Emergant.:3 Postmodern Sensibility


The emerging church is a response to a culture sometimes characterized as 'post-modern'. I hesitate to use the word, again, since so much fruitless discussion has happened in the church as a result of hyper-academic interpretations of the word. Although there is value in looking at post-modern literary theory (start with Ferdinand de Saussure, the 'father of postmodernism') the areas of postmodern architecture, fashion, and aesthetics have usually given me greater understanding of the current world. The post-modern shift was an experiential shift in our perception of time and space and motion.  (see David Harvey's book, “The Condition of Postmodernity”). It is something SENSED at a deep and intuitive level. This shift is reflected in our worship and practice. Our emerging churches reflect the postmodern sensibility.

The Skinny on Postmodernity (2002) was a weekly series that I wrote quickly (and regretfully) on Mondays for publication on Tuesdays at theOoze.com
1.Postmodernism and Global Worldviews
2.Being Postwestern: It was All Greek To Me
3.Time and Space: Being Now(h)here.
4.Postmodern Church: Are We There Yet?

I also wrote some responses to Charles Colson's article “The Postmodern Crackup”
Postmodern Truth 1.0: The Official Skinny Response
Postmodern Truth 2.0: The Cheesy Skinny Response
Postmodern Truth 3.0: the intuitive skinny response 

“The challenge of being the church in a ”postmodern, post-Christian, post-Western“ culture. . . should be a opportunity that we do not shy away from . We came up with Good News For Modern Man. Lets do it again with Good News for postmodern, post-Western people.”
From 'Being Postwestern: It Was All Greek To Me', Andrew Jones, The Ooze. 

“In Modernity, we tried to transcend time and space. ”Modernity“, said Anthony Giddens, is ”precisely the transmutation of time and space.“ Modern theologians and missiologists, just like other social scientists of their day, were guilty of abandoning history and geography in their attempt at creating or translating universal truths. Pastors developed ministry programs to be universally appropriate in any place or time. Even much of the argument today about modernism vs. postmodernism happens in ”empty space“, in the world of abstract theory and not in the real world of people, events, lifestyles and culture. Postmodernism interupted the abstract time and space of modernity.” Andrew Jones, “Time and Space: Being Now(h)ere.”

This has affected the way we experience reality, and the way we do church. We are far more open to the past, more aware of the present (and less infatuated with the future). We celebrate the moment and redeem the time. We are more committed to the local space, the ground, of where we minister. We are less abstract, more real, and more authentic, more holistic. We are also more suspicious of our own singular attempts to describe mystery and less likely to place faith in people over God.  There is less static worship performed from a stage and more dynamic alternative worship that involves motion -  – worship in navigable space  – like stations in a 24-7 prayer room, or labyrinths, pilgrimage, or prayer walking. Preaching involves greater accountability and feedback, and is more aware of the potential to abuse.

“It is not so much about conflicting philosophies but more about conflicting EXPERIENCES of reality. The Enlightenment thinkers like Newton insisted our world was held together with absolute time and absolute space. Later scientists showed that time and space were elusive and relative. Part of finding our feet in postmodernity has to do with reconnecting with time and space, with history and geography, with ground and moment. Time feels shorter. Space seems smaller. The world is more connected. ”Time's Arrow“ no longer flies straight.”

This “time-space compression” is a felt reality, rather than an actual one. The world hasn't really changed and daylight savings hasn't really made our curtains fade. What is changing is how we deal with it, the concepts and constructs we use to descibe the differing experiences. But the experience itself is real. Very real.“Time and Space: Being Now(h)ere.”

I see three distinct stages in the postmodern transition that new churches go through in order to find a balanced approach to life and ministry.
1.  A de-constructive phase characterized by the prefix “post-” eg, Post-colonial.
2. An explorative phase characterized by the prefix “re-” eg, Remash
3. A constructive phrase characterized by the prefix “con-” eg, Convergence
Its unfortunate that the early deconstructive stage (1970's and 80's) was used to characterize the movement than the more constructive or intuitive stages that preceded

The CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) posted a comprehensive overview on “What is Postmodernism” or at least how the traditional church saw it. I gave some initial response to that article and still recommend reading it since it shows the extremities of the arguements and the confusion over this topic.

Gerard Kelly (my friend and author of RetroFuture) believes the French word meaning “big story” became too academic when translated into English as “metanarrative” – a word that has been narrowly interpreted in terms of is philosophical connection to post-structuralism, relativism and nihilism. It has been associated with an inabitlity to form value judgements or make ethical choices. Because of this miscommunication, some leaders in the emerging church have chosen to avoid the word and focus on concepts and allegories that enable insight and create understanding.  Some good conversation is on the post 'When We Stop Emerging.'

Much of the criticism of the emerging church is actually a criticism of post-modern critical theory. The area of new media theory has been more fruitful to me recently than anything in post-modern criticism. If you are interested in understanding more of the emerging culture, then wait for EmergAnt.:4 New Media Fluency

The series: EmergAnt – The Skinny on the Emerging Church:
1. Emergent Vocabulary
2. Countercultural History
3. Postmodern Sensibility 

4. New Media Fluency


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.


  • Sivin says:

    this is faciniating stuff in compilation. I’m looking forward to the next post and the next ….

  • kristian vatne says:

    I like it. I like it a lot! Your posts are so interesting and relevant. Keep on the good work! bless.

  • thanks for a concise articulate summary with lots of info and links to dig deeper. i will refer folks to this post, when i am trying to bring greater understanding of this discussion. sometimes i want to say to scream from the rooftops- “this shit/change/worldview… it is an “is” so lets get on with engaging and growing and incarnating christ in it rather than trying to stem the tide with a paper cup!”
    have your read The Hermeneutics of Charity by smith?
    thanks, again. shalom.

  • Graham Doel says:

    Andrew, I just found a broken link on this article.
    “2. Being post western: it’s all Greek to me”
    Thanks for the articles though, all helpful stuff.

  • linda says:

    andrew, you need to add your emergant 4 to these series links new media fluency. i still have people coming from my blog to see your articles because they are the best, so i hope you’ll add that link so they don’t miss it. 🙂

  • Bob_Leonardo says:

    New to this site. I am 60’s boomer, at the very tip I guess 1962. I have an admixture of Orthodoxy and Postmod.
    My concerns, based on some orthodox apologists (Greg Koukl @ http://www.Standtoreason.org is that postmods be the churcher’s or secular, see nothing definitive, no universals (other then nothing is true, but just preference==Relativism)
    I have not read enough here, but it appears you are saying this is not your philosophy. Perhaps, postmods emergents are just not pleased with what they see as stuffy worship, and a church that seems dead in a cultural that has clearly gone secular–is this the thinking here ?
    Just curious

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