is denied or systematically restricted, “the silent witness of life still remains the only way of proclaiming God‘s kingdom” (EA, no. 23). In sum, the pope recognizes that there is a “legitimate variety of approaches to the proclamation of Jesus, provided that the faith itself is respected in all its integrity” (EA, no. 23).
I am a product of early Chinese education, Malay high school and British tertiary education. A Malaysian. Read theology, philosophy and a little history. Loves the Bible. Interested in how China would become had Ricci’s effort survived the Rite Controversy, and how today’s churches can learn from this particular relationship between faith and culture. This brings me to another interest – the Emerging Church movement. As a computer science graduate I am also an analyst and a generalist. So I like to relate, consolidate and integrate ideas.
Lin Khee Vun
Dr. Howard Culbertson posted the following in his website:
Here are 14 lessons which John Slack learned in his church growth research with congregations of the Southern Baptist Convention. This is an example of what can be learned from demographics, spreadsheets, surveys, interviews, and historical studies by analyzing the information secured from various sources.
- New units grow faster than established churches.
- Aging within a church almost inevitably ushers in a “come-oriented” ministry in contrast to a “go-centered” ministry.
- Older churches do not start as many new churches as do younger churches.
- Churches and church planting drift upward on the economic scale.
- The longer a church is in a community, the less like that community the church becomes.
- Existing, established churches have normal plateau and ministry limits.
- Only as a church effectively expands its discipleship base will it sustain infinitely reproducible church growth and church planting.
- More baptisms and greater membership growth occurs in zones or areas that are farther from the existing church and its come-oriented activities.
- The difference between so-called “responsive” and “non-responsive” peoples is not in the average number of baptisms per church but in the number of new units — churches — that are started.
- Churches in resistant cultures tend to begin as or soon become cosmopolitan rather than community. In resistant cultures, community churches have far greater influence on the culture than do cosmopolitan churches.
- As beginning models of church planting, training, and materials are repeated and age, they become hallowed — and almost “unchangeable” — patterns even when and if they are no longer relevant.
- If a lost person or people group is illiterate and poor, the chance of their being evangelized decreases proportionately to the heights of their illiteracy and the depths of their poverty.
- Training in most theological programs has become more academic than functional.
- Bible teaching, including the Sunday School and other forms of discipleship, to be effective, must be done in the context of evangelism.
Slack, James B. (1998). “Strategies for Church Planting.” Missiology. Edited by John Mark Terry, Ebbie Smith and Justin Anderson. Nashville, TN.: Broadman and Holman Publishers.
I hope he doesn’t mind me reposting it here. I discovered the list two years ago when I did a research and still find it intriguing. Now if you are a student of missiology – try reading the list with contextualisation or inculturation in mind and you will discover something interesting.
One of my favourite authors and renowned historian, John Dickson, was interviewed by Marshall Shelley and Drew Dyck recently. The interview, which is titled, ‘The Church in Secular Culture – Moving from a stance of admonition to mission’ is available in the Leadership Journal. Below is the excerpt of a section of interview which I think speaks for itself:
What advice do you have for church leaders in America about how to engage the broader culture effectively?
I think the very first thing is to do is adopt a stance of mission instead of admonition toward the world. Here’s an example. In the Australian context, there are church leaders who remember the glory days when about 20 percent of the nation went to church. They look at how Australia is secularized today, and their stance toward the world is basically admonition, the way you would talk to a backsliding Christian. How dare you slide away? How dare you legislate against Christian morality? I call that the admonition paradigm.
What’s wrong with this approach?
I reckon that’s how you kill your mission, because if you speak with a sense of entitlement, you won’t be flexible, you won’t be humble, and you won’t take hits and just bear it. You’ll want to strike back. And people will think you’re arrogant. Quite rightly, probably.
What do you recommend instead?
When you move out of admonition into mission, you realize Australia is no longer Jerusalem; it’s Athens. Then you instantly adopt a humbler approach to non-Christians. You don’t expect them to live Christian lives if they don’t confess Christ. You don’t expect Parliament to pass Christian-specific laws. But as a leader, you try to persuade the nation with winsomeness, with gentleness and respect, as Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15.
What does this mean for Christians who want to influence legislation?
Don’t say, “This is our right” or “You ought to live this way.” We can say we think God’s way is best for all of us and invite others to follow God’s path. But then we just live as an alternative community that embodies the things we claim to be true. And don’t worry about the loss of power.
I’ve often said to my Christian friends here in America, please do not confuse loss of legislative power with loss of gospel opportunity. The early church, of course, had no legislative power and they did amazing things. In China today, they have no legislative power, and a third of all Bibles are sold in China. This is not to say don’t go into politics, don’t speak up. But do it in mission mode, not admonition.
For full interview see: http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/january-online-only/secularculture.html
People today often identify themselves as spiritual but not religious.
Of course much can be said of the actual definitions of being ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious’, but in general, people take that by being spiritual but not religious means they do not need to associate themselves with an organised religious body. My reading of various sources seem to cause me to conclude that this is a necessary reaction towards the religious institution or organised religion in the postmodern age, by people who reject the institution due to their ‘modern’ outlook and modus operandi.
Like many others, I have become convicted that people who are having a low view on the institution which we call the church are blinded by their postmodern sentiment. This is due to a lot of factors apart from the ‘Mcdonaldisation‘ of the church. One of them is a diminished ecclesiology.
Schmidt helpfully wrote about this in his post, ‘Spiritual AND Religious? Yes! – Reason #1 why we can be both spiritual and religious: Church is not just a gathering of like-minded people.’ An excerpt from the post:
If churches were simply a matter of sitting alongside like-minded people who share similar spiritual commitments, I can think of easier ways to get that done. One way that religious people try to do it is by handpicking the like-minded people with whom they spend their time and practice their religion.
That option isn’t open to us and, if it was clearer to the world around us that we can’t do that, it might be easier to connect the spiritual and religious dots.
I think Schmidt has a point. Coming from a purely enlightenment point of view, where humanity takes the centre stage, church is nothing more but a gathering of men and women. However not only this view is relatively new, it fails to capture the essence of what a church is. Schmidt mentioned Paul and his teaching about church being the body of Christ, and he summarised it into three points:
- The church is the instrument of salvation.
- It is part and parcel of the spiritual destiny of its members.
- And it is an inseparable part of the individual’s experience of God.
Combine the above with Newbigin’s missional ecclesiology where he argued that the church’s existence is for mission, I think we have a much better definition of what the church is. In other words, no Christian can be spiritual but not religious if he or she is definitely a part of Christ’s body, saved to belong to it and is destined to live in love with the other parts of the body.
Yet the question remains, that how many of us do experience such church? Or all we see is an institution which, as my earlier post suggested, is seriously flawed in its ability to make spiritual seekers feel at home? As much as people wants to be considered as both spiritual and religious, I think they will find it hard – not because of the absence of the kind of church which is depicted in the Bible and mentioned by Schmidt, but because it might not be easy for them to find one which they can connect to meaningfully!
I wrote about the challenge of the church in the postmodern age. One of the key changes in the postmodern age is the increase of interest in spirituality and the reluctance to be limited by organised religion.
Other reports have confirmed this:
Over one-third of churchgoers attend services in more than one church. One in four attends services in different faiths, according to another Pew survey. More than one in five Christians believe in astrology, reincarnation, and spiritual energy in trees and nature. Seventeen percent believe in in the “evil eye” (casting curses on others). Over the last twenty years, rising numbers of Americans say they have felt like they were in touch with someone who was dead, according to Gallup data discussed in the Pew report. A rising number also say that they have seen or been in the presence of a ghost.
By referring the phenomena above as the Americans’ eclectic taste for spirituality, it is asked if ‘rising eclecticism’ could ‘erode the religious foundation of the church’. This is especially pressing considering the context of the U.S., where there is a ‘mix of peoples and beliefs’. The bottom line, is whether organized religion able to ‘co-exist with the mix-and-match tendencies of the American people.’
I believe the reason people are going to more than one churches is due to their consumerist habit. They are used to exercise their right to choose. Their move is also often utilitarian in nature, picking whatever that suits their needs at various places. They downside of this is the lack of commitment and discipleship. The quality of fellowship and sense of belonging in a community will then be eroded. So to a certain extent, the assembly – the gathering or the church – is eroded.
Of course the church, as an organisation, needs to take a hard look at herself. Again I believe the church, especially the evangelical churches are still largely too ‘modern’, hence losing touch with the postmodern people of today.
So further questions remain – ‘how can the church reach out to those who are eclectic?’ In what way can we engage with them? Can we still expect them to find their answers in the ‘modern’ church? We may think that our churches do have the answers but can we expect them to be responsive to the ‘modern’ way of doing church or ‘teaching’? How would the church deal with a member who believes in astrology? Do we attend to her needs, form a genuine relationship and dialogue with her or do we just teach her and command her to stop? There is no clear answer as each case is unique, but the question remains – as the church, how do we surf and soar in this wave of increased interest of spirituality?
An Atheist Church – Atheistic Culture Coming of Age
I heard about this new Atheist Church in Britain a few days ago and wondered how would a Christian feel when attending the assembly. My questions are answered by this post, which is an actual account of a person experiencing it on one Sunday.
There are two things mentioned in the post which strike me. First, the talk by a physicist, which reminds me of how my little venture into science years ago actually brought me closer to God. So if the report of the above blog post is accurate, the talk by the atheist church has strengthened my faith for God! This brings us to further questions. Why is it, that I am not experiencing such awe when listening to an ordinary preaching in an ordinary Christian church? I suspect this is due to the way I am wired. I think I am scientific in my thinking, and I am naturally a skeptic So the scientific method of inquiry suits me. However this method is normally not employed in the Christian church. This in turns, also shows how narrow a Christian experience can be at this age. A typical evangelical, for example, has been accustomed to only a certain ways of thinking. A book which I reviewed, ‘Pagan Christianity’ has much to say about how this come by. Again a study into how modern evangelicalism come into being will also help. With the understanding that the way we worship can actually be richer than what we have experienced so far, the church will be able to look into various ways to redeem the meaning of a Christian gathering and the various creative ways we could worship the Creator.
The other thing which strikes me is how far a certain atheist culture has formed. The video above specifically mentions the cross – the symbol of Christianity, which in the atheist church can only be observed at the first aid box. (Of course the very reason why the cross ended up at the first aid box will again bring us to its Christian root) But one could only be sensitive (read ‘hostile’) to another symbol when one feels that his culture is under threat. It is common knowledge that atheism has been active in Britain in recent years, and as some atheists imply, the movement has become a religion itself. Apparently an atheist wrote to the leader of the atheist church, relating their assembly in a church is akin to Jews in the concentration camp! Thus, this is a clear statement, that here we have a meta-narrative, a set of symbols (or lack of it), a certain ritual and worldview – all summing up to form an emerging (or rather, to some, already matured) culture. So when an assembly like this takes place, it shows how a certain philosophy has finally move out of the arena of ‘thinking’, into the arena of ‘being’ and ‘doing’, and ‘doing it together’. The ‘atheistic culture’ has come of age.
The standard explanation for the meaning of inculturation is from the REDEMPTORIS MISSIO:
Incarnating the Gospel in Peoples’ Culture
52. As she carries out missionary activity among the nations, the Church encounters different cultures and becomes involved in the process of inculturation. The need for such involvement has marked the Church’s pilgrimage throughout her history, but today it is particularly urgent.
The process of the Church’s insertion into peoples’ cultures is a lengthy one. It is not a matter of purely external adaptation, for inculturation “means the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures.”85 The process is thus a profound and all-embracing one, which involves the Christian message and also the Church’s reflection and practice. But at the same time it is a difficult process, for it must in no way compromise the distinctiveness and integrity of the Christian faith.
Through inculturation the Church makes the Gospel incarnate in different cultures and at the same time introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community.86 She transmits to them her own values, at the same time taking the good elements that already exist in them and renewing them from within.87 Through inculturation the Church, for her part, becomes a more intelligible sign of what she is, and a more effective instrument of mission.
Thanks to this action within the local churches, the universal Church herself is enriched with forms of expression and values in the various sectors of Christian life, such as evangelization, worship, theology and charitable works. She comes to know and to express better the mystery of Christ, all the while being motivated to continual renewal. During my pastoral visits to the young churches I have repeatedly dealt with these themes, which are present in the Council and the subsequent Magisterium.88
Inculturation is a slow journey which accompanies the whole of missionary life. It involves those working in the Church’s mission ad gentes, the Christian communities as they develop, and the bishops, who have the task of providing discernment and encouragement for its implementation.89
53. Missionaries, who come from other churches and countries, must immerse themselves in the cultural milieu of those to whom they are sent, moving beyond their own cultural limitations. Hence they must learn the language of the place in which they work, become familiar with the most important expressions of the local culture, and discover its values through direct experience. Only if they have this kind of awareness will they be able to bring to people the knowledge of the hidden mystery (cf. Rom 16:25-27; Eph 3:5) in a credible and fruitful way. It is not of course a matter of missionaries renouncing their own cultural identity, but of understanding, appreciating, fostering and evangelizing the culture of the environment in which they are working, and therefore of equipping themselves to communicate effectively with it, adopting a manner of living which is a sign of gospel witness and of solidarity with the people.
Developing ecclesial communities, inspired by the Gospel, will gradually be able to express their Christian experience in original ways and forms that are consonant with their own cultural traditions, provided that those traditions are in harmony with the objective requirements of the faith itself. To this end, especially in the more delicate areas of inculturation, particular churches of the same region should work in communion with each other90 and with the whole Church, convinced that only through attention both to the universal Church and to the particular churches will they be capable of translating the treasure of faith into a legitimate variety of expressions.91 Groups which have been evangelized will thus provide the elements for a “translation” of the gospel message,92 keeping in mind the positive elements acquired down the centuries from Christianity’s contact with different cultures and not forgetting the dangers of alterations which have sometimes occurred.93
54. In this regard, certain guidelines remain basic. Properly applied, inculturation must be guided by two principles: “compatibility with the gospel and communion with the universal Church.”94 Bishops, as guardians of the “deposit of faith,” will take care to ensure fidelity and, in particular, to provide discernment,95 for which a deeply balanced approach is required. In fact there is a risk of passing uncritically from a form of alienation from culture to an overestimation of culture. Since culture is a human creation and is therefore marked by sin, it too needs to be “healed, ennobled and perfected.”96
This kind of process needs to take place gradually, in such a way that it really is an expression of the community’s Christian experience. As Pope Paul VI said in Kampala: “It will require an incubation of the Christian ‘mystery’ in the genius of your people in order that its native voice, more clearly and frankly, may then be raised harmoniously in the chorus of other voices in the universal Church.”97 In effect, inculturation must involve the whole people of God, and not just a few experts, since the people reflect the authentic sensus fidei which must never be lost sight of Inculturation needs to be guided and encouraged, but not forced, lest it give rise to negative reactions among Christians. It must be an expression of the community’s life, one which must mature within the community itself, and not be exclusively the result of erudite research. The safeguarding of traditional values is the work of a mature faith.
Evangelical’s Definition of Inculturation
Statements from the Edinburgh 2010, in general representing worldwide Evangelical voices, also refers to the above definition, while including other Protestant and Evangelical Conferences’ reports. This is summarised in the section titled ‘Contextualization, inculturation and dialogue of worldviews‘ under the Transversal Topics of the Conference.
My own observation informs me that the main difference between the Roman Catholic and Protestant’s understanding of inculturation is in the belief of St. Justin Martyr’s theory of spermatic Logos and the Paschal Mystery. Spermatic Logos means that Christ’s presence is with human cultures since creation, and Paschal Mystery means that Christ’s presence is with human cultures after His resurrection through the Holy Spirit. These are the areas where most Protestants disagree with. Apart from that latest Protestant and Evangelical scholarship in general recognises the importance of inculturation.