Alrighty, well, it’s been far too long since I wrote regarding The Church in Emerging Culture an excellent book that outlines five different perspectives on the church, and how it should react to, interact with, and otherwise engage the emerging culture. The first two chapters were written by the editor, Leonard Sweet. You can read my thoughts on the first two chapters here.
Chapter three was written by Andy Crouch [Google Search]. Andy was editor-in-chief of Re:generation Quarterly, a magazine which, as far as I can tell, is no longer being published. He has also written columns for Christianity Today. Chapter three itself, which has been titled: Life After Postmodernity, was a decent read that caused me to think. Anything that causes me to think and process is good, and worth the time spent. So, from that perspective this chapter was excellent, and I can only hope that the other chapters are as good. Now, on with the details!
Although the chapter made me think, it wasn’t always good thoughts. To begin, I think Andy builds somewhat of a straw man. He makes this analogy of modernism being like the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral. Large, not caring about prettiness. Everything having a purpose. Science, etc, etc. All that is fine and good. He then tries to say that Postmodernity is like the Mall of America. Now, he does have some excellent points in his arguements here (he really goes after our American Consumerism, which I think is excellent), but Andy seems to equate postmodernity with ultramodernity. I agree with Brian McLaren when, in his comments on this chapter, he says: “It seems clear that for Andy, postmodernity means all that is worst about modernity coalesced into one glob of ultrasuperficial, superdestructive, otherwise negatively prefixed consumerism.” Basically the entire first portion of the chapter is spent with Andy going after postmodernity on the grounds that it’s really ultramodernity. So, I’ve said enough on that. Obviously I disagree that postmodernity is ultramodernity. I think that it is both more than that, and less than that at the same time. It owes it’s existence to modernity, but it is not just modernity on steriods.
After the reader has made her way through the first portion things become much more exciting. Andy picks out two things that postmodernity should have, and perhaps claims to have, but in fact does not have. Those two things are postindividualism and postconsumerism. Armed with these two thoughts Andy presses on and discusses what he calls “one of the great tragedies of Christian history,” which is that the Church has really lost the importance behind the two sacraments (baptism and the Eucharist, or communion as those of my ilk call it). Andy is quick to point out that a few have not lost the importance of baptism (but those one’s who haven’t lost it’s importance, Andy adds, are the ones who also baptize babies, thus still detracting from it to some extent in his opinion). Likewise he points out that not all have lost the importance of communion, but that those who have not lost it completely often still struggle with the importance of baptism. I think that these observations are great, because to a large extent I believe the church has lost the understanding of the importance behind the two sacraments (ie, Baptism is more than simply a public confession of one’s faith it is also a symbol to the one being baptized that in the same way Jesus died and was buried and rose again that he too has died to sin, is dead to its power, and has be raised into life and power in Christ (and one might add also a reminder of the fact that resurrection will one day come in a literal sense). So, I agree heartily with Andy here, that we need to work tirelessly to remember the importance of the Sacraments, for indeed Jesus gave them for a reason. This, however, begins to bring me to my next point…
Andy makes the following statement, “Baptism is our birth into a new order, a new community, something different and distinct from the world in which our prebaptized bodies eked out an existence.” I must say amen to that statement, for it is true! But I wrote a note in the margin at this point, “Yes! But we’ve lost that element of it somewhere.” Meaning, where is this new order, this new community, this something different and distinct that a new Christian is born into? It is difficult to see at times. I’m sure Andy would agree with me. Sometimes the church, perhaps oftentimes, does not appear to be different or distinct at all. Rather it appears to be a purely ultramodern (or modern, or postmodern) institution that is completely at home within the culture. This completely at homeness is not a good thing. But I digress. My point in bringing this up was to move on and say that Andy presents Baptism and Communion as if they are the two magic pills to cure the ills that confront the church. Many of the other writers of the book voiced (inked?) the same concern, gently reminding that the church has had the Sacraments through the centuries and has still managed to screw up quite a bit. Andy answered this concern in his rejoinder by basically saying that no one had quite gotten it right in the past. To me, that’s a bit of a bad answer. There needs to be more than, “Oh well, no one’s gotten it right before, but if we do…POOF! Good times.” I’m just not so sure. I do want to be quick to point out though that I do agree with Andy that the Sacraments are important, far more important than most in my circle make them out to be. But, they are still only actions, which are important and good, but mean nothing if the heart and attitude of the doer is not in the right place. I think the Fruit of the Spirit are where we need to start rebuilding and rethinking ourselves as the church. Then let’s get to the Sacraments.
This is far from a review of the chapter. Rather, as I said in my previous post, these little blog entries are meant for me to be able to think through these things and put some thoughts down. I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the emerging culture and how the church should interact with it. But I’m not reviewing it here, I’m working through it.