Postmodern and Wesleyan

April 6th, 2010 / 39 Comments

Not long ago, I was asked to prepare a lecture on postmodernism and the Wesleyan theological tradition. After reflecting on the two, I proposed ten ways in which revisionary postmodernism coheres with Wesleyan theological concerns.

Not surprisingly, I first attempted to be clear about what I meant by “postmodern.” “Postmodern” is a word I both love and hate. On the one hand, the word stands for and beckons us to break from negative precedent. To be “post” what is modern suggests transcending what was unhelpful in modernity. In many ways, postmodernism offers hope.

On the other hand, “postmodern” is a word abused and over used. It sometimes stands for whatever is new, different, or faddish. Other times, it suggests extreme ethical and epistemic relativism. And there are some who use “postmodern” to mean returning entirely to worldviews prevalent before the rise of science.

In previous blogs, I have identified four dominant postmodern traditions.  The tradition I find most helpful I call “revisionary postmodernism.” This postmodern approach calls us to be reoriented in our worldviews without becoming disoriented. It deconstructs and then reconstructs a theology helpful for our time.

Revisionary postmodernism offers ways of thinking and living that I think should be attractive to various theological traditions.  In this essay and a subsequent one, however, I argue that revisionary postmodernism fits the Wesleyan theological tradition very well.

I am not saying John Wesley was “postmodern before postmodern was cool.” Nor am I claiming that all who embrace the Wesleyan flag are rightly regarded as postmodern. But I do think the theological themes emerging from Wesley’s influence complement key tenets in revisionary postmodernism. Furthermore, Wesleyan ways of thinking might promote well revisionary postmodernism in our day.

In the remainder of this essay, I sketch out five features of revisionary postmodernism and their relationship with Wesleyan-holiness theology. In a subsequent essay, I offer five more features.

1.   Respecting past, present, and future

Both revisionary postmodernism and Wesleyan theology have respect for and glean from the past. And yet both also engage the present and actively anticipate a better future. The past, present, or future are important for making sense of God and life.

Respect for past and present means that revisionary postmodernism should not be regarded as anti-modern. Unfortunately, some Christians so criticize the modern period and praise premodern times that one would think nothing of genuine importance emerged in recent centuries. By contrast, John Wesley and Wesleyans generally do not privilege or denounce any one period of history.

How we regard the influence of contemporary science can shed light on the extent to which we think modernity was helpful. Some so embrace science and the reductionist metaphysics thought to be required of science that they allow no place for spirit, freedom, value, and purpose. We should reject such scientism.  But the science baby need not be thrown out with the scientism bathwater. Modern science has provided important information and insights that must be accounted for in a robust postmodern worldview.

John Wesley understood the vital role of science.  He read the leading scientific works of his day.  Some scientific theories he embraced; others he rejected. He allowed the sciences to play a role in the shaping of his theology and understanding of existence. Like Wesley, revisionary postmodernists neither worship science nor condemn it.

2. Blurring sacred and secular

Some have suggested that premodernity was absent any sense of secularity. All life was God-created and controlled. I think this argument overreaches. But I do think one could make a strong argument that many premodern Christians did not think humans acted in any way not already preordained by God. 

I’m reminded of the Orlando Bloom movie of a few years ago, Kingdom of Heaven. The movie is set during the Crusades, and characters in the film describe virtually every event with the simple phrase, “God wills it!” Most premodern people thought God controlled all things.

It is common to define the modern period as promoting a contrary philosophy that the world is all we have.  The Renaissance revived Protagoras’ words, “Man is the measure of all things.” Theologically, this meant either that no God exists or that God acts upon the world from the outside, periodically intervening in creaturely affairs.

Recent atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris represent the atheist bent. The words of Isaac Newton represent the other view. Newton wrote that God “governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; … Deity is the dominion of God not over his own body, as those who fancy God to be the soul of the world, but over servants.”

Revisionary postmodernism and most Wesleyan Christians have been uncomfortable with a hard distinction between sacred and secular cultures. These traditions seek to speak of God and creatures in relational/synergistic terms. The world is always sustained by an ever-present, active, but noncontrolling God.

In contrast to Isaac Newton and atheists, John Wesley called God “the Soul of the Universe.” Wesley envisioned God as an empowering and creative Person. “God is in all things,” said Wesley, “and we are to see the Creator in the glass of every creature, and we should use and look upon nothing as separate from God, which indeed is a kind of practical Atheism.”

3. Experiential and abstract knowledge

A chief criticism of modernity is that it reduced knowledge to only what could be confirmed by logic or our five senses. To adapt to this reduction, modern Christianity argued that we best account for knowledge of God in propositional sentences cognitively affirmed.

Some postmodernists have called for a return to mystery and the importance of lived knowledge. They stress the importance of truth that emerges in lived relations with others.

Revisionary postmodernism draws from both experience and logic. It affirms that truth can be discovered in relations and propositions.  While revisionary postmodernists stress the importance of practices and the developing of habits of virtue, it also calls for rethinking and affirming the structures of what should be considered rational. Revisionary postmodernism affirms Charles Wesley’s desire to unite knowledge and vital piety.

In my previous exposition of revisionary postmodernism, I stressed the significance of experiential nonnegotiables for overcoming extreme relativism. Experiential nonnegotiables are beliefs that we inevitably affirm in our lived practice. David Ray Griffin calls these “hard-core commonsense notions,” and Jürgen Habermas calls them “performative contradictions.” The point is that we should draw upon both our deepest experiences and our best reasoning to make sense out of life.

In the Wesleyan tradition, this drawing from multiple sources is linked with the Wesleyan quadrilateral. The quadrilateral is a conceptual took that says the Bible, reason, Christian tradition, and personal experience all help us understand something about God and existence. Both revisionary postmodernism and the Wesleyan tradition, then, draw from multiple resources for discovering truth. And they appeal to both head and heart.

4. Persons-in-community

In recent decades, it has become common to criticize modernity for stressing the ultimate importance of the individual. Modernity neglected the vital role of the community. It presupposed that individuals are isolated, essentially unrelated, and autonomous.

Less commonly known is that modernity stressed individual freedoms largely in response to the stifling authoritarianism that characterized many premodern societies. Modern philosophers, theologians, and scholars of various types sought to escape the domination of oppressive authorities.  Galileo is often cited as exhibit A of one who endured a ruling community’s tyranny.

At a recent global theology conference, I was struck by the contrast of concerns of those living in the so-called “West” and those living in the so-called “two-thirds world.”  Westerners were worried about individualism, and many called for return to the authority of the community. Two-thirds world theologians worried about the authority of the community, and many called for space for personal freedoms.

Revisionary postmodernism emphasizes the value and integrity of both persons and communities. Rather than thinking of persons as isolated individuals, it considers them as interrelated persons who have arisen in large part from their relations with others. Working of the common good often entails seeking the good simultaneously of individuals and communities. Life is rarely a zero-sum game.

The Wesleyan emphasis upon personal responsibility to the call of God and social holiness fits well with the dual emphasis of community and persons in revisionary postmodernism. Wesley saw the need to work with persons, small groups, and governments to seek righteousness. Today we must affirm a role both for personal and corporate authority.

5. Salvation begins now

Many premodern people were preoccupied with the afterlife.  Of course, just about everyone considers the issues of death. But premodern people – especially Christians – seemed overly concerned with the next life. More than one atonement theory, for instance, was concerned with immortality to the virtual neglect of accounting for lived experience in the here and now.

One modernist, Karl Marx, said Christianity was an opiate that kept people pacified. Marx would agree with my mother, who criticized one woman in my home church as too heavenly minded for any earthly good.

Twentieth century Christians stressed the evangelistic question, “ Are you heavenbound?” Many neglected the holiness question, “What does it mean to live a life of love now?” All important was getting one’s name written on heaven’s book of life. Seldom well considered was living the abundant life Jesus said he came to give.

Revisionary postmodernism agrees with Wesleyans that salvation is concerned with both the present and future. The “eternal life” that God provides in Jesus (Jn. 3:16) is primarily an issue of the quality of life now not the quantity of life later.

In his sermon, The Scripture Way of Salvation, Wesley writes, “The salvation which is here spoken of is not what is frequently understood by that word, the going to heaven, eternal happiness…. It is not a blessing which lies on the other side death; or, as we usually speak, in the other world… It is a present thing; a blessing which, through the free mercy of God, ye are now in possession of.”

Revisionary postmodernists and Wesleyans agree that salvation pertains to the good of persons, communities, and societies. Salvation can even be extended to the nonhuman world of animals and environments, for God cares for all creation. God wants to provide abundant life now and in the life to come.

I will offer in a later post the remaining five ways I think revisionary postmodernism coheres with a Wesleyan theological vision. As I said earlier, revisionary postmodernism may also cohere with other theologies. But my focus has been with the Wesleyan tradition, because I think it fits well with general principles of revisionary postmodernism.

 

Footnote: I thank Jay Akkerman for extending the opportunity to hone these ideas in preparation of the conference he directed, “Furtherness: Reorienting Holiness in a Changing World.”

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Comments

Eric Stark

Hey Tom, I was just listening to a podcast of an interview with Thomas Altizer, (erstwhile death of God populizer)on Point of Inquiry. This might be of interest for you concerning your postmodern piece. Interestingly, he feels that guys like Dawkins and the “new” atheists are not “thinkers” at all, and should stay in their own fields rather than try to step into theology.  He is also good buddies with Derrida and Mark C. Taylor.
It’s a rather muddled interview and many people didn’t like it at all. I did. I think most aren’t knowledgable of theology; for instance getting confused by the saying, “you must be a xian to be an atheist.”


LancePounds

Hello Tom,
Well done in coming up with thought out plan. I think that we are at important time in our denomination where two schools are coming together.
I think connecting Wesleyan with John Wesley might be hurtful to this journey because Wesleyan is more then a philosophy of a person but a reflection of a community as well.


Blake Wenner

I find it difficult to understand how Wesleyan tradition can be comfortably molded into a postmodern perspective. It just seems difficult to reconcile particular postmodern perspectives that do away with metaphysics to the Wesleyan tradition. Once the metaphysics is deconstructed, very few things remain sacred. However, it also seems possible for experiential and lived interpretation with others to perpetuate newer and more revered perspectives of scripture.


Tyler Mostul

Thank you for offering an explanation of postmodernism that doesnt make it seem like such a terrible thing.  Granted there are some things that are not helpful for Christians, but there are some things that are good.  I think that if we are to look at our own Wesleyan tradition and ideas that postmodernism affirms, like you have done, I think we would realize that we already support many of the postmodern ideas.


Nathan Dupper

Dr. Oord,

This blog is a good representation of what postmodern Christians think. It covers many of the topics that are taught by religion professors today. This would be useful as a “Christian postmodernism 101” type of article. However, I think the major use of the word “postmodern” does not line up with orthodox Christian beliefs. I think that the use of this term may turn many Christians away from these Ideas. I think there are some good insights here. Sadly, I think the uses of the label “postmodern” will keep think from being accepted by the majority of Christians.


Danielle B

If revisionary postmodernism is neither worshiping science or condemning it and a belief that “The past, present, (and) future are important for making sense of God and life.” then I believe it to be middle ground. These things do not seem radical.
  On a side note, the first time I watched Kingdom of Heaven, I wanted it shown in chapel and to our various boards, because it seemed to me that in the face of this film no one could say it was not objectionable to have a crusader as a mascot.
  Truth does not come from just one source. I daily have more respect for the quadrilateral, and a movement that promotes such ideas of balance in knowledge.
  I think the movement in the modern period for individual authority makes sense as a back lash of a society who’s majority was often wrong. I think there is value in community. It is just as easy to have a crazy individual, maybe more, than a corrupted majority. It seems a constant move toward the middle.
  I often get teasingly called a modern by Timpe because of a fixation/fear of the after life. This isn’t a selfish fear necessarily, but a global one. Sometimes it is simply better to focus on the present and the good you can do now.


Steve Carroll

Shoulda called it Postmodern and Nazarene. there are other Wesleyans out there…


Erika Schaub

I like how John Wesly said that “God is in all things”.  I agree on this statement.  I also agree with you on the importance of experiences and how we learn and gain knowledge from our life and other’s life experiences.  But people should think logically about things as well.  People should not be lazy in their thinking but ponder on theological issues and life issues.  Our experiences help us make sense out of life because they are real events which happen to us. 

Community is very important to me and it is great to be reminded of Wesley’s views on community.  We need people.  We need people to grow spiritually, as an individual, to rejoice with, to cry with, to laugh with, etc.  Individualism is hard to forget because we live in a society that is all about individualism.  Individuals should be recognized but not isolated; we need to be in community with each other, that is why God said it is not good for man to be alone.


Lucas Reding

I appreciate the fact that revisionary postmodernists neither condemn nor worship science. It is good to see this view. As Christians I feel like it is our responsibility to seek out God in the many different mediums God appears in.

Also it is good to hear someone speak on the here and now of the Christian life. It seems like these days people are more centered on their meeting with Christ in Heaven than on being Christ here on Earth now. It is our duty to bring Heaven down to earth not run off to it when the first opportunity arises.


Nicholas Carpenter

On your first point, I think it is very important that we show respect for the past and look to it often for answers or thoughts. Many times in our own times of questions and thinking, someone has gone before us in thinking about similar issues and generated ideas that could help us in our context today, if only we look for the help. That does not mean we are to live in the past, but to look back when needed. I also really appreciate the balance between reason and experience in point 3. There are many things we can logically conclude and work out, but there are also circumstances that require an experiential aspect logic cannot fulfil. Both may conflict with each other at times and bring about paradox, but both are equally valid in helping us to better understand life and God.


Rachael Snyder

I recall as a teenager being appalled by my conception of postmodernism in society. The more I learned about postmodernism, however, the more I realized that I was in fact a product of my postmodern generation. The easiest way for me to describe the subconscious postmodern ideology of this generation is to speak in terms of connection. Western postmoderns view concepts, people, and disciplines as interconnected and tend to embrace holistic lifestyles. I have zero problems with this.


Steven Coles

I the idea of postmodernism is a very revolutionary, in my opinion. I see how postmodernism works to ask questions about the Church that have not been asked or questioned. I do see that this can lead those of my generation to disrespect those that have gone before. I see this as an issue with postmodernism, is that my generation and those that follow will be less respectful to things like tradition or those that have been in leadership for years. I think there needs to be a interworking of young and old in the Church to process though these topics.


James

Your phrase, “postmodernism should not be regarded as anti-modern,” is a key point that must be highlighted in these conversations. I call to mind the verse that says, “whatever is true, honorable, and pure, think on these things.” It would be to our detriment if we threw the post-modern baby out with the modern bathwater.


Topher Taylor

First, I just wanted to say that I was glad there was a feasible definition foe postmodern because everytime I hear someone use it I never actually know what is going on. I think that you are right in your assessment that science and religion can mix in the confines of postmodernism. I like the idea that the concept of salvation is now. For all your definitions I think I have more of a view that fits with postmodern thought.


Kristina Wineman

Your definitions of modernity and post-modernity have helped me understand more clearly the ideas behind what many people say. I think it is interesting to hear about those in pre-modern and modern times. The difference between individual and community is most fascinating. It is especially fascinating to me because I can see the change in my own eyes.


Daniel Parker

I must say that I agree with your understanding of postmodernism in that “revisionary postmodernism” is the way to go. I also like how you point out that a revisionary postmodern respects the past, present, and future. I think that if anything is to be learned/gained it must be in the light of the past. It kind of reminds me of the saying that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. I also think that it is important that we draw our theology from being in community, but I also think that we must keep sight of the individual implications of the gospel. In other words neither the corporate nor the individual aspects of the gospel should be overshadowed by the other. And one thing that I know is true is that for so long the gospel has been seen as a thing that affects you after death and not in life. I think that it is vastly important that we keep in mind that the gospel is supposed to effect this world and that if it doesn’t influence how we live our lives today then we are not acting the way a Christian should.


Oscar D.

If I may be frank, the idea that “salvation can even be extended to the nonhuman world of animals and environments, for God cares for all creation. God wants to provide abundant life now and in the life to come” is fascinating. Growing up, i was always under the impression that when non-humans die, its simple, lights out, done, gone and forgotten; but the reality that God cares for all creation is though provoking.


Angela Monroe

I appreciate this view of postmodernism. Far too often the term is loosely thrown around, and this focused view of what it actually means is helpful to me. I question, however, the first point about relying on the past, present, and future. I often struggle with the Nazarene church in particular because so often it seems as though we do not know our own tradition. In other churches, such as the Episcopal church, children and adults alike are trained on the tradition and symbolism of every part of the church service. I wish that there was more of that in Nazarene churches today, and it is something I hope to implement in my own ministry.


Rachel Ball

If we are to believe that the better connotation of the word ‘postmodern’ is applicable to John Wesley, then his ideas must be those that bring us out of tired ideas and elicit hope. The five presented here do just that. My personal favorite is that salvation begins now. Too often Christianity is seen as a means to escape a fiery eternity however, it is so much more than that. Salvation offers a new life here and now. It offers a new beginning with that beginning being the moment you want it. This idea is refreshing and it offers the most hope for this moment than any idea could.


James High

This bridging of the gap between postmodernity and the church (particularly the Wesleyan tradition) has been infinitely helpful in my understanding of the role each plays in the other’s development. As I came to this topic, much of the talk I had heard about postmodern philosophy was that it was a bad, extremely relativistic philosophy that saw truth only in the individual. It was scary moving forward toward this, but we all know that we can’t go back to the issues of the modern era. This is why when Dr. Oord writes, “To be ‘post’ what is modern suggests transcending what was unhelpful in modernity. In many ways, postmodernism offers hope,” I become excited to think about what this means for our ministry today. We begin to tear down the structures of modernity that no longer work, but rather than leaving the wreckage behind us, we see the opportunity to now build on what was left behind, the foundation. Two of the features that are mentioned here I find to be particularly useful to our Wesleyan theology. The emphasis on “persons-in-community” can not be over stressed here. We move one from the individualistic driven society and church to one that “considers (people) as interrelated persons who have arisen in large part from their relations with others.” The other is the understanding that the “good life” starts now. We continue to anxiously await for the full inbreaking of heaven on earth, but we also understand that Jesus came to bring us life now. In Revisionary postmodernism, we as a church must be concerned with both the present and the future. So as the church marches onward into this postmodern era, we see that much of what we march toward, especially as Wesleyans, is a better and fuller practice of philosophy that we already would ascribe to.


Mike Curry

This complementary walk of revisionary postmodernism and Wesleyan theology makes one ponder if the two have not come together in such a cohesion “for such a time as this,” to borrow the phrasing from the Esther narrative. The 5 ways contained in this essay have 5 implications for ministry in this contemporary time. First of all, the time for ministry is now. We can have regrets and learn from the past or remain fearful or hopeful of the future, but the time to do something is in this present moment. What will we do to connect in meaningful and loving ways with those around us in this present time? Second, Christ and the redemption that is brought through him is needed in every aspect of life. If the Kingdom of God is found wherever believers make their home, then it is necessary that those citizens bring the Kingdom to every place and to every people possible. Third, those engaged in ministry should never cease to learn from God, the world around us, and from one another in the communities to which we belong. There are so many facets to understand those things within and those things without that we must be ready to learn and be willing to try to understand. Fourth, the realization that everyone is interrelated to everything in some way should push us to understand that a holistic approach to discipleship, evangelism, and serving is necessary. We should strive to understand the implications in our relationships of our words, attitudes, and actions in all aspects of ministry. Last, we must practically answer Dr. Oord’s question, “What does it mean to live a life of love now?” In answering that question, many practical applications can be made that takes faith and put it into tangible action whereby a community and those youth and families therein may be blessed, not to mention the created world in which we live. The Wesleyan vision fits well with many of the revisionary postmodern ideas. The popular song by Matthew West proclaims, “If not us, then who, if not me and you, Right now, it’s time for us to do something.” Let us do something now and together.


Denice Gass

I found myself nodding frequently as I read this article, as the ideas of the holiness tradition were presented is a helpful and articulate way. I am both a Wesleyan by choice and by upbringing and I agree with Dr. Oord that many of the things that Wesleyan theology teaches us fit well with revisionary postmodern thinking. Oord writes, “But I do think the theological themes emerging from Wesley’s influence complement key tenets in revisionary postmodernism. Furthermore, Wesleyan ways of thinking might promote well revisionary postmodernism in our day” (Oord, NP). The challenge for me as a children’s pastor then becomes finding practical ways to bring the Wesleyan tenets I believe in into the lives of the children in my ministry. For instance, many of the object lessons that are being written for curriculum currently are science based. Recently I did one of these lessons about letting the love of Jesus shine through our lives with enthusiasm, much like diet cola rushes from a bottle when Mentos candies are inserted into it. It is a fun, kinetic activity that allowed the kids to connect a faith concept with a real world concept, but after reading this article I wonder if their might be more to it than that?

Oord shares that, “[Wesley] allowed the sciences to play a role in the shaping of his theology and understanding of existence. Like Wesley, revisionary postmodernists neither worship science nor condemn it” (Oord, NP). Even as I was sharing a scientific object lesson, perhaps there was an opportunity to deepen the discussion that I missed. After reading this article, I now see that there may have also been an opportunity to speak to the kids about what science has to teach us about God’s world and some of the ways that the truths we learn from science can apply to our faith. Offering our young people an opportunity to think about some of these deeper topics can help them to develop a personal understanding of their faith as they move toward adolescence. I am not saying they have to believe as I do, but rather that they be provided them with the opportunity to decide for themselves. I have the privilege and responsibility to keep my eyes open for practical ways to give them that opportunity and to discuss with them such topic as the importance of community, the scope and nature of salvation, God’s presence in the world around us, and so much more.


Chelsea Pearsall

There are many aspects of this understanding of postmodernism that I think can better help our practices and local ministries. In many ways, I was faced with the questions of how we are teaching the combination of knowledge and piety. In my own context, I am pushed to think about the ways that our young people are learning with their heads, but also learning with their hearts. It feels as if it can be easier to address certain aspects of “head knowledge,” yet we can neglect validating experiences and better shaping “heart experiences”.

This post was also helpful in reminding me of the worldview of different matters, such as the extremes of dependency upon self or upon the community. While my own context is fighting individualism, it is helpful to be reminded to not swing too far into community where it becomes not as helpful. Instead, I like how revisionary postmodernism draws us closer to the middle, where both sides are addressed.


Courtney Gilbert

The revisionary postmodern thought it the most appealing to Wesleyan theology and I appreciate that! I am thankful you took the time to write this, explaining a few of the reasons why our theology aligns with revisionary postmodern thought.
I value and appreciate the attention to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is helpful as Christians are interacting with a situation, an issue, a pastor, a church member, or with Christ. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral offers value from four key areas of life; Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. This method of thinking through various things is helpful because it takes into account all important areas of life.
Another important point discussed is the attention to life as a saved person before death. It is important for us to remember that we are called to be saved in order to save others. We are not called to worry about the end times and become doomsday preppers. While it is important and interesting to think about the end times, we cannot focus on that.


Mirtha Z. Castro-Martin

God bless everyone!
I like the approach that revisionary postmodernism takes in that it calls for every person to be reoriented in our worldviews by deconstructing and then reconstructing ones theology. From the five features of revisionary postmodernism that I mostly like is the Person-in-community. Going from individualism to an authority community is very important because there is a need to work with persons, small group and government to seek righteousness. The thought that salvation begins now is also a point of view that today I agree and love. Growing up in the AG church, I can remember the emphasis on eternal happiness of salvation but that it only came into affect afterlife. However, as I studied the Scriptures, I realized that the eternal happiness does not have to begin after death. Instead, all Christians can enjoy living a long healthy loving and fulfilling life on earth. This is honorable before God. Eternal happiness in regards to the salvation that Jesus gives us happens as soon as one accepts Jesus as our savior.
Wesley writes, “It is a present thing; a blessing which, through the free mercy of God, ye are now in possession of.” The thought that Jesus gave us hope, not just for the after life but for the “now”, is wonderful and refreshing. I need hope for today as I live my daily life. Even though it is so difficult to live in a selfish and cruel world, living a fulfilling healthy and happy life is possible through the joy of our salvation. I think that this approach brings more reason for a person to let go of drugs, sins and things that will get in their way of happiness. The Good News of Salvation is the fact that Jesus brought the ways of the Kingdom of God down to earth so we could also live by it with joy while we await for His second coming.
[Word Count: 316]


Tom Wilfong

Point number four above speaks of persons-in-community and how that correlates between Wesleyanism and postmodernism. I agree that Wesley definitely intended for there to be some form of community in the church. He was a promoter of “small groups” as it were, which were called class meetings. These were the in between the society and the band meetings. Each one stressed community but become smaller and more intimate as you progressed down from the society to the band. I think that we have lost that sense of community. I would hazard to guess that most churches today (most I know) have a hard time getting people to come on Sunday morning let alone meet together for a couple of other times week. We’ve allowed society’s cries for individualism and independence creep into the church and is causing us to fall apart. There is indeed something to be said for a group of believers to gather together (even informally) to just be there for each other. You do not have to have an agenda, or any kind of curriculum, and just be there. I also think that we shy away from community things because of the shaming and gossiping that unfortunately happen. People are afraid to get together with fellow believers and share their weaknesses and struggles for fear of what people might think or say. I think Wesley had intended for us to have a safe place where we could go to share and be supported. It seems to me that postmodernists are understanding this and embracing it. I wonder how much emotional trouble could be saved if we all truly had a safe place we could go and share with others?


hubert tiger

I want to support the argument that revisionary postmodernism fits the Wesleyan theological tradition because somehow it is very practical in its approach and it does not advocate that Wesleyans don’t have any position to defend. What I appreciated most is the importance of respecting past, present and future. Ensuring that we allow the development and progression of the sciences to have a specific place in our lives. I think the balance Dr. Oord provides, certainly helps the Christian understand how both sciences and our theology can coexist and more importantly we cannot worship science but it certainly does have its place in our world. When we look at the scarcity of resources, the extension of certain animals and plants we should realize that something has gone wrong and Christians have a responsibility to be good stewards of the earth and so we do have a responsibility to add our voices or action to correct and preserve our environment. [159]


Robert Merrills

You make a compelling case for the compatibility between the Wesleyan Theological Tradition and revisionary postmodernism that will not easily be forgotten. Your perspective on the blurring of sacred and secular invites us to take a more introspective look at things. The influence of a Fundamentalist Christian worldview has over the years brought us to a point where the words sacred and secular are viewed as being incompatible. That view point is incongruent and disingenuous in that it tells us that there are only two options for categorization and therefore interpretation. Consequently, to speak of a blurring of sacred and secular a criticism would be that the Church is advocating a middle of the ground position where one advocates neither side or appear to be issue neutral. In the case of revisionary postmodernism and Wesleyan Theology are at ease to identify ways they can be informed by both without having to feel guilty for being pluralistic. “Revisionary postmodernism and most Wesleyan Christians have been uncomfortable with a hard distinction between sacred and secular cultures.” Perhaps that is because they expect to see God throughout all areas of life and not just those places marked as “church”, “synagogue,” “Bible study,” etc. With that in mind, a mindset that expects to see an ever-present, active, but noncontrolling God in common and uncommon ways offers a transition to the idea of salvation beginning now. If heaven is being in the presence of God then certainly our efforts to show God to individuals, communities and societies helps activate heaven on earth.


Andy Perrine

The revisionary postmodern approach “calls us to be reoriented in our worldview without being disoriented.” I believe this is why this postmodern approach works so well with and ties into the Wesleyan tradition. The first five features (as well as the next five I am sure) helps us view and interact the with world in a different light. Not in the light of what we think and know, but in the light of how God see the world. For instance, the feature “salvation begins now” directs us in the direction of making sure that we live in a life of love now. For me personally, this opened my eyes to the path that I am walking. I know for me, and I would think for many others, I get complacent with my faith. I am satisfied with where I am at and forget that it is not about how I feel, but what God wants from me. What he wants from me is to be in the world and bring people to Him. I cannot continue to view the world as if I am better than it, but live in the world and show people my life is better because of Him. By using the features here, I can better orient myself in the direction God wants me to go. I don’t have to take on the beliefs of the world, but use these features to connect with the world. These features can help us Christians be more approachable and relatable to non-believers.


Jessica

The church, at least all of the churches and faith traditions that I am familiar with, seem to put all of their eggs into the personal salvation basket. That is the end goal for evangelism. Get that person saved! Then after the pivotal moment of the sinner’s prayer, churches seem to flounder to know what to do with a person. So they end up being put to work, serving, as we say in church-ese, in the church. Greeters, nursery workers, children’s leaders, church cleaners. Postmodernisms value on community takes back some of this mistaken Christian individuality. As Oord says, “Revisionary postmodernism emphasizes the value and integrity of both persons and communities. Rather than thinking of persons as isolated individuals, it considers them as interrelated persons who have arisen in large part from their relations with others.” This is much healthier for the mission of the church.  The issue I have with this renewed interest and enthusiasm for community, for a social holiness, is that sometimes the projects that are undertaken are seen as things to do, in and for community, that will contribute to the individual’s personal holiness. In other words, people may be willing to be in community, and to minister to those in the community, but only as a means to attaining greater personal holiness for themselves. And that is a problem. Feeding the homeless, passing out gifts at Christmas, going to the old folks’ home. These are all good things to do, but if Christians are only undertaking these social projects to put a feather in their own caps, then there is a problem.


Jennifer Ayala

Dr Oord, I enjoyed this blog very much because as you have stated in the forefront, “postmodernism offers hope.” People have this preconceived notion of Christians because we have “rules” that we must follow. Sometimes using the correct grammar helps people to understand why we sway closer to the postmodern approach, so when people use the word “rules”, I think of the word, “restrictions;” however, I don’t think that’s accurate. We have many guidelines for and ideas for thinking and living that better ourselves for the community. The postmodern and Wesleyan traditions encourage us to be open-minded to the worldviews but keeping mind of God’s views. Take science for example, postmodern, and Wesleyans believe that science is essential for understanding the things around us, but it is not the totality of our belief. To know how to live in this world, but not off, we must intentionally create relationships. Establishing relationships help us to seek the truth. The most important take on this blog is the Wesleyan quadrilateral that implies Bible, reason, Christian tradition, and personal experience and how it helps us to “understand something about God and existence. This is all important to ministry because we cannot experience love and sustain our relationship with God alone. As an individual, we choose to know God and to further our relationship with God, but we need the help of others to make discoveries about our God, whom we serve. We can share our experiences and know how to love others because we love God.


Carlie Hoerth

The students in my youth group are being shaped by a postmodern culture that is pushing boundaries to the extreme. Culture is telling them that loving people means agreeing with them, that they must sacrifice their own convictions into the postmodern melting pot of morality or else be ostracized from the potluck, and that Christianity is an outdated and out of touch with the world. Our teens are being drawn into this worldview because they don’t want to be labeled “arrogant” and “out of touch,” but also because postmodern practices of peace, friendship, care for the earth, mutual respect of others, and helping those in need, appeal to our teenagers who want to belong and help the world become a better place.

As one of their youth leaders, I want to help the teens understand that Christianity and aspects of postmodernism have a lot in common, that one doesn’t have to be postmodern or Christian, but that they can be both. The issue I see is that our teens are primarily being shaped by deconstructive postmodernism and don’t realize that reconstructive postmodernism is an option. In their minds, postmodernists are a community that help the world, but the church is a community that sits around in a building talking about dusty theology. Given those options, it is no wonder they choose postmodernism, even if they think it means they give up on truth or the ability to know anything about God. Our teens need to know that there is a third option, a middle way, where they can follow God and stand for truth while also caring for people the way postmodernists are doing so well.

As pastoral leaders and parents I don’t think we should worry so much that we are losing our teens to postmodernism, rather we should listen to them, learn from them, and help them understand how Christianity and reconstructive postmodernism share many of the same values, and we should be willing to learn something from them too. There is a reason our teens and postmodernists think of Christianity as out of touch with the world. By listening to their critiques rather than dismissing them as complaints of a heretic we can help the church become a better, more humble, more loving, more compassionate, community that holds truth and charity together in our beliefs and practices.


Pam Novak

I agree with you, Dr. Oord, that some aspects of postmodernism fit well with Wesleyan thought. I also agree that postmodernism has a bad reputation among Christians, including holiness Christians. Just yesterday I mentioned to a Christian friend that I was taking a course in postmodernism and family ministry. “Postmodernism!” he groaned, with the obligatory eye roll. His response was, unfortunately, rather typical. Most people wouldn’t want to listen to any explanation. Then again, most holiness folks aren’t particularly interested in John Wesley either. If I were a preacher—which I don’t feel called to be—I’d do a sermon series on the importance of listening as central to holy living!
One aspect of your essay really made me think. You wrote, “Salvation can even be extended to the nonhuman world of animals and environments, for God cares for all creation. God wants to provide abundant life now and in the life to come.” That makes total sense to me. I’ve often told my dog (though I doubt he cares much) that he doesn’t need a savior because he’s never sinned. Animals behave as God created them, and when they don’t, it’s usually because some human has interfered with their natural state. If we are indeed supposed to be God’s stewards over creation, we may have more to answer for than we think. There may be a particular justice waiting for those who hunt just for sport, or those who dress their kitties up in frilly gowns. As for those who say, I don’t want to go to heaven if my darling cat/dog/horse/ferret won’t be there, I can only say that their priorities are misplaced. But if God’s creation will be saved, and I like to agree with you that it will, we must accept that the creatures we don’t like—rats, spider, mosquitoes, poison ivy, cold germs—are among the chosen.


Stephen Phillips

It is always interesting to see the relationship between Postmodern and Wesleyan. One of the points that stood out for me is the relationship between the community and the individual. In response to our history, we as a society have moved away from any authoritarian leadership in the hope that this could protect us. Where the West is more concerned about the individual while those in the “two-thirds worlds” are asking for personal freedom. We can see in both cases an example of extremes. I think the beauty in revisionary postmodernism and Wesleyan is that both the individual and the community is essential in our walk with Christ. God speaks in both the community but also speaks to people individually because God wants that personal relationship with us. The West is longing for the meaning of the community while the third world is looking for the voice to speak to God. Personally, both elements are equally important. In our Christian ministry, it is important that we speak about the importance of both the community and individual. Teach people the importance of unity of the community but at the same time how God wants a personal, intimate relationship with us.
w.c: 200


Missy Segota

I really liked this bog post by Dr. Oord. I wanted to touch on a few ideas. The first is the idea of persons-in-community. As stated the postmodern view of the individual not being viewed outside of the community that they are involved in This is one part of postmodernism that I agree with greatly. Individuals are not devoid of any attachment or influence from others or their community. Humans do not live in a vacuum. We are greatly influenced by the groups and community we are a part of. It also greatly affects who the individual is as a person. If we consider the culture, community as well as the previous cultures and communities we will begin to understand the individual much better. If we fail to consider the community that influences the individual then we fail the understand the person. This can go further to say that people who have lived in many different communities have a very unique experience that changes their outlook on everything. As leaders in our churches we must recognize that the community or communities can make the individual just as unique as the person themselves.
One of the other parts of revisionary postmodernism is the ideal to respect the past, present and future. I find that all too often people are ashamed of their past. Either what they have done, the choices they have made or the things that have happened to them. What we fail to tell people is that their past is what has brought them to where they are now. It is what has helped them to make the choices that brought them to this place. If we don’t teach them to come to peace with and respect their past then we are failing at the message we are sending. The present is respecting what is happening in our life at this exact moment. For some reason Christians often feel as though we should not face hardship. I see those troubled times as God’s way of teaching me something or trusting me with something very important. We need to teach that the present is not something to try to get away from but rather it is something that God wants to teach us, so we need to be open to what He wants us to learn.


Shauna Hanus

Respecting past, present, and future

The present in which we live is a result of our past which means today will be our past in the future. We cannot look at the world without having influence from what has been learned and experienced in the past. In terms of science is this a good thing, yes. Science is good. Science has provided the technology that allows a broken femur to receive an intermedullary rod and a premature baby to be warmed in an incubator. The flaw comes if science becomes the only answer or completely rejected. God allows new knowledge and understanding, and this can be a complement to Christianity.

Blurring sacred and secular

“In contrast to Isaac Newton and atheists, John Wesley called God “the Soul of the Universe.” Wesley envisioned God as an empowering and creative Person. “God is in all things,” said Wesley, “and we are to see the Creator in the glass of every creature, and we should use and look upon nothing as separate from God, which indeed is a kind of practical Atheism.””

Is there anyplace where God cannot be present? No, God is omnipresent. Are there situations in the world where God does not intervein? Yes. Is there anything that God cannot use for His good? No. As Wesley said, “God is in all things.” We cannot separate God or the church from the world. The church is made of people who live in the world. The world is God’s creation where God is present.

Experiential and abstract knowledge

Reading this section, I thought of the Wesleyan quadrilateral then in the final portion it was written. The quadrilateral explains that we know because we have experience. It does not place all knowledge in one area it affirms the four main areas from where we gain knowledge. Some things are known by faith and some we must experience. We are not stagnant we are alive and experiencing all of life moment to moment. Our knowledge comes from structured learning and experiential learning.

Persons-in-community

We are individuals within a community. We have many overlapping communities that inform who we are as individuals. Our relationship with God is an individual relationship that is informed by the community we reside in. We do not exist in a solitary bubble, but we are also responsible for our relationship with God. It is not my neighbor’s fault if I sin, but it is my neighbor’s responsibility to not lead me into sin.

Salvation begins now

We live in a now and not yet. The now is living in this world, our relationship to all creation, our relationship to our community, and our relationship to God. The not yet is our experiences once we pass from this life. We do not know what the not yet will exactly look like, but we know our now impacts our not yet.


Kaylee Tilford

I have had the thought that “salvation is now” really stuck on my brain recently as I, someone who was raised in a more postmodern world and environment try to work with parents and grandparents who were raised in a legalistic modern environment who have a fantasy idea of “the good old days.” This has been one of the biggest clashes in trying to work with some of these parents and what a good youth program looks like. For example, as we were presenting our vision to some parents recently, I had someone say, “well isn’t the main goal to get them into heaven?” This encounter and many others has made me realize how much we need to help change the language in the church and refocuse what the church is all about, what our mission and purpose is now. There may be some things about postmodernism that I disagree with or do not see as necessary in addressing at the time being, but this idea that we are only Christians for the “fire insurance” has created a generation and culture of “pew warmers” who have no desire to do anything expect live thier individual faith by filling a pew once a week.


Meg Crisostomo

Hi,

Respecting past, present, and future
Understanding the past, present, and future allows us to shape and generate our own theologies. The past gives us information and knowledge to draw from. Living in the present allows us to acknowledge our own understanding. Then from what we have and are currently doing, we can prepare for the future. I like to view this as a learning process- each step as significant as the one that came before it.

Blurring sacred and secular
There was a time when all was viewed as part of God, and there was a time when all was viewed as distant from God. Now, we’re coming to see that both are true. All things are from God, and if you look closely you’ll find God. But not all things make sense to associate with God, so the disassociation of God is being equated to the lack of God. Wesley calls God the “Soul of the Universe” to explain that God is in all things and ” we should use and look upon nothing as separate from God.”

Experiential and Abstract Knowledge
For postmodernists, experiential and abstract knowledge incorporates the ideas of concrete and abstract. It’s the mixture of having both knowledge, logic, proven information, and sensory, faith, experience. In Christian ministry, “the point is that we should draw upon both our deepest experiences and our best reasoning to make sense out of life.” When drawing from these two realms, one is able to benefit from both ends of the spectrum. It provides opportunities to learn from various standpoints instead of a singular view.

Persons in Community
“Revisionary postmodernism emphasizes the value and integrity of both persons and communities. ” It’s a cycle. People work together in the community for the common good of each individual, and each individual thus participates in community. The individual benefits from the relationship with the community, and the community benefits because of the individuals that participate.

Salvation Begins Now
“Revisionary postmodernists and Wesleyans agree that salvation pertains to the good of persons, communities, and societies.” By receiving Jesus Christ, we are not only promised abundant life after death but also abundant life during our lifetime. We can receive the good God has for us now and later. It’s not just about quantity of life but quality of life. Viewing salvation in this way is something I’ve never thought about before. Sure, I’ve experienced how following God and devoting myself to be more like Christ changes my life for the better, but I’ve never nailed down the concept that salvation brings me abundant life now.

439.


Samantha

These five features are strikingly accurate to the comparison of Wesleyan theological tradition and postmodernism. I was actually somewhat surprised by this realization. But as I read through them it was clear. This quote from the first comparison was one that I feel is really good when considering respecting of times. “Like Wesley, revisionary postmodernists neither worship science nor condemn it.”
I find it interesting that “most premodern people thought God controlled all things” because I feel like that is still a common thought in today’s society. I think of the many conversations I have heard, had, and have been a part of that cast all control over to God in their words implying that God is in control. I am saddened by situations like the mom who’s kid had a curable cancer, but because she believed that God controlled all things, she believed her son would be healed. He was not healed, the son died when he could have easily been treated for the cancer and given the opportunity for a longer life.
I cannot recall every hearing about the Wesleyan quadrilateral, however it is an interesting way to seek clarity.
I am anxious to see the remaining five ways as I feel like these first five were pretty interesting, not to mention quite accurate.


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