Lines of convergence: global-urban-postmodern

During seminary, while thinking through the emerging church issue, I primarily began from questions of the postmodern, which then turned into urban concerns, finally morphing into global reflections. I realized through this process, however, that the order of concern should be first that of the Global, then to the Urban, and then finally to the Postmodern. I thought this because for the emerging church conversation to becoming more than a parochial, idiomatic exchange, it too should gaze upon the global, then urban, and only then the postmodern, seeking lines of convergence with the worldwide church. (of course I’m happy to note that the turn to the global and urban is happening already in many quarters, as could be noted even on other posts here.)

Why Global?
There are so many reasons: 1) While we have reached the end of modernity, we will never move beyond it only gazing through western ideas (even most postmodern critiques of modernity because they are still generated in the West); 2) Because if we truly believe all this stuff about the “marginal” and the critique of power, the importance of “multiculturalism,” then we have to listen to those marginal/multicultural voices from Latin America, Africa, Asia; from within the church and outside it; 3) While economics-politics-culture have gone global, much of church consciousness remains rooted in particular countries/localities. Our “humanity” is affected through the globalization of economics-politics-culture which means it should also affect how we think/live as the Church. For the only truly global body the Church, not nations or corpor(n)ations. 4) If we really believe the West is the new mission field, then shouldn’t we listen to those who know more about missions than we do, namely those who have been the recipients of good and/or bad mission activity, the Third World Church. 5) And lastly, not everyone is talking about postmodernity. For the emerging church to be more than an Anglo-middle class concern it must figure out how to be part of the entire emerging global church.

So we should be asking “What does it means to be a global Christian?”
How can our theology be enriched by global Christian perspectives? What can we learn from Africa, What are global practices and trends that we in the West are connected with/responsible for and how should we then relate with/on behalf of our brothers and sisters around the world (this is an economic issues and a justice/righteousness issue). How can we have relationships with African/Latin American/Asia Christians that will effect two-way enrichment, understanding and accountability? And how can we root out racism within ourselves?

Why urban?
1) Because the globe is going urban 2) and the evangelical church abandoned urban centers for suburban/rural ones (while feeling marginalized in culture they physically marginalized themselves by where they lived) 3) and mainline churches have lost much of their voice in urban cities. 4) Urban centers are a small taste of the global, concentrating questions of multiculturalism/pluralism/racism into smaller localities. 5) Urban contexts are powder keg of class relations and the politics of place, which the church needs to speak prophetically into.

So we should be asking “What does it mean to be an urban Church, an urban Christian?” How can/does the urban and the suburban related- and how should it in the Church? What are the economic issues, esp. for the poor/underprivileged? And how is race of factor in poverty, and is the Church perpetuating or solving structural racism and the oppression of the poor? What is ‘gentrification’ and is it good or bad? How does technology play a role in all this, and what about the media? We must ask serious questions of class, race, and gender, if we are move beyond where the modern church got stuck. (for more on this see the brief “Post-Community”).

Why postmodern?
Isn’t it obvious? 1) Because the West (my context is N. America) is changing, philosophically and culturally into a postmodern world; 2) Because the church has lost its critical distance from modern culture, needing a postmodern critique from within; 3) Leading toward a process of de-modernizing the Church here in the West. 4) And all your other favorite reasons

So we should be asking “What does it means to be a postmodern Christian?” But really the question is “how should the church relate to postmodernity?”
How can our theology reflect/articulate the experience of Christians in the West? What is worship after cold propositionalism or hot emotionalism? What is discipleship and evangelism? Who are the leaders and where is our authority? And a myriad of other questions that all of us are already asking. But we really need to be asking the question of postmodernity from a global perspective. From our perspective we are
 the Church here in the West. But from a global perspective, we would see this process as one of de-westernizing the Church, just as Africa is de-westernizing the African church from the Western Missions movement (which brought the gospel, but a gospel fused to western ideals), and so also Latin America and Asia. And maybe they have resources available that we could learn from…

Example: a typical emerging church move, and its global supplement Here is an example of how a global perspective might be more helpful to the emerging church conversation. After moving beyond a rationalistic faith, which reduced everything to impersonal propositions and a privatized faith, I begin looking for alternative expressions of faith. In this search I find “Celtic” Christianity, with its emphasis on nature, body/spirit holism, its prayers/rituals, etc,…or, as many others do, I go all the way back to the “Fathers” because their cultural situation is (claimed to be) like my own post-Christian culture, and therefore much could learned from them.

But instead of going through history to find conversation partners for a holistic faith, we should go global. The problem with this type of historical approach (although thinking historically is a big step) is it still only moves through “western” faith. (We move to the “Celts” back to the catholic mystics and monks, and then back to the “Fathers.”) African and Asian Christians never became disconnected with nature, nor had a dualistic notion of man, and therefore are just as valuable to us as the “Celts” or the “Fathers”, and even more so because we can actually dialogue with them. The Third World Church is living, and has lived, in situation similar to the Fathers for a long time now, and are therefore much farther along then us in “living” it. Let’s talk with them about it. It is great to overcome our historical amnesia, but we also overcome our myopically localized vision.

These, then, are the questions we are left with: What does it mean to be a global Church? An Urban Church? A postmodern Church? Even though our immediate context is “postmodern” we must continually broaden our horizons toward the the urban and the global church if this conversation is going to be more than rant session of navel gazers. Let us align ourselves with the global/urban concerns of the Church, creating a convergence of life in the Spirit. Amen.

Geoff Holsclaw is an emerging church pastor @ life on the vine, co-founder of up/rooted in Chicago, a continual student of philosophy and theology, and everything else beyond p_stmodernity, and his thoughts are at for the time being.