Contexually Speaking…

In Michael Riddell’s 2002 book, The Threshold of the Future, he has a section where he dissects some emerging themes of our current, postmodern culture.

As these ideas aren’t necessarily new within the postmodernity conversation, I appreciated Riddell’s particular insight and his desire to find ways of how Christ can better speak within such contexts.  The themes follow:

Urbanization:  “We are at the point in world history where, for the first time, there are more people living in cities than outside of them…The significance of this migration is not simply that people are living in cities;  it is also that they are adopting the culture of cities.  They are being formed within the culture of urbanism, a broad range of responses to the urban environment “(103).

Pluralism:  “…refers to the close proximity of differing and sometimes competing belief systems, cultures, and lifestyles…Pluralism easily becomes relativism…You can believe (do, be) whatever you like as long as it doesn’t hurt me.’”  Yes, the church should still strive for truth, but they must do it by “throwing the doors open and listen to all the stories…At the heart of our story is not a philosophy or a code of ethics, but a person” (105).

Holism:  With recent trends in caring for the environment, and our abuse of misinterpreting Genesis 1:28’s call to “subdue” and “have dominion over” the earth, “We have been formed to understand our dependence upon and interrelationship with the natural (or created) order” (107).

Juxtaposition:  Like the expert channel surfers of the postmodern generation, “Postmodernism prefers juxtaposition, where many contrasting and even contradictory themes exist side by side at the same time.  This allows intuitive leaps of meaning, and can serve to break upon new insights”…Unlike where “modernity thrives on linearity and systemization” (107).

Despair:  Unlike the post-war baby-boomer full of optimism, “There is an underlying sense of hoplessness and despair which colours much postmodern expression…Self-destructive patterns of behaviour and the use of cynicism and black humor are symptoms of an underlying grief and despair for what has become of us…But coupled with despair is a hunger for authenticity; a desire for something ‘real’ enough to withstand the rigours of existence” (109).

Apocalyptic:  “The end is foreseen, but without much prospect of hope beyond it”, (109).

Human Relating:  “In the absence of transcendent values and meanings, participants in the new culture are finding significance in friendships….It is a new social tribalism among those who recognize in others something of their own experience…If meaning and truth are to be found anywhere, they will be discovered in the context of community, where humanity is respected and accepted” (111).

Technology:  “The emerging culture has a fondness for technology, and especially for its ability to increase the scope of ‘play.’…The preference in the new world is ‘soft’ technology.’  ‘Hard’ technology is clunky, distant, and somewhat unresponsive” (111).

Truth and Reality:  “Postmodernists have given up on the ‘game’ of truth-seeking.  They have recognized the not-too-subtle power dimensions involved in trying to define what is true.  It is a smoke screen for deciding who’s in and who’s out, and who controls the game…The emerging culture is more interested in reality than truth…What is meant by this is existence beyond the hype, where there is consistency between word and action” (112).

Immediacy:  There is a craving for a sense of vitality…”of a sense of connection with and involvement in present experience.  Postmodern culture is very much in-your-face; loud, fast, and aggressive.  It doesn’t allow withdrawal to some secure buffer zone of reflection and analysis” (113)

Faith:  “Faith has become an important part of the way in which people relate to the world around them…The spiritual revival has tended to be influenced by consumer culture, so that religious options are selected and combined to suit the tastes and lifestyles of their users” (114)

Riddell’s closing comment for this section of his chapter was, “Is it possible that the story of Jesus may find a hearing once more, if it can be cleansed of its institutional accretions and retold in simplicity and honest?” (115)

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~ by Dave Smith on September 17, 2009.

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