Thursday, August 15, 2013

Entering the Past Through Postmodernism

My story is really not unique. There have been many who have converted to Orthodoxy, some coming from an Evangelical background. Over the last decade or so, there has been a mass exodus of twentysomethings from contemporary, American churches. The emerging church was (and to a certain extent they are still) an influential voice to these disillusioned souls.

Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, et al may have been branded "heretical" by some; others afraid to sound like Spanish Inquisitors will simply denigrate them, some points being valid, others misunderstood. Whether one sees value in these teachers or not, one has to admit they have brought many to the ancient faith. I believe one of two outcomes happen (general speaking): either the emerging church provoked enough curiosity and raised the right questions in a person for them to embrace the ancient faith, or perpetuated the hyper-individualistic, consumeristic, culturally-defined Christianity that they so vociferously spoke against.

An example of the latter is community. If community is defined as a group of like-minded individuals coming together and tolerating each other's crap, then this is not a whole lot different than the modern church community. Just because one hangs out in a group of friends more doesn't necessarily mean that you're more communal. It's a step in the right direction because there's a recognition that one's faith is lived out not in private but in a church community. However, if there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, if the Christian community is supposed to be transnational, to accept any and every one, we do not choose who we are in community with. If we hand select our community, then we're no different than high school clicks--we become tribal, trying to find others who are similar to us, this always becomes an exclusion of those who don't meet our criterion for initiation. Now, I understand that we'll have close friends, but this does not mean the Body of Christ is simply comprised of like-minded, or socially homogenous, individuals; if this is the case, then the Church starts to resemble a country club or a Facebook friends list. This is consumeristic and narcissistic--and individualistic--because our community becomes me-centered, for my satisfaction, for my needs. In theory the emerging church calling Christians from out of their prayer closets and into a communal participation of worship, teaching, study, and ritual is a good thing, but if in practice the disease of brokenness and sin, which are manifested in our social interactions, are not truly healed we get a community created in our own image.

There is no such thing as an individual Christian. We are Christians because we're apart of the Church: the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Resurrection Community (1 Cor 12, Rom 12:4-5). Our identity is in the community. We can't isolate ourselves. We worship in a local parish, but we're mystically in communion with the universal Church, both on earth and in heaven.

But...I diverge...

The emerging guys played a huge part in my journey to Eastern Orthodoxy. Reading their books raised questions regarding contemporary Christianity. I started to see a disparity between the early church and the modern one, and how the modern church seemed irrelevant in a postmodern context. I didn't stop with the emerging teachers, I went to their influences. McLaren led me to Lesslie Newbigin, which led me to Michael Polanyi. Newbigin and Robert Webber led me to George Lindbeck. Eugene Peterson (he's not "emergent" but he has influenced them) led me to Buber, Balthasar, Barth (look I can alliterate), Rowan Williams, Dostoevsky...and so on...

I don't want anyone to think that modernism and postmodernism are polar opposites. One cannot simply draw a line in the sand and say, here's one...and here's the other. Some see them at odds, some see postmodernism as a further modernization of society. Either way, early in my desert wanderings, I took an interest in postmodern thought (both philosophy and theology), my goal was to eventually read Derrida and Marion. I wasn't so much looking for answers in life, I wanted to see why our culture is the way it is. During this time, I kept looking to the ancient church for a steady foundation. Postmodernism became the entry point to the past.




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