Post-modern Christianity refers to the way in which some Christians have responded to the philosophical movement known as postmodernism. Postmodernism is characterized by skepticism towards absolute truth claims, a rejection of metanarratives or overarching explanations, and an emphasis on subjectivity, relativity, and pluralism. In light of these postmodern ideas, some Christians have adjusted their approach to faith and practice.
One aspect of postmodern Christianity is a move away from propositional truth claims. While Christians still maintain core doctrinal beliefs, there is often less dogmatism and more acknowledgment of mystery and paradox. Absolute certainty is viewed with suspicion, and emphasis is placed on the experiential and relational dimensions of faith. There is also greater openness to diverse interpretations and a recognition that all theological formulations are provisional and culturally situated.
Postmodern Christianity also rejects universal explanations and “one size fits all” approaches to the faith. Instead of seeing Christianity as a unified belief system and institution, postmodern Christians celebrate diversity within the faith. They emphasize the contextual and localized expressions of Christianity across time, cultures, and communities. This aligns with the postmodern wariness of metanarratives that claim universal applicability.
In addition, postmodern Christians focus on the subjective, experiential nature of faith. They are interested in how Christianity intersects with people’s personal narratives and lived experiences. Less emphasis is placed on rational defenses of the faith, and more on how Christian spirituality shapes one’s identity and provides meaning. Religious experience is seen as deeply personal rather than conformity to a rigid set of doctrines and behaviors.
Postmodern Christians are also comfortable with a certain level of uncertainty, paradox, and mystery when it comes to faith. They avoid pat answers and black-and-white thinking, allowing space for ambiguity and tension. This aligns with postmodernism’s comfort with multiplicity, elasticity, and the limits of human knowledge. Certainty is not seen as a requirement for vibrant faith.
In terms of Christian practice, postmodern expressions often involve greater participation and creativity among lay people. With less hierarchy and more decentralization, everyday believers are empowered to shape their spiritual journeys. This aligns with postmodernism’s empowerment of the margins and suspicion of centralized authority. Postmodern churches also utilize more experiential and participatory worship styles involving the whole person – emotions, senses, creativity, and intellect.
Postmodern Christianity engages strongly with visual arts and media, seeing them as important vehicles for spiritual formation, not just as tools for evangelism or entertainment. It is also comfortable with integrating elements from diverse religious/wisdom traditions, seeing connections and parallels that point to the universal human quest for meaning.
At the same time, critics argue postmodern Christianity lacks theological rigor, takes a reductionistic view of truth, and dilutes the uniqueness of the gospel message by over-contextualizing it. Concerns are also raised that chase for novelty and relevance can undermine historical Christian practice. Additionally, skeptics say postmodern Christianity’s extreme subjectivism essentially makes each person their own authority on spiritual matters.
In summary, postmodern Christianity refers to diverse attempts to translate the Christian faith into forms that resonate with the postmodern mindset. It takes seriously postmodernism’s insights about perspectivalism, anti-foundationalism, suspicion of metanarratives, empowerment of marginalized voices, and spirituality focused on experience. Yet it continues to draw from scripture and Christian tradition while reconfiguring faith and practice for a changing world.
Key Characteristics of Postmodern Christianity
While there is diversity under the umbrella of postmodern Christianity, some key characteristics include:
- Greater comfort with ambiguity, paradox, and doctrinal humility
- Wariness of claims to universal, absolute truth that apply in all times and cultures
- Elevation of individual experience and personalized spiritual journeys
- Rejection of hierarchical authority and centralized institutional power
- Openness to marginalized perspectives and experiences
- Integration of arts, media, and technology into worship and spiritual formation
- Dialogue and engagement with diverse religions and wisdom traditions
- Decentralized, networked church structures and participatory worship
- Focus on racial reconciliation, social justice, environmental care and other kingdom causes
Key Influences on Postmodern Christianity
Postmodern Christianity has been shaped by various theological currents and influencers including:
- Postliberal Theology – Emphasizes Christianity as a community bound by narrative traditions, rather than propositional claims. Key figures include Hans Frei and George Lindbeck.
- Radical Orthodoxy – Retrieves ancient Christian texts and wisdom to provide postmodern theological options beyond conservatism and liberalism. Key figures include John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock.
- Emergent Church – Post-evangelical movement emphasizing ancient-future worship, social activism, and dialogue. Key figures include Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt.
- Post-Conservative Evangelicalism – Maintains evangelical principles while critiquing perceived dogmatism and rigidity. Key figures include Roger Olson and Scot McKnight.
- Post-Black and Womanist Theology – Centers the perspectives of black and female voices. Key figures include William Jones, Delores Williams, and Chanequa Walker-Barnes.
- Deconstruction Theology – Interrogates traditional formulations and power dynamics related to God, church, and scripture. Key figures include John Caputo and Peter Rollins.
Thinkers from these movements and schools of thought have profoundly impacted emerging postmodern expressions of Christianity.
Key Beliefs and Doctrines
Postmodern Christianity reimagines and reinterprets traditional Christian beliefs in light of postmodern sensitivities. Some key areas of doctrine include:
The Nature of God
While affirming God’s love, sovereignty and self-revelation in Christ, postmodern Christianity is wary of limiting God’s identity through static propositions. Emphasis is placed on God’s mystery and otherness. Images of God are deconstructed in terms of colonialism, patriarchy and exclusivism. Focus is placed on God’s immanence in creation and identification with suffering.
Human Nature and Sin
The inherent goodness of human nature (imago dei) is typically affirmed while avoiding totalizing notions of depravity. Sin is understood relationally and systemically, not just individualistically. Human dignity and potential are upheld while acknowledging brokenness and the need for redemption.
Christ and Salvation
The incarnation reveals God’s radical identification with humanity. Salvation is holistic, addressing spiritual and material needs, including liberation of the oppressed. Atonement theology balances substitutionary and Christus Victor motifs. Pluralism regarding the mechanics and scope of salvation allows inclusivism.
The church is reconceived as a decentralized, equitable community promoting the kingdom of God on earth. Unity is paramount, but diverse expressions are valid. Ecclesial authority is viewed suspiciously in light of colonialism and oppression. The church exists for the world, not itself.
The Bible witnesses to God’s self-disclosure in diverse times/cultures. Scriptural authority is affirmed but understood contextually and relationally. Literary, historical, and ideological criticism are welcomed. The Spirit’s inspiration in readers’ lives is also emphasized.
While core doctrines are retained, postmodern Christians are willing to question constructs that prove oppressive or reductionistic. Faith is reconstructed in relational and experiential ways that mirror today’s world.
Key Figures and Influencers
Prominent voices who have shaped postmodern expressions of Christianity include:
- N.T. Wright – Renowned New Testament scholar who unpacks the Jewish worldview undergirding Christianity.
- Stanley Grenz – Theologian who articulated Christianity as a communal experience within a postmodern matrix.
- Rob Bell – Founding pastor of Mars Hill known for arts-infused and doubt-embracing preaching.
- Rachel Held Evans – Progressive evangelical author who resonated with millennials seeking authentic faith.
- William Paul Young – Bestselling author of The Shack, which recasts the Trinity relationally.
- Phyllis Tickle – Historian who traced deep spiritual rhythms and patterns underlying Christian expressions.
- Bruxy Cavey – Teaching pastor known for reconstructing biblical concepts around discipleship and community.
- Richard Rohr – Franciscan friar calling for contemplative spirituality and engaged social action.
These and other thinkers model thoughtful, compassionate engagement with culture while remaining rooted in scripture and tradition. They exemplify postmodern Christianity’s ethos of openness, questioning, experience, justice, and Christ-centeredness.
Worship and Practices
Postmodern Christian worship is characterized by:
- Experiential, participatory, multi-sensory worship gathering
- Use of arts, film, and creativity
- Dialogical, conversational preaching in place of didactic monologues
- Discussion-based small groups
- Ancient-future spirituality drawing from religious history
- Integration of global music, liturgy, and ritual traditions
- Emphasis on hospitality, community, and relationships
- Focus on justice as essential to faithful practice
High value is placed on accessible, authentic expressions of worship focused on enlivening faith and bringing worshippers into an encounter with the living God as a community.
Contributions and Strengths
Postmodern Christianity offers several contributions and strengths:
- Takes contextualization and enculturation seriously, translating the gospel for new settings
- Provides meaningful spiritual engagement for a postmodern generation
- Balances historic beliefs and forms with cultural adaptation
- Emphasizes spiritual experience and relationship with God over institutions or doctrines
- Critiques harmful expressions of Christianity embedded in unjust power dynamics
- Engages positively with church/theological history to resource the present
- Focuses on creating equitable, just, loving Christian communities
- Pursues unity and reconciliation across denominations, ethnicities, and religions
Postmodern Christianity provides a thoughtful Christian response to contemporary society, taking the ancient gospel into new territory without compromising its core truths.
Critiques and Concerns
Postmodern Christianity faces various critiques, including:
- Overly individualistic spirituality disconnected from historical tradition
- Lack of theological and doctrinal substance
- Relativizing of biblical truth and morality
- Unreflective adoption of secular postmodern assumptions
- Loss of the gospel’s radical uniqueness and call to conversion
- Superficial focus on novelty, experience, and relevance over depth
- Unrestrained pluralism that erodes Christian identity
- Reduction of Christianity to social activism or psychotherapy
Critics argue postmodern Christianity often accommodates too much to culture without enough discernment. In reacting against rigid expressions of Christianity, it can lose theological vigor, biblical conviction and evangelistic zeal.
Relationship to Culture and Other Faiths
Postmodern Christianity approaches culture and other faiths with openness:
- Affirms common grace – God is at work in all cultures and traditions
- Engages thoughtfully with various disciplines and domains of society – arts, technology, politics, academics, business
- Seeks to prophetically interact with culture rather than isolate from it
- Finds points of contact for gospel connections in cultural narratives, longings, and values
- Acknowledges wisdom and truth in other faiths while maintaining the uniqueness of Christ
- Desires relationship and understanding across religious boundaries
- Works for the common good alongside people of all faiths or none
While upholding the lordship of Christ, postmodern Christianity recognizes God’s imprint on all cultures and seeks unity, dialogue, and collaboration in the public square.
Relationship to Church History and Tradition
Postmodern Christianity relates to the Christian tradition in multifaceted ways:
- Seeks to recover practices and wisdom from earlier eras of Christian history
- Recognizes abuses and oppressions within church history
- Selectively and critically draws from various epochs – early church, monastic, medieval, Reformation, evangelical, etc.
- Focuses on Christocentric, charitable core amidst diversities of tradition
- Values tradition but does not rigidly conform to any particular expression
- Sees the history of the church as an ongoing, dynamic story rather than a static institution
- Desires to contribute positively to the Christian tradition
Postmodern Christianity honors Christian history while feeling freedom to prayerfully adapt traditions in light of new understandings for the advancement of Christ’s mission and kingdom.
Questions and Challenges
Some key questions and tensions postmodern Christianity still wrestles with include:
- How to maintain strong theological foundations while innovating and adapting to culture?
- How to uphold biblical authority amidst questions about interpretation, power dynamics, and human limitation?
- How to balance a personal faith with communal tradition and accountability?
- How to affirm other faiths while retaining the uniqueness of Christian claims about Jesus?
- How to foster spiritual depth and maturity in a media-saturated, distracted age?
- How to live out counter-cultural gospel values like self-denial without withdrawing from larger society?
- How to promote unity in the church while allowing for diversity of expression?
Postmodern Christianity continues to prayerfully discern how to follow Christ faithfully in contemporary society with humility, wisdom, and Spirit-led courage.
In summary, postmodern Christianity represents an attempt to re-embody the gospel for today’s fragmented and pluralistic world. It takes postmodern critiques and sensitivities seriously, filtering out unhelpful tendencies from modern Christianity. While at times unclear in its conclusions and open to criticism, its desire is to remove barriers to faith while calling people to renewed commitment to Christ’s kingdom. It seeks to communicate and demonstrate the enduring power of biblical truth in ways that resonate with our unique times. Postmodern Christianity’s ultimate allegiance is to Jesus Christ himself rather than any particular social location or historical expression. It walks the narrow road of speaking prophetically to culture while avoiding accommodation that compromises the call to radical discipleship. By God’s grace, postmodern Christianity can be a force that ushers in spiritual renewal and advances the cause of Christ for the blessing of the world.