The Space Between Postmodern Culture and The Church Today

One of the prevailing trends in culture today is an ever growing schism between the church and culture. Increasingly people are not going to church or if they are going to church they participate in the intimate anonymity of going to church on Sunday mornings but not necessarily engaging in other parts of the life of the church.

There are a variety of factors that keep people from fully embracing churches first people have often been hurt or burned by other churches and they have valid concerns that they could be hurt at their new church as well so they are skeptical. Unfortunately, churches have in many ways earned the skepticism of those who have been hurt by churches and those who are religious unaffiliated.

Responding to Postmodern Culture

Postmodernism is a term and concept that often gets bandied about in contemporary discourse without much critical reflection. Colloquially the term references a vague sense of skepticism towards institutions, authority, a suspicion of meta-narratives and a desire for authenticity, community, and “real” relationships. Historically speaking postmodernism is most clearly seen in art and architecture. In art postmodernism refers to the style of art that comes after French Impressionism and modernism. There are several postmodern styles of art notable examples are Jackson Pollock’s Abstract Expressionism, Andy Warhol’s Pop Art, and Nancy Graves sculpture Camels, among many other influential artists.

Postmodern art cannot be typified as one style as it serves as an umbrella category including but not limited to Minimalism, New Classicism, Conceptual art, installation art, performance art, multi-media, Neo-expressionism, & institutional critique. Each of these movements had a significant impact on the arts as well as culture. It is also important to note that when people discuss postmodernism in a rooted sense they are often thinking not only of art but also of architecture.

The transition from postmodern art and architecture to a postmodern culture occurs through the cyclical social systems where by aesthetics, art, and built spaces influence and shape social systems. When speaking of a postmodern culture it is important to acknowledge that the strongest representations of postmodernism are stylistic, impressionistic, and focused on a emotion/mood. Postmodern stylistic sensibilities focus on a carefully crafted and curated casual style. Postmodern style focuses on sharp lines, ultra minimalism, and a style that looks both natural but is in reality quite planned. Notable websites that have a postmodern brutalist and minimalist aesthetic would be Craigslist, Bloomberg Review, and many others. The Washington Post had an excellent article on the rise of brutalist design online.

Generally speaking the postmodern mood that has permeated culture is one of a suspicion and distrust of the authority and institutions because of the historic levels of abuses and exploitations by corporations, churches, non-profits, and other institutions and leaders who have treated people as disposable. This suspicion of authority and instituions can often be understood as cynical or apathetic and while that may certainly be the case in some instances it is generalization that fails to acknowledge the material conditions that lead to a deep suspicion of institutions. In an era of “FAKE NEWS!!!” is it a surprise that so many people are skeptical of institutions, authority, and claims to absolute totalizing TRUTH. Postmodern culture while suspicious of meta-narratives and truthclaims does have a deep investment in doing justice for those marginalized and forgotten by mainstream culture. This investment in social justice and the demand of equal treatment of all people and institutions is something valuable about the movement. Returning to living simply, in relationship and in community with other people is something that is vital to the human experience of life together and one area where the church can learn from postmodernism.

What is the Churches response to postmodern culture?

There is not just one response that the church or Christians should have to postmodern culture. Instead it is about listening and hearing into speech those who have are not going to church and those who are suspicious of the churches motives. Listening and laying the groundwork for an open dialogue between the culture and the church is the first step to creating a healthy dialogue where the church can listen and respond to criticism, repent and apologize, and then learn to welcome people to come to church and learn about the holistic healing offered by Jesus Christ. It is important that we show culture that the church is never just one thing and that oen of the main reasons to go to church is to be in a diverse community of believers who are willing to walk with you on your lives journey and to help encourage one to embrace and follow their calling and to live into the fullness of what it means to be a Christian. Part of closing the gap between the culture and the church is finding ways to meet people where they are and listen to each other with vulnerability and sincerity and work to find meaning and wholeness in a way that glorifies Christ.

If you are interested in learning more about ways the church can respond to and learn from postmodernism consider contacting David J. Brett. He is available to speaking, teaching, and leading workshops, as well as pastoral care and counseling.

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash