Postmodern Youth Ministry: Exploring Cultural Shift, Creating Holistic Connections, Cultivating Authentic Community

(Paperback - Apr 2001)
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The rules have changed. Everything you believe is suspect. The world is up for grabs. Welcome to the emerging postmodern culture. A "free zone" of rapid change that places high value on community, authenticity, and even God--but has little interest in modern, Western-tinged Christianity. Postmodern Youth Ministry addresses these enormous philosophical shifts and shows how they re affecting teenagers."


  • SKU: 9780310238171
  • UPC: 025986238179
  • SKU10: 031023817X
  • Title: Postmodern Youth Ministry: Exploring Cultural Shift, Creating Holistic Connections, Cultivating Authentic Community
  • Series: Youth Specialties S
  • Qty Remaining Online: 4
  • Publisher: Zondervan/Youth Specialties
  • Date Published: Apr 2001
  • Pages: 240
  • Weight lbs: 0.87
  • Dimensions: 8.49" L x 8.54" W x 0.65" H
  • Features: Price on Product
  • Themes: Theometrics | Evangelical;
  • Category: YOUTH
  • Subject: Christian Education - Children & Youth

Chapter Excerpt

Chapter One


What is real?

This is not a new query. Philosophers, theologians, and all of humanity have been asking this question as long as we have been able to formulate questions.

Plato, a philosopher who lived in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., taught about a group of people sitting in a cave believing that the flickering shadows on the walls were the deepest reality. One of their number left the cave and saw the sunlight and other people who were the cause of the shadows, and he returned to the cave to tell his friends. Not convinced, they killed him - they could not comprehend nor convey that someone (namely, a philosopher) could discover a "more real" reality than they could see.

Do you remember when you first wrapped your mind around this question? I was in grade school and someone suggested to me that maybe our entire lives were merely another being's dream. That blew my second-grade mind!

This analogy is perfect. For the last few years I've had a cartoon depicting the Plato's cave analogy hanging next to my desk. It's a constant reminder that I may not be totally crazy when I find myself mumbling and stumbling for words when asked why we do certain things differently at Graceland - or responding to questions with precise words about what postmodernism is and explaining that change truly is happening and a new culture is emerging. Dan Kimball

The Enlightenment and Modernism

Many centuries after Plato, René Descartes (1596-1650) fired another major salvo in this battle over reality. The Enlightenment was a time of great intellectual growth following the rediscovery of classical thought and art in the Renaissance. The Enlightenment project was meant to show that human beings were kings of the universe, and, although God was still a major player, many thinkers were out to show that human beings are not dependent upon him.

Descartes is most famous for his formula cogito ergo sum: "I think, therefore I am." By this he meant that our existence, yours and mine, is provable by and dependent upon our ability to doubt and reason. That is, we are not dependent on anything we cannot prove - a divine being, for instance. This is the genesis of foundationalism: the methodology by which one breaks everything down to its most fundamental components and builds up from there. (And yes, that is where fundamentalism comes from.)

Following Descartes, a group of British philosophers called the empiricists moved away from deductive reasoning as the foundation of knowledge and instead based their system on sensory impressions. And subsequently the "logical positivists" made sensory experience the indubitable foundation.

Whether the foundation is an absolute belief that cannot be questioned or simply the sensory experience of an individual human being, the foundation is one of fact. Something absolute - experience or knowledge - is considered the "truth" and the basis of all thought.

Descartes also changed the starting point for people. Instead of starting in belief, Descartes suggests that we must start in doubt, then the only things to be believed are the things proven to be absolutely certain. In modernity everyone becomes a skeptic because that's the "higher ground." It has been intriguing to see children - who naturally adopt belief as their starting point - grow up and be trained to adopt doubt as the higher ground. It reminds me of the words of Christ - "except you become as little children." Brad Cecil

For example, a Christian foundation might be Scripture - most of the framework of Christianity is built on the Bible. A foundationalist Christian might even say that everything - all Christian belief and practice - is based on the Bible.

Structurally, such a system might look like this:


The Enlightenment scientists who came after Descartes built upon his foundation with the newfound belief that everything is ultimately knowable by the all-powerful human mind. The universe was quantified into laws of physics (laws, not theories), the celestial realm was figured out, and it no longer needed a God turning a crank to keep it moving.

Thus the Modern Era was born.

If there was an underlying credo of modernity, it might have been, "It's good to be king!" Human beings finally stood as the crown of God's creation - even at the cost of discarding God himself. The birth of modern machines and technology gave rise to the Industrial Revolution. Protestantism, a branch of Christianity predicated on every believer's ability to work out an individual relationship with God, flourished. And humankind seemed to be on the brink of making God an irrelevant concept.

The Birth of Postmodernism

Frederick Nietzche (1844-1900) understood this trend. His famous declaration, "God is dead," began a movement that's at the heart of postmodernism: deconstruction.


A philosophical movement and theory of literary criticism that questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth, asserts that words can only refer to other words, and attempts to demonstrate how statements about any text subvert their own meanings.

But rather than damaging the Christian faith, Nietzche may have saved the church from itself. He brought to light an underlying weakness of foundationalism - we had done away with the Unknowable. God, the Great Mystery, is no longer necessary when human beings can know all and be all without him. If science can objectively discover all truth and if, given enough time, humankind can master the cosmos, then where is God in that system? Nowhere. Nietzche's point was that we killed God, or, more specifically, we need God.

It would indeed be terrifying to worship a God we could figure out. The enigmas, mysteries, and antinomies of God are what make him God. Without these, he would be just a very cool guy. Kara Powell

Deconstruction gained momentum in the first half of the 20th century as it became clear that science is not capable of answering all questions and the human mind may not be able to solve every problem. All the foundations constructed during the modern period were questioned, and all of the premises that were taken for granted were scrutinized.

The premise of postmodernism is, then, to question all premises. All assumptions are out the window for a postmodern philosopher, who's on a quest to show that all is relative and nothing can be taken for granted. Skepticism and cynicism rule the day.

Take the presumption that the Bible is the foundation upon which all of Christian theology and practice is built: Of course, that makes perfect sense to Christians - the Bible is God's inspired word, and it's the Christian's rule of life.

But the advent of modern scientific investigation led to the discipline of literary criticism and deconstruction which, in turn, led to similar practices in biblical studies. Continental biblical scholars at the turn of the twentieth century put the Bible under more exacting scrutiny than anyone had before.

For instance, the modern "search for the historical Jesus" reached a crescendo with Albert Schweitzer, a scientifically trained biblical scholar. In 1906 Schweitzer "discovered" that Jesus was a prophet who had suffered under the misapprehension that the end of the world was imminent. Jesus had thrown himself upon the wheel of history and, though he reversed its course, he was crushed by it.

Schweitzer was not trying to demean the Christian message in his conclusion. He was a faithful believer who was attempting to make the gospel story believable for himself and other educated rationalists. To accomplish this, he had to take the "unbelievable," supernatural elements out of the gospel. His foundationalism (science) forced him into this position. Then his modernism blinded him to the realizations that he was not objective and that one cannot scientifically prove anything about Jesus. As a result, Schweitzer's picture of Jesus came out looking a lot like Schweitzer!

Likewise, the Jesus Seminar participants are latter-day modernists working at the same project that Schweitzer and so many others have attempted. They are all doomed to fail, because they are playing with an outdated rulebook.

The problem with foundationalism is that scientific discoveries and philosophical theories chip away at foundations. In the philosophy of science, for example, Karl Popper questioned the very facts upon which science was based. He said instead of a foundation, the base of scientific knowledge should be thought of as pilings driven into a swamp. So, in the example of Christianity, scholars had to keep propping up the foundation - they had to buttress it, building a substructure to support the Bible.



scientific "proof"


Note well, the problem is not with Scripture - the problem is with foundationalism. In a scientifically oriented world, students are going to ask us, "How do we really know that the Bible is the word of God?" This is not a question that was asked about the Bible in past centuries - it was a given. Now we try to prove the inerrancy of Scripture, and most often we defend it with a self-referential statement: "Because 2 Timothy 3:16 says it is." That's no proof; that's a circular argument.

But instead of frantically trying to justify our reliance on Scripture using an outdated epistemological scheme, let's stop using the foundationalism of the modern period and get on to looking at Scripture and the world through postmodern eyes - the kind of eyes our students have been born with.

What Is Postmodernism?

The last century has been a time of questioning and deconstruction, especially in the upper echelons of academic philosophy, literary criticism, architecture, and art history. In literary criticism, for example, postmoderns have argued that no text has an actual meaning since each reader imports meaning into the text; even the author's meaning for the text has been deconstructed. Postmodern philosophers have argued that there is no grand metanarrative (an overarching story or common experience that unites all human beings), and they have thereby attempted to deconstruct most philosophies and religions.

In order to communicate, live, and breathe in this emerging world, it's crucial to get a grip on postmodern cultural patterns and thought processes. The following is an incomplete list of postmodernism's credos.

Objectivity is out, subjectivity is in. One person, or group of people, cannot claim an objective viewpoint. To be objective means one can stand outside of something, look in, and judge it. But you cannot really be objective because you're always standingsomewhere. Therefore I should preface all my thoughts with the statement: "I am a 32 year-old, fairly affluent, Christian Euro white male living in middle America at the turn of the century," because those facts inherently influence everything I think, do, and say.

Question everything. Nothing escapes deconstruction. There are no thoughts, theories, assumptions, or hypotheses that get a free pass, even if they make perfect sense. By questioning the prevailing assumptions, scientists have made all their progress - it's just that they've too often replaced old assumptions with new ones. Postmoderns are deeply skeptical people.

There is no Truth with a capital "T." Truth is in the eye of the beholder - one person's truth is another person's theory. So, as I found out sitting at a table trying to persuade a postmodern nonbeliever with foundationalist arguments, the language surrounding religion and belief has changed. Everything is relative.

Tell stories. Narrative is becoming the primary means of communicating beliefs. Since propositional logic has fallen on hard times, stories carry more weight in conveying truths. Author and pastor Brian McLaren calls this abductive reasoning. As opposed to deductive or inductive methods, when you tell a story, you abduct listeners from their known worlds into another world.

Never make lists! Things are simply not objectively quantifiable. Remember the scientist inJurassic Park, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum)? He's a mathematician who teaches Chaos Theory - everything will eventually happen, and the only thing you can predict is that it will happen, not when it will happen. Chaos and inevitability are the rule, so when you make a list or attempt to quantify something, you will surely leave something out (which I surely have), and you will definitely betray your own subjectivity (which I definitely have).

The Spoon

Conceived, written, and directed by brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski, reclusive housepainters-philosophers-theologians-filmmakers, The Matrix tells the story of Neo, a messiah figure predestined to save the world from an all-powerful, evil computer. The parallels between Neo and his cohorts and Jesus and his followers are enough to interest most thoughtful Christians.

In The Matrix, Neo, the Christ figure, journeys to see a prophetess. In her waiting area, he meets a young boy, "a potential," dressed like a Buddhist monk. The boy is holding a spoon in his hand and bending it, presumably with mental powers. The following repartee takes place:

BOY: Do not try to bend the spoon - that's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.

NEO: What truth?

BOY: There is no spoon.



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