“Cross Over To The Otherside”
Otherside, OtherSide, other side (or other variations thereof)--the term was made familiar within the so-called "emerging church" movement by the very popular book, The Church on the Other Side by Brian McLaren.1 Some in this movement have utilized the term to depict a radical break with historic evangelical thought and practice. This movement has spawned a host of managers and change-agents, one of whom is William (Bill) M. Easum who wrote his own "otherside" book entitled Leadership on the Otherside.2 In a favorable interview printed in the Assemblies of God "Enrichment Journal," Easum is introduced as the "president and senior managing partner in ... a church consulting and futuring firm devoted to coaching church leaders into the 21st century."3 Easun believes we are living in what he calls a "crack in history" between the end of the periods of Christendom and modernity and the beginning of a new era, which will require a new kind of leadership.
Proponents of postmodern ministry (PPMs) claim that the modern culture, in place since the Enlightenment in the 18th century, has recently been completely displaced by a postmodern worldview. Postmodernism is what Easum means by the crack in history. PPMs insist that evangelical churches, still mired in the previous "modern" era, must "cross over" the divide to be recast into a postmodern mold or simply die a natural death.
As Stephen Shields reports, author and pastor Brian McLaren points out that postmodernism is not anti-modernism and "compares it to post-adolescence. Post-adolescents have passed though adolescence and the accomplishments and lessons of adolescence are assumed..."4
Tony Jones, who views McLaren's books and writings with approval, says:
And books written by pastors and consultants about 'doing church in a postmodern world' are nothing new, nor are treatments of postmodernism by Christian academics. Leonard Sweet and Stanley Grenz have garnered thousands of readers in the pastorate and seminaries. ... McLaren, however, is saying something much different. He goes beyond promoting a change in pastoral technique. He's challenging pastors to rethink their message, not just how they deliver the message. He's not writing about a change in context, he's writing about changing the content.5
During the modem era, (since the 18th century) Truth was assumed to exist; it was just waiting to be discovered by rational and thinking persons. People could debate and disagree about the Truth but there could be only one Truth. But now "truth" is whatever the individual or community believes it is. Postmoderns now insist that truth is no longer "over and above us," that it is something that cannot be conveyed across cultures and over time. Each community can have its own “truth.” Therefore, contradiction is not only inevitable, but abounds; contradiction in spirituality is not only acceptable, but welcome. Augustine's dictum, "All truth is God's truth" has been altered to mean, "Everybody's truth is God's truth." It all depends on how you look at it and of what social group you are a member.
The PPMs promoting an intentional postmodern ministry assume that Postmodernism has already effected a clean break with the modern era. For PPMs, the transition from the modern era to the postmodern is a done deal. It is something like driving to the U.S./Canadian border, the cross-arms lift, and voila you drive into a new country; the old one is back there, behind the barrier. But promoters of post-modernism as some kind of brave new epoch should exercise some restraint. Whatever this spreading Postmodernism really is, it has barely begun. Is it not a bit "heady" to announce the dawn of a new age within its first decade of popular promotion?
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. questions:
Is postmodernism a coherent concept, or is it a phenomenon of popular intellectual culture - a term to be employed as a code word for the contemporary and the avant-garde? ... The term is imprecise, irregular, and malleable, but also highly marketable. It is inserted into book titles, advertising slogans, and academic course descriptions with abandon. ... Clearly, the term is intended to mark a break with modernity ... the modern age, however that is dated.6
So, how do McLaren and others in the "emerging church" movement make their accommodations with postmodern thought? PPMs most obvious expression of postmodern thought is in their depreciation of objective truth. Learning shifts from logic and rational systematic thought to the realm of experience. In concert with postmodern ideology, the PPMs also assert that truth is "found" mainly through consensus in community.
Jim Van Yperen is a professional 'intentional interim change pastor' who is invited to congregations to train them in the 'change process' which he and other PPMs deem necessary to 'cross over' into the postmodern age. Yperen himself illustrates the postmodern morph from unchanging objective truth to 'community truth' within the church. In Barna's book, Leaders on Leadership,7 Yperen has a chapter called "Conflict: The Refining Fire of Leadership." Inthis chapter is a section he calls "Affirm Truth in Community," where he teaches in verypostmodern categories that church members must pool their thoughts and arrive at a consensus regarding truth. But if truth is constructed within each congregational community, which congregation possesses the truth? All of them? Does each have its own truth? Secular postmoderns solve this difficulty by jettisoning any final criteria for truth. But how can the church barter away its unchanging message by relying only on "group-consensus" as the criteria for truth?
Activist PPMs are attempting to wean evangelicals from their addiction to the modern era with its dogmatic truth claims by a process called "transformation." "Transformational thinking" and "managed change" have become the machinery with which to re-tool the evangelical church. A whole industry of congregational consultant/coaches are teaching congregations how to be "transformed" (cross over) into the postmodern worldview in order to make the changes presumed necessary to impact the 21st century. But how does one lead evangelicals, born and raised on objective and unalterable truth, into postmodern thinking? How do change-agent coaches effect this transformation? They employ a version of belief and behavior modification using the dialectic (arriving at 'group-consensus') rather than the didactic (teaching of unchangeable truth claims). The Bible says:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." - 1 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
John Stott asserts, "...historic Christianity is essentially dogmatic, because it purports to be a revealed faith. If the Christian religion were just a collection of philosophical and ethical ideas of men (like Hinduism), dogmatism would be entirely out of place."8
But according to PPMs, dogmatism is out of style inside and outside the church, and 'transformation' and 'managed change' are markers on the well-traveled road that leads to postmodern, post-evangelical Christianity. McLaren states:
"Compare modern Christianity's quest for the perfect belief system to medieval church architecture. Christians in the emerging culture may look back on our doctrinal structures (statements of faith, systematic theologies) as we look back on medieval cathedrals: possessing a real beauty that should be preserved, but now largely vacant, not inhabited or used much any more, more tourist attraction than holy place. Many of us can't imagine this. If Christianity isn't the quest for (or defense of) the perfect belief system ('the church of the last detail') then what's left? In the emerging culture, I believe it will be "Christianity as a way of life," or "Christianity as a path of spiritual formation." ... In this setting, preaching both loses and gains status. Instead of an exercise in transferring information so that people have a coherent, well-formed "world view" ... preaching in the emerging culture aims at inspiring transformation. ... In my hopeful moments I see this new emphasis on spiritual formation as making possible a convergence. What we might call post-evangelicals and post-liberals begin finding one another on this common ground of spiritual formation, welcomed and hosted by our Catholic and Orthodox sisters and brothers. What is terra nova for us has been their native soil for a long, long time."9
Not so fast!! Assuming postmodern thought to be good just because it is current is dangerous! And, since when does imparting prepositional truth preclude spiritual transformation in the hearer? Further, postmodern thinking still is an intellectual novelty--postmoderns don't even believe it themselves. When they get sick they still check into a "modern" hospital that employs objective truth procedures for objective diseases. Because postmodern philosophy is essentially destructive to culture, some predict that postmodernism will have, at most, a 10-year shelf life (a mere blink in philosophical history).
The underlying premise of PPM ministry, and seeker-sensitive churches as well, for that matter, is that the centuries-old Gospel message lacks sufficient power to attract unbelievers immersed in a postmodern world-view. Consequently, PPMs feel they have to tinker with the message and adapt it to postmodern categories in order to succeed in making converts.
But this becomes, in effect, a denial of the Gospel message. The revealed Gospel is made up of unchanging, dogmatic Truth claims. Christians have a centuries-old, timeless message that will not share its glory with any current cultural format, no matter how alluring and demanding that form may appear to be. "Your word, O Lord, is eternal, it stands firm in the heavens." - Psalm 11 9:89 (NIV)
If the evangelical church pours itself into a postmodern mold, its "Christianity" will simply dissolve. If the evangelical church discards it's foundation of objective truth and does not retain the revealed, unchangeable, dogmatic statements about the nature of God and the way of salvation, it will be swept up in a vortex of change not unlike the mainline denominations were at the start of the 20th century. The pure Gospel is always relevant in any place and at any time. Those who are calling for evangelicals to have an "affair" with postmodern thinking will wind up as "washed-up" debris on the theological shore when the next new philosophical wave comes crashing in. God's Word is ever relevant:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. ... For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." - Mark 13:3 and Hebrews 4:2 (NIV)
Because the Gospel, as God's objective revelation, is timeless and always true, for believers in the Lord Jesus Christ there is no need to "cross over" to any "other side." As Jude's letter says in verse 3:
“Dear friends ... I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
1 Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2001.
2 Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2000.
3 “Leadership on the OtherSide" Enrichment Journal: Leadership in the Local Church, Spring 2002.
5 (http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2002/OO3/16.32.html)("Post-Evangelicalism" Books & Culture, Christianity Today, May/June 2002)
6 “The Integrity of the Evangelical Tradition and the Challenge of the Postmodern Paradigm" in The Challenge of Postmodernism: An Evangelical Engagement, ed. David S. Dockery (Wheaton, Ill.: Victory, 1995, pp. 68-69).
7 Regal Books, Ventura, C.A., 1997, pp. 246-247.
8 John R. W. Stott, Christ the Controversialist. Downers Grove, IL, IVF, (1970, p. 13.
9 (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ie/2003/003/3.34.html(Leadership Journal Summer 2OO3)
Publishers Note: Following are extended excerpts from Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenqe to the Idol of Relevance by Os Guinness (page #s are noted). His words highlight the contemporary evangelical quest for, and obsession with, 'relevance.'
Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant. (12) ...
By our uncritical pursuit of relevance we have actually courted irrelevance, by our breathless chase after relevance without a matching commitment to faithfulness, we have become not only unfaithful but irrelevant; by our determined efforts to redefine ourselves in ways that are more compelling to the modern world than are faithful to Christ, we have lost not only our identity but our authority and our relevance. Our crying need is to be faithfull as well relevant.
...Thus for followers of Jesus Christ at this extraordinary moment in history, it is time to challenge the idol of relevance, and so to become truly relevant without ever ending up trendy, trivial and unfaithful. (15)
In short, of all the cultures the church has lived in, the modem world is the most powerful, the most pervasive, and the most pressurizing. And it has done more damage to Christian integrity and effectiveness than all the persecutors of the church in history. (51) ...
The first traditional stance of Christians toward the world is, to use sociologist Peter Berger's helpful category, that of cognitive and cultural resistance. Taking seriously the biblical warning to "flee the world," this first stance is founded on a realistic assessment of the dangers of the world and of worldliness. It then channels this awareness into a determined resistance to the spirit and system of the world of its day. ...
What is critical, however, is that the modem world has rendered this stance largely impotent and almost non-existent. Such is the power, pervasiveness, and attractiveness of the modem world-in a word, its lure-that few Christians are willing to think or live decisively "not of' it. A genuine world-denying stance today is rare. (52)
I can well remember the occasion when this point came home to me for the first time. My tutor at Oxford, an eminent European scholar, raised a question at a crowded social sciences seminar in the mid-seventies. "By the end of the 1970s," he asked, "who will be the worldliest Christians in America' There was an audible gasp when he eventually answered his own query: "I guarantee it will be the evangelicals and fundamentalists." (52) ...
... From a general materialism and secularity in priorities and preoccupations, to particular captivities to such modem idols as psychology, management, and marketing, the pattern is starkly plain. The faith-world of John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, John Jay, William Wilberforce, Hannah More, Lord Shaftesbury, Catherine Booth, Hudson Taylor, D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, Carl Henry, and John Stott is disappearing. In its place a new evangelicalism is arriving in which therapeutic self-concern overshadows knowing God, spirituality displaces theology, end-times escapism crowds out day-to-day discipleship, marketing triumphs over mission, references to opinion polls outweigh reliance on biblical exposition, concerns for power and relevance are more obvious than concern for piety and faithfuls, talk of reinventing the church has replaced prayer for revival, and the characteristic evangelical passion for missionary enterprise is overpowered by the all consuming drive to sustain the multiple business empires of the booming evangelical subculture.
Many evangelicals are blind to the sea change because they know only the present and have little sense of history, even their own. Where there is a vague awareness that the old views of worldliness have gone, it is characteristically covered by resorting to the "fallacy of the fear." That is, a fear of one extreme is cited to excuse the collapse into another. "Thank God," our new evangelicals say, "that we have escaped from the 'do's and don'ts' and 'no-nos' of the narrow worldliness of the previous generation. Our forefathers were hidebound and legalists. They ... reduced worldliness to drinking, dancing, and smoking. Let's escape from such restrictive worldliness and celebrate grace and our Christian freedom.' (54-55) ...
The second traditional stance of Christians toward the world is that of cognitive and cultural negotiation. Taking seriously the biblical admonition to be "not conformed to the world, but transformed by the renewing of the mind," this stance is the middle one of the three. It seeks to maintain an ongoing practice of discerning between true and false, good and bad, the godly and the worldly. (55) ... But there is a very practical problem in pursuing this stance today: The modem world makes it harder than ever. Such is the scale and speed of the information and the issues we currently confront that our powers of discernment and discrimination are taxed to exhaustion. (55-56) ...
The third traditional stance of Christians toward the world is the one most distorted by the pressures of the modem time. This is the stance of cognitive and cultural adaptation It takes seriously the biblical call to mission, and in particular the pattern of the incarnation and the example of the Apostle Paul of being "a Jew to the Jews, a gentile to the gentiles, and all things to all people." In doing so this stance seeks to adapt the gospel creatively to every new people and culture so as to be relevant to the world of its day. (56) The impulse behind this third stance is admirable. ... But there is a huge pitfall when this stance is pushed to the limit. And the central force of the modem world is to ensure that it always goes to the extreme. For the end of the line in adopting a mode of uncritical adaptation is a reaching out for relevance that ends up toppling over into surrender to the modem world, therefore becoming unfaithful to Christ.
How does this collapse into worldliness happen? Both the process and the problems it creates can be spelled out clearly. A stance that starts out commendably with a passion for relevance moves through four steps to end disastrously in unfaithfulness and irrelevance. Let's examine each of the steps below. (57)
Step One: Assumption
The process of uncritical adaptation begin when some aspect of modem thought or life is assumed either to be significant, and therefore word, acknowledging, or superior to what Christians know or do, and therefore worth adopting. Soon the assumption in question becomes and integral part of Christian thought and practice. Since all truth is God's truth, there is an immediate plausibility to this idea.
The danger comes, however, when, an assumption is accepted without any thought--simply because it is modem. (57)
Step Two. Abandonment
Everything that does not fit in with the new assumption (made in step one) either is cut out deliberately or is slowly relegated to a limbo of neglect. ...
What happens in this step is more drastic. Truths or customs that do not fit in with the modem assumption are put up in the creedal attic to collect dust. They are of no more use. The modification or removal of offending assumptions is permanent. What begins as question of tactics escalates to a question of truth; apparently, the modem assumptions are authoritative. Is the traditional idea unfashionable, superfluous, or just plain wrong? No matter. It doesn't fit in, so it has to go.
In the arena of faith, the modem phase of this trend began in the eighteenth century, but the liberal heyday for abandoning tradition was the 1960s. (58) ...
In the 1980s and 1990s, it was the evangelical turn. Regardless of the fact that Protestant liberalism had chased every idea with skirts and lost its character, credibility, and national authority in the process, evangelicals set off on the same promiscuous spree. Suddenly the air in evangelical conferences and magazines was thick with assaults on the irrelevance of history, the outdatedness of traditional hymns and music, the uprightness of traditional moralism, the abstractness of theologizing, the impracticality of biblical exposition, the inadequacy of small churches, and the deadly, new unforgivable sin-irrelevance. (59)
What had happened? The new evangelicals were in the process of becoming the old liberals. Church growth was now to be "on new grounds." Modem assumptions from the spheres of management, marketing, and psychology had become accept ed without challenge.
... In other words, in swapping psychology for theology in their preaching and enthroning management and marketing in their church administration, evangelicals were making the same errors as liberals had earlier. Whatever the newly sharpened statements about biblical authority, the real authority of the Bible had been eclipsed in practice by the assumptions of the modem world. (59-60)
Step Three: Adaptation
The third step follows logically from the second, just as the second does from the first. Something new is assumed; something old is abandoned; and everything else is adapted. In other words, what remains of traditional beliefs and practices is altered to fit with the new assumption. After all, the new assumption has become authoritative. It has entered the mind like a new boss at work, and everything must smartly change to suit its preferences and perspectives. What is not abandoned does not stay the same; rather, it is adapted. (60) ...
The trouble with this step comes when Christians go further still-when the habits and assumptions of any age and culture are accepted without thought, and then replace the authority of traditional Christian assumptions. And this, in turn, leads to the fourth and final step. (61)
Step Four. Assimilation
The fourth step is the logical culmination of the first three. Something modem is assumed (step one). As a consequence, something traditional is abandoned (step two), and everything else is adapted (step three). The outcome is that what remains is not only adapted but absorbed by the modem assumptions. It is assimilated without any decisive remainder. 'The result is worldliness, or Christian capitulation to some aspect of the culture of its day. No longer a missionary, the church "goes native' in some foreign culture or among some foreign ideas. (61-62) ...
The last generation of evangelicals provides clear examples of this. The air is abuzz with the future. The "coming church" and the "emerging church" are everything. The talk is all of new ways of "doing church" through reinventing, revising, innovating, borrowing, mixing, and experimenting. Everything now has to be "intentional' and "on purpose." Ministers are no longer theological authorities but the "chief story-tellers" and "facilitators of a joint spiritual journey." "Dysfunctional churches" that are not "attuned to the world' are "reinvented for the present age" in a myriad of "intentional" ways, all with their "value propositions' clearly specified and the "measurable outcomes" clarified in advance. Music and worship services are designed for audiences as if congregations were "specialized niches on music sales charts" or the newly discovered fruit of demographic research. (64) ...
Our current passion for the future has been called future fixation, or future madness. For those caught up in this frenzy, the past is dry, dusty, and remote, an albatross around our necks. By contrast, the future rushes toward us gleaming and bright, breathlessly desirable and technologically as alluring as it is inevitable.
"The future is history," we are told with the gushing enthusiasm of the PR junkie. "Tomorrow just happened." "Join us or be left behind." (76)
But where in all this movement is the prayer to match the pmditry? Is the church ours to reinvent, or is it God's? Does the head of the church have anything to say, or do the consultants have the last word?
...Was the church first invented by a previous generation, so that it is our job to do it again, or is the church's real need for the revival and reformation that can only come from God? (64-65)
Is the culture decisive and audience sovereign for the Christian church? Not for one moment God forbid. The client and the consumer may be king for freemarket enterprise. Serving shareholders may be obligatory for the directors of corporations. But the church of Christ is not under the sway of market totalitarianism--even in America where capitalism is king, pope and emperor all rolled into one. ... The message, not the audience, is always sovereign, and the culture is always potentially the world set over against Christ and his kingdom. To think and live otherwise is to recycle the classic error of liberalism and to court the worldliness, irrelevance and spiritual adultery that it represents. (66)
... The crying need of the western church today is for reformation and revival, and for a decisive liberation from the Babylonian captivity of modernity. ... Our deepest necessity is to be shaped by our faith rather dm by the pushes and pulls of the world (71)
-Baker Books, Grand Rapids, NU, 02003. Used by permission.
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(Editor: Jane Lee)