More Thoughts on Culturologists versus Philosophists

SUMMARY. This post picks up a relevant quote on the inherent paradigm clash between culturologists and philosophists. It expands on other issues of church structures and functions that definitely seem to suggest a manifestation of this conflict, such as attempts at church “paradigm shifts,” and the problematic church-within-a-church phenomenon of the past 10 years. The questions in the Do-It-Yourself Section imply other areas where this issue may be at work.

In rummaging around my various blog posts, I found a relevant quote about the inherent cross-cultural conflict created by a culturologist versus a philosophist paradigm. The quote comes from an entry posted over two months earlier than my initial post on Culturologists versus Philosophists. It appears as an afterthought in The Core Strength of Emergence, a post intended to overview the reasoning for my conclusion that the overall strength of emergence is the way its people think: “Those who are ’emerging’ grapple to use systems approaches for processing information, experiences, and relationships, and for acting in organically consistent ways with their conclusions.” Here is the quote of the point I wanted to add, which restates the essential problem of culturologists versus philosophists:

And I would perhaps say something about the gnawing question that I am just now beginning to be able to articulate: I hope I am proved wrong on this, but when many Christian leaders talk about analyzing emergence phenomena, why do I sense they intend to conduct their research from the highly abstract, philosophical, systematic processing perspective they are comfortable with and sort of use us emergence pioneers as guinea pigs – instead of partnering with us and actually letting us as emergence insiders lead the process from a highly concrete, culturological, systems perspective? Please, please, please, Lord, I hope I’m really, really, really wrong on this, but I fear …

I suspect this clash is one of the reasons why “paradigm shifts” rarely happen or do not happen easily when philosophist church leaders try to “push” the paradigm from their Traditional or Pragmatic toward Holistic instead of letting culturologist disciples lead the way and “pull” the paradigm toward being more Holistic from their Holistic insider perspective. And if the shift does not occur at the deepest levels of information processing and critical values, then the necessary shifts can’t happen – at least, not sustainably – at the levels of theology, strategies, structures, and methodological models.

For instance, perhaps we need to look at the difficulties (and many outright failures) over the past 10 years of so many attempts at a church-within-a-church methodological model. Has the guiding force been a philosophist/Pragmatic paradigm approach trying to reign in a culturologist/Holistic paradigm target audience, and therefore the Holistic disciples lose hope and burn out? [For detailed descriptions on the Traditional, Pragmatic, and “Holistic” (Younger) Evangelical paradigms, see Robert Webber’s indispensable book, The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World.]

If this issue of paradigm clash is as deep-seated and as pervasive as I think it is, then it ought to show up in many, many other places. What are your thoughts? (… which of course, leads right into the DIY Section!)


  • What other issues do you see where the inherent conflict in paradigms between a culturologist approach and a philosophist approach have made it difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile differences and move forward as a denomination, church, or ministry?
  • If you have followed the blogosphere dialogs on missional/incarnational versus traditional/attractional paradigms, how do you think the culturologist versus philosophist issue applies, if at all?
  • How do these two approaches relate to concerns over cultural contextualization?
  • If you have followed the development of cultural research initiatives and/or movements by seminaries and other leadership training organizations, how might the culturologist versus philosophist issue apply, if at all?
  • How much does this paradigm clash have to do with difficulties in attempts to transition church governance approaches to more future-friendly forms – i.e., ones that are more sensitive to the global culture that is emerging as the newly predominant paradigm?
  • Can you think of ways to bridge this culture clash? Can you point us to specific case studies of denominations, churches, ministries, seminaries, training organizations, Kingdom enterprises (e.g., business enterprises, community agencies), etc. that have attempted to bring these two together? Did they “succeed” and how did they measure “success”? How would you measure successful integration of these opposing paradigms/perspectives?

Please feel free to share your observations and opinions in the comments section …