The Gospel in a Post Christian Culture

Papers presented at this 2004 Evangelism Roundtable sponsored by the Billy Graham Center’s Institute of Strategic Evangelism are available for you to download and read. Brian M. and Brad K. have good papers. Especially Brian, who mentions my concept of “deep ecclesiology”. Curse my vanity!!!. Thanks Steve Knight for the tip.


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Steve K. says:

    Andrew Jones linked to my blog! Curse *my* vanity!

  • Jeff J. says:

    did you have the opportunity to read the minority reports to the papers you suggested? They are interesting…

  • Arlen Hanson says:

    Thank you for recommending those papers. I am still reading and rereading and chewing on them. Much there. Enjoying your blog since I found it. Blessings

  • Andrew says:

    i glanced briefly at them, Jeff, but none of them seemed to be overtly “emerging” – i saw willow creek model, recovery model, small groups, etc, or in other words, the emerging ministries of the 70’s and 80’s. Did you find something interesting?

  • Jeff J. says:

    I skimmed through Litfin’s response to Brian…he was accurate in some of his criticism’s. I guess people like Litfin “get it” because of their intelligence, but they still don’t “get it” because they spend the majority of their time in the very system the emerging church criticizes. It becomes an Us vs. Them, Academia vs. Real World disagreement/struggle between those who understand through intelligence, and those who experience it in real life. The church wants so desperately to make a difference in a changing world, but they(we) are looking for a program/seminar/book/40 something to tell them how to do it. The emergents are finding it is a radical life in the life where they are that is having an impact. That is an abiding/praying/in the Word/loving your neighbor kind of life you find outside of a program/etc…
    Academia and church leaders really, really want to learn for the most part. Church culture and academic culture distances them from the everyday too much I think for most of them to “get it”. Till we (the church) get over the Sunday Church thing and do it everyday, we will stay ensconed in that mindset of getting it but not getting it. Just my thoughts….sorry for the length, I am a stay at home dad who doesn’t get this kind of dialogue much. Plus, the kids are napping and I am ALONE…

  • Andrew says:

    well said . .

  • Arlen Hanson says:

    Jeff J., having thoroughly read both McLaren and Lifton’s articles, I think you are right on the money about how Lifton does and does not “get it.” Thank you for that comment.

  • Brad says:

    I read Brian’s paper and Litfin’s response. Help me with this … how can one communicate the difference between postmodernISM and postmodernITY?
    My difficulty with Litfin’s respone: Litfin critiques postmodernism philosophically and in so doing he himself creates a straw man of Brian’s argument — the very thing for which he criticizes Brian. But Brian isn’t discussing postmodernism — a philosophical concern — he is discussing postmodernity — an anthropological/missiological concern.
    The “ism” is the philosophical proposistions. The “ity” is the resulting culture. People can swim in modernity and postmodernity — live as moderns/postmoderns — without a clue as to why it is they live and think as they do.
    Brian’s concern is for our (the church’s) mission to the postmodern culture. When he fears for the failure of the Gospel in postmodernity his is a missiological concern not a “truth” concern. Litfin responds with the self-authenticating-power-of-the-Gospel argument (Rom 1:16). As if all we need to do is proclaim it and God will take care of the rest.
    Then I read Brad Kallenberg’s paper on what it means to gospelize. Wow — good stuff (even though it drained my brain — it is so out of shape). Brad’s paper respond’s well to Litfin’s concern for the truth of Gospel. Truth to be received needs an atmosphere of plausibility. The church is the plausibility structure for the Gospel. The “modernity” church is the necessary plausibility structure for “moderns” to best receive the Gospel. A “postmodernity” church (not a “postmodernism” church) is the necessary plausibility structure for postmoderns to best receive the Gospel.
    This is not an “us vs them” positioning anymore than my brothers and sisters in Rwanda vs my bothers and sisters in Wisconsin. Why do moderns and postmoderns need to be adversarial?
    Brian’s fear for the failure of the Gospel is not that truth will fail but that the “modern” church will fail to reach the culture of postmodernity. It seems to me that Litfin believes if one tears down the ivory towers of postmodernism then the culture of postmodernity will go away.
    So now back to my request for help: Did you track with my distinctions between postmodernity and postmodernism? How would Academia respond? How can I better communicate this to my modern church brothers and sisters; in a way so they won’t fear for my soul; in a way to diffuse the adversarial tensions? 🙂

  • Toby says:

    You have just the right way of complicating the complicated. Well done on drawing the distinction.
    I think distinguishing between the philosophy and the resulting culture will be lost on most people because the culture of modernity looks for the if..then proposition. I find myself stuck in between. I grew up with the if…then… mindset, and fall on it when things complicated. I start looking for a solution academically, but having been in the field without the formality of academics I understand that molding to the culture is more important than understanding what persom X or Y says will work. Until the tools of modernity are seen as tools to reach people and not as the means to reach people, there will be a disconnect between modern & post-modern cultures.

  • andrew says:

    Dang, Brad, what a great response. One to make note of.
    I run into this all the time at conferences – i am talking p-y and they are confusing it with p-ism (which is the area they have heard their arguments in).
    Here is what i do:
    1. if they do want to talk about postmodernism, then i bring them back 90 years to Saussure and lead them through the full journey – thru the 20’s and the 70’s and to the present. (They soon find that what they thought was the whole gamut of postmoderism was just a blip and something that Americans jumped into late and many left too early – late for dinner, and then missed dessert)
    2. I remind them of what David Harvey said in “The Condition of Postmodernity” (1989) that the postmodern tension has to do with a differing experience with time and space. Or in other words, it is an EXPERIENTIAL reality in which we all live.
    You can argue a philosophical position away, or just dismiss it, but none of us can run away from the fact that our world experiences reality differently, and we all have to respond in an appropriate way.
    good word Brad, and i like the ecumenical thrust – we are all family – lets all stick together!

  • jen lemen says:

    i read both responses. thought brian was brilliant as was liftin (in a more modern way, of course. but one thing jumped out at me in brian’s paper. this one paragraph:
    If Christianity is not primarily information about how one gets his or her personal soul into heaven after death, then almost nobody on earth presently seems to know what it is instead. A tiny number of Christian leaders (including fine bona fide evangelicals such as Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Bill Hull, Len Sweet, Todd Hunter, and others) are making a daring counterproposal: perhaps the gospel has something to do with the Kingdom of God, and perhaps the Kingdom of God is not equal to going to heaven after death, but rather involves God’s will being done on earth, in history, before death, in the land of the living so to speak.
    here’s what i’m wondering. has the gospel as kingdom of god really new news? or only new news for evangelicals? i know this is brian’s audience for this paper, but my mainline friends have been talking about this for years. am i missing something? if it’s true than the way emergent approaches mainliners makes sense; if not, then it seems it would break down this “deep ecclesiology” we’re striving for.
    i’m honestly confused.

  • Joshua Burton says:

    Actually, I think there is a new awareness of the need for the Kingdom of God vs. the plans of man. I’ve been a part of several “cutting-edge” (their description – not mine) movements in the US and I’ve really seen a new focus in the last 5 years. The Kingdom of God is only relevant to those who have endured the fire of seeing their own attempts fail. With the effects of the post-modernity, we have seen a new disclosure of failures in all realms of society. Things that were kept quiet out of respect and fear are now being aired out. I believe that some of the major failures of the church have been hidden and covered for years. We honestly thought what we were doing was working. At least the portion of the Westernized church that I am a part of has been rippled by secret failures coming to light. We are forced to grapple with the sacred/secular dichotomy and realize that how we have defined God’s Kingdom was far below what He desires. We were content with the comforts of religiousity. He fervently burns with passion for His Kingdom. So yes, and no. The Kingdom is not new, but God refines our understanding and application of it. I believe that the newer trends that I have seen are around reality, vulnerability, wholistic worldviews, The Covenant of the Gospel, etc. If we get prideful over our new methods or powerful revelation, we will again abandon His Kingdom for our own. Each new surge should serve as a sobering reminder of our desparate need to be led by His Spirit.

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