The River in our Postmodern Culture
We have all seen them. Twenty-somethings and teenagers even some gen X’s and Baby Boomers who look, talk and think differently than the generations before them. Maybe you don’t understand them.
The reality is that this new generation is not going away, and they comprise the largest part of the emerging harvest the Church must reach. Depending on your perception, you are either dreading or salivating over the thought of trying to make an impact on the emerging generation.
Although Jesus said in Matt 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you...” to some Christians, embracing this command is about as appealing as kissing a porcupine. This is because we fear what we do not understand. So who are these people? Let’s take a look at the members of this rising generation and see that these are the greatest days of opportunity for “River” people to evangelize them.
During recent centuries Christianity was influenced significantly by modernism which sought to take the individual narratives of the Bible and reduce them to a set of underlying truths. This “scientific reductionism” became the prevalent Christian world view, and members of the Church and eventually society were expected to adopt it. This world view often contained a lot of cultural baggage as well as rigid theology.
At some point in the middle of the twentieth century, believers and non-believers alike began to question and deconstruct this worldview and a new cultural movement was born. Sociologists eventually labeled this movement as “postmodernism.”
Postmodernism discards the notion that individuals should value scientific and rational thought as the ultimate authority and encourages them to embrace a more spiritual, experiential, relational and holistic way of life. A postmodernist will therefore often question the relevance of any organization or church that is based on a modernist worldview. Therefore, the emerging generation is re-thinking Christianity and spirituality.
So what does this have to do with you and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on planet earth today? Every generation must have its own unique encounter with the Spirit of God. The promise of the Father is that the person and power of the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh, upon all ages and all generations, including modernists and postmodernists. The good news is that the postmodern mindset will be able to relate to spiritual experiences such as the Holy Spirit baptism, divine healings and physical manifestations of the presence of God. In other words, this is a great season for River people.
This is even reflected in popular Christian literature. In the early 1970’s the best-selling KNOWING GOD, by J.I. Packer, emphasized the cerebral study of God’s attributes as the key to spiritual growth. Packer, in his forward to this book, actually targets modernists as his audience.
By contrast, in the 1990’s Henry Blackaby and Claude King wrote another best-seller, called EXPERIENCING GOD. In this work, Blackaby and King make experience acceptable and even beneficial for spiritual growth. This emphasis on experience is a significant characteristic of postmodernism and opens the door for a “River” theology, which has been born out of an outpouring that emphasizes experiencing God. Bottom line? Postmodernism is “River friendly.”
THE POSTMODERN CHALLENGE
The crisis of evangelism in the postmodern world according to Leonard Sweet’s POSTMODERN PILGRIMS (2000) is that “we now live...
• in a culture of Bible-believing churches filled with people who do not read the Bible... • in a culture of soul-saving churches filled with people who never get personally involved in saving souls... • in a culture where the last five U.S. presidents, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton all described themselves as “born again Christians”...
• in a culture where consumerism is the number one religion... • in a culture where Deepak Chopra, Oprah Winfrey, and Larry Dossey are more authoritative voices than Moses, Jesus, or even Mohammed . . . • in a culture where the Bible no longer provides the spectacles through which people gaze...” (p.22)
All this presents a challenge to the Church. How can we preach the gospel to this generation without compromising its power?
Highly creative approaches to worship and spiritual reflection thrive in postmodern current reality.
This can involve everything from the use of contemporary music and films to innovations in traditional liturgy and other more ancient Church customs. Churches that allow the creativity of the Holy Spirit in their services will find much more acceptance than churches who insist on a traditional and predictable worship service or as Sweet says “measure success not by its budgets and buildings but by its creativity and imagination.”
“Postmoderns” (as we will call them) want the emphasis to be on the seeker’s experience with God and the subsequent transformation that occurs through those experiences. This is where churches who are flowing in the current move of the Holy Spirit can really flourish. Encountering the Holy Spirit is the most profound experience a person can have. Soaking in the fullness of the Spirit affects the entire person and, of course, will ultimately result in discipleship.
Postmoderns also want a flexible approach to theology that accepts differences in belief and morality that are within scriptural boundaries. Postmoderns can “smell” legalism and conditional love from miles away. They want a church that emphasizes faith-expectancy and not rigid rules.
The postmodern also wants an emphasis on authentic relationships versus organizational structure. Postmodern seekers not only desire that the Holy Spirit touch and embrace them, but they also deeply desire to be touched and embraced by caring people. More than ever, individuals want to know how much you care, and they do not care about how much you know. You will not find many postmoderns who will ask you what your theology is, but they will ask you, “Can you help me?” and, “Will you love me?”
Essentially, what a postmodern wants is something real: real relationships, real love, real experiences and real encounters with God. Ministry in the twenty-first century has more in common with the first century than you can imagine. The ancient ways of the Spirit are more relevant now than ever.
God’s passion for each generation is to connect them to Jesus Christ and the Church. The Holy Spirit also knows the unique trends and characteristics of every generation. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit is destined to express the Kingdom of God to this generation.
WHAT IS WORKING FOR US?
For the last ten years, we have been reaching postmodern seekers through a unique ministry expression of renewal called Tehillah Monday. We have experienced remarkable success in engaging this emerging generation and have witnessed well over seven thousand individuals make decisions for Christ and experience the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit. There are several things that God has shown us that we feel have contributed to the fruitfulness of this ministry:
We unashamedly target postmoderns and focus on their needs by creating a mood and atmosphere that appeals to them. Traditionalists and modernists may not enjoy the service and that is OK. Having a specialized gathering frees us to do what we need to do and rescues us from trying to have to make everyone happy in one service.
We incorporate loud, cutting edge music that emphasizes the manifest presence of God, and it seems to resonate with the emerging generation. We endeavor to bring the most relevant and Holy Spirit-saturated product possible.
The worship service is experiential and not spectator oriented with the purpose of having individuals focus on Jesus Christ.
Postmodern preaching looks and sounds different than modern preaching. It is story-telling. At Tehillah Monday, we do not assume that the people already have a Judeo-Christian world view. We recognize that our audience is essentially unaware of the gospel story. This means the thrilling and amazing story of God needs to be told again and again. Instead of just emphasizing the explanation of what truth is, we emphasize the explanation and experience of Who truth is. Parables, illustrations, visuals, movies all become part of retelling the ‘old, old story’.
If we are truly living in the last generation, we can now expect that the powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit that began in Acts will culminate in an unprecedented display of God’s love and power that will fully affect this postmodern generation. Maybe that is why Peter reiterated Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2:17-21...
17 “ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
Is there really any better way to save the postmodern generation?