Key Questions on Philosophies, Cultures, and Contextualization (2001)

Note: I’ve just posted on Radoxodar an article that lists clusters of questions I wrote in 2001. I’ve also posted the same version below.

Summary and Commentary (2005)

This article lists clusters of questions I wrote in 2001. I don’t think the questions in this exactly represented the mainstream type of questions being asked among emerging church disciples back then. It seemed to me then that most peoples’ questions were slanted toward a presupposition that there was one monolithic “postmodern” culture, and therefore it was legitimate to ask “What’s working for you?” as a way to uncover the very mysterious universal pragmatic tips for pomo ministry. But to me, those approaches embraced a faulty assumption: pragmatism. So, the search for universally applicable, generic tips ignored the realities of local cultural considerations, otherwise known as contextualization.

Perspectives on Kingdom work in emerging cultures has advanced since 2001, but we’ve got quite a ways to go yet. I still discerned relatively similar presuppositions at work in questions I heard in September 2005, when I posted this list on one of my now-defunct-and-disappeared blogs (R.I.P. Inknoise). I know I’ve worked my way through to at least preliminary answers on most of these questions, and posted them as part of my process when specific issues arose that brought experience into the picture. But check out the original questions I was working with almost a decade ago to see where I’ve journeyed from …

Introduction (2008)

In re-reading the Summary and Commentary (2005), I realized that I probably didn’t yet have access to the book, The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World by Robert Webber. Although this was published early in 2002, I wasn’t reading a whole lot in the early ’00s. I bring that up here because the name Webber assigned to the perspective of Boomer generation evangelicals was the “Pragmatist Paradigm.” The modernist hangover of Boomers seems to have dominated the early waves of “GenX ministry” and then “postmodern ministry” in the middle to late 1990s. It was all about seeking The Universal Tip List, as if we could just Figure Out the Postmodern Problem, then we could mechanicistically apply The Tip List and have our Perfect Solution That Should Work In Every Setting. a capital idea … nicht wahr? Perhaps if I’d acquired Webber sooner, I would’ve understood the times far better. Oh well. That makes a good case for purchasing early instead of waiting for a sale.

Meanwhile, if you’ve read my blog much, you’ll perhaps understand when I say that I thrive on questions. They give me a chance to theoretize and also to learn from action-reflection processes. In fact, I was once introduced before my guest lecture on what was then being called “postmodern ministry” as “someone who is working on answers to questions that no one else is asking yet.” That’s the story of my life, it seems … and many of the questions below are ones I’ve worked toward responses on the past few years. You’ll find many of relevant experiences and the principles I’ve learned from them on my futuristguy blog. The not-so-sufficiently-answered question that I’ve been working on the past few months is this:

What may tend to be the limits of collaboration between representative members and gatherings from these very different cultural and philosophical views? Is there a common-ground theological and/or theoretical base that can undergird a set of structures and operations that blend all the perspectives?

I’ll look forward to posting something on that eventually, probably when a specific situation arises that is itself a question, which will give me a good enough reason to process the issues of collaboration, ecumenism, etc., as seen from the Traditional, Pragmatic, and Holistic paradigms. But for now, more questions than answers await!

Key Questions on Philosophies,

Cultures, and Contextualization (2001)

Introduction

I wrote the following list of questions in January and February of 2001. It represents issues I was asking and responding to at the time (and still am, in many cases!).

But I don’t think they exactly represented the mainstream type of questions being asked among emerging church disciples back then. Seems it was more weighted toward “What does postmodern ministry/church look like where you’re from?” and “What’s working for you?” But then, I don’t know that I’ve really been a fan of trying to list “best practices” that have been abstractedly detached from context, as if “best practices” work anywhere and everywhere.

Anyway, many of these questions will be addressed in specific training sessions and/or simulation exercises I’m developing as part of my comprehensive curriculum on cultural interpretation and ministry contextualization.

Primarily Philosophical

Is philosophical postmodernism a subset of modernism? Why or why not?

Is philosophical post-postmodernism a subset of postmodernism? Why or why not?

What is likely to become a/the dominant philosophical framework after postmodernism? What could be some of the distinguishing characteristics of post-postmodernism?

What factors can help us distinguish among pre-modernism, modernism, postmodernism, and post-postmodernism?

What are critical distinctions and points of common ground between each set of “isms” – Pre-modernism and modernism? Pre-modernism and postmodernism? Pre-modernism and post-postmodernism? Modernism and postmodernism? Modernism and post-postmodernism? Postmodernism and post-postmodernism?

Why do most Christian writers and consultants on contemporary culture seem to think postmodernism is NOT a subset of modernism? [This question was written in 2001, and the knowledge level among writers and consultants may have shifted since then.] Is this just a matter of presuppositions, or is there a way to help us know if they are right or wrong?

Why do you say that there are “no post-postmodern atheists”? What is the difference between skepticism as a tool and skepticism as a philosophical presupposition?

Primarily Cultural

Is it “safe” to base our understanding of contemporary culture on the academic discussions of postmodern philosophy? What are the potential hazards of the presuppositions hidden underneath this approach? What other sets of presuppositions are available to guide our search to understand contemporary culture?

How can we use various cultural media materials as primary sources for observing, analyzing, and interpreting culture for the sake of eventual biblical contextualization of ministry?

What categories of helpful insights can generational studies offer us? However, why is an appeal to generational studies alone insufficient for us to understand the emerging culture? What are the potential presuppositional flaws in some of the most popular generational studies approaches? How can the study of macrohistory and historiography help us discern the presuppositions in various approaches to generational studies?

What categories of helpful insights can cultural studies and subcultural studiesoffer us? However, why is an appeal to cultural trends/patterns alone insufficient for us to understand the emerging culture? What are the potential presuppositional flaws in some of the most popular (sub)cultural analysis approaches? When cultural studies have traditionally been based on economic class analysis, what other factors are critical for understanding cultures, how should we prioritize these factors, and why?

How can we evaluate just how modern, postmodern, or post-postmodern any given subculture or alternative culture is?

What criteria can we use to discern if someone is a “member” of a pre-modern, modern, postmodern, or post-postmodern people group?

Are multiple forms of postmodern and post-postmodern culture emerging? If so, what distinguishes the different “primary edges” of these sets of cultures from modern cultures? From each other?

Are all contemporary cultures post-postmodern?

Are so-called “cultural creatives” and “new agers” really all post-postmoderns?

Assuming that post-postmodern people inherently hold to some kind of spiritual reality (as opposed to modern and much postmodern skepticism), where is all of this post-postmodern spirituality headed, and why?

Primarily Contextualization

Is anybody really doing “post-postmodern church” yet? If so, what does it look like? Does it really match the cultural context, or is it culturally misplaced? What are the core features of its paradigm, and how do these differ from the core features of typical modern and postmodern church paradigms?

What are the key cultural beliefs, values, and behaviors of pre-modern, modern, postmodern, and post-postmodern people groups? Which of these cultural elements tend to align with biblical beliefs, values, and cultural behaviors and which do not? What are the core kinds of common ground between a biblically-based worldview and lifestyle, and the worldviews and lifestyles exhibited by these four kinds of people groups? What are the core kinds of challenges where a biblically-based worldview and lifestyle conflict with the worldviews and lifestyles of these four kinds of people groups?

If we have not rightly discerned the cultural beliefs, values, and behaviors of postmodern versus post-postmodern people groups, what implications will that tend to hold when it comes to (in)effective contextualization of the gospel among these emerging people groups?

What are critical ministry style differences among pre-modern, modern, postmodern, and post-postmodern church structures? Can a blend of structures and styles work? Why or why not?

What may tend to be the limits of collaboration between representative members and gatherings from these very different cultural and philosophical views? Is there a common-ground theological and/or theoretical base that can undergird a set of structures and operations that blend all the perspectives?

What philosophical questions are postmodern and post-postmodern people typically asking that traditional (modernist) apologetics is not answering?

What ethical, aesthetic, emotional, and lifestyle questions are postmodern and post-postmodern people typically asking that traditional (modernist) systematic theology is not answering?

Why is the post-postmodern “spiritual smorgasbord” not the same as “new age spirituality,” or not even the same as traditional world religions that post-postmodern people might include in their alloyed belief set? What underlying systems differentiate post-postmodern spirituality from everything ranging from 1st-century paganism to 21st-century technopaganism; from traditional Zen Buddhism to post-1950s Americanized Zen Buddhism; from early mystic Christian Orthodoxy to contemporary revivals of Christian mysticism?

Why and how might we gain insights into post-postmodern multispirituality formats from the work on religious universals by Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, John Huston, Ninian Smart, Marija Gimbutas, and others? How do these various systems of approaches differ? What spirituality universals which they identify share common ground with biblical truth, and which conflict with what God reveals about Himself and His intentions for humanity, according to Scripture?

If it is true that post-postmoderns tend to be drawn toward mysticism, what are the parameters of a truly biblical mysticism where subjective internal processes are submitted to objective external revealed truth?

What beliefs, values, and cultural behaviors predispose some postmoderns and post-postmoderns toward an ancient-future worship style or a blended worship style? Is attraction to these worship styles a temporary phenomenon, or is something being manifested from a much deeper “driver” of cultural change?

Can a single-generation church ever be considered a true church, or is it really just a generational ministry and therefore a typical manifestation of modernistic/hypermodernistic (postmodernistic) segmentation? {What definition of “church” is inherent in the question just asked? Is that definition too structural in nature to be biblical?}

What church planting genres are more modern-friendly? Postmodern-friendly? Post-postmodern-friendly? Why do their various integration points either appeal to or repulse moderns, postmoderns, and/or post-postmoderns?

What would a (post-)postmodern-friendly website look like? What might be key aspects of content, visual elements, or formats that would distinguish it from a not-so-(post-)postmodern-friendly website?

How can we stretch our church leaders and congregation members to be more postmodern-friendly and/or post-postmodern-friendly in our ministry structures, approaches, and language? What factors will tend to limit the people in our church from reaching postmoderns, even if they sincerely wish to? Likewise, what factors will tend to limit the people in our church from reaching post-postmoderns?

How can we assess potential church planters for their degree of pre-modern, modern, postmodern, and post-postmodern tendencies? What systems can we use? Do we need to create new forms of assessment, and if so, can they be done only in the context of a relationship to test the level of relevant values, beliefs, and behaviors?

Should we encourage church planters to pursue planting in contexts that constitute the highest degree of worldview indigeneity for them, or the highest degree of worldview opposition that will therefore require crosscultural ministry? Or should we just not worry about it and let the Holy Spirit lead/the church planter choose, as long as they are doing it from a sufficient base of knowledge about themselves so they know if they are choosing to serve indigenously or crossculturally?

What unique roles might bicultural church leaders play in the emerging era? Are there special roles that can be played by moderns raised in a postmodern milieu? Postmoderns raised in a modern milieu? Moderns raised in a post-postmodern milieu? Postmoderns raised in a post-postmodern milieu? Post-postmoderns raised in a modern milieu?

What are the differences among futurists, visionaries, prophets, semioticians/cultural analysts, cultural interpreters, quantitative researchers, qualitative researchers, etc.? How do their different sets of presuppositions lead to very different emphases, even though people in all of these roles have been called “futurists”? Which one(s) have the most accurate and/or most practical insights for postmodern and post-postmodern ministry, and why? Or does each profession tend to offer helpful insights in very specific realms? Which profession(s) tend to be the most comprehensively helpful in their insights?

Originally published as part of another article on my Cruxable blog in 2004 and then republished in this format on my Prospectorium blog, September 11, 2005.

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